The National parks in America are nothing short of amazing. Ranging from lush green forests to red desert plains, the rich variety of parks is something that adds to the experience with each individual area offering something different to visitors.
The Faraway Bug put on their walking shoes and took to the trails on a tour of some of the USA’s most well-known National Parks in this two part series. In this part, follow us on the trail of moose, elks and bear as we recap on what makes Badlands, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks so unique.
Badlands, South Dakota – so named by early French trappers because of the way the light shifts between the peaks of and valleys of the park, changing the view like something of another world. The Badlands were my first view of both a National park and of a place so wild and I loved it. As quoted in the NPS guidebook, “The Badlands is a place of extremes” and with its barren landscape and remote atmosphere, it undeniably is. You may think that you are alone as you walk around the dusty paths, but still still for a few minutes and you will hear the rustle of something moving in the bushes or shifting as it slithers along the ground. A mix of sandy rock formations and prairie-grassland provide for a plethora of wildlife here. An absolute moment of joy for me was watching an eagle hover and glide over our heads as it looked for prey, quite unaffected by the presence of humans wandering through.
Cedar Butte and White River are two of the natural sights to be found in the park, along with some stunning scenery and interesting hiking trails. We trekked the Castle trail, returning via the Medicine Loop trail which gave us some beautiful views of both the jagged rock formations and grassy prairie where medicinal flowers and plants were once gathered from.
If you get the chance to visit this lesser known National Park, take it. You won’t be sorry.
Yellowstone NP spans over three states of Idaho, Montana, with the majority of the land in Wyoming. The first of the USA’s National parks and also one of the most popular, Yellowstone combines natural wonders and acres of forest land to provide a range of terrain for its animal inhabitants and visitors to explore.
Boasting a boot-wearing 900 miles of hiking trails (1449km), the park is popular with hikers, cyclists, tourists and families looking to get away from it all and find their natural roots. With unusual views of mountains, geysers, hot springs, mudpots, steam vents, the list goes on…. this park is one you will not easily forget.
Big draws to the park are Grand Prismatic, Mammoth Hot springs and the Old Faithful geysers area.
Grand Prismatic – The range of minerals and microorganisms in the water give the park’s largest hot spring its rainbow effect. Visitors can wander around the spring via the walkways and get great panoramics from the photography platforms.
Mammoth hot springs – A hive of thermal activity, the view of the Mammoth hot spring terraces changes every day. The smell might not be pretty to humans but the bisons don’t seem to mind as they keep warm beside some of the steam vents!
Old Faithful geysers area – This namesake area consists of several geysers, the most regular of these being Old Faithful along with a visitor centre and the Old Faithful Inn. Old Faithful erupts between every 35 minutes to 120 minutes with visitor seating areas for the show. The century-old inn has recently been restored and is also well worth a visit.
In all honesty, these things are all beautiful and offer such a diverse mix of science and nature. But even if none of these were here, there is something about this park that draws you in and makes you feel very alive. Being in the same open parkland as bison, elk, moose and bears, (the park is home to Brown, Black and Grizzly bears) and surrounded by nature for miles around, makes you want to get out there and explore. And you can. Trekkers head out for days at a time camping at the various grounds and stopping in at one of the visitor centres to stock up on resources. This really is the beauty of national parks, to be able to discover and appreciate the area at your own pace.
Should you need a recommendation for a hike, give Mount Washburn a try. The reward of 360 degree panoramics for a viewing distance up to 80km justifies the 4 hour round trip. From 3107 metres at its peak, the elevation may get to you, so take your time along the trail and snack packs and water at the ready. Say hi to the Bighorn sheep along the path too!
Little known fact – Yellowstone is one of the most seismically active areas in the USA. The area experiences over 1000 earthquakes each year, with most not being felt.
Grand Tetons NP, Wyoming.
With a whole different vibe, the Grand Tetons National Park is situated a few miles drive from Yellowstone’s borders. One of the top 10 most visited parks in the USA, this mountain-air treasure brings together the Tetons mountain range and Jackson Hole valley into one protected area. This park is particularly popular with active tourists offering a range of hiking, horse-riding and cycling opportunities.
One area of interest I must mention is the lovely Jenny Lake. Visiting this pretty area is like a breath of fresh air with its clear waters and surrounding forest paths. This is a popular tourist area so be prepared to share the paths, particularly around Hidden Falls. Take a hiking loop of the lake and you will find several secluded areas perfect for a freshwater swim. The Jenny Lake ferry as also available for those needing a breather.
With 200 miles of hiking trails and Snake River to visit, you are sure to find the perfect way to relax. Promotion is underway recommending the Grand Tetons park as a hotspot to view the solar eclipse on 21st August 2017. It will be a fantastic setting to see this unusual event. If you happen to be in the Wyoming area, why not check it out?
Jackson Hole Valley is like a mini frontier land town. Although this place seems to be most well known as a ski resort area, we found plenty to look at as Summer visitors to the area. Antler archways adorn the main square, made from shed antlers at the nearby elk refuge. Saloon style bars with restaurants, antique and boutique shops create the square sides and are surrounded by the peaks of the mountain ranges beyond. Its like being in your own little snowglobe scene. Jackson Hole is also a secret art destination, home to the National Museum of Wildlife Art with pieces from well-known artists such as Andy Warhol and the recent expansion of the collection to include acquisitions from New Zealand and Africa. You can also spot statues and figurines decorating the main areas of the town, some look at home and some a bit more abstract, such as Einstein on a bench. To me these little touches just added to the warmth and enjoyability of this happy little town, with the whole wonderful experience at the Grand Tetons NP being one that stands out to me from the whole trip.
For more information about any of America’s National Parks, check out the www.nps.gov website. We used this prior to visits for up to date information about the areas open and fees to enter. You’ll also find printable maps of hiking/cycling trails and ideas of things to do in each park.