TR Robertson — The establishment of National Parks historically dates to President Ulysses S. Grant signing legislation, shortly after the end of the Civil War, making Yellowstone America’s first-ever National Park. As things begin to loosen up, relating to the COVID-19 shut-downs implemented, many of the state and National Parks are beginning to open back up and allow visitors to enjoy the magnificence of these National treasures once again. It will be a while before parks are fully operational, but even the chance to drive through these parks will be better than not having them open at all. Most families with children are now back into the school mode, but many of you are still considering working in a visit somewhere where you can travel safely and enjoy something other than staring at a T.V. or the walls of your home. Many families plan visits to these locations for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Visiting a National Park will give you this opportunity.
On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service. The purpose of this organization “is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” They oversee 407 sites with 28 different designations. This includes 127 historical parks or sites, 78 national monuments, 62 National Parks, 25 battlefields or military parks, 19 preserves, 18 recreation areas, 10 seashores, four parkways, four lakeshores and two reserves.
Many American families were slowly beginning to take to the road to visit some of these sites and to do as much as they were allowed at these sites. Travel oversees is still somewhat restricted and cruises are just now beginning to operate, so families wanting to “get-away” are left with road trips to locations close to their homes. My brother-in-law and his family and my nephew and his family found that you could still enjoy many things in these parks, but planning and knowing what you were allowed to do was the key to having a good time. This article will take a quick look at some of the National Parks and what is currently allowed and a look at some interesting things about these amazing places and other sites in the United States.
Prior to the COVID outbreak the most visited National Parks were: #1 – Great Smoky Mountain National Park, #2 – Grand Canyon National Park, #3 – Rocky Mountain National Park, #4 – Zion National Park, #5 – Yosemite National Park, #6 – Yellowstone National Park, #7 – Acadia National Park, #8 – Grand Teton National Park, #9 – Olympic National park, and #10 – Glacier National Park.
A Look at some of the Top National Parks – go to www.nps.gov/ (name of the park) to find out specific information about each park. Also www.nps.gov/coronavirus gives you a lot of information you will need.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park – Located in mid-California, this park is home to half of the planet’s largest and longest living trees. The park features sequoias, redwood, spruce, and Douglas Fir. The General Sherman is 275 feet high and 100 feet wide at its base, estimated to be 2,100 years old. Hiking trails are beginning to open.
Yellowstone National Park – This first 2.2-million-acre National Park is partially open. The web site lists the accommodations and facilities now open. Private cabins and 4 campgrounds are open. Many parks are restricting the number of people allowed in. Yellowstone features spewing geysers all throughout the park, highlighted by Old Faithful. Mud pots, hot springs, waterfalls, and an abundance of wildlife make this park a favorite, including the world’s largest herd of bison.
Yosemite National Park – 7-day use reservations are required before entering the park, available online. The Ahwahnee, Valley Lodge, Wawona and Curry Village are open, but eating facilities are limited. For example, you can purchase take-out food from the Ahwahnee Dining Room, but the bar is closed. No shuttle buses are operating, and wilderness permits are still needed. Highlighting the park are the beautiful waterfalls, Tunnel View Outlook, Half Dome and El Capitan as well as numerous hiking trails.
Grand Canyon National Park – The South Entrance is open. The North Rim entrance is open as is the North Rim Lodge, but North Rim campgrounds are closed at this time. Best to go online for updates on openings. No shuttle buses are running currently. This magnificent 277-mile gorge is over 10 miles wide at some points. The web site lists the hiking trails and campgrounds that are open. Make sure to stop in the beautiful El Tovar Hotel, built in 1905.
Arches National Park – Located in Utah, this 77,000-acre park features some of the most stunning natural arches in the world, over 2,000 in the park. Camping is limited and as with the other parks, go online to see what is available and what the restrictions are.
Zion National Park – My nephew recently visited Zion and found they were unable to camp in the park campgrounds unless their unit was completely self-contained. Again, check the web site to see what is open and what the restrictions are. Zion is quickly becoming Utah’s favorite park to visit to see amazing rock formations and challenging hiking trails such as hiking The Narrows. The 57-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive will take you past most of the parks famous landmarks.
Glacier National Park – This park is home to alpine valleys and over 200 chilly lakes and roughly 25 glaciers remaining in this one million-acre Montana park. The scenic 50-mile long Going to the Sun Road is a popular route to drive. A visit to the Many Glacier Hotel is a must. The east entrance to the park and the campgrounds were closed, but again, go to the web site to see what is opening in the park.
Acadia National Park – This Maine 47,000-acre park features Atlantic coastline, rocky shores, granite mountain peaks and wildlife. This park was the first National Park to be dedicated east of the Mississippi River. Historic New England homes are visible as you drive the coastline. The park is partially open with the Park Loop Road and some hiking trails now open.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park – The country’s most visited park features miles and miles of hiking trails, scenic pull outs for cars, waterfalls and rivers, misty mountain ranges and viewpoints scattered along the way. Check the web site to see what trails are open and what lodging is available along the way.
Everglades National Park – This Florida Park is the largest tropical wilderness in the U.S. You will see wildlife, water animals and birds unlike any other National Park. When completely open, tours are available to the wetlands and mangroves, canoes or kayaks are available, and trails and promenades are available. With Florida a hot spot for COVID, check the web site to see what accommodations and park facilities are open.
Some other National Parks to consider for your future family vacation include Grand Teton National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Mammoth Cave National Park and Haleakala National Park.
If you are planning travel to numerous parks it would be worth your while to purchase an NPS System Wide Pass for $80 a year. Active Military is free and Senior passes are $20 a year. Seniors can also purchase a lifetime pass for all National Parks for $80.
There is lots to do and see out there, but make sure you plan, plan, plan and check what is allowed for lodging, food, and adventure in these National Parks, as well as in the state parks.
Be Safe, Wear Your Masks and Social Distance.