National Parks: The American West

Explore the National Parks of America's West.
By: Erica Walsh

Explore the parks of America's West.

Olympic National Park
On Washington's northern coast, the Olympic peninsula rises from Puget Sound, just a short ferry ride from bustling Seattle. Six thousand square miles of snow-capped peaks, lush rainforests and emerald lakes make Olympic National Park one of the most majestic of our nation's parks. Here nature prevails; more than 95% of the park is protected and managed wilderness. Lace up your hiking boots, and explore the many mountain peaks and river valleys of this national treasure.

Must-See List
- Hurricane Ridge is the park's most easily reached mountain destination and offers breathtaking views of the Olympic Mountains. Hold on to your hat though, wind gusts often reach over 75 miles an hour on this rocky outcrop.

- Take a trip back in time while wandering through the remnants of the great temperate rainforests that once dominated the West Coast's landscape. Hoh Rainforest thrives along the 50-mile Hoh River Valley winding toward the sea from the slopes of Mount Olympus.

- If you're visiting in the summer, take a canoe out on Lake Crescent whose placid waters were formed by the same glaciers that carved the nearby mountains.

- Beautiful Marymere falls, just south of Lake Crescent, is both an easy day hike and a wonderful place for a picnic.

Crater Lake National Park
One hundred miles inland from the Pacific in southwestern Oregon, Crater Lake is one of the oldest and least known of our National Parks. It's a geological gem that you'll want to see for yourself. You will marvel that this clean and clear body of water used to be a 12,000-foot volcano.

Must-See List
- Crater Lake! The volcano geologists call Mount Mazama collapsed into itself creating the deepest lake in the United States -- and the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world.

- If Crater Lake leaves you craving more volcanic information, take a short trip 80 miles north to the Newberry Crater National Monument, which boasts the most accessible volcanic features anywhere in the continental US.

- Put some education in your vacation. Enjoy any of the Crater Lake Talks, ranger talks and guided boat tours.

Redwood National Park
The stars of this national park in Northern California are the legendary giant redwoods, the tallest living organisms on the planet. Reaching more than 350 feet in height and with a life span of 2,000 years, these regal trees cover over 40,000 acres of Redwood National Park.

Must-See List
-Discover Howland Hill Road and Stout Grove: a 10-mile scenic drive through old-growth redwoods, along Mill Creek, with a half-mile walk through a river bottom grove of tremendous trees.

-Take in the Pacific vista from Enderts Beach and Crescent Beach Overlook, and you may even see a gray whale. Walk one mile to Enderts Beach, and discover tide pools full of myriad multicolored creatures.

-Another prime whale-watching spot is Klamath River Overlook. Look for other marine mammals and a host of seabirds any time of the year. If you're feeling adventurous, hike a quarter mile down a steep trail to the lower overlook and more dramatic views.

-If your legs tire of hiking, buckle up and explore the Coastal Drive. This eight-mile rough and tumble road winds past expansive Pacific Ocean views and descends into redwoods at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Yosemite National Park
Like the redwoods to the north, the giant sequoias have reigned over the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada for centuries. One of the nation's first wilderness parks, central California's Yosemite is best-known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area and much more.

Must-See List
-You can't say you've been to Yosemite unless you visit the world-famous waterfalls, meadows, cliffs and unusual rock formations of Yosemite Valley.

-The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is the largest of the sequoia groves in Yosemite. Located just 1 hour south of Yosemite Valley, it's just a quick trip to take in the beauty of these gentle giants.

-The historic Wawona Hotel, dating from the late 19th century, is located at nearby Wawona. The Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a collection of historic buildings, is located just over the covered bridge from the hotel.

-The Glacier Point overlook has a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the High Sierra is located 30 miles (1 hour) from Yosemite Valley. If you're a skier, come in the winter and enjoy the trails at nearby Badger Pass.

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