Great Basin National Park, Nevada
One of America's Best Parks to Hike
Paddle the Pacific
Anacapa Island in the Channel Islands National Park, just off the coast of Los Angeles, is home to some of the best kayaking on the West Coast. Rich with marine life and boasting the much-photographed Arch Rock, Anacapa is the perfect day trip or overnighter for the city dweller looking to get into some rough water. It’s a cliff island, so beware of winds, currents and fog.
Float the BorderThe mighty Rio Grande runs through Big Bend National Park in Texas, but it also represents the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Rafting down the river not only takes you through some eye-widening scenery, like 1500-foot deep canyons, but will also toss you back and forth across the border. 960 1280
Hit the Sandy Slopes
Colorado has Aspen, one of the most famous skiing destinations on the planet. It also has Sand Dunes National Park, one of the only sandboarding and sandsledding destinations on the planet. Slalom down the granular slopes like some diabolical combination of Jean-Claude Killy and Lawrence of Arabia. Hit the dunes early in the morning or late in the evening, lest you roast in the 150° midday heat. And don’t forget the lip balm.
Cold StorageThe upper regions of Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park have over 35 square miles of permanent ice and snow, providing a year-round paradise for hearty souls who consider ice camping a pleasure. If you’re going to stay the night on the mountain, securely lock your vittles to keep them from the clutches of foxes and other aggressive winter wildlife. 960 1280
Take in the LightsMinnesota's Voyageurs National Park sits just below the Canadian border and offers campers a ringside seat to the Northern Lights. Voyageurs encompasses 270 campsites only accessible by watercraft, but we recommend the remote Echo Lake Campground for best visibility. Check a variety of weather services to determine your best chance of seeing the Northern Lights. 960 1280
Yosemite GlidingIt may seem crazy, but people have been leaping off Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park for decades. Hang gliding was once sanctioned and overseen by park employees. These days the private Yosemite Hang Gliding Association coordinates it. 960 1280
The RaftersIf a weekend of seething whitewater just doesn’t cut it anymore, try an eight-day Grand Canyon raft trip down the Colorado River. There are a host of operators who will happily guide you down 200 miles of rapids. By the end of it, you’ll have seen Native-American ruins, mile-high cliff walls and countless eagles. 960 1280
Hit the Heights
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park boasts rock formations that will set a climber’s mouth to watering. The 415-square-mile park is a full-service climbing destination, featuring opportunities for scaling rock, wall, ice and snow. Lumpy Ridge and Longs Peak are favorites of local and international climbers. Whether you are an experienced sport climber or a beginning boulderer, be safe and leave no trace of your visit.
Lost in AmericaIt makes sense that America’s largest national park is in Alaska, its largest state. Wrangell-Saint Elias stretches across 13,200,000 acres. You could fit Yellowstone, Everglades, and Death Valley inside it, and still have room for Denali, the third largest park (also in Alaska) at 6,075,030 acres. 960 1280
Take Me to the RiverIn addition to being the most popular hike in Zion National Park, the Narrows has something for every ability level over its 16 miles. The trail follows the Virgin River, which is convenient during the summer months, since you’ll be at least ankle-deep most of the time. If it starts to rain, head for high ground; flash floods are common and have a tendency to drop by without calling first. 960 1280
Extreme Adventures in our National Parks 10 Photos
If you thought the only attraction between Utah and California were the gaudy lights of Las Vegas, then a visit to Great Basin National Park in Nevada is long overdue. Though the untrained eye might see little more than desert when driving through the Great Basin, a closer look will reveal a land full of flora and fauna that is in a state of constant change. Geologists even theorize that the Earth's crust below the basin may someday separate, dividing North America into two continents.
The best way to see Great Basin is by foot, and a number of well-maintained trails lead visitors to a variety of attractions. The Bristlecone Trail grants hikers the chance to see and learn about the rare and ancient bristlecone pine tree. These trees thrive in unusually adverse climates, and many are found in high-elevation groves within the park. These trees grow slowly in a twisted, gnarled fashion, and are known to survive for thousands of years; the tree known as "Prometheus" was found to be over 4,900 years old. From the Bristlecone Trail, visitors can take the Glacier Trail and see the only glacier to still exist in the Great Basin Desert. Lexington Arch, a six-story limestone arch that is quite possibly the park's main attraction, is accessible from the Lexington Arch Trail.
The grand landscape and determined plant and animal life of the Great Basin proves the tenacity of nature over time, and seems symbolic of the strength and courage of the ranchers and miners who settled this land over a century ago, thriving as they worked with, rather than against, natural resources.
Great Basin National Park is part of the Great Basin Desert and includes the South Snake Range of mountains. These mountains are coined a "desert mountain island" because they are surrounded by a "sea" of desert. This region is called the Great Basin because the streams and rivers have no outlet to the sea; instead, water collects in salt lakes, marshes and mud flats, where it eventually evaporates. During the last ice age, glaciers covered the peaks of these mountains, and as the climate turned warmer, the area beyond the mountains became a desert.
Great Basin offers a variety of activities, and some are simply not to be missed. The only glacier in the Great Basin Desert lies at the foot of 13,063-foot-tall Wheeler Peak, and is easily accessible to visitors. Another popular stop for tourists is the looming Lexington Arch, a rare example of a natural arch carved entirely from limestone. Even after it seems that you've seen all there is to see in the Basin, more natural wonders await visitors underground! Lehman Caves offers glimpses of many shield formations, as well as stalactites, stalagmites, helictites and flowstone formations.
Where to Stay
One sure-fire way to fully appreciate Nevada's "Wild West" is with a stay on a real, working horse ranch. Hidden Canyon Guest Ranch lets visitors stay in tipis or bedroom cabins, all furnished with beds, electric blankets, carpeting and electric lights. When they're not enjoying the ranch's ATV tours or paintball games, guests can spend time with the Norwegian Fjord horses that are raised right on the property.
Nearby Sights/Side Trips
Whoever said cowboys weren't sensitive, or for that matter creative, obviously never checked out the Western Folklife Center in Nevada. This is the place that hosts the Annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering each January, a weeklong showcase of passionate rhymes, conversation, stories, singing, dancing, bona fide Western gear and some pretty darn good cookin'. This is an unforgettable peek into the other side of life on the range. Workshops stretch far beyond simple poetry writing and include everything from an "Introduction to Great Basin Swing Dance" to "Rawhide Braiding". The center features regular exhibits on Western Folklife Media as well as general folk arts.