Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
The Volcano is Just the Beginning
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
Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin IslandsTurquoise water and gleaming white beaches at a national park? That's what you'll find if you venture outside of the US. The Virgin Islands National Park is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Trunk Bay. 960 1280
Grand Canyon National Park, ArizonaIt's not easy to get to most Colorado River beaches, but consider a several-day rafting trip the highlight of your trip. Before you dive in you should know the water rarely gets above 60 degrees, but you probably won't mind in 100-degree heat. 960 1280
Best National Park Beaches in America 16 Photos
White Sands National MonumentThis would have to be my favorite park to visit that allows dogs to explore with you. If you want to stay the night, pay $3 for the backcountry camping pass. You will have to haul everything in and out, but it's so worth it. The quiet nights and sunrise are unlike anything I've ever experienced elsewhere. 960 1280
Yellowstone National ParkThis is the most beautiful place I've ever seen. It was more incredible than I could have ever imagined. Over the years, I've visited several times and the best time to visit (in my opinion) is late August or early September. The kids and crowds thin out by then and the weather is gorgeous. 960 1280
Great Sand Dunes National Park and PreserveI went during the off season so I had the park to myself. If you want to bring a dog along, the off season (read: not summer) is best since the sand is cool to the touch and safe for paws. The views are simply amazing and if you want to hike to the top, you're in for a great workout. 960 1280
Lava Beds National MonumentMy second favorite national monument is mostly unknown. I stumbled upon it driving and instantly fell in love. There are so many caves to explore and because it's self guided, you can go at your own pace. Bring a headlamp and a flashlight and go as far inside of a cave as you feel comfortable. Feel daring? Turn off all your lights. 960 1280
My 10 Favorite National Parks 10 Photos
The landscape of Mount Rainier National Park is easily overshadowed by the enormity of Mount Rainier itself -- a 14,000-foot-tall volcano looming over surrounding forests and meadows. This grand landmass is the reason over 2 million visitors come to the park yearly, and provides a wealth of activities that include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, or brave attempts to hike to the volcano's summit. Mount Rainier is the resting ground for at least 25 glaciers that cover over 35 square miles of the volcano, and have carved its slopes and ridges over time. At Mount Rainier National Park, it's possible to view the largest glacier on the continental United States from Emmons Vista, or trek to Gobbler's Knob for views of Mount Rainier, the highest peak in the Pacific Northwest, dominating the landscape.
Of course, this national park is much more than a glorious volcano - it has also been designated a National Historic Landmark District for its 1920s- and 1930s-style architecture, and is home to thousands of acres of old-growth forests and meadows teeming with wildflowers. Longmire Village has gained notoriety for maintaining an original rustic appearance that includes natural raw materials and color schemes, log framing, wood siding, cedar-shake roofs and boulder foundations. Forest-lovers can explore an old-growth Douglas-fir ecosystem known as "The Grove of the Patriarchs" in the Ohanapecosh Valley. The Douglas firs, western hemlocks and red cedars that define this forest have survived avalanches, fire and floods for over 10,000 years.
Geological History: Mount Rainier is a volcano built up from repeated eruptions of molten lava that cooled and formed layers over millions of years. The mountains of the Cascade Range surrounding Mount Rainier were created from the buckling of tectonic plates far beneath the Earth's surface. During the ice age, glaciers moved through this area and shaped the landscape as they froze and thawed, breaking off rocks from the slopes, carrying away debris, and smoothing the hillsides.
Park Activities: Hiking is the most popular and thorough means of exploring Mount Rainier. Hardy backpackers may choose to take 1 or 2 weeks and hike the Wonderland Trail that winds around the mountain - though it's certainly possible to take a "mini-hike" along a portion of the trail. Well-worth exploring is the slightly hard-to-reach Carbon River Basin where visitors will encounter one of North America's few temperate rainforests. For experienced climbers, attempting to scale the 14,410-foot summit of Mount Rainier is an awesome challenge, though folks looking for a more relaxing visit may want to try boating or canoeing on the sparkling waters of Mowich Lake.
Where to Say: With its cozy fireplaces, sparkling Christmas lights and proximity to incredible ski resorts, Alta Crystal Resort can be easily touted as a "winter wonderland" escape. Yet, the hiking and horseback riding trails through verdant forests, and the nearby streams ripe for fishing all ensure that this hospitable lodge remains a wonder through all four seasons. The resort also hosts a variety of nightly seasonal activities that include bonfires and barbeques. A variety of chalet accommodations are available, and surround a pool and hot tub area.
Nearby Sights/Side Trips: Visitors to the "Emerald City" can only hope they'll be "Sleepless in Seattle" ... This is a city full of activities. Take a ride to the top of the famed Space Needle, or let some salmon fly overhead (literally, over your head) at the Pike Place Market. Pioneer Square is the place to be after dark, when a world of restaurants and bars open their doors to a public intent on experiencing the cooking of some of the Northwest's finest chefs. One of the greatest things about Seattle is its proximity to outdoor retreats like tranquil Alki Beach. Should your body grow weary, never fear! Chances are a piping hot Starbucks coffee is just around the corner!