Top 10 Day-Hikes in the Western U.S.

Top 10 Day-Hikes in the Western U.S.

10    Seven Lakes Basin - Olympic National Park

Steep mountain ridges and dense vegetation make up most of Olympic National Park. The hike to Seven Lakes Basin runs atop one of these ridges and offers views above the treeline that most visitors in Olympic will never see. Highlights of the hike include Sul Doc Falls, 10 alpine lakes, and on clear days - views of Mt Olympus. 

#10  Seven Lakes Basin - Olympic National Park, Washington

9     Trail of the Sequoias - Sequoia National Park

Hiking amongst the Sequoia trees is a profound experience. They are the largest trees on Earth, and some of them are more than 3,000 years old. The Trail of the Sequoias cuts through the heart of the Giant Forest and it can be extended to include a number of other hiking loops and meadows. Highlights of the hike include the entire Congress Loop, the General Sherman Tree, Crescent Meadow, Log Meadow, and Tharpe's Log. 

#9  the House Group of Sequoia Trees - Sequoia National Park, California

8      Fiery Furnace - Arches National Park

The Fiery Furnace is an adventure of a hike through a maze of sandstone. There are numerous hidden arches to find and areas where you can wander deep off trail (all while respecting the delicate desert ecosystem). A permit is required to see the Fiery Furnace - read more about permits here.

#8  the Fiery Furnace - Arches National Park, Utah

7      Maple Pass - North Cascades National Park

There is a lot of great hiking in North Cascades NP, but the best bang for your buck is Maple Pass. Most of the hike is above the treeline and the pass offers incredible mountain views in every direction. The loop hike climbs high above two lakes which are cool to see up close and even better from high above. Honorable mention goes to Hidden Lake and Sahale Arm, two more excellent day-hikes in North Cascades National Park.

#7  Sahale Arm, Maple Pass, Hidden Lake - North Cascades National Park, Washington

6      Angel's Landing - Zion National Park

One of the most popular hiking routes in the country. Angel's Landing offers great views of Zion Canyon, but perhaps more enticingly, it offers a chance for hikers to feel like rock-climbers with numerous thousand foot drop-offs en route to the peak. The final ascent up the monolith is assisted by chains which are bolted to the rock. Get an early start to beat the crowds! 

the ascent of Angels Landing in Zion National Park, Utah

5      Highline Trail - Glacier National Park

The Highline Trail becomes a rewarding hike almost immediately, opening up to an expansive view above the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Casual hikers can go as far as they like before turning around, and fit hikers can continue on to reach a viewpoint high above Grinnell Lake. The Highline Trail is open in late-summer only due to snow. 

#5  the Highline Trail - Glacier National Park, Montana

4      Bryce Point to Sunrise Point - Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is an outstanding hiking destination. The best hike to see everything descends at Bryce Point and ascends at Sunrise Point, with detours to see "Wall Street" and the "Queen's Garden" on the canyon floor. This hike can be done one-way (non-loop) when the park shuttles are running. Start at Bryce Point as it has a higher elevation!

#4  Navajo Loop - Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

3      the Joint Trail - Canyonlands National Park

The Needles District of Canyonlands is famous for vertical sandstone spires, similar to the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon but much larger. Hiking here is incredibly rewarding with eye-popping rock formations around every corner. The "Joint Trail" is a grid of slot canyons which marks the endpoint of the hike - it's a spectacle unlike anything else in Utah. Other highlights en route to the Joint Trail include Elephant Canyon and Chesler Park. 

the Joint Trail in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah

2      the Narrows - Zion National Park

There's every slot canyon on Earth... and then there's the Narrows. This is the crown jewel of Zion National Park and it's worth walking in a river to see it. Summer is the most popular and most crowded time to hike the Narrows, and late summer brings occasional monsoon storms. Fall and even winter are excellent times to hike the Narrows with much smaller crowds (warm clothes and waterproof gear required). The Narrows are sometimes closed during spring months due to high water-flow. All Narrows gear can be rented at the park.

#2  the Narrows - Zion National Park, Utah

1       Half Dome - Yosemite National Park

Half Dome is an obvious choice for the best day-hike in the Western U.S. and reaching its summit is a real accomplishment. The hike has the added bonus of ascending alongside Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, two of Yosemite's best waterfalls. Half Dome will challenge you physically and mentally. Be sure to put in the time to train for it and don't attempt it if you have a fear of heights. This hike requires a permit and park rangers check for them at the base of the cables. Read more about hiking Half Dome here.

Vernal Falls during autumn - Yosemite National Park, California

Thank you for reading this post! These rankings are just for fun and are based on my own experiences.

To see more videos like the ones in this post, please visit my Instagram @roblah

For more national park recommendations, please visit my guide website www.thwildiswaiting.com

 

 

 

Canadian Rockies

Canadian Rockies

Best time to visit: Summer

Recommended Hikes: Iceline Trail, Wilcox Peak, Helen Lake, Parker Ridge, Sentinel Pass, Johnston Canyon, many more listed in the hiking section below

Ideal For: Hiking, Mountain-Climbing/Scrambling, Auto-Touring, Biking, Wildlife Viewing

Where to stay: Numerous options near Banff, Lake Louise, and Jasper

Photo Gallery - Park Website - Park Map

The Canadian Rockies are beautiful - a place where you can spend the entire summer. There are six national parks throughout the mountain range, four of which share borders. The region gets a lot of snow, so summer offers the best weather and open hiking routes. Other seasons offer fewer crowds and winter sports.

Must See Attractions:

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (Banff) - Two of the prettiest lakes in all the Rockies are right next to each other in Banff, near the town of “Lake Louise”. Both lakes have lodges, canoe rentals, and hiking trails. Parking is limited - there is a shuttle service during summer months but it’s better to arrive early and beat the crowds.

Johnston Canyon (Banff) - a famous photography spot which is far more impressive than photos reveal. The box canyon is miles long and features seven major waterfalls. The hike continues on to the “ink pots” which are small pools of deep blue water. Expect crowds throughout Johnston Canyon.

Emerald Lake (Yoho) - Yoho’s answer to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, with a lodge and canoe rentals. There is a hiking trail that runs around Emerald Lake and more difficult routes that climb high above it for sweeping views. 

Spirit Island (Jasper) - A spectacular vista on one of the Rockies largest lakes - Spirit Island is halfway down the 14-mile long Maligne Lake. Getting here requires an $80 ferry ride which I believe is worth it. Maligne Canyon really cool as well and it’s worth seeing when driving to or from Maligne Lake.

Edith Cavell (Jasper) - An impressive mountain wall with a hanging glacier and an iceberg-filled, turquoise lake. You need a permit to drive here which can be obtained at the Jasper visitor center. The permits are free but they do sometimes run out, so plan ahead.

Takakkaw Falls (Yoho) - The 2nd tallest waterfall in Canada. Takakkaw Falls can be enjoyed at its base with an easy walk, but it’s best appreciated from across the valley on the Iceline Trail hike, which climbs high above the valley floor. 

Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls (Jasper) - The Athabasca River runs through two impressive waterfall systems at Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls. Both are made up of slot canyons with foot bridges above that allow visitors to look down on the rushing water.

Icefields Parkway (Banff/Jasper) - There is a long stretch of road the connects Banff and Jasper, called the Icefields Parkway. There are many lakes worth seeing on this road, including Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, and Waterfowl Lakes. Mistaya Canyon and the Athabasca Glacier are worth stopping at as well.

Lake O'Hara (Yoho) - I wasn't able to make it here, but I have heard it is awesome. Cars are not allowed in this area, so you have to either hike in or get one of a few coveted spots on the shuttle bus, which fills up almost immediately when the reservation window opens. Read about Lake O'Hara on the Park’s website here.

Other places to research: Kootenay National Park, Canmore, Mt Robson Provincial Park

Useful Info:

  • Ski resorts are scattered throughout the region, and many of them have chairs or gondolas that run during summer. This a good opportunity to spot bears from above and reach higher elevations without having to hike.

  • Fire season can render the mountain peaks nearly invisible. Late summer offers the best weather and least amount of snow, but be prepared for possible smokey conditions.

  • The Canadian Rockies are home to both black bears and grizzly bears - proper food storage is required at all times. Read more about bear safety here.

  • The drive between the towns of Jasper and Banff will take about three and half hours, one-way. There is one, very expensive gas station half-way between Lake Louise and Jasper - fill up in town to avoid the extra cost.

  • Carry tire chains if you are driving through in fall, winter, or spring.

Where to Stay:

There are many hotel options in the developed areas, and multiple hostels at more remote locations along the Icefields Parkway. AirBNB is also a good option.

All camping reservations can be made online here. Most of the campgrounds have shower facilities and some of them have electric fencing to keep wildlife at bay.

Hiking in the Canadian Rockies:

I wont pretend to know what I am talking about here. I was lucky to meet a Canadian who showed me a book called "Don't Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies" - if you are serious about researching the Canadian Rockies, I recommend buying the book.

I will mention the top four hikes they recommend, since they are all well-known. To see their other recommended hikes - please consider buying the book!

  • Valley of the Ten Peaks/Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass (Banff)

  • Wiwaxy Gap/Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit (Yoho)

  • Iceline Trail (Yoho),

  • Mount Wilcox (Jasper)

Below are my recommendations based on the hikes that I personally did. There are many more great routes in addition to what is discussed below.

Mount Wilcox (Jasper) - Mount Wilcox is a steeply sloped mountain with a reachable summit for the average, fit hiker. The peak offers stunning views in every direction. You have to cross a section of unmarked, rocky terrain to reach the final trail that leads to the peak. Read more about the hike here.

Iceline Trail (Yoho) - The Iceline Trail is awesome and offers outstanding views of Takakkaw Falls. The hike can be done as an out-and-back, or a longer loop hike. A large section of the hike is high above the treeline on an ancient glacier bed. The loop hike leads to a second impressive waterfall - Twin Falls. Read more about it here.

Helen Lake (Banff) - This hike initially ascends across the valley from Bow Lake, providing a great view of it from above. The trail eventually breaks above the treeline and then crosses open tundra to Helen Lake. Beyond Helen, the trail ascends further to a very steep ascent of Cirque Peak. Read more about the hike here.

Parker Ridge (Banff) - Parker Ridge is a little shorter than the hikes mentioned above, but it still offers outstanding views in every direction. The trail goes much further up the ridge than it initially appears - there is an unmarked area of tundra that you have to cross to continue climbing. Read more about the hike here.

Wapta Falls (Yoho) - Wapta Falls is the most impressive waterfall I saw in the Canadian rockies. It is 90 feet high and 500 feet wide, and the power of the water flow is mind-blowing. The hike is mostly flat but entirely below the treeline, so there aren’t any viewpoints. Read more about it here.

Valley of the 5 Lakes (Jasper) - This is a short hike which is mostly flat and below the treeline. The 5 Lakes are quite pretty and worth the hike if you are looking for something to see in Jasper. Read more about the hike here.

Valley of the Ten Peaks/Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass (Banff) - I didn’t attempt this hike - This trail has seasonal closures and group hiking requirements because it’s a high frequency bear area. Read more about the hike here. Read more about the bear restrictions on the park’s website here.

Wiwaxy Gap/Lake O'Hara Alpine Circuit (Yoho) - This hike requires advanced reservations as there is no parking at Lake O-Hara. Visitors can walk or take the shuttle, which fills up months in advance. Read more about it here.

Moraine Lake in Banff National Park - Alberta, Canada.

Parker Ridge - Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada

the Iceline Trail and Takakkaw Falls - Yoho National Park, Canada.

Wilcox Peak in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada.

Johnston Canyon in Banff National Park - Alberta, Canada

Helen Lake - Banff National Park, Alberta Canada.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Best time to visit: Year Around

Recommended Hikes/Walks: Delicate Arch, Devil's Garden, Park Avenue, the Fiery Furnace

Ideal For: Hiking, Rock Climbing, Auto-Touring, Biking

Where to stay: Moab (camping and hotels)

Park Website - Park Map

Arches National Park is just north of the small town of Moab in south-eastern Utah. It's relatively small for a national park but it's home to the highest concentration of natural bridges on Earth. Spring and fall are good times to visit to beat the summer heat and the winter chill, but Arches is a year-around destination. Light snow can be expected during winter months.

Must See Attractions:

Delicate Arch - the best arch in the park and an icon of Utah. There is always a big crowd at Delicate Arch so be prepared to enjoy it alongside a bunch of other people. Seeing Delicate Arch requires a 3 mile roundtrip hike, read more about it in the hiking section below.

The Windows/Double Arch - some of the largest arches in the park and the easiest to access. Double Arch is especially impressive and the view from Window Arch towards Turret Arch is famous with photographers. Visitors can climb up beneath all the arches in this area for unique views of the rock overhead.

Balanced Rock - a massive boulder that is suspended high above ground by a thin spire of sandstone. You can see Balanced Rock from the road while driving, but it's worth parking and walking up close to appreciate how massive the boulder really is.

Devil's Garden - home to the famous Landscape Arch - the longest arch in the park. Other great arches in this area include Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, and Double O Arch. Read more about these arches in the hiking section below.

Fiery Furnace - a maze of sandstone and hidden arches that you can explore on a loop hike. A permit is required to see the Fiery Furnace which can be obtained at the visitor center up to seven days in advance. Permits are availble The ranger-guided tours are more popular, but don’t be afraid to go self-guided! Read more about the Fiery Furnace on the park’s website here.

Useful Information:

  • Arches exists in an ecosystem where biological soil crust covers the desert floor. These biological structures are not dirt! They can take decades to form and they play an important role in the ecosystem. Please stay on trails and don't step on it!

  • A trip to Arches can be combined with a trip to nearby Canyonlands National Park. Read more about Canyonlands here.

  • Drinking water is available at the visitor center and at the Delicate Arch and Devil's Garden trailheads - bring your water bottles to fill up.

  • There is no shuttle service in Arches. The entrance gate and parking areas can be crowded but are usually manageable.

Where to Stay:

Moab. It's a small town but it caters to the tourist crowd looking to explore Arches and Canyonlands. There are hotels, campgrounds, and RV parks, as well as stores, restaurants/bars, and places to book tours and adventure activities.

Drive times from Moab to national park entrances: 10 minutes to Arches National Park, 40 minutes to the Island in the Sky (Canyonlands), and 90 minutes to the Needles (Canyonlands). 

There is only one campground inside Arches NP, it can be reserved online in advance here. This campground is awesome and it's great for beating the crowds in the morning. Campfire wood is sold here by the campground host but there are otherwise no stores within the park's boundaries. 

Hiking in Arches:

Most of the hikes in Arches are pretty short with minimal elevation change. Where sturdy shoes with good traction to navigate the sections of slopped sandstone.

Delicate Arch - The best arch in Arches. The hike is about 3 miles roundtrip but with steady elevation gain on sloped sandstone. The trail ends at the base of Delicate Arch which is a jaw-dropping sight. If you only have time for one hike in Arches, this is the one to do. Read more about it here.

Devil's Garden - There are number of impressive arches found in the Devil's Garden.

The most famous is Landscape Arch - the longest arch in the park. The hike to Landscape Arch is flat but sandy. Massive chunks of rock have fallen from Landscape Arch in recent years - it may someday soon collapse entirely! Read more about the hike to Landscape Arch here.

The best hike in the Devil's Garden starts just beyond Landscape Arch, and goes to Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, and Double O Arch. There is a steep and slick section of rock just after Landscape Arch that you need to climb up to reach the other arches. It is easier to go up this section than to go down. This part of the hike can be scary and I have seen people turn around when they get to it, although most can make it up and down. If you want to avoid the steep section, this trail is actually a loop that can be accessed from the other direction on a longer loop trail. The full loop is worth doing if you have the time. Read more about it here.

Off the Beaten Track

Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch are two cool arches near the Devil's Garden which are usually a little less crowded than the big attractions mentioned above. Sand Dune Arch is awesome and its always in the shade, making a great place for photography.

Corona Arch - This is a massive arch located near Moab, outside of Arches National Park. Its worth seeing if you are staying in Moab. Read more about it here.

Delicate Arch

small sections of the Fiery Furnace

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Best time to visit: Year Around

Recommended Hikes: Queen's Garden, Navajo Loop through Wall Street, Peekaboo Loop

Ideal For: Hiking, Horseback Riding, Camping, Auto-Touring, Backpacking

Where to stay: Numerous options for RV parks, campgrounds, and hotels just outside the park entrance.

Park Website - Park Map

Bryce Canyon is an otherworldly landscape of densely packed, free-standing rock spires called "hoodoos". The hoodoos run along a ridge that is about 15 miles long, but they are most abundant in a few mile section called the "Bryce Amphitheater" - referred to below as the "main amphitheater". Bryce is a year-round destination, but it gets significant snow during winter.

Must See Attractions:

Viewpoints - there are many great viewpoints along the rim of Bryce Canyon, accessible by car, park shuttle, and walking paths. All the major viewpoints in the main amphitheater are worth seeing, including Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point.

Natural Bridge - this is a large and unique arch that is visible from a viewpoint just off the main park road. It's roughly a 20 minute drive to get here from the visitor center. There is no "below-the-rim" access in this area.

The following attractions are below the canyon rim - seeing them requires visitors to hike down at least 350 vertical feet, and also hike back up afterwards.

Queen's Garden - just beneath Sunrise Point, this is one of two areas in the main amphitheater that feature exceptionally large hoodoos. The Queen's Garden is impressive to witness from both above and below. There is a small hiking detour from the Navajo Loop that leads into the Queen's Garden. Read more about the hike here.

Wall Street - Wall Street is essentially a slot canyon made of hoodoos. A single hiking path runs right through the heart of it and it's perhaps the biggest attraction in the park. Wall Street is located just below Sunset Point and it can be seen as a part of the Navajo and Peekaboo Loop hikes discussed below. Read more about the hike hereNote - Wall Street is closed when there are freezing temperatures - if you visit in winter, spring, or late fall, Wall Street will likely be closed.

Useful Info:

  • Hiking below the rim in Bryce NP is some of the most enjoyable hiking I have experienced to date. If you are able, I highly recommend venturing down into the canyon to see the hoodoos up close. This provides a much deeper perspective of the landscape than you can achieve from the viewpoints above.

  • The small town of Bryce lies just outside of the park entrance; it has restaurants, grocery stores, and places to stay (hotels, campgrounds, and RV parks).

  • It takes about 30 minutes (one-way) to drive from the park entrance to Rainbow Point at the southern end of the park.

  • A trip to Bryce can be combined with a trip to nearby Zion National Park and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

  • Drinking water is available at the visitor center and at several major viewpoints - bring your water bottles to fill up.

  • Shuttles run during the summer half of the year from "Ruby's Inn and Campground/RV Park" which is just outside the park boundary to all the major viewpoints along the main amphitheater area. Parking can be limited, so using the shuttle can save a lot of hassle. The shuttles do NOT run further south to Natural Bridge or to Rainbow Point - you will need to drive to reach those destinations. There is no charge to use the shuttles - it is included with the park entrance fee.

Where to Stay:

There are more options for lodging outside the park boundaries in and around the small town of Bryce, including hotels, RV parks, and private campgrounds. Ruby's Inn is a good option for camping just outside the park and they have showers and wifi. 

There are two campgrounds within the park which can be reserved in advance. The North Campground can be reserved here and the Sunset Campground here - they fill up early so book well in advance if possible.

Hiking in Bryce:

Navajo Loop through Wall Street and the Queen's Garden - If you do one hike in Bryce, this is the one to do. It is a loop hike that connects Sunset and Sunrise Points with a 3 mile trek through the hoodoos. The trail leads through both Wall Street and the Queen's Garden which are both must-see attractions. Read more about this hike on the park's website here.

Peakaboo Loop - Similar to Navajo Loop but longer - this trail leads down from Bryce Point on the south side of the main amphitheater and meets up with Navajo Loop at the base of the amphitheater.  Bryce Point has a higher elevation starting point, so climbing out is more difficult than Navajo Loop. Read more about the Peekaboo Loop hike here.

My favorite hike to do in Bryce is to combine the above two loops into a single "through" hike. If you start at Bryce Point, you can hike down to the amphitheater floor on Peekaboo Loop, and then turn left onto the Navajo Loop to see Wall Street. There are steep switchbacks that ascend from the other side of Wall Street up to the rim, but instead of taking those up, backtrack in the other direction on Navajo Loop. This will bring you along the valley floor to the Queen's Garden, which you can explore before making your final ascent out of the amphitheater at Sunrise Point. Bryce Point has a significantly higher elevation than Sunrise Point, so start the hike at Bryce Point for an easier climb out of the amphitheater. Make sure the shuttles are running before you do this hike! 

The rim trail is another great hike and it's a perfect option if you don't want to hike down into the canyon. The trail runs from Bryce point to Sunrise point, and then further north up to Fairyland Point from there. The trail has a slight decline from south to north, so it's best to park at Sunrise Point and then take the shuttle over to Bryce Point. From there, the walk along the rim back to your car will be mostly downhill.

Off the Beaten Track:

Fairyland Canyon sits on the northern end of the park and is always much less crowded than the main amphitheater. There is a trail that descends from Fairyland into the valley and eventually runs into Navajo Loop, passing another natural bridge in the park called "Tower Bridge". The road out to Fairyland is not serviced by the shuttle system and is closed during winter. Read more about the Fairyland hike here.

Rainbow Point is at the very southern end of the park and it will also usually be less crowded than the main amphitheater. There are several hiking tails that descend below the rim from here, but I have not personally hiked them.

The famous switchbacks beneath "Thor's Hammer" on the Navajo Loop hike in Bryce Canyon.

the Queen's Garden, Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Best time to visit: Spring and Fall

Recommended Hikes: Elephant Canyon, Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Druid Arch, the Joint Trail

Ideal For: Hiking, Backpacking, Auto-Touring, Camping, Off-Road Motor Sports 

Where to stay: Moab

Park Website - Park Map

Canyonlands is a massive, rugged landscape. It is one of the most underrated national parks in the country and you should plan at least two full days to see it. At it's heart is the confluence of the Colorado River and the Green River, which come together in a "Y" shape that divides the park into three districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. The "Island in the Sky" and the "Needles" districts are both easily accessible from Moab but require up to an hour of driving to reach. The "Maze" is not easily accessible from Moab - it is remote and requires advanced planning, high-clearance 4WD, and self reliance to visit. Spring and fall offer the most pleasant weather, but Canyonlands can be enjoyed year around. Expect some snow during winter months.

Must See Attractions:

Grand View Point - Located in the "Island in the Sky" District, Grand View Point is a must-see for every visitor. The tip of the plateau offers a 270-degree view of the vast canyons below. It's one of the best views in Utah! Read more about reaching Grand View Point here.

Mesa Arch - A popular photography spot and another must-see in the "Island in the Sky". The view of the arch faces east so this is a popular photography spot during sunrise. Its a half-mile round-trip hike from the parking area. Read more about Mesa Arch here.

Elephant Canyon - The premier attraction of the Needles District. Elephant Canyon is a great place to see the "Needles" up close. Seeing Elephant Canyon requires 5 miles of hiking at a minimum, so bring plenty of food and water. Outstanding day hikes to Druid Arch and the Joint Trail both begin at the Elephant Hill trailhead.

Useful Info:

  • Canyonlands exists in a very fragile desert ecosystem. It is crucial to stay on hiking paths and not wander off trail as delicate, biological soil crust covers the desert floor. These living structures are not dirt! They can take decades to form and they play an important role in the ecosystem. Please don't step on them!

  • The "Needles" is better for hiking, the "Island in the Sky" is better for viewpoints/auto-touring. There are exceptions, but this is a good rule of thumb.

  • It takes a long time to drive from one district to another. DO NOT try to see both the "Island in the Sky" and the "Needles" in the same day, choose one or the other or split them into at least two separate days.

  • The "Maze" is the most remote district - driving here from Moab will take 5+ hours, one-way. There is no drinking water available and it's mostly only accessible to high-clearance, 4WD vehicles. Read more about the Maze on the park's website here.

  • A trip to Canyonlands can be combined with a trip to nearby Arches National Park. Moab is a perfect location to stay to be able to see the "Needles", the "Island in the Sky", and Arches.

  • Drinking water is available at the visitor centers in the "Island in the Sky" and the "Needles", but not at trail-heads. Bring your water bottle to fill up.

  • There is no shuttle service at Canyonlands.

Where to Stay:

Moab. It's a small town but it caters to the tourist crowd looking to explore Canyonlands and Arches. There are hotels, campgrounds, and RV parks here, as well as stores, restaurants/bars, and places to book tours and adventure activities/off-road vehicles. If you want to do a lot of hiking in the "Needles" however, the best option is to camp in the district to avoid the long drive from Moab.

Drive times from Moab to national park entrances are: 40 minutes to the "Island in the Sky", 90 minutes to the "Needles", and 10 minutes to Arches National Park. 

There are campgrounds in each district of the park - they are first-come, first-served, but some of the sites in the "Needles" campground can be reserved online in advance here. According to the park website, the campgrounds fill up early every single day during spring and fall. 

There is a small private campground just outside the "Needles" entrance which is a good option if the campground in the park is full. Their website is here.

Hiking in Canyonlands:

Needles District

Elephant Canyon - If you have just one day in the "Needles" district, see Elephant Canyon. It requires a hike into the heart of the needles rock formations, and there is a network of trails to choose from once you get there. The trailhead is called "Elephant Hill" and it can be reached via well-maintained dirt road. There is a pit toilet at the Elephant Hill trailhead, but no water.

There are two primary options in Elephant Canyon that are both world-class hikes. One goes to Druid Arch and the other goes to the Joint Trail.

Druid Arch is massive - much larger than any arch you will find in nearby Arches National Park. The arch is surrounded by an amphitheater of sandstone, making this area a fantastic endpoint to the hike. There are a few easy rock scrambles and a short ladder you have to climb to see the arch. Read more about this hike here.

The Joint Trail is a grid of cracks in the rock that begins as a slot canyon and then becomes a cavernous arena of giant boulders. This is one of the coolest endpoints to a hike I have seen to date, and the trail to get here crosses through Chesler Park which is awesome in its own right. Read more about the hike here.

If you are in excellent shape and you carry a lot of water, you might be able to see both Druid Arch and the Joint Trail in a single, 14-mile loop hike. I personally prefer the Joint Trail, but they are both truly incredible. You will not be disappointed either way. 

Another popular hike in the Needles District runs out to the confluence of the Colorado and Green Rivers - I haven't done this one so I can't comment on it, but you can read more about here.

Island in the Sky District

Upheaval Dome - Another Island in the Sky hike, but one that can safely be skipped in favor of any of the above. Scientist speculate that the Upheaval Dome was formed by a meteor impact, although this theory is contested. Read more about the hike here.

There are a few options to hike down into the canyon from the "Island in the Sky". From what I have read, the trails are pretty steep and rugged with no shade or water. 

the Joint Trail in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge

Best time to visit: Summer

Recommended Hikes: Punchbowl Falls to Tunnel Falls, Wiesendanger Falls, Elowah Falls, Oneonta Gorge, Tamanawas Falls

Ideal For: Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Wind Surfing, Paddle Boarding

Where to stay: Anywhere between Portland and Hood River, on the Oregon side of the river.

Park Website

The Columbia River Gorge is famous for lush green vegetation and abundant waterfalls. The gorge is close to Portland and it can be seen as a long day-trip from the city. Summer provides the best chance of sun… rain and clouds are common in the spring, fall, and winter.

Must See Attractions:

The waterfalls of the gorge are the main attraction. Some of them are right next to the highway, while others require miles of hiking to reach. They are often small but remarkably pretty and diverse.

Multnomah Falls - The tallest and most famous waterfall in the gorge. This is the waterfall with "the bridge" that you have likely seen in photos. It can be seen from I-84 as you drive past, and it's the first major attraction you'll see if coming from Portland. You can hike all the way to the top of the waterfall or just see it from the bridge at its base. This is by far the most crowded area of the Gorge. 

Parking at Multnomah Falls - There is a big parking area near Multnomah Falls, which is accessible from I-84 from the LEFT LANE of I-84 in both directions. This is the parking area to use - from here it's a short walk under the highway to the waterfall. AVOID trying to park right next to Multnomah on the Historic Columbia River Highway (which is where google maps might take you). This road is very narrow and there is extremely limited parking here compared to the big lot off of I-84. You will get caught in a major traffic jam if you try to use this smaller lot.

Oneonta Gorge - A slot canyon of sorts and a unique attraction in the Gorge - If you are willing to get wet, you can hike all the way to the end of the gorge to see Lower Oneonta Falls. The water-level fluctuates depending on snow-melt and recent rainfall, with the deepest section ranging from chest-deep to swimming depth. Bring your swimsuit and shoes that can get wet! The gorge cannot be seen from the road. Visitors need to navigate a massive log jam in order to reach it, which can be treacherous. 

Horsetail Falls - Right next to Oneonta Gorge and right along the Historic Columbia River Highway. There is a small parking lot here to stop and see the waterfall. 

Punchbowl Falls - There are two viewpoints to see Punchbowl Falls, one at water-level and one high above it. It's not possible to get too close to the waterfall however, as the "punchbowl" is like a giant hole in the rock floor with vertical walls rising up on every side. During warm weather, this is a popular place to swim.

Elowah Falls - At over 200 feet, Elowah is impressively tall. The water-flow of Elowah ranges dramatically from a wisp in late summer to a roaring drop during wet months. You can extend the hike to see Upper McCord Creek Falls, but it's not a must-see compared to Elowah. Read more about the hike to Elowah Falls here.

Silver Falls State Park - Worth mentioning as it is very similar to the Gorge, although it is further south near the town of Salem, OR. If you only have one day, I would actually recommend Silver Falls instead of the Gorge. There is an incredible hike here called the "Trail of Ten Falls" which features 10 waterfalls.

Useful Info:

  • There are no official park gates, but a fee is still required when parking at any Columbia River Gorge trailhead. A day pass is $5 dollars and can be deposited at trail heads with cash or purchased in advance. Federal National Park annual passes are accepted.

  • AVOID crossing the Multnomah Falls area on the Historic Columbia River Highway - use I-84 instead. The Multnomah area is a mad-house and it can take really long to get through it in a car. You can use the Historic Columbia River Highway further east to access Oneonta Gorge, Horsetail Falls, and Elowah Falls without having to pass the Multnomah area.

  • Hiking paths in the gorge are hard on the feet. They are well-developed, but often studded with jagged volcanic rocks that pop up above the dirt. Make sure to wear sturdy hiking shoes - no sandals!

  • There are two bridges that cross the Columbia River in the towns of Hood River and Cascade Locks. Both are toll bridges which cost a view dollars per crossing.

  • Cascade Locks is a small town with a grocery store and a few options for food. Hood River is a bigger town with more lodging and dining options.

  • Drinking water is available at campgrounds in the gorge and at Multnomah Falls, but not at trail-heads. Bring your water bottle to fill up.

  • There is no shuttle service at the Columbia River Gorge.

Where to Stay:

If you are visiting Portland, the Gorge can be done as a long day trip. You should have enough time to see a few major waterfalls and do one of the shorter hikes in a single day. 

Hood River is closer to the waterfalls than Portland, but it will still be a daily drive of about 20 minutes, one way. There are numerous lodging options, as well as activities for visitors, including windsurfing on the Columbia River.

There are several campgrounds along the stretch of the gorge in between Portland and Hood River. One of them can be reserved online in advance here.

Hiking in the Columbia River Gorge

Tunnel Falls - My favorite hike to date in the Gorge - the hike begins at the “Eagle Creek” Trailhead. Highlights of the hike include Punchbowl Falls, several footbridges which cross deep canyons, and Tunnel Falls. I highly recommned this hike - read more about it here.

Multnomah Falls Loop to Wahkeena Falls - This is a good long hike that passes 4 major waterfalls, including the top of Multnomah Falls. Park at the Multnomah main lot and start either up to the top of Multnomah Falls or west towards Wahkeena Falls - the trails are well marked. The other two waterfalls on the loop are Fairy Falls and Wiesendager Falls, both are really cool. Read more about the hike here.

Tamanawas Falls - This one requires a further drive - the trailhead is about 30 miles south of Hood River along Highway 35. Tamanawas Falls stands out from most Gorge waterfalls as it is really wide with heavy water flow. The rock recedes behind the waterfall, so hikers can scramble up to the cavern behind it if physically able. Read more about the hike here.

Dry Creek Falls - A decent hike but not quite as cool as the ones mentioned above. The hike is a small section of Pacific Crest Trail which crosses the Columbia River at Cascade Locks. This is a good place to find some solitude. Dry Creek Falls is a nice endpoint, but i'ts the only waterfall on the hike.

A few hyperlapses I shot in the Columbia River Gorge. Locations in order of appearance: Tunnel Falls, Oneonta Gorge, and Wiesendanger Falls

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Best time to visit: Summer

Recommended Hikes: Wizard Island, Garfield Peak, Mount Scott 

Ideal For: Camping, Auto-Touring, Hiking

Where to stay: Hotels or campgrounds in the park

Park Website - Park Map

Crater Lake is arguably the prettiest lake on Earth. The lake's blue color is intensely deep and vibrant, almost redefining the color itself. The park receives heavy snowfall each year, making winter and spring less than ideal times to visit. Summer is by far the best time to visit for good weather and access to the park's rim road and hiking trails. Boat tours run around the lake and to Wizard Island during the summer half of the year.

Must See Attractions:

Rim Road - There is a road that goes around the entire lake which has a ton of viewpoints - they are all worth stopping at if you have the time. Driving the full loop will take about an hour, not including stops. The entire loop is only open from July - October, but the western portion of it is open for longer. Read more about road access in the useful info below.

Wizard Island - When the boat tours are running, you can visit Wizard Island - a cinder cone volcano that rises up out of the lake. There is great hiking here to the top of the cinder cone and to Fumarole Bay, which has a swimming dock. Wizard Island is also a popular spot for fishing. You can book boat tours online in advance here

Phantom Ship - A cool little island on the south side of the lake. There is a viewpoint to see it which requires a short hike called "Sun Notch". Some of the boat tours go to this part of the lake also if you want to see Phantom Ship up close.

The Pinnacles - An area of jagged volcanic rock formations a few miles south of the lake. There is a single out and back road the runs to the Pinnacles overlook from the east rim drive.

Useful Info:

  • The south entrance to Crater Lake NP is open year around. During winter, there is one small viewpoint to see the lake - everything else is covered in deep snow. The north entrance to the park and the west rim drive open in late May or early June, and the east rim drive usually opens in early July. These roads close each year on November 1, or earlier if there is heavy snowfall.

  • Boat tours on the lake run when the east rim drive is open, which is roughly from July - September. Advanced reservations can be made online here.

  • All boat tours leave from Fleetwood Cove on the north side of the lake. To reach the lakeshore, visitors must hike down (and up) about 700 vertical feet from the rim. This is the only place where you can access the lake's shore.

  • There is limited lodging, gas, and food available at Rim Village and Mazama Village on the south side of the lake.

  • Crater Lake can be seen as a long day-trip if you are driving through Oregon. Even just an hour or two here will leave a lasting impression.

  • Drinking water is available at the developed areas on the south side of the lake - bring your water bottle to fill up.

Where to Stay:

There are cabins and a campground at Manzama Village on the south side of the lake - click here for the website. There is also a historic hotel called the "Crater Lake Lodge" which sits on the south rim. It has a restaurant, deck, and rooms that have views of the lake. The lodge can be booked online here. Book as early as possible - everything fills up in advance. 

There is also a small, first-come-first-served campsite in the park called Lost Creek Campground, but it only has a handful of campsites. It is located on the road which runs out to the Pinnacles.

If you can't secure affordable lodging in the park, the small city of Klamath Falls is about an hour's drive south of the park. 

Hiking in Crater Lake:

There are a handful of hikes that climb to peaks surrounding the rim, including the Watchman, Garfield Peak, and Mount Scott. Read more about the hikes to the Watchman, Garfield Peak, and Mount Scott. These hikes are all covered in snow well into the summer.

There is another great trail that runs from the Rim Village to the Watchman on the crater's south-west rim. This hike is perfect for getting out of the car and away from the crowds with continuous views of the lake as you hike.

Wizard Island - only accessible via boat tour during summer months. The summit of the cinder cone is an awesome short hike and if you move quickly you can see Fumarole Bay as well on a standard 3-hour visit.

Hiking around the rim of Wizard Island - a cinder cone volcano inside Crater Lake

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Best time to visit: November through March

Recommended Hikes: Sidewinder Canyon, Mosaic Canyon, Golden Canyon, Mesquite Flat Sanddunes

Ideal For: Hiking, Camping, Auto-Touring, 4WD Auto-Touring

Where to stay: Campgrounds and hotels at Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells

Park Website - Park Map

Death Valley is the largest national park in the lower 48 and one of its most underrated. The valley is striking and imposing with steep, rugged mountains that tower above canyons, salt flats, and sand dunes. There is a ton to see here and drive times between attractions are long. The park's huge size makes it feel less crowded than most national parks, even during peak season holidays.

Death Valley is a winter park - visit November through March to be able to hike and see all the canyons. Summers are too hot to visit and older cars may overheat when driving through.

Must See Attractions:

Badwater Basin - The lowest point in North America and a great place to see some of Death Valley's expansive salt flats. Look for the "Sea Level" sign high up the side of the cliff above the Badwater Basin parking area. 

Natural Bridge - An impressive arch made of rocks and mud that have been cemented together over the eons. The arch is about a half mile from the parking area and requires a slightly uphill hike to see.

Mesquite Flat Sanddunes - The most fun place in the park. The dunes are located in between Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek and you can hike across them for as long or as short as you please.

Ubehebe Crater - A deep and impressive volcanic crater - formed from underground fault lines. It's a pretty long drive to get here but its right on the way to the Racetrack if you are heading out there. 

Devil's Cornfield/Devil's Golf Course - Two cool areas that are easily accessible from the main park road. Seeing these attractions will only take about 10 minutes each.

Racetrack Playa - Home of the famous "sailing rocks" of Death Valley. You will have to drive 50 miles on rough dirt roads to get here. This drive might be doable for a sedan but it would be extremely slow (under 10 mph) and the cost of getting towed out if anything goes wrong is very expensive. If you have your heart set on seeing it and are worried about your car, you can rent a jeep at Furnace Creek

Useful Info:

  • There are great hiking options in Death Valley - but they can't be hiked during summer. Visit in winter to enjoy these routes and explore hidden slot canyons.

  • If driving through the park during summer be weary of overheating you car. The road from the valley to the west entrance gate is steep and can be hard on older vehicles.

  • The park's north entrance and Scotty's Castle are currently closed due to flood damage. It is scheduled to re-open in 2019/2020. Access to Ubehebe Crater and the Racetrack is open from the south.

  • There are gas stations and small general stores at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells.

  • Drinking water is available at the visitor center and campgrounds - bring your bottles to fill up.

  • There is no shuttle service in Death Valley National Park.

Where to Stay:

Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells both have hotel options and camping options. Both spots are right in the heart of the park and are ideal for exploring Death Valley in its entirety. The park's large size makes staying outside its boundaries unrealistic.

Furnace Creek has a large campground that can be reserved online in advance here. It also has cabin style rustic lodging and a modern hotel which can both be reserved here.

Stovepipe Wells has a small campground which is first-come-first-served, and a rustic hotel which can be reserved here.

There are several more primitive campgrounds throughout the park which are first-come-first-served. They are at higher elevations which make them ideal if you are looking for somewhere to camp in hotter months. 

Hiking in Death Valley:

There are a lot of really cool canyons up and down the valley that you can hike. There are slot canyons, arches, and dryfalls (dry waterfalls) throughout these routes. 

Sidewinder Canyon - This is a must-do hike and it's not very well known. The hike is up a major wash with 4 distinct slot canyons branching off from it. The slot canyons are all located on the right side of the wash as you hike up, and there is a good chance you will have them all to yourself. The trail is not marked on the map, but the trailhead can be found roughly 32 miles down the Badwater Road. Read more about the hike and finding the canyon here.

Mosaic Canyon - Another must-do hike with prominent dryfalls and marble walled slot canyons. The bottom section of this hike is pretty crowded but it becomes more and more empty as you hike further. There are two sections that seem like they are impassable, but if you read the hike description here, you will find instructions on how to get passed them. 

Golden Canyon - This is probably the most popular and crowded hike in Death Valley. Golden Canyon is made up of yellow hills and ridges that look similar to the rock formations found in Badlands National Park. It has several route options which allow for customization. Read more about Golden Canyon here.

Click here for more Death Valley hikes and route descriptions.

Parts that I missed

Scotty's Castle - Currently closed due to flood damage, but scheduled to open in 2019/2020.

Dante's View - A viewpoint high above the valley which can be reached in a car. Dante's View is sometimes closed when there is snow.

Titus Canyon - A steep dirt road leads through Titus Canyon which is one of the most popular canyons in the park. There are also a few hiking options in Titus Canyon. Read more about it here

Dirt Road Destinations - Besides the Racetrack and Titus Canyon, there are many more destinations that you can reach via dirt roads. There are several canyons on the west bank of the valley that look to have cool hiking routes, and another dune field at the very northern end of the park called the "Eureka Dunes". 4WD vehicles are best to explore these destinations.

Traversing the Mesquite Flat Sanddunes in the heart of the Death Valley National Park
A hyperlapse of "the Grandstand" at the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park

Bad Water Basin 

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Best time to visit: Summer

Recommended Hikes: Savage Alpine Trail, Mt Healy, Eielson Alpine Trail

Ideal For: Hiking, Back-country camping, Wildlife Viewing, Flight-Seeing, Mountain-Climbing

Where to stay: Campgrounds in the park, Towns of McKinley Park and Talkeenta

Park Website - Park Map

Far and away the tallest and most imposing mountains in North America - Denali National Park is a vast, pristine wilderness. The southern half of the park is entirely made up of jagged peaks and glaciers, including the 20,310 foot Denali. The northern half is mostly tundra, home to all of Alaska’s famous wildlife. Summer is the best time to visit Alaska for better weather and super long days. Plan for rain throughout Alaska on any given summer day.

What to Expect from Alaska:

I spent summer 2018 working for Talkeetna Air Taxi. Below is some basic advice for a trip in Alaska:

  • Drive times are brutally long. Expect traffic delays throughout the state due to road construction during summer.

  • Always be prepared for rain. Weather patterns change quickly and forecasts are often wrong even one day in advance.

  • Lodging is expensive and generally not luxurious. Campgrounds are abundant and far more affordable.

  • Don’t try to see too much. If something in Alaska is a must-see for you, budget extra days in that area and consider skipping attractions that aren’t nearby.

Denali - Must See Attractions:

Talkeetna - This awesome little town is basecamp for all flight-seeing and mountain climbing done in Denali National Park. The town is just 60 miles south of Denali’s peak, and on clear days, the sight of the mountain from town is jaw-dropping. Activities in Talkeetna include Denali Flight-Seeing, river rafting, fishing excursions, ATVing, and jet-boating.

Flight-seeing - Flight-seeing in Denali National Park is an incredible experience. Many visitors have told me that it is the highlight of the vacation. There are tons of flight-seeing companies throughout Alaska, and for Denali, I recommend Talkeetna Air Taxi. I worked for this company and I can say that their pilots, planes, and office staff are second to none.

Denali Sled Dogs - The sled dogs of Denali spend the winter patrolling the park and the summer entertaining park visitors. There are daily demonstrations and visitors can pet some of the dogs if they wish.

Denali Bus Tour - The northern tundra area of the park is accessible via park bus tours and it offers the best chance to see Alaska’s wildlife. The tour busses can be reserved online here. There are two types of tours - the less expensive one is the better option (in my opinion). Both tour types will stop for any and all wildlife sightings.

Eielsen Visitor Center and Wonder Lake - These are the last two stops on the bus tour and they offer the best views of Denali’s north face - the “Wickersham Wall” - which is the highest continuous mountain rise in the world. The bus tours start running to these destinations in early June and close in mid September.

Denali State Park - About halfway between Talkeetna and the National Park entrance. There are two major viewpoints of Denali in the State Park, and a couple of nice lakes. Kesugi Ridge is a popular backpacking destination in the area.

Where to Stay:

There are a lot of lodging options in the town of McKinley Park near the park entrance. The hotels are all pretty expensive.

There are six campgrounds in the park, and several more private campgrounds in the area surrounding McKinley Park. Camping is much more affordable than the hotels. Campgrounds in the park can be reserved online here.

Hiking in Denali:

The park is famous for “off trail” hiking. You are allowed to hike anywhere across the tundra, except for certain wildlife closures. There are also a few official hiking routes in the park, discussed below:

Mt Healy - A popular trail near the parks entrance - the hike climbs 1,700 vertical feet for a great view of the mountains in the area, although there are no views of Denali. The bottom half of the hike is below the treeline, making it potentially dangerous for moose and bear encounters. Read more about the hike here.

Savage Alpine Trail - This trail runs from Savage River to the Savage River Campground, but the best part of the trail is right near the parking area at Savage River. Most of the trail is above the treeline and it offers views of Denali on clear days. Read more about it here.

Eielson Alpine Trail - There is an awesome trail that departs from the Eielson visitor enter and climbs high with consistent views of Denali. The hike is harder to access given it’s at the very end of the bus tour - book an early bus if you want to do this one. Read more about it here.

the Savage Alpine Trail in Denali National Park, Alaska

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Best time to visit: Late Summer

Recommended Hikes: Avalanche Lake, Grinnell Glacier, Two Medicine Lake, Hidden Lake, Highline Trail

Ideal For: Hiking, Wild-life Viewing, Backpacking, Camping, Auto-Touring, Fishing

Where to stay: On the east side of the park (St. Mary, East Glacier, or Many Glacier)

Park Website - Park Map

Glacier is "the" favorite national park for a lot of outdoor enthusiasts. It is massive and has a lot to offer, with great wildlife-viewing, outstanding hiking, waterfalls, lakes, and mind-blowing mountainscapes. It is a highly seasonal park - almost everything is closed for most of the year, except for summer. Late summer is best for snow-free hiking routes and roads. Early summer offers its own advantages, including smaller crowds and stronger flowing waterfalls. 

Must See Attractions:

Going-to-the-Sun Road - The park's most famous attraction. The road is closed for most of the year, but opens in summer when the snow clears. There are viewpoints where you can pull over, but most of the road is narrow and windy with steep dropoffs to valley's below. The road reaches it's highest point at Logan Pass which is where the hikes to Hidden Lake and the Highline Trail begin. There is a small visitor center at Logan Pass but parking fills up early every day.

Avalanche Lake - This is the big attraction on the park's west side and it can be accessed even when the Going-to-the-Sun Road is still closed. Avalanche Lake is a green gem surrounded by granite cliffs, with multiple waterfalls flowing down into it. Getting here requires a moderate hike by Glacier's standards at about 4.5 miles roundtrip. Click here for more information on this hike. 

Many Glacier - This is a compact district on the East side of the park, with a single, out and back road. It's famous for two popular day hikes to Grinnell Glacier and Iceberg Lake. The Many Glacier Hotel is a historical landmark right in heart of Many Glacier, and you can take a small ferry across the lakes during summer months. If you are a hiker, you can spend at least two full days in Many Glacier. Auto-tourers can see it in one day.

Two Medicine - Similar to Many Glacier, but without the hotel and slightly smaller crowds. Popular hikes here are No Name Lake, Cobalt Lake and Dawson Pass. Running Eagle Falls is worth seeing as well and it just requires a short walk to reach. Ferries run across Two Medicine Lake during summer which can cut a few miles off the above hikes - read more about them in the hiking section below.

Waterton Lakes National Park - If you bring your passport, you can visit Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. It's a much more developed atmosphere up here - the heart of the park is a full-fledged town with restaurants, shops, and quaint hotels right on the banks of lakes, surrounded by steep mountain faces. Click here for more information on Waterton Lakes. 

Useful Info:

  • Glacier NP is frustratingly seasonal. Snow lasts well into summer and comes early in fall, with prime visiting season being just a few months during summer.

  • Beware of fire season - Late summer is great for open roads and trails but forest fires can render mountain peaks obscured behind smoke.

  • It's best to get lodging on the east side of the park to significantly reduce daily drive times. There are three major districts on the east side compared to just one on the west side. See more info on the where to stay below.

  • Glacier is home to both black bears and grizzly bears - proper food storage is required at all times, and extra caution needs to be used whenever hiking in grizzly territory. Read more about bear safety here.

  • There are boat tours on numerous lakes throughout the park - click here to read more about them and to book online.

  • Drinking water is available at most developed areas of the park, including visitor centers and campgrounds. Bring your water bottle to fill up.

  • There is shuttle service that runs the length of the Going-to-the-Sun road during late summer only - using the shuttle is a good way to avoid the hassle of parking, but it can be slow and crowded. There is no charge to use the shuttles - it is included with the park entrance fee.

  • Glacier also has two tour companies that run private bus tours on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. These are not free, but offer a more in-depth experience than the crowded shuttle system. Read more about the bus tours here.

Where to Stay:

East side of the park.

You will spend much less time driving each day to see everything. Drive time between the east and west side is up to an hour, one-way. If you are planning to visit in late summer, you will need to book your lodging as early as possible. The east-side campgrounds can fill up as soon as they become available on recreation.gov - six months in advance. The west side fills up slower so it's a good option if the east side is full. Hotels on either side of the park are more likely to be available but also much more expensive than camping. 

The districts are as follows:

Many Glacier - Home to the historic Many Glacier Hotel and also a developed campground. Click here to book a room at the Many Glacier Hotel, and here for the campground. Book as early as possible.

St Mary - A small town on the east edge of the park. This is a perfectly central location to see all of Glacier and Waterton Lakes with the least amount of drive time each day. There are a few options for hotels here and also a campground which can be reserved online here. St Mary is also the access point to the Going-to-the-Sun Road's east end.

East Glacier - Another small town on the east side of the park. East Glacier is right next to the Two Medicine district and offers similar accommodations as St. Mary. It's another good option for lodging on the east side of the park, but I would recommend St Mary over East Glacier if possible.

West Glacier - West Glacier has the park's largest campground called "Fish Creek" which can be reserved online here. It fills up slower than the east-side campgrounds but still fills up in advance. West Glacier has a few options for hotels and restaurants, but the drive times to the east side of the park from here are long. Stay on the east side of the park if you can!

Hiking in Glacier:

Glacier is grizzly bear country - If you plan to hike in Glacier, carry bear spray and read up on ways to reduce your chances of a negative encounter here

Hidden Lake - Hidden Lake is an unreal sight to behold and one of the most popular spots in the park. It can be enjoyed from high above with a moderate hike or on its shores with a more strenuous hike. The trailhead leaves from the Logan Pass Visitor Center and is entirely above the treeline, making it safe for seeing, but not surprising wildlife. Mountain goats love to hang out in this area - you will very likely see them. The hike is closed whenever the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed. Read more about it here.

Highline Trail - Another famous hike that leaves from the Logan Pass Visitor Center. The hike starts off with a stomach wrenching stretch along a cliff above the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It continues for miles along the side of the mountain peaks that make up the continental divide, providing stunning views out towards the west. Fit hikers can choose from a few destinations on this trail, and more casual hikers can just go out for a mile or so to soak in the views. Read more about the Highline Trail here. This trail is closed whenever the Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed.

Avalanche Lake - This hike offers good return on investment as it's shorter than most Glacier hikes - only about 4.5 miles round-trip. The trailhead is on the West side of the park near Lake Mcdonald, and the hike itself is usually open in early summer even if the Going-to-the-Sun road is still closed. This hike is really popular so expect many others to be on the trail and enjoying the lake next to you. While Avalanche Lake is a great endpoint, the entire hike is below the treeline, so there aren't any other views until you reach the lake. Read more about the hike here.  

Grinnell Glacier - Located in the Many Glacier district, Grinnell Glacier is a great day hike to see turquoise lakes and a glacier up close. Hikers can get all the way up to the Glaicer where a small, turquoise lake sits and feeds the larger Grinnell Lake below. The hike can be shortened by using the ferries when they are running in the summer, and this is a good place to see Bighorn Sheep. The hike begins in thick forest but opens up once you reach the first major lake. Read more about the hike here

Two Medicine - There are a lot of hiking options here - in late summer you can take a ferry across the lake to get closer to out-and-back hiking destinations like Dawson Pass, No Name Lake, Upper Two Medicine Lake, and Cobalt Lake. Crowds are a little thinner here than in Many Glacier. 

I haven't personally hiked to Dawson Pass or Iceberg Lake, so be sure to research those as I have heard they are great. There are many more hiking routes that go deep into the Glacier backcountry, but they will require overnight backpacking.

Hidden Lake - Glacier National Park

the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park, Montana

A few hyperlapses I shot in Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks. Locations in order of appearance: Upper Waterton Lake, Avalanche Lake, Grinnell Lake, Two Medicine, and Running Eagle Falls

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon runs east to west so if you want to see both rims in one trip, you will need to either drive for hours or hike for days. The south rim is the most popular and easiest to access, and it has many more viewpoints than the north rim. The north rim closes during winter and it's significantly less developed, but it's also MUCH less crowded and many visitors prefer it over the south rim. 

Below are my recommendations for both - scroll halfway down to find the north rim section

South Rim

Best time to visit: Year Around 

Recommended Hikes: Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail, Rim Walk

Ideal For: Hiking, Camping, Biking, Auto-Touring

Where to stay: Campgrounds and rustic hotels in the park and just outside the park boundary

Park Website - Park Map

The Grand Canyon south rim is one of the most popular national parks in the country and it is a year around destination. Summer months are very hot and winter months are very cold with snow, but the gates are open all year long. Spring and fall are ideal for the most comfortable weather. Be prepared for massive crowds at the south rim if visiting on a weekend or around holidays.

Must See Attractions:

The Grand Canyon south rim is a park of viewpoints, all of which are just a short walk from parking areas or shuttle stops. They are all similar as they all look out to the same canyon, but they are also somewhat unique. Don't hesitate to pull the car over at any of them - they are all worth seeing.

There are two primary hiking trails that lead down into the canyon from the south rim, and both are challenging hikes as they have big elevation gains when hiking out. Most visitors can enjoy the entire south rim without hiking down into the canyon. Seeing every viewpoint will require two full days.

Desert View Watchtower - a beautiful structure designed by architect Mary Colter in 1932. The watchtower is located at the furthest east viewpoint on the south rim. Visitors can go inside and climb the tower up three levels for an even better view of the surrounding landscape. It takes about 40 minutes to drive to the watchtower from the main village.

Rim Walk - There is a walking and biking path along most of the south rim, running from one viewpoint to the next. Sections of it are very crowded, especially near the Village and visitor centers, but the further out you go, the less crowded it will be. The section that runs out to Yaki Point from the visitor center is an especially great option for walking or biking.

Hermit's Rest - this is the furthest west viewpoint, and it features another small historic building designed by Mary Colter called Hermit's Rest. There is a small store here where you can buy food and other products, There are 9 official viewpoints/shuttle stops between Hermit's Rest and the village. The round-trip shuttle route takes about 80 minutes without getting off at any stops. During the winter, the road is opened to private vehicles, but may also be closed for snow. The road is only accessible via shuttle during spring, summer, and fall.

Useful Info:

  • The shuttle system at the south rim is extensive and necessary to use when the park is crowded. It's best to lock down a parking spot in the Village early in the day and then use the shuttles to get around. Parking lots everywhere can be full throughout the day, so avoid moving your car once you park. There is no charge to use the shuttles.

  • There is no shuttle service east of Yaki Point. This part of the canyon has exceptional viewpoints that are very different from what is seen at western Hermit's Rest. You should be able to find parking at the viewpoints out here, even during peak season. It takes about 40 minutes to drive from the main village to the Desert View Watchtower, one-way.

  • Hiking into the canyon is doable at the south rim. Prepare for a significant increase in temperature as you climb down into the canyon and a punishing climb out. Hikers can hike to the river from the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trailheads, but the park encourages people not to hike all the way down and back out in a single day. Read more about these routes in the hiking section below.

  • The Grand Canyon Village is huge. It has several museums and hotels, a post-office, a large general store, and multiple places to eat. There are gas stations outside the park's southern gate and at the Desert View Watchtower.

  • You can rent bikes in the Grand Canyon Village. Biking is a good way to cover more ground and escape the crowds.

  • Drinking water is available throughout the Village and at Hermit's Rest and Desert View Watchtower. Bring your water bottle to fill up.

Where to Stay:

There are two campgrounds at the south rim. Mather Campground is located right in the village and it can be reserved online in advance here. The other is a first-come-first-served campground near the Watchtower (Desert View Campground) which is closed during winter months. 

There are several hotels/lodges in the village - some of them are right near the rim and some rooms will even have views of the canyon. Book them online here.

Hiking at the South Rim

Rim Walk - This is the most enjoyable hike at the south rim, and it can be as short or as long as you please. There are constant views of the canyon with limited elevation change and some shade from trees. It runs along most of the rim, from Hermit's Rest all the way down to Yaki Point. The sections of this trail near Grand Canyon Village are very crowded but the further you walk from there, the fewer people there will be. Biking along this route is a great way to cover more ground in less time. 

Bright Angel Trail - The most popular route to go down into the canyon. This trail goes all the way to the Colorado River (and continues on to the north rim), and also forks off to a viewpoint called Plateau Point which overlooks the river. The Bright Angel Trail descends quickly and steeply into the canyon before it starts to move out towards the river, so you have to invest a lot of vertical feet right away. There is drinking water available at three rest-stops along this trail. Read more about the hike here.

South Kaibab Trail - The other major hiking trail into the canyon which meets up with the Bright Angel Trail at the Colorado River. This trail runs along a butte which extends way out into the canyon before descending, making it quite different than the Bright Angel Trail. I personally think the views offered on the South Kaibab Trail are better than the Bright Angel Trail. However, there is NO WATER available along this route. The trailhead is near Yaki Point, which can only be reached via shuttle. Read more about the hike here.

 

 

North Rim

Best time to visit: Summer (North Rim is closed winters)

Recommended Hikes: Widforss Trail, North Kaibab Trail, Cape Royal/Angel's Window

Ideal For: Hiking, Camping, Auto-Touring, Escaping the crowds of the south rim

Where to stay: Cabins at the Grand Canyon Lodge or the North Rim Campground

Park Website - Park Map

The north rim of the Grand Canyon feels completely different than the south rim. It is 1,000 feet higher in elevation and the rim is three times further away from the Colorado River. It feels like much more of a landscape than a viewpoint; all the rock formations visible in the distance from the south rim are up close and personal at the north rim. The crowds are significantly smaller at the north rim compared to the south rim. Due to an average of 12 feet of snow per year, the north rim is closed during winter, usually opening for the season in May of each year. 

Must See Attractions:

Grand Canyon Lodge - I don't normally recommend man-made attractions, but this is a must-see. It is a beautiful building with a restaurant, bar, and seating right on the rim, overlooking the canyon. This is a great place to sit and relax at any time of day. Bright Angel Point is a quarter-mile walk from here.

Cape Royal - the furthest point you can drive to at the North Rim. From the parking lot, it's a short and flat walk out to Cape Royal and Angel's Window viewpoints. Look for the south rim's Desert View Watchtower on the horizon across the canyon.

Point Imperial - a nice viewpoint of the eastern canyon - this is a good place to be during sunset, although the sun will be setting behind you. The colors in the canyon are best after the sun is no longer visible but before it gets too dark. 

Useful Info:

  • The north rim is a summer park - park services start to shut down in mid-October, but the gates remain open to day visitors until the first major snow closes the road, or until December 1. Everything starts to open up again in mid-May the following year.

  • If you have your heart set on hiking down to the Colorado River - the north rim is not the place to do it. You can hike down into the canyon from the north rim, but the walk to the river is 8 miles longer than it would be from the south rim.

  • A trip to the north rim can be combined with a trip to nearby Zion National Park. The city of Page, AZ is worth visiting as well - home to Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, both of which can be seen in a single, long day trip. Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is right near the north rim as well.

  • There is a general store and gas station near the campground, and food/drinks available at the Lodge (these start to close mid-October)

  • Drinking water is available at the campground and at the lodge and visitor center. Eastern viewpoints like Point Imperial and Cape Royal do not have drinking water available, so fill up before heading out that direction.

  • There is no shuttle service at the north rim.

Where to Stay:

The best options are in the park at either the North Rim Campground or the Grand Canyon Lodge/cabins. Both are right near the rim, but the lodge and cabins are pricey.  There is camping and small hotels just outside of the park boundary and further up the road in the small town of Jacob Lake.

Hiking at the North Rim:

Widforss Point - This is a really enjoyable hike with a great endpoint - it's about 10 miles round trip and offers good chances to see wildlife and unique views of the canyon. Read more about this hike here.

North Kaibab Trail - This is the one route from the north rim than descends into the canyon. Day hiking to the river is not possible from the north rim, but it can be be done as an overnight backpacking trip. There are some cool landmarks you can reach day hiking on this trail, including the Supai Tunnel and the Redwall Bridge. Beware - It's easy to underestimate the hike out compared to the hike down. The trail is hot and has a steady incline. Read more about the hike here.

Cape Final Trail - A nice mid range hike at about 4 miles round trip; the end point is a great view but it's similar to the views at Point Imperial and Roosevelt Point, which can both be reached in a car. I recommend Widforss Point over Cape Final if you are debating between the two. Read more about Cape Final here.

Uncle Jim Trail - I haven't done this one but it looks like another nice moderate hike at about 5 miles roundtrip. Read more about this hike here.

All of the north rim hiking routes can be seen in detail on the North Rim park map link above.

Hiking the South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park - South Rim
The Supai Tunnel on the North Kaibab Trail - Grand Canyon National Park (North Rim)

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Best time to visit: Year Around

Ideal For: Hiking and backpacking

Where to stay: Town of Escalante

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is an incredible landscape and one of my personal favorite places in the country. Make no mistake - the attractions here are "national park" worthy, but the infrastructure is not. All attractions can only be seen via dirt roads, and there is no water or restrooms. Some attractions like Coyote Gulch are best seen on overnight backpacking trips. Spring and early summer have the best weather and the least amount of rain. Monsoon season is late summer which brings sporadic, heavy rainstorms. Winters are cold and summers are hot.

My recommendations below are just based on what I have seen, there is a lot more to see here than the below. 

Useful Info:

  • The most common attractions here are slot canyons. They are really cool but potentially dangerous, especially during rainstorms.

  • Many of the slot canyons often have pools of standing water in them. Wear shoes that you are ready and willing to get wet. Summer may offer the direst conditions.

  • Some basic climbing abilities and good physical fitness/upper body strength is needed in several major slot canyons. There are often obstacles to climb over or under and narrow sections that you have to squeeze through.

  • Most of the dirt roads in the region are accessible to passenger cars, but they may become impassable when theres rain or snow.

Attractions:

Highway 12 - One of the prettiest roads in the country. It runs between Bryce and Capitol Reef National Parks and it gives you a chance to see the diverse landscape of the Grand Staircase. The stretch of road between the towns of Escalante and Boulder is especially cool as it climbs up a narrow ridge that sometimes has huge dropoffs to canyons below. There are many places to pull over and take photos along the road.

Coyote Gulch - Best seen with at least one night of backcountry camping, or preferably two. As of right now, there is no lottery for backpacking permits. Permits can be obtained in person at the Escalante visitor center in the town of Escalante. Reaching the trailhead requires about 30 miles of dirt road driving down "Hole in the Rock Road" which branches off from Highway 12 near the town of Escalante. There are a few trailheads that you can park at - I have used the "Hurricane Wash" trailhead which is the most common and easiest to reach in a car. Most people set up camp near Jacob Hamblin Arch and then spend the next day hiking further down the gulch towards the Escalante River. The entire gulch is mind-blowing with towering walls that come way out over the creek below. Read more about Coyote Gulch here.

Peak-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons - These two slot canyons are the most famous of the region. They can be seen together on a loop hike and also separately on an out-and-back hike. Peek-a-boo is famous for it's small overhead arches and Spooky is really dark and narrow for hundreds of meters. There are sections of both slot canyons that are really narrow, requiring you to walk through them sideways while carrying any bags in your outstretched arms. The entrance to Peak-a-boo requires a scramble up a 15-foot high rock face. There are sometimes pools of water at the entrance so wear shoes that can get wet. Above Peak-a-boo, the hike breaks out into the open and cairns mark the route over to the top of Spooky Gulch. Spooky Gulch is much longer than Peak-a-boo and it's more narrow. There is a 7-foot boulder in Spooky which needs to be climbed down to complete the hike. It's a dark and narrow drop-off and I found it to be more challenging than the entrance to Peak-a-boo. Below this, Spooky gets really crowded and there are traffic jams where people are trying to hike up the slot while others are hiking down. Arrive as early in the morning as possible to beat the crowds. The trailhead is off of the "Hole in the Rock" road near the town of Escalante. For more information on the hike and finding the trailhead, click here.

Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyons - These two are quite pretty but they aren't nearly as long as Peak-a-boo and Spooky. The hike to reach them is longer as well, and they both often have water at their entrances that can't be avoided. Zebra is really short but the patterns on the walls of the slot are really cool. Tunnel has a rock roof over its entire length. The trailhead is off of the "Hole in the Rock" road near the town of Escalante. For more info on the hike and finding the trailhead, click here.

Devils Garden - This area has colorful hoodoos and small arches that you can climb around and explore. It's a fun spot for all ages and a great option if the slot canyons seem a little too intense. The parking area is right next to the hoodoos so very little walking is required to see them. There is also a pit toilet here - the only one in the area. This is 100% worth stopping at, and can be seen in as little as 20 minutes. The trailhead is off of the "Hole in the Rock" road near the town of Escalante. For more info on the hike and finding the trailhead click here.

Little Death Hollow - Another cool slot canyon made of deep red sandstone that goes on for miles. Little Death Hollow starts out as a hike across open desert ecosystem but the sandstone ridges in the distance eventually converge into a slot canyon as you hike. This is a popular backpacking spot and the hike can be done as a number of different loops in the area. There is a point where you will almost always encounter standing water, so this is the turn-around point for most day hikers. The hike is off of the "Burr Trail" road which starts out paved at the town of Boulder, UT before becoming a well-maintained dirt road. Read more about this hike here.

Calf Creek Falls - This is another nice option if you think the slot canyons are not for you. The trailhead is well-marked off of Highway 12, in between the towns of Boulder and Escalante. The hike is about 6 miles roundtrip and the endpoint is a tall waterfall cascading into a green pool. It's a great endpoint and a nice place to swim for kids and adults. Read more about it here.

Kodachrome Basin State Park - This state park exemplifies why the region is called a "grand staircase". It's located 20 miles East of Bryce Canyon NP. There are some cool hiking routes here and a campground. Read more about it here.

Where to Stay:

The small town of Escalante is the best place to set up base camp for exploring the region. Most of the attractions mentioned above are on the "Hole in the Rock" road which begins right near the town of Escalante. There are a few rustic hotels in town, and also a few campground/RV Parks and places to buy food and supplies. From here, most attractions mentioned above can be reached with an hours drive or less. 

Parts that I missed

Some attractions to research further include: the Cosmic Ashtray, Bighorn Slot Canyon, Last Chance Canyon, and Red Breaks.

Coyote Gulch on the borders of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Zebra Slot Canyon - Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Best time to visit: Summer (but great to visit year-around)

Recommended Hikes: Jenny Lake, Bradley/Taggart Lakes, Amphitheater Lake

Ideal For: Hiking, Backpacking, Wild-Life Viewing, Camping, Boating, Winter Sports, Auto-Touring

Where to stay: Towns of Jackson or Moose, or campgrounds and hotels in the park

Park Website - Park Map

The Tetons are a uniquely beautiful mountain range with picturesque lakes and abundant wildlife. Ancient glaciers carved deep canyons between the peaks, all of which offer hiking routes deep into the wilderness. Wildlife is abundant here - Look for moose, elk, pronghorn, bears, and bison throughout the park. Grand Teton NP is open year around but has seasonal road closures. Snow lingers well into summer on the high altitude hiking routes. Summer is the ideal time to visit for the best weather.

Must See Attractions:

Jenny Lake - The most popular lake in the park - Jenny Lake is right at the base of the tallest peaks in the range. There is a lodge and visitor center on the banks of the Lake, and a boathouse that runs ferries across the lake. Kayaks can be rented on Jenny Lake at the boathouse during late summer. The hike around Jenny Lake is outstanding.

Mormon Row - An icon of the Tetons - Mormon Row is a historical settlement from the late 1800s that is a favorite for photographers visiting the park. Read more about it on the park's website here

Colter Bay - A good place to see Jackson Lake - the largest lake in the park with Mount Moran rising up across the water. There are a few hiking routes that begin here. Motor-boating is allowed on Jackson Lake - all boats must stop for an invasive species inspection before entering the lake.

Useful Info:

  • Grand Teton National Park is just 12 miles from Yellowstone National Park - all visitors should plan to see both parks in a single trip. It takes about 3 hours to drive from the heart of Grand Teton to the heart of Yellowstone on Highway 191 (closed winters). Read more about Yellowstone here.

  • Wildlife is abundant - if you see a crowd on the roadside, there is probably a bear in sight. Look for moose near standing water and pronghorns on the open plains.

  • The Tetons are home to both black bears and grizzly bears - proper food storage is required at all times, and extra caution needs to be used whenever hiking in grizzly territory. Read more about bear safety here.

  • There is a shuttle boat that goes across Jenny Lake from late spring through early fall. Click here for more information and ticket prices.

  • Motor-boating is allowed on Jackson Lake. All boats must go through an invasive species inspection before entering the lake.

  • Kayaks can be rented during summer on Jackson Lake at the Signal Mountain Lodge. Kayaks can also be rented at the boathouse on Jenny Lake, but only in late summer after the water reaches a certain temperature.

  • Backcountry and mountain climbing permit information can be found here.

  • Jackson Hole Ski Resort is just outside the park's southern boundary. There is a tram and gondola here that visitors can ride up for great views of the park. Click here for more information.

  • Drinking water is available at campgrounds and visitor centers throughout the park - Bring your water bottle to fill up.

  • There is no shuttle service in Grand Teton NP.

Where to Stay:

There are a bunch of options - There are several rustic hotels in the park boundaries in addition to many more options in nearby Jackson and Moose (Jackson Hole area). There is even a hostel in Moose, great for winter ski trips and summer hiking trips. Click here for info on the hostel.

There are numerous campgrounds in the park. Read more about them here.

Also consider staying in Yellowstone if you can’t find anything available for the Tetons.

Hiking in the Tetons:

I've only hiked a few of the trails in the Tetons, so the below is limited to my experience. Carry bear spray and study up on bear safety if you plan to be hiking in Grand Teton or Yellowstone:

Jenny Lake - There is a hiking path that goes around the lake, which can be extended to String Lake, Leigh Lake, and Cascade Canyon. This is a great hike to enjoy views of the mountains, and it can be shortened by taking the ferry across the lake. Read more about the hike here.

Amphitheater Lake - A small lake way up in the mountains. Amphitheater lake is surrounded by peaks and glaciers, including the Grand Teton peak itself. The hike starts at either Lupine Meadows or Taggart Lake trailheads. The higher elevation sections of this hike will have snow on them into the early summer. Read more about the hike here.

Colter Bay - There are a handful of routes that take off from the visitor center here, but in my experience, they can be heavily forested with minimal views until you come to lakeshores. I recommend doing the short hikes in this area (about a mile in length) and saving your long hikes for spots with more elevation gain.

the Great American Eclipse, as seen from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming - August 21, 2017

A few hyperlapses I shot in the Tetons. Locations in order of appearance: Mormon Row, Ampitheater Lake, Taggart Lake Trail Head, and Jenny Lake

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Best time to visit: Fall through Spring

Recommended Hikes/Walks: Boy Scout Trail to Willow Hole, Hidden Valley, Barker Dam, Ryan Mountain, Split Rock Loop

Ideal For: Hiking, Rock Climbing, Auto-Touring, Horseback Riding, Star-Gazing

Where to stay: north/west side of the park

Park Website - Park Map

Joshua Trees grow throughout the Mojave desert which spans three U.S. states, but their densest concentration is found in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. Besides the trees, the park is famous for giant outcroppings of granite boulders, created by tectonic fault lines in the region. Joshua Tree is a desert park and it gets dangerously hot during summer, making fall and spring the most pleasant time to visit. Winter can be cold and windy but still preferable to summer.

Must See Attractions:

North side of the Park - Not a distinct section, but the entire northwestern half of the park is where all the Joshua Trees are concentrated. It is literally a forest of them - they go on and on and seem to be perfectly spaced out between each other. The drive from the park's west entrance to the Pinto Basin Road is spectacular.

Queen Valley Road - This is a dirt road, but it is well maintained and easily handled by all vehicle types when dry. The road is narrow but it is marked as a two-way route. When driving the route, try to go right at forks to avoid coming face to face with another car at a narrow section.

Barker Dam - A nice, short walk to an old dam that was built in the early 1900s by the first pioneers to settle here. This walk can be extended to a hike into a serene patch of Joshua Tree forest, surrounded by piles of granite boulders on all sides. Read more about it in the hiking section below. 

Arch Rock - Located right next to the White Tank campground, Arch Rock is impressive and quite large for a natural bridge made of granite. There is some parking near the trailhead - within the campground. it's a short walk to reach the arch.

Key's View - The highest elevation in the park that you can reach in a car. This viewpoint looks out across the Coachella Valley and on clear days, you can see the Salton Sea and sometimes all the way to Mexico.

Other Granite Outcroppings - There are many outcroppings of granite boulders piled up throughout Joshua Tree. The rocks are weathered into rounded shapes and they really are a cool characteristic of the park. They are very popular for rock climbers but casual hikers can enjoy exploring them and even scrambling up them. Many of the outcroppings have names, and many more do not. Explore at will!

Useful Info:

  • Joshua Tree's desert climate can reach summer temperatures well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid summer months if possible. Winter nights can drop below freezing.

  • There are a lot of hiking routes in the park that are not marked on the park map. The park newspaper has more details on these routes. Check at the visitor center for more detailed hiking maps as well.

  • Joshua Tree has one of the darkest night skies in Southern California, making it a great place for star-gazing and for watching meteor showers.

  • Drinking water is available at the visitor center and at the west entrance station, but nowhere else within the park boundaries (including most of the campgrounds). Fill up at the entrance stations, and be sure to bring your own supply if you are planning to stay at the campgrounds.

  • Joshua Tree is piloting a shuttle service during spring 2018 and 2019. Read more about it here.

Where to Stay:

On the north side of the park. The northwest part of the park is the Mojave Desert which is where all the Joshua Trees and granite outcroppings are. The southeast side of the park is the Colorado Desert which is flatter with less vegetation and very few Joshua Trees.

There is a small town just outside of the park's west entrance gate which has a few hotel options and also has houses available for rent on Air BnB.

There are several campgrounds that can be reserved online in advance. These campgrounds a good options and worth booking in advance, but are almost always full on weekends. They can be reserved online in advance here.

There are more first-come-first-served campgrounds in the Mojave section of the park. Each is nestled into granite outcroppings and they offer the best overnight experience in Joshua Tree, especially for star-gazing. These campgrounds have no drinking water so be sure to bring your own. The sites are highly prized and are often full, especially on weekends.

Hiking in Joshua Tree:

If you look at the park map, there doesn't appear to be many hiking routes in Joshua Tree - that is not really the case! There are a lot of trails that are not marked on the main park map. The park newspaper that you get at the entrance station has more detailed hiking options and maps.

Boy Scout Trail to Willow Hole - This is my favorite hike in Joshua Tree. It should be started from the south end of the Boy Scout Trail which is about a mile east of Quail Springs, near the parks west entrance gate. The Boy Scout Trail runs all the way to the park's northern boundary, but the turnoff to Willow Hole is well before that. Willow Hole is an “S” curved granite canyon that gets narrower and narrower until it becomes impassable for the average day hiker. This is the turn around point for the hike. The Boy Scout Trail runs through some of the most serene patches of Joshua Trees in the park - I highly recommend this hike! Read more about it here.

Barker Dam - The Barker Dam Loop by itself is better classified as a walk than a hike, but it can be extended to explore an area of secluded Joshua Trees that are surrounded on all sides by tall granite rock formations. The exit point to reach this section is to the west of Barker Dam and it runs all the way to the dirt road that leads to Key's Ranch. This area is really tranquil and it can be explored by following the washes that run between the trees. Try to stay in the wash area (deep sand/no vegetation) in this area and avoid cutting your own path across the desert floor.

Split Rock Loop - Not as famous as its cousin Skull Rock Loop, but in my opinion, Split Rock is the better hike of the two. It is a few miles east of the Jumbo Rocks campground. This hike is not marked on the main park map, but there is a sign on the road to points to the turn-off. The hike is a two mile loop among massive granite boulders. If you are comfortable scrambling on the rocks, there are some really cool, tight spaces and caves that you can squeeze through just off the trail. 

Squaw Tank Trail - This is a long hike that is way off the beaten path. This hike starts at the Ryan Campground and the first few miles is on the eastbound California Riding and Hiking Trail. The Squaw Tank Trail splits off from the Riding/Hiking Trail after a few miles. The split off is easy to miss but it is marked by a metal sign and there are more trail markers with arrows further along this route. Squaw Tank Trail mostly follows a wash on a slight downslope through the most remote granite outcroppings in the park. It is an out-and-back hike, so when you have gone as far as you wish, the way back is the way you came. I would estimate this hike to be about 9 miles roundtrip with minimal elevation change. You will likely see nobody else on this trail.

Ryan Mountain - This hike offers a nice climb given most hikes in Joshua Tree are pretty flat. Ryan Mountain is in the center of the park and its peak offers outstanding views in every direction. Read more about the hike here.

Other hikes/walks that you may want to consider are the Skull Rock Loop, the Cholla Cactus Garden, and the Pine City Trail.

49 Palm Oasis and Desert Queen Mine can safely be skipped.

Off the Beaten Track

Geology Tour Road - I haven't driven this as it is advertised as requiring 4 wheel drive, but I have found info online saying that the first 6 miles of it can be handled by most cars. Read more about it here. There a few other rugged dirt roads in the park which require 4-wheel drive for anyone interested in off-road auto-touring,

Parts that I missed

Cholla Cactus Garden - This short nature walk looks pretty cool. See a video of it here.

 

A section of the Boy Scout Trail in Joshua Tree National Park

Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park

Best time to visit: Summer (salmon runs peak in July)

Ideal For: Brown Bear viewing

Where to stay: Brooks Camp

Park Website - Park Map

Katmai is the best place in the world to see wild brown bears. There are an estimated 2,200 of them in the park, compared to 300 in Denali and 500 in Yellowstone. They are some of the largest bears on Earth, thanks to abundant salmon runs and total isolation from human development. The most common place to see the bears is at Brooks Falls, but more adventurous visitors can hire backcountry guides and go deeper into the park. Salmon runs peak in July, but other summer months may still offer good bear viewing.

What to Expect from Alaska:

I spent summer 2018 in Alaska, working for Talkeetna Air Taxi. Below is some basic advice for a trip in Alaska:

  • Drive times are brutally long. Expect traffic delays throughout the state due to road construction during summer.

  • Always be prepared for rain. Weather patterns change quickly and forecasts are often wrong even one day in advance.

  • Lodging is expensive and generally not luxurious. Campgrounds are abundant and far more affordable.

  • Don’t try to see too much. If something in Alaska is a must-see for you, budget extra days in that area and consider skipping attractions that aren’t nearby.

Katmai - Brooks Falls

Brooks Falls is a world-famous waterfall where bears feed on salmon. There is a platform right next to the waterfall which is open to visitors in 30 minute increments. You can add your name to the list to re-enter the platform as many times as you have time for.

The lower viewing platform is about 100 meters from the falls - you can wait here for your turn on the main platform. There are often bears in the area, feeding on the scraps floating down from the dominant bears upstream.

The waterfall is about a miles hike from Brooks Camp. It is possible that you will encounter a bear on the trail. All visitors go through a bear safety orientation which provides advice on how to behave, and it’s worth noting that the bears here are well fed and accustomed to seeing people. Still, it doesn’t hurt to walk with others en route to the falls.

Where to Stay:

Several tour companies offer single day trips to Katmai from Anchorage and Homer. These trips do not stay overnight, so you only have 2-3 hours at Brooks Falls. I did this trip in July and it was the highlight of my summer in Alaska. If you really enjoy wildlife viewing, you should consider staying overnight.

There is a rustic lodge at Brooks Camp which can be reserved online in advance here. There is also a campground at Brooks Camp which can be reserved online here. Book early if you plan to visit in July.

Other Attractions:

Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes - a shuttle that takes visitors here from Brooks Camp, but you won’t have time to do it unless you are staying overnight. Read more about it on the park’s website here.

Backcountry tours - There are several tour companies that run backcountry trips in Katmai to more remote areas. I imagine they would be awesome, although expensive.

Brown Bears at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, Alaska

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Best time to visit: Summer

Recommended Hikes: Lassen Peak, the Cinder Cone, Bumpass Hell, Manzanita Lake

Ideal For: Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Fishing, Mountain-Climbing, Auto-Touring

Where to stay: Campgrounds in the park

Park Website - Park Map

Lassen is a landscape of volcanic features with peaks, hot springs, and crags. It is open year around, but heavy snowfall closes most of the park for the winter half of the year. Visiting in summer allows access to Lassen Peak and the more remote sections of the park that require travel on dirt roads. 

Must See Attractions:

the Cinder Cone - This is my favorite feature of Lassen. Its a giant pile of loose volcanic gravel that piled up over months of continuous eruptions, some 350 years ago. It's located on the north-east side of the park, and is accessible via a dirt road into the park from Highway 44. There is a steep and exhausting hiking path that goes to the top of the cone and around its central crater, with views of Lassen Peak in the distance. Read more in the hiking section below.

Lassen Peak - The highest point on the park road is right next to Lassen Peak, allowing visitors to get close to it and even hike it if they are able. There are two picturesque lakes at is base to enjoy as well. Snow lasts well into summer on the peak.

Bumpass Hell - Lassen has a number of thermal features, mostly located on the south side of the park. Bumpass Hell is one of the larger thermal areas that can be accessed via hiking route. The hike is about 3 miles roundtrip, but it is closed when there is snow on the ground, which can last well into summer. Read more about the hike here.

Manzanita Lake - A big lake with a great view of Lassen Peak, Manzanita is located just inside the parks north west entrance. There is a great hiking path around the lake, and you can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards at the Manzanita Camp Store. Motorless boats are allowed on Manzanita Lake as well.

Useful Info:

  • Lassen gets a ton of snow each year. While the park is open year around, the dirt roads and the peak are closed throughout the winter half of the year. The paved road which connects the parks west and south entrances is closed until mid-June each year (opening date varies).

  • Only the western side of the park is accessible via paved road. In order to get to the Cinder Cone at the north-east side of the park and Juniper Lake at the south-east side, you will need to drive on well maintained dirt roads (open summer only).

  • Hot springs are dangerous - do not leave boardwalks when hiking near thermal features as the ground is sometimes thin and brittle and sits just above boiling hot water.

  • Drinking water is available at campgrounds and visitor centers. Bring your water bottle to fill up.

  • There is no shuttle service at Lassen Volcanic NP.

Where to Stay:

There are several campgrounds within the park - Manzanita Lake is the biggest and it can be reserved online in advance here. It also has cabins which can be reserved online here. Manzanita Lake has showers and a general store. Other campgrounds in the park are open summer only - see the park website here for more information.

Hotel options are very limited near the park, but there are more choices towards the city of Redding for visitors who are willing to drive to and from the park each day. Camping or staying in the cabins is the best option to reduce daily drive times.

Hiking in Lassen:

Cinder Cone - My favorite hike in the park because it's so unique. The Cinder Cone is about 700 feet tall, and the hike to it's peak is very steep by hiking path standards. It is made of lose volcanic gravel which makes climbing exhausting, similar to climbing on sand. The peak offers great views in all directions, including Lassen Peak. Read more about the hike here.

Lassen Peak - A good challenge for fit hikers, Lassen Peak can be summited during late summer with no technical skills or equipment required. The peak is an awesome endpoint with plenty of room to spread out and enjoy views of the park and nearby Mt Shasta on clear days. There is snow on the trail well into the summer, hiking poles and even crampons are useful for hiking on snow. Read more about the hike here

Crag Lake - A sweet four mile round trip to the tiny green gem Crag Lake. The trailhead is near the Manzanita Lake turnoff. The lake can run dry in late summer/fall but it's a good hiking option in the spring and early summer when some of the other routes in the park are closed due to snow. 

Manzanita Lake - An enjoyable and flat hike around one of the park's prettiest lakes. This can be extended to include nearby Reflection Lake as well and is a good option in all seasons.

Parts that I missed:

King's Creek - Hikes in this area lead to thermal features and King's Creek Falls. Best to visit in late summer as snow lingers in this area into July.

Juniper Lake area - Located on the remote south east side of the park, Juniper Lake is the biggest lake in the park. There looks to be numerous hiking routes in this area to nearby smaller lakes and thermal features. Motor boats are not allowed, but this is a popular place to kayak, canoe, and camp. This part of the park is closed during winter months.

A few hyperlapses I shot in Lassen Volcanic National Park. Locations In order of appearance: Crag Lake, Cinder Cone, Manzanita Lake, Paradise Meadow, Cinder Cone

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Best time to visit: Year Around

Recommended Hikes: Wildcat Trail (West Mitten Butte)

Ideal For: Hiking, Camping, Auto-Touring

Where to stay: The View campground and hotel

Monument Valley is a really surreal and peaceful place. It's sandstone buttes have been featured in films for decades as the embodiment of the American West. The park is in the heart of Navajo Nation, located on Highway 163, right on the border between Utah and Arizona. This is a year around destination, but summers are hot!

Must See Attractions:

Wildcat Trail - the lone hiking path within the park that you can access without an official Navajo guide. The hike goes around the West Mitten Butte, read more about it in the hiking section below.

Scenic Drive - a 17 mile dirt road auto-tour of the park. The road is accessible to all vehicles when dry. There are 11 official stops/viewpoints on the drive - they are all worth stopping at.  

Highway View - Not the official name, but this is the famous viewpoint of the road disappearing into buttes on the horizon. It is located on Highway 163 just north of the park - you can't miss it.

Useful Info:

  • The park itself is really small, with just one hiking route and the 17 mile scenic drive. Even if you don't have time to enter the park, driving through this area on Highway 163 is awesome and worth doing if you can.

  • Park entrance fees are $10 per person of $20 per car (up to four people). See more useful stats about the park's hours and seasons here.

  • Much of the land is private property, which is why there is only one hiking route. You can hire an official Navajo guide to take you to more secluded areas with more impressive rock formations.

  • Drinking water is available at the visitor center, bring your water bottle to fill up.

Where to Stay:

the View campground and hotel. Located within the park boundaries - and the view is incredible. The campground even has showers and limited wifi. Reserve online here.

Hiking in Monument Valley:

The Wildcat Trail - This is the one hiking trail you can do without an official guide and it's awesome - one of my personal favorite short hikes in the southwest. The trail circles the famous Left Mitten Butte, and gives you a chance to really appreciate the massive monolith up close. The hike is roughly four miles long - read more about it here.

Parts that I missed:

A guided Navajo tour - You can book tours to deeper areas in Monument Valley that go beyond the scenic drive. There is a sales stand near the visitor center - I haven't tried them but they look to be quite popular.

A few hyperlapses I shot in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park - All clips are from the Wildcat Trail

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park

Best time to visit: Late Summer

Recommended Hikes: the Burroughs, Pinnacle Saddle, Eunice Lake, Comet Falls, Summer Land Meadow, Skyscraper Peak

Ideal For: Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Auto-Touring, Mountain Climbing

Where to stay: Paradise, Longmire, or Sunrise areas

Park Website - Park Map

Mount Rainier is the largest volcano in the Cascade Range. The peak is awe-inspiring and is covered by massive glaciers. Surrounding the mountain on all sides are towering volcanic crags, ridges, lakes, and waterfalls. Visiting in late summer provides the best likelihood of good weather and views of the mountain unobstructed by clouds. The park is open year around, but much of the park road is closed when there is snow.

Must See Attractions:

Paradise Park - A wide open meadow with outstanding views of Rainier’s south face. There are multiple hiking trails that make their way towards Rainier's glaciers and viewpoints of waterfalls. Expect this area to be quite crowded with limited parking.

Reflection Lakes - Just east of Paradise and right next to the main park road. The lakes are at their stillest and most reflective in the early morning. 

Grove of the Patriarchs - If you like big trees, the Grove of the Patriarchs is worth seeing. There is a cool system of boardwalks in the heart of the grove that is fun for all ages and a nice place to relax. Visit in the morning or evening for smaller crowds.

Sunrise - Located on the north eastern side of the park, Sunrise offers the best network of day hiking options in the park. It's also is the highest accessible elevation you can reach in a car and it's great for admiring the largest glaciers on Rainier. Get here in the morning to enjoy the rising sun shining on the mountain.

Mowich Lake - Found in the remote western region of the park - this area is accessible via a dirt road from the town of Fairfax, WA. There are several hiking routes here, including Eunice Lake which is one my favorite destinations in the park (read more about the Eunice Lake hike below). This part of the park is closed during winter. 

Useful Info:

  • The people of Washington love the outdoors and they take advantage of nearby Mount Rainier - expect big crowds throughout the park, especially on weekends and during summer. Wait times at park gates can exceed an hour on really crowded days.

  • It takes a long time to drive around the mountain. The drive from Sunrise to Paradise will take about an hour and a half and may include a long wait at the park entrances. Try to devote a full day to each area to cut down on daily drive times.

  • Snow lasts well into summer on the higher elevation hiking routes. Many of the hikes discussed in the hiking section below are only doable during late summer or with snow hiking skills.

  • Mount Rainier forms its own clouds! For this reason, it is often hidden behind them. Visit in late summer for the best weather, but also look to enjoy wild flowers, hikes, and lakes when you can't see the peak.

  • Some of the larger mammals in Mount Rainier include deer, mountain goats, and black bears. Look for goats in the high-elevation, rocky areas of Sunrise, and look for bears in meadows throughout the park.

  • There is no drinking water available in the Mowich Lake area, be sure to bring plenty of water if you want to do the Eunice Lake hike. Drinking water is available throughout most of the rest of park, bring your bottle to fill up.

  • There is limited shuttle service in the Paradise area for overflow parking. The shuttle is free and necessary to use if you can't find parking.

Where to Stay:

There are two rustic hotels within the park boundaries, at Paradise and Longmire. See more information about all lodging options near the park here

There are developed campgrounds in all three areas of Mount Rainier. Cougar Rock Campground, near Paradise, is the largest and it can be reserved online in advance here. The Ohanapecosh Campground can also be reserved in advance here and its location is ideal for seeing both sides of the mountain. The White River campground is first-come-first-served only, located in the Sunrise Area.

Hiking in Mount Rainier:

Mount Rainier has a ton of great day hikes, overnight backpacking routes, and for the truly ambitious, the peak of Rainier itself. The Wonderland Trail goes all the way around the mountain, usually tackled as a 5-7 day backpacking trip. The below are my recommendations for day-hikes, but I recommend reading up on the peak and the Wonderland Trail if those interest you.

the Burroughs - Located in the Sunrise area, the Boroughs are a great place to admire Rainier's glaciers and to see mountain goats. The hike climbs up a set of three volcanic hills on it's way to the highest day-hiking elevation in the park. Read more about the Burroughs hike here

Summerland Meadow - This is a day hike on a section of the Wonderland trail (the Wonderland Trail goes all the way around Mt Rainier). Most of the day-hike is through forest, but it opens up when you reach Summerland Meadow. You can continue past Summerland Meadow to see a waterfall and a small turquoise lake surrounded by volcanic ridges. Read more about this hike here.

Skyscraper Mountain - This hike is great for escaping the crowds and reaching a peak with a great view of Rainier. The trailhead starts at the Sunrise visitor center and shares a route with the Burroughs hike until it breaks off onto the Wonderland Trail. From here it crosses Berkeley Park which is awesome in its own right, before a steep climb to reach Skyscraper Peak. I highly recommend this hike, it might be my favorite in the park! Read more about it here

Pinnacle Saddle - This is a great hike up a volcanic ridge on the south side of the mountain. The trailhead starts across the road from Reflection Lake and it offers great views of Rainier and Mt Adams once you reach the saddle. Read more about the hike here.

Comet Falls - Arguably the best waterfall in the park - Comet Falls is a great endpoint for your hike, or you can continue on to Van Trump Park. I recommend hiking to Comet Falls, but Van Trump Park can be skipped in favor of Paradise Park or Berkeley Park. Read more about the hike here.

Eunice Lake - If you make it to the remote west side of the park, Eunice Lake is the hike to do. It's a beautiful area complete with a retired fire lookout and Eunice Lake resting beneath Rainier on the horizon (featured in the cover photo of this post). There is no drinking water in this area and it's about 15 miles of dirt road driving to get here. Read more about the hike here.

A few hyperlapses I shot in Mt Rainier National Park. Locations in order of appearance: the Burroughs 2, Shadow Lake, Eunice Lake, Summer Land, and the Burroughs 1

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

Best time to visit: Late Summer

Recommended Hikes: Blue Lake, Maple Pass, Hidden Lake, Sahale Arm

Ideal For: Hiking, Backpacking, Camping, Wild-Life Viewing, Boating

Where to stay: Colonial Creek and Newhalem campgrounds, town of Marblemount

Park Website - Park Map

North Cascades is located in northern Washington state, just a few hours drive from Seattle. It is one of the lesser visited national parks in the country, partly because it receives a lot of rain and snow for most of the year. Late summer brings the best weather and the least amount of rain, along with open hiking routes as the snow melts off. When the clouds clear, the mountainscapes in North Cascades are as impressive as any in the country.

Must See Attractions:

Diablo Lake - Right in the center of the park, Diable Lake is surrounded by rising mountains and has a distinctive turquoise color. There are several viewpoints, and hikers can get close to the lake's shoreline at the Ross Lake Dam and near the Colonial Creek Campground.

Washington Pass Area - Located just outside the park's eastern boundary - there are multiple attractions in this area, including hikes to Blue Lake, Maple Pass, and Cutthroat Lake. You can spend two full days hiking in this area if you wish.

Cascade Pass Area - This area is more remote and requires a long drive and hike, but it's well worth it. It’s located on the southwest side of the park, at the end of a long dirt road from the town of Marblemount. The Hidden Lake and Sahale Arm hikes are both in this region. Read more about these two in the hiking section below.

Useful Info:

  • The North Cascades Highway which runs through the park is closed November - April.

  • It takes a long time to drive from one region of the park to another. Reaching the southwest region of the park which includes Hidden Lake and Cascade Pass requires dirt road driving, but it’s doable in a 2-wheel drive car.

  • North Cascades is home to black bears and grizzly bears - proper food storage is required at all times. Read more about bear safety here.

  • There is a small general store in the center of the park in the town of Newhalem, its hours are 10AM to 5PM every day. There are no other stores or services in the park.

  • Drinking water is available at the campgrounds and visitor center, and at some trailheads. Bring your water bottles to fill up.

  • There is no shuttle service at North Cascades.

Where to Stay:

Most options in or near the park are either campgrounds or RV parks. Newhalem Campground and Colonial Creek Campground are both in the central part of the park. Newhalem can be reserved in advance here. Colonial Creek is located right on the shore of Lake Diablo - it can be reserved here. There is also a few first-come-first-serve campsites in more remote areas of the park. There is an RV park in Marblemount in addition to the RV campsites at Newhalem and Colonial Creek.

A small amount of cabins are available at the Ross Lake Resort - click here for more information.

Hiking in North Cascades

North Cascades has some of the best hikes I have done to date. The hikes here are steep and long, but incredibly beautiful. Their large elevation gains allow you to get above the tree line and see ridge after ridge of the Cascade Mountains. That being said, you will need to be in good shape to do them.

Blue Lake - The best moderate hiking option - this trail is about 4 miles roundtrip and climbs about 1,000 feet in elevation. Blue Lake is beautiful with an imposing rock wall backdrop. Read more about the hike here

Maple Pass - The best hike in the Washington Pass area. The trail loops around and then high above Lake Ann and Rainey Lake, and it has an stunning summit with panoramic views at Maple Pass. Read more about the hike here.

Sahale Arm - A challenging climb that offers fantastic views and possible motion goat sightings. Most of the hike is on a steep dirt trail, but the final ascent crosses fields of rock scree. Look for the cairns (small towers of rocks balanced on each other) which mark the easiest ascent up the rock field. Read more about the hike here.

Hidden Lake - Another strenuous hike - the climb to Hidden Lake climbs 3,200 vertical feet in just 4.5 miles. Hidden Lake is a true gem, perfectly blue with a backdrop of mountains (it is the lake pictured at the top of this post). You cannot get to the shoreline of Hidden Lake, but can descend a rock field once reaching the viewpoint to get a closer look. The dirt road up to Hidden Lake is steep and narrow with sizable potholes, but it is doable in a two wheel drive car. Read more about the hike here.

If you are trying to decide between Sahale Arm and Hidden Lake, I recommend Sahale Arm.

A few hyperlapses I shot in North Cascades National Park. Locations include Sahale Arm, Maple Pass, and Hidden Lake

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park

Best time to visit: Summer

Recommended Hikes: Seven Lakes Basin, Rialto Beach, Ruby Beach, Hurricane Ridge, Hoh Rainforest

Ideal For: Hiking, Camping, Backpacking, Auto-Touring, Boating

Where to stay: North or West side of the park

Park Website - Park Map

Olympic is a big, mountainous national park, covering most of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. It is very diverse with mountains and rainforests and sections of the Pacific coastline. The park receives a lot of rain and snow - summer months offer the best chance of good weather along with open hiking routes and roads.

Must See Attractions:

Hurricane Ridge - This is the only place accessible by car where you can see the mountains in the heart of Olympic, including Mt Olympus. It's located on the north side of the park and the road is open most of the year, except on winter weekdays when there is snow. There is a visitor center at the peak and numerous hiking routes from there.

Lake Crescent - An impressive lake surrounded by rising mountains. The Lake Crescent Lodge is right on its shoreline and it’s a great place to stay, eat, or watch the sun set. Lake Crescent is located on the northern boundary of the park.

Sul Doc - This a cool area with a lodge, restaurant, and hot spring heated pools. Sul Doc Falls is really pretty and it’s just a short hike from the lodge. A longer trail to Seven Lakes Basin is also in this area and it’s a great hike - read more about it in the hiking section below.

Coastline - The park includes 73 miles of rugged coastline. I have only visited Rialto Beach, and I can say that it is awesome with impressive rock formations. Other sections of coastline here that I am sure are worth visiting but that I haven't personally seen are Ruby Beach and Ozette.

Rainforests - The Hoh and Quinault rainforests sit in the western and southern sections of the park. They are worth seeing, but if you just have a few days, I recommend focusing on the coastline and mountains instead.

Useful Info:

  • Olympic NP is deceptively large - It will take about 3 hours to drive from its East side to the coast. It's best to devote a full day to one area; for example, spend one day exploring the coastline, and another day in the northern mountain regions of Hurricane Ridge and Sul Doc.

  • Be prepared for weather, including rain during summer. The park service does snow plowing during winter, but only for weekends.

  • The vegetation in Olympic is dense which makes for a complete lack of viewpoints at low elevations. In order to see the mountains, you will have to drive to Hurricane Ridge or do one of the longer hikes.

  • Drinking water is available at most developed areas of the park, bring your water bottle to fill up.

Where to Stay:

In general, try to stay somewhere on the north or west boundaries of the park. Lake Crescent and Sul Doc are good central locations on the north side that have campgrounds and lodging. There are also options along the coast if you want to make the ocean the focus of your trip.  

Avoid staying on the south or east sides of the park to reduce drive times.

Hiking in Olympic

Olympic makes you work for it when it comes to hiking, but the rewards are worth the effort. Hiking at easier, lower elevations is exclusively through dense forests with tall trees and zero distant views. If you are capable of hiking in the 10-15 mile range with significant elevation gains, you can get above the tree-line for views of lakes, repeating ridge lines, and Mount Olympus.

Seven Lakes Basin - This is a strenuous hike that continues on from Sul Doc Falls, roughly 15 miles roundtrip. It can be done as a loop or an out and back (via Deer Lake), and it is also great overnight backpacking destination (permit required). I highly, highly recommend this hike, it will not disappoint! Read more about it on the park's website here.

Hurricane Ridge - There are multiple trails that take off from Hurricane Ridge. This a beautiful area high above the treeline which offers great views no matter how far you hike. Read more about the area’s hiking options here.

Rialto Beach - An awesome beach hike at Rialto goes to the "Hole-in-the-Wall" natural arch, about 2 miles one way. There are several impressive rock formations along the way. The sand is coarse and abrasive so be sure to wear solid shoes. Read more about the hike here.

Also consider researching:

Deer Park and Obstruction Point - these are both accessible via dirt roads, near the Hurricane Ridge area. From what I've read, the roads are narrow and steep, but the reviews are good. Deer Park has a first-come-first-served campground which is highly reviewed as well.

Ruby Beach and Ozette - I only made it to Rialto, but these two are really popular as well. Ruby Beach is the most famous of the Olympic beaches.

Round Lake, part of the Seven Lake Basin in Olympic National Park