• Whitney Cross Simon

Get Lost: Experiencing the Best of the National Parks

If you know CPT, you know experiential travel is kind of our thing. We create trips that allow our clients to immerse themselves in a destination’s culture, history and environment. For some, that means lots of outdoor activities while, for others, this comes in the form of art-centric or history-based travel. As travel restrictions expand and socially distanced travel becomes the new norm, we’re seeing CPT clients come to us with an interest in exploring pieces of our National Park system, which encompasses more than 400 parks across the United States. Here, we’re talking all about some of our bucket list experiences in the great outdoors.

Summit Half Dome in Yosemite

We’ll admit it, we have a soft spot for Yosemite, but this experience would be on the top of almost anyone’s National Park bucket list. Yosemite is filled with creeks that plummet from cliffs into sparkling waterfalls, sequoias the width of a car and taller than most buildings, and rock structures that preside over it all, but our absolute favorite hike in the park is Half Dome. This 15 mile hike to the top of the peak that inspired the North Face logo culminates in a 400 foot climb up the mountain’s famous granite dome, inclined between 45-60 degrees, using a unique metal cable system and is one that cannot be missed.

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier

More of a passive adventurer? The Going-to-the-Sun road in Glacier National Park might be more your speed. This 50-mile strip in Montana is chiseled out of the Rockies and offers some of the mountain range’s best views from the comforts of your car.

Listen to Nature in Hoh Rainforest

Going for green? The moss-covered forest floor in this temperate rainforest is accessible to hikers at all levels and might be just the spot for you. Nestled in Olympic National Park, the Hoh Rainforest has an average of 11 feet of rainfall each year and is less than 5 hours outside of Seattle. While the scenery is something to marvel at, it’s the noise, or lack thereof, that makes this destination special. The rainforest is known as one of the quietest places in the US, as it’s almost entirely free of human-made sound. This means no jet engines, buzzing street lights, or car engines - allowing visitors to fully escape and experience nature in a new way.

Wildlife watching Yellowstone

Yellowstone isn’t just about geysers. According to the National Park Service, this Wyoming park also boasts nearly 300 species of birds, 16 species of fish, 6 species of reptiles, and 67 species of mammals (now they’re just showing off). While sightings of these animals are largely a matter of luck, the best times to take it all in are early morning and evening, when animals venture out for a bite to eat. We always suggest paying a visit to the visitor centers, where rangers can tell you where wildlife have been seen recently.

Sunset Grand Canyon

This is one that can’t be missed. Not even a name like the Grand Canyon could prepare me for the sheer size of the canyon as seen from the rim. While cliche, the only description that seems fitting for this experience is breathtaking. Pull up a seat on the edge of the canyon or grab a drink and a place on a porch swing at El Tovar Lodge--whatever spot you choose to settle into a sunset at the Canyon will be the right one.

Hike The Narrows Zion

This otherworldly experience is at the very top of our CPT wish list. As the name might indicate, this one isn’t for our more claustrophobic travelers, as this hike marks the spot where the Virgin River is bound by red cliffs towering 2,000 feet above.

Stand at the Edge of an Active Volcano

We’re bursting with excitement over this one (too much?). Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park extends to 13,677 above sea level and is home to two of the most active volcanos in the world - Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Trails in this park wind through rainforest before emptying into an expanse of hardened lava.

Wade in Crater Lake

Over 7,000 years ago, Native American witnessed the creation of this lake, the deepest in the US, which occurred following the eruption and collapse of the volcano that once stood in its place. This lake, which is fed by rain and snow from the Cascade Mountain Range, is known to be one of the most pure on earth. Looking to dive in? There’s only one way, and that’s via the Cleetwood Cove Trail, which is just over a mile long and descends nearly 700 feet down to the shore.

Sunrise at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia

Okay enough of the West Coast - it’s time to head East (and I mean East). Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on Mount Desert Island, Maine, which means it also offers one of the first opportunities to see the sun catch the United States each day, giving a new meaning to a good morning.

Paddling in the Everglades

The Everglades National Park makes this experience a no brainer with their free kayak and canoe ‘trail’ maps, which come in handy when navigating the country’s third largest national park by water. Taking to the water opens up a world of mangroves and freshwater marshes that are home to crocodiles, turtles, herons and alligators as well as a whole host of other wildlife.

Float the Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend

While hiking the Santa Elena canyon is always an option, nothing can compare to floating through it via raft or canoe. This canyon, which twists alongside the Rio Grande for 20 miles of spectacular scenery, is best done in two or more days. Not to mention, the overnight option opens up the opportunity to stargaze in this Texas-based park, which has the lowest levels of light pollution as compared to all other parks in the contiguous United States.

Snorkel through Shipwrecks and Reefs in Tortuga

Less than 1% of Dry Tortugas National Park is dry ground, which means the best (and only) way to take in all it has to offer is by getting a little wet. This National Park, resting at the northwest corner of the Florida Keys reef system, is the third largest in the world and one of the best places to get up close and personal with marine life.

See the Northern Lights in Denali

This experience is the only on this list that is only visible in total darkness. Denali National Park is by far the best place in the United States to experience this awe-inspiring phenomenon. Even so, the Aurora Borealis is wildly unpredictable. To increase your chances, be sure to visit in the late fall, winter, or early spring.

Explore the World’s Largest Cave System

Mammoth National Park was discovered over 4,000 years ago, and while over 365 miles of the cave has been explored, no one knows how far the system actually extends. If the great unknown isn’t enticing enough, this National Park, situated in the middle of Kentucky, offers guided tours of the cave’s labyrinth of limestone and stalactite formations, but is also a great getaway for horseback riding, camping, canoeing and fishing for those who prefer to stay above ground.

Ready to book your next great escape? Drop us a line to start brainstorming!

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