By Jordan Vaughn & Eva Griffith
Throughout our journey to the 47 National Parks in the US, the biggest question we are asked is, “Which is your favorite?” It is a particularly difficult question to answer considering how many unique, amazing experiences we have had over the last year. Most people have to plan well ahead and take time off of work to visit the parks, so I thought it may be valuable to share the National Parks that I would immediately go back to. In other words, here are the eight parks I would take a vacation to go back and visit:
Southern Utah is from another planet, and if you haven’t been, is worth the trip just to see the red rock landscapes. Canyonlands probably gets my vote for most underrated park. We did a 100-mile off-roading trek on the White Rim Trail (you can watch the three minute video here http://blog.qalo.com/jordan-eva-are-back-you-wont-want-to-miss-their-off-road-adventure/) and stayed at some of the most remote and beautiful backcountry campsites we have ever stayed at.
Glacier is easily one of the most magnificent parks in terms of beauty and grandeur. We met so many people in the park that had been coming back for years, which to me is a true testament of how big and magical this place is.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Hiking rim to rim is a particularly fond memory of mine. If you can’t or don’t want to hike down into the canyon (which I highly suggest doing), opt for the North Rim to dodge much of the park’s traffic (vs the South Rim) and see the park from a different perspective.
Grand Tetons, Wyoming
This is a landscape you won’t forget anytime soon. The sharp Tetons cut through the sky and make a home for a large and varied population of animal species. We saw multiple black bear, moose, pronghorn, elk, and fox while here. I definitely advise at least a day hike up into the mountains.
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennesee/North Carolina
This is my vote for best of the East. Great Smoky Mountains captured our hearts early on in the trip with its beautiful blue mountains, lush forests, and waterfalls seemingly everywhere. To me it provides one of the quintessential National Park experiences.
Mt. Rainier, Washington
Rainier is only 60 miles from Seattle, which makes this giant mountain seem out of place hovering above the cityscape. There are ample opportunities for beautiful hikes here, and we will be back for the 10-day Wonderland Trail backpacking trip that circumnavigates Rainier. This is the first place to instill in me the desire to mountaineer and climb a more advanced peak. In the words of Arnold, “I’ll be back.”
There is definitely a reason you have heard of it. Yosemite is a must do. It draws huge crowds but the park is so big it is easy to get away. This is a place we will be coming back to for years. We actually ended up staying nine days here during our trip and barely scratched the surface of the valley.
Zion is one of the only parks that you must take a shuttle to see most of. This gets rid of a ton of traffic and provides a neat way to explore this wonderful canyon. First timers should check out Angels Landing, or get a little more adventurous with the Narrows or the Subway backcountry hikes.
People are really passionate about these places so I know (and hope) there are some of you thinking, “how could you not put that park on the list?”. While the opportunity to have an amazing experience is available at any National Park, I hope this at least provides a starting point for those who haven’t explored them yet!