Trip Coach: April 8, 2008
Kurt Repanshek, author of "National Parks With Kids," answered your questions about vacations in the National Parks with (and without) children.
Kurt Repanshek: Hi folks, Kurt Repanshek here, author of National Parks with Kids and the webmeister of nationalparkstraveler.com. Thanks for your interest in our national parks. They're fabulous places to visit. So let's get right to your questions to see if I can't help you out with your vacation plans.
Lansing, Mich.: We are planning a national parks trip this fall and have tentatively planned on flying into Las Vegas, renting a car and then heading to the north rim of the Grand Canyon for one night. Then on to as many of the parks in Utah as possible. We want to see as much as we can. Can we spend a day in each park and get a good sense of what they are all about?
Lansing, without knowing how much time you're blocking out, my initial reaction would be that you're short-changing yourself by trying to see as many parks as is physically possible. I was just telling someone the other day that you need to experience the parks, not be a windshield tourist trying to notch as many overlook photos as possible. A big problem you're going to encounter is the enormity of this landscape. Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon is roughly 250 miles, or a good half-day's drive. Also, when in the fall are you planning your visit? The Grand Canyon Lodge on the North Rim closes for the season in mid-October. All that said, I much prefer the North Rim to the South Rim. It's less crowded, has some great views, great hikes, and great trees. Since you're planning to visit the North Rim, you can plan a route that will take you to Zion and Bryce Canyon and possibly Cedar Breaks. Whatever route you choose, be sure to plan enough time on the ground in each park!
Richmond, Va.: Our family of 4 (2 daughters 13, 16) have a Mon-Fri in Seattle the 2nd week of July. Which National Park should we visit for a couple days: Olympic, Mt. Rainier, Cascades, or San Juan Island, and why? We figure 2 days for Seattle, the other days for a park. Thanks for taking my question. Tom
Kurt Repanshek: Tom, you ask a tough question, as all the parks are great and have their own unique personalities. But in a pinch, I'd suggest visiting Olympic because, in truth, it's three parks in one. You've got the rugged coastline, which is simply gorgeous and nothing like your Virginia beaches. The sea stacks are awesome to see and the cobbled beaches great for beach-combing. And if you pay attention, you'll likely see some seals. Then there's the Hoh Rain Forest, an incredibly lush temperate rain forest with crystal clear streams, ferns, mosses, old-growth trees, banana slugs—something you just can't experience on the East Coast. And then if you head up to Hurricane Ridge you're at the alpine ceiling of the park with glaciers in view as well as the Strait of Juan de Fuca. You might even be able to play in snowfields. About the only downside is the park is roughly a 3-hour drive from Seattle. But you can get around that by taking a Washington State Ferry to Port Angeles.
Santa Clarita, Calif.: Are you going to address how unsafe our national forests are with all of the Mexican drug cartel activity?
Kurt Repanshek: Hi Santa Clarita. I'm not well-versed on national forests, but I can tell you that there are some drug problems on the national parks, ranging from marijuana "plantations" at Sequoia National Park to drug runners in some of the border park units, such as Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Coronado National Memorial, and Big Bend National Park. Now, fortunately, most of these are isolated incidents in somewhat remote sections of these parks. That said, more and more the National Park Service is hard-pressed, financially, to deal with these problems as well as with the more traditional park problems, such as poaching, search-and-rescue missions, interpretive programs, and wilderness caretaking. We all need to lobby our congressional delegations about how important the parks are to us and that we want them to be adequately funded. For instance, did you know the National Park Service was tasked by the Homeland Security Department to handle border control? Not too many years ago this was costing the Park Service $40 million a year, a sum that Homeland Security did not reimburse.
Denver, Colo.: We'll be traveling up to Glacier National Park for a week at the end of July for a family reunion. Do you have any trails or sites you would suggest for children, or some ideas for my grandparents, who have some limited mobility?