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BY RONA GINDIN
Top 10 U.S. National Parks To Visit In The Summer
School’s out for summer. Pack your bags and head out to the 417 national parks, forests, and historic sites under the U.S. National Park Service’s umbrella. What a way to get fresh air. Time at these outstanding outdoor sites will revitalize the entire family on your next Club Wyndham summer vacation. Check out the best 10 to travel to this summer.
No. 1 Travel Tip: Some national parks have brought back timed reservation systems this summer to prevent overcrowding and keep trails social distance friendly. If you plan to visit a national park this summer, check to see if your national park requires additional planning ahead of time. As of May 1, the only parks with advance reservations required are Acadia National Park in Maine, Glacier National Park in Montana, Haleakala National Park in Hawaii, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Yosemite National Park in California, and Zion National Park in Utah.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Hum “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” while seeking out black bears here, where 1,500 reside. (Keep your distance!) You’ll also find 200-year-old buildings in this Appalachian wonderland, along with hikes to scenic waterfalls and wildflowers that dot the lush green landscape in Tennessee.
Pick huckleberries in the wild near the Oregon Trail, where wagons once traversed. Or drive, fish and hike in the lands around a dormant 500,000-year-old, glacier-capped volcano. Take a (chilly) dip in a rural river or a hot day. Warm up in the hollow cedar logs of Bagby Hot Springs.
By kayak or canoe, explore the Cedar Creek canoe trail with cypress knees jutting along water’s edge, towering mature trees along the sides. With a guide during summer, you’ll get South Carolina history lessons too, especially about the indigenous Congaree. Landlubbers can take in the park and its hardwood forest along flat trails.
See the live Mauna Loa volcano in summer, when clear skies enable views of lava flowing from the top or the steam of lava hitting the water. Drive along Crater Rim Drive for stunning vistas and a steamy bluff, plus the Hōlei Sea Arch. Walk through a cave, and explore centuries-old drawings at the Pu' u Loa Petroglyphs site.
Pick wild blueberries along a hike from the Welch-Dickey Trailhead, and swim off rocks at the Lower Falls Recreation site by the Swift River before grilling dinner. The hardwood forest and picture-perfect peaks amaze by car or foot. Add in history by visiting 19th-century New Hampshire farmhouses.
At the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, zip from one eye-popping scenic spot to another by car or bicycle. Alternatively, hike down partway, or look into mule rides. Visit the Trail of Time, a hands-on walking path demonstrating how the canyon’s rock layers from each million-year period is different.
Opt for a leafy green national historic site like Herbert Hoover’s birthplace in Iowa. Tour the cottage where the future president started his life, along with a schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, his gravesite and the Presidential library. Picnic in a shelter built for the President’s 80th birthday celebration.
Sparse desert and red rock canyons are the backdrops for memorable family time in New Mexico — along grassy prairie and dramatic mesas. In summer, fish for trout, perhaps under the shade of cottonwood trees. Hike to refreshing waterfalls or take a whitewater river rafting trip. You can even pan for agate and quartz crystal. Follow the Santa Fe Scenic Byway from downtown into the forest, through ski territory and back again.
Spiky-topped Joshua trees give this California national park its name, but it could easily be called two deserts, since two cactus-dotted expanses meet up here. Crowds thin in summer, allowing room to roam among the tortoises, roadrunners, and iguanas (pack cold drinks!). Chose any of 15 short trails to spot boulders, cholla cacti or an old adobe building. At night, wait for a blanket of stars above. Seek out the Milky Way within the Summer Triangle, or time your visit for August 2021’s Perseid Meteor shower.
Drive scenic loop trails. Explore in off-road vehicles. Hike, horseback ride, cycle, or water ski. Towering mountains draw visitors to the White River National Forest in Colorado, where summer sites include caves, Deep Creek Canyon, the Ashcroft ghost town, and the Crystal Mill mining site. Make time for the Yeoman Park Discovery Trailhead, where interpretive signs help even disabled visitors learn about nature’s offerings.