10 secret spots in top US national parks
Here are our top picks for how to escape the crowds and find a slice of pristine wilderness in some of the country’s most visited national parks.
Found in Sequoia National Park
Sure, you’ll have to drive an hour down a rugged dirt road to get to Sequoia’s Mineral King area, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada Range and plentiful hiking and backpacking opportunities. The trail up to Franklin Lakes (12 miles round trip) is an awesome day hike or overnight trek, passing by waterfalls and, in summer, spectacular wildflowers. Serious adventurers might want to tack on a 3-4 day journey over Franklin Pass to secluded Kern Hot Springs.
East Inlet Trail
Found in Rocky Mountain National Park
Situated on the far less traveled, western side of Rocky Mountain National Park, the East Inlet Trail is a great jumping off point for hikers seeking big mountain vistas, wildlife, waterfalls, and, most importantly, solitude. The trail starts with Adams Falls, then steadily climbs up through a mountainous valley, with views getting better the further your climb. It’s a 16-mile round trip to Spirit Lake, and an even farther overnight trek for those who want to travel to Fourth Lake and over Boulder Grand Pass.
Found in Zion National Park
Located in the park’s northern, higher elevation section, Kolob Canyon has all the fabulous red rock and big vistas that you’d expect from Zion, but with far fewer crowds. Take a scenic drive along East Kolob Canyon Road, then go on a hike amidst towering, rust-colored fins and escarpments on the La Verkin Creek Trail.
Serious trekkers won’t want to miss Kolob Arch (15 miles round trip – mostly flat) as a long day hike or a mellow backpacking trip along a gently burbling creek (permits available online or at the visitor center).
Schooner Head Overlook & Tide Pools
Found in Acadia National Park
Download a tide schedule app onto your phone, then traverse the Park Loop Road to Schooner Head Overlook. Head down to the rocky seashore at low tide to check out numerous tide pools filled with barnacles, sea urchins, and crabs, just watch out for slippery seaweed on the rocks.
Visitors comfortable scrambling on wet rocks will definitely want to check out Anemone Cave, which can be accessed only at low tide via careful rock-hopping. Like the NPS, we don't recommend entering the cave, but the interior can be safely viewed from the rocks nearby.
Found in Yosemite National Park
Located in the least-visited northwestern quadrant of the park, Hetch Hetchy is an area John Muir once called “one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples.” Unfortunately, the valley was dammed to create a reservoir for drinking water, but the surrounding mountainous landscape is still spectacular and free of the usual hustle and bustle of the rest of Yosemite.
Visitors can day hike here or check out an epic, 25-mile backpacking loop that traverses several of the area’s stunning lakes and waterfalls. Go in spring for rainbow bursts of alpine wildflowers.
Found in Death Valley National Park
Just 20 minutes by car from Badwater Basin lies a small, unsigned parking lot and a vague trail leading toward a series of three slot canyons. After hiking .6 miles up an imposing desert wash, visitors here can squeeze, shimmy, and scramble through narrow breccia rock formations.
Grab detailed, printed directions for the 5-mile (round trip) journey at the ranger station in Furnace Creek if you’re at all nervous about off-trail exploration, and be sure to pack plenty of water.
The Sinks Swimming Hole
Found in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Enjoy one of the most picturesque spots on the Little River Road scenic drive, located just 12 miles west of the Sugarlands Visitor Center. Travelers here can hang out on the massive river boulders, relax near a rushing waterfall, and swim in the clear, natural pools to cool down on a hot, summer day. The bravest of your group might even want to try cliff diving from the nearby rocks, a popular activity among locals.
Bogachiel River Trail
Found in Olympic National Park
Bypass the ever-popular Hoh Rain Forest Trail while still enjoying the same temperate rainforest ecosystem, filled with verdant spruce, mossy alders, and gardens of sword fern. Hikers can go the distance and parallel the river for a 12-mile round-trip out-and-back or simply turn around whenever they’ve seen enough.
At .3 miles from the trailhead is a junction with the Kestner Homestead Loop, which is a lovely, accessible trail to an old barn, house, and outbuildings that colors the historic significance of the area.
Lone Star Geyser
Found in Yellowstone National Park
Escape the madness at Old Faithful and visit Lone Star Geyser instead. A mellow, 4.8-mile (round trip) hike or bike ride down an old park road takes visitors here through a dense pine forest, occasionally opening up to beautiful meadow views. At the turn-around point is Lone Star Geyser. The geyser erupts about every three hours, so use a geyser times app to check the predicted schedule. It’s a great spot to hike to for lunch and hang out as you wait for the geyser to blow. Be sure to download the NPS Yellowstone App onto your phone before going on this hike – there’s little to no cell service inside the park.
Found in Grand Canyon National Park
Shoshone Point has all the grandeur of Mather Point and Bright Angel, without the throngs of crowds that can make it difficult to snap a decent picture. That’s because travelers here have to walk an easy, 1-mile (each way) former service road to get to the viewpoint. Gaze out at layer upon layer of bright red canyon rock and try to catch a glimpse of the powerful Colorado River, a vertical mile beneath your feet. Go at sunrise to have the place all to yourself.
History beckons in Washington County, Maryland, home to Civil War battlefields
Western Maryland is home to some of the most beautiful places to go hiking in the eastern U.S., as well as three scenic byways — the Maryland Historic National Road Scenic Byway, The Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Scenic Byway, and The Antietam Campaign Scenic Byway — all of which make terrific options for your next great summer road trip. In Washington County, you’ll find everything from historic homes and forts dating back to the early 18th century to battlefields and cemeteries telling the stories of those who helped change the course of the Civil War. Here’s where every history buff should visit on their next trip to this fascinating corner of the country. Historic Civil War Battlefields Antietam National Battlefield - Courtesy of nps.gov Perhaps the most well-known historic site in Western Maryland, Antietam National Battlefield is where the bloodiest single-day battle in American history took place, with 23,000 soldiers losing their lives or wounded that fateful day on September 17, 1862. Along with Union victories at nearby Monocacy National Battlefield and South Mountain State Battlefield, the fighting helped turn the tide of the Civil War and led Lincoln to issue his Emancipation Proclamation, which happened a few days later on September 22, 1862. While a number of events will be held over the weekend of September 17, 2022, to mark the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam (check the website) you can learn more about its significance and those who died there at the Newcomer House visitor center and pay your respects at the nearby Antietam National Cemetery. Stop by the Pry House Field Hospital Museum for a look at Civil War medicine, or for a unique take on the battle, hit the Antietam Creek Water Trail to visit a number of key sites by kayak or canoe. Located just outside Boonsboro, South Mountain State Battlefield marks the site of Maryland’s first Civil War battle, which ended in a Union victory and essentially prevented a Confederate invasion. About 15 minutes away, pay your respects to the many journalists and artists killed while covering the Civil War at the War Correspondents Memorial Arch in Gathland State Park, built by George Alfred Townsend, himself a Civil War correspondent, in 1896. Sites Dating Back to the Early 18th and 19th Centuries Fort Frederick Living History - Credit Visit Hagerstown Nestled along the Potomac River and built in 1756 to protect early settlers during and after the French and Indian War, Fort Frederick was also used to hold British prisoners during the Revolutionary War. By 1860, the farmland that now makes up Fort Frederick State Park was owned by Nathan Williams, the second-richest free African American man in all of Washington County, who continued to grow and sell crops to both armies during the Civil War, all while helping slaves to escape through this part of Maryland. Learn more about the fort’s fascinating past, then stroll one of its scenic nature trails. For a change in scenery and the chance to take on some of the area’s scenic hikes including a small section of the legendary Appalachian Trail, head to Washington Monument State Park. In 1827, Boonsboro residents constructed a massive 30-foot tall stone tower — the first-ever Washington Monument — in honor of our first president. Hike to check it out in person, then stop by the museum for more background information about its role in local history. Learn more about Hagerstown’s German immigrant founder at the Jonathan Hager House Museum, where you can tour the home he constructed in 1739. What began as “Hager’s Fancy,” a frontier fort at the western edge of the Maryland colony that later served as a trading post, was purchased by the Washington County Historical Society in 1944 and opened as a museum in 1962. Today, you can visit the historic home and view its furnishings, preserved as they were during the property’s 18th-century heyday. Black History Sites in Washington County While slavery did play a significant part in the region’s history from the early 18th century until Maryland abolished it in 1864, Hagerstown is home to several Underground Railroad sites you can visit today. Read the historic markers along Jonathan Street to learn about the legacy of African Americans who helped put Hagerstown on the map, like Walter Harmon, a wealthy entrepreneur who built 37 houses, a bowling alley, a dance hall, and the Harmon Hotel, highlighted in The Green Book as one of the only accommodations open to Black travelers during segregation. It also happens to be where baseball legend and Hall of Famer Willie Mays stayed in 1950 when he played his first professional game with the Trenton Giants at Municipal Stadium. Kennedy Farm House John Brown HQ - Credit: Visit Hagerstown Closer to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, the Kennedy Farm was the staging area for abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 raid on the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry. Meant to help create a republic for fugitive slaves, the raid went on for three days but was ultimately unsuccessful. His followers, a mix of Black and white abolitionists, were captured or killed, while Brown himself was tried for treason and hanged a few months later. It did, however, instill a sense of fierce conflict between northerners and southerners regarding the practice of slavery that only intensified over the next two years until the start of the Civil War. Today, the John Brown Raid Headquarters is a National Historic Landmark, though it’s temporarily closed for restoration. Also worth a look are two of Hagerstown’s oldest African American churches, the Asbury United Methodist Church, founded in 1818 (its current building dates to 1879, as it was rebuilt after a fire), and the Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1840. For more information about the region’s rich African American history and culture, head to the Doleman Black Heritage Museum, which houses a vast collection of photos, books, birth records, deeds of slave sales, paintings, sculptures, and other artifacts from the 19th and 20th centuries. CARD WIDGET HERE
The Ultimate Guide to Western Maryland’s 3 Scenic and Historic Byways
There’s something for everyone in Washington County, Maryland, whether it’s your first trip or you keep returning to your favorite scenic nature trails over and over again. With summer just around the corner, now is the time to start planning your next great road trip. Located about three hours from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, or 90 minutes from Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, this particular part of the state is full of historic Civil War battlefields and scenic byways showcasing the area’s natural beauty. If you’re up for a memorable drive full of history, hiking trails, charming small towns, historic inns, wineries, breweries, and plenty of Americana, add these three scenic byways to your next Western Maryland road trip itinerary. The Maryland Historic National Road Scenic Byway Historic National Road - Credit: Scott Cantner While the entire Historic National Road reaches across six states from Baltimore, Maryland, to East St. Louis, Illinois, a large portion of Maryland’s stretch of it passes through Washington County, following Maryland Route 144 and US Route 40 Scenic (also called US Route 40 Alternate), which runs parallel to US Route 40 from Frederick to Hagerstown. As you drive on the scenic byway, built between 1811 and 1834 and dotted with historic sites, charming small towns, and stunning natural scenery, it’s not hard to imagine early American settlers and traders traveling along the same route in their horse-drawn carriages. Popular stops within Washington County include Washington Monument State Park, where you can hike a small section of the legendary Appalachian Trail and view the first stone monument ever created in honor of George Washington, and South Mountain State Park, which is located nearby and part of a popular migratory trail. Visit the National Road Museum in Boonsboro to learn more about US Route 40, the first federally funded highway in the U.S., and snap photos of the town’s charming 19th-century buildings. Nora Roberts fans can also make a pilgrimage to her beloved Turn the Page Bookstore and Café, where she still does the occasional book signing, or stay at the Inn BoonsBoro, a literary-themed bed and breakfast opened by the esteemed bestselling author and her husband in 2009. Head to Big Cork Vineyards for a glass of locally made wine or enjoy a meal at Old South Mountain Inn, known for its dining since 1732. Antietam Brewey - Credit: Scott Cantner Spend some time in Hagerstown, often referred to as the “Hub City” due to its location at the crossroads of several major trading routes — by land and water — and eventually, because of its many modern-day railway and highway connections. If you’re craving a little culture on your road trip, visit the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts or catch a show at The Maryland Theatre, where the Maryland Symphony Orchestra is based. Stroll along the Hagerstown Cultural Trail, which connects the theatre district with the fine arts museum in City Park. Just a 10-minute drive from downtown Hagerstown, Antietam Brewery is worth a stop for its creative craft brews, tasting room, behind-the-scenes tours, and outdoor patio, while Blue Mountain Wine Crafters in nearby Funktown offers a dog-friendly stop for lovers of all things vino. Next, head west to Ford Frederick State Park in Big Pool, home to a unique stone fort that dates back to 1756 and once protected Maryland during the French and Indian War — it’s also home to several hiking trails where you can spot white-tailed deer, birds, turtles, and other wetland wildlife. Nearby, seafood lovers can tuck into crab cakes, crab legs, oyster po’boys, and other surf and turf delights like prime rib and smoked beef brisket sandwiches at Jimmy Joy’s Log Cabin Inn — just make sure you save room for homemade coconut cake or Queen City Creamery frozen custard for dessert. Other places worth checking out along the scenic byway include the Town Hill Overlook in Little Orleans and, just beyond Washington County’s boundaries, Rocky Gap State Park in Flintstone, the Great Allegheny Passage (which starts in Cumberland, Maryland and ends in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) and charming small towns like Cumberland, Frostburg, and Grantsville, gateway to Casselman River Bridge State Park. If you’re short on time, consider breaking up your Maryland Historic National Road Scenic Byway road trip by interest or section, as its Eastern and Western portions extend well beyond Washington County and cover all sorts of historic sites, quaint country towns, and other intriguing attractions. The Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Scenic Byway Lockhouse on C&O Canal near Cushwa Basin - Credit: Betsy DeVore Travel along the C&O Canal Scenic Byway from Cumberland to Hagerstown and points beyond via several Maryland routes (65, 63, 68, 56, 51, and 144, as well as I-70 and US 40), following the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal National Historic Park, an extensive 184.5-mile waterway connecting Washington, D.C. with Cumberland, Maryland. The C&O Canal Towpath runs alongside it, acting as a major destination for runners, cyclists, and anyone in need of a long walk by the Potomac River. If you prefer a paved path, the adjacent Western Maryland Rail Trail, which runs 28 miles between Big Pool and Little Orleans, makes a great option for those longing to stretch their legs. While Williamsport is a major center of activity along the C&O Canal Scenic Byway, with opportunities to check out the inner workings of the lock during a 1900s-era boat ride or by spending the night in a traditional lockhouse, there are a few other spots worth visiting along the canal as well. In Hancock, grab a bite or pick up some locally made souvenirs at The Blue Goose Market, home to a popular bakery, then stop by the visitor center to learn more about the town’s history beside the busy canal system. Get some fresh air by taking a hike in the Sideling Hill Wildlife Management Area, home to some of the area’s oldest geology, as well as songbirds, white-tailed deer, black bears, grouse, and wild turkeys. If time allows, hike up to Paw Paw Tunnel, which takes you up from the campground through a pitch-black tunnel (don’t forget to bring a flashlight!) so you can view waterfalls on the other side. If you’ve managed to work up an appetite after all that, head to Buddy Lou’s Antiques and Eats for delicious Southern-style treats like fried green tomatoes, mac and cheese, and crabcake sandwiches. Another popular canal town, Sharpsburg, is known for its proximity to Antietam National Battlefield and for being part of its own scenic byway. The Antietam Campaign Scenic Byway Antietam Old Simon Civil War Soldier - Credit Scott Cantner Think of the Antietam Campaign Scenic Byway as the ultimate open-air Civil War museum, taking visitors from White’s Ferry along several Maryland Routes — 107 and 109 to Hyattstown, 355 to Frederick, US Route 40 Alternate to Middletown, 17 to Gathland State Park, 67 to Knoxville, 340 to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and US Route 40 Alternate — through Middletown and Boonsboro to Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg. Popular stops include historic White’s Ferry, C&O Canal National Historical Park (which we just talked about), and Little Bennett Regional Park in Hyattstown. Next, you’ll hit Monocacy National Battlefield in Frederick, where the fighting raged on and essentially saved Washington, D.C. from a Confederate invasion, Gathland State Park, home to a large stone monument created to honor Civil War correspondents, and South Mountain State Battlefield, which helped turn the tide of the war in favor of the Union. Antietam Battlefield - Credit: National Park Service The scenic byway ends at its most well-known stop, Antietam National Battlefield, where on September 17, 1862, roughly 23,000 soldiers were killed in what is now known as the bloodiest single-day battle in American history — check the website, as there will be special events held over the weekend of September 17, 2022, to mark the 160th anniversary. All year long, you can learn about the battle and those who fought and died there at the visitor center, hear about Civil War medicine at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, and reflect on the lives that were lost at Antietam National Cemetery. Raise a glass to history and those who came before at Antietam Creek Vineyards, also located in Sharpsburg, offering several locally made vintage white, red, and rosé wines and views of the nearby battlefield. CARD WIDGET HEREVisit Hagerstown
With summer just around the corner, now is the time to start planning your next great vacation, whether you’re into epic cross-country road trips or crave a peaceful escape in a beautiful natural setting. From coast to coast, the U.S. is home to 63 national parks and more than 6,600 state parks, leaving plenty of options for anyone planning to spend more time outdoors this summer. Here’s a look at some of our favorite national parks in the country, all within driving distance of major cities, full of great hiking and camping opportunities, and worthy of a spot on your U.S. travel bucket list. Note that most parks require timed entry tickets during the busy summer months, so check their websites before you go to avoid disappointment. Each park also charges its own entrance fee, so consider purchasing an annual pass if you plan to visit multiple times or multiple parks in a year. WYOMING Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone National Park Measuring 3,472 square miles (or more than 2.2 million acres), Yellowstone National Park stretches across northwestern Wyoming, extending into parts of Montana and Idaho. Opened in 1872 as the world’s first-ever national park, Yellowstone attracts visitors with its hydrothermal features and geothermal activity — roughly four million people visit each year to see the Old Faithful geyser do its thing — rock formations like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, and the chance to see elk, bison, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, moose, and other wildlife in their natural environment. Reach the park by flying into Jackson (which is closed due to construction until June 28, 2022) or Cody in Wyoming, Billings or Bozeman in Montana, or Idaho Falls in Idaho, and renting a car to explore the area. Grand Teton National Park Located just outside Jackson, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park offers 330,000 acres of pure natural beauty, whether you choose to explore it on snowshoes or cross-country skis in winter or during a scenic summer hike. Enter via Moose, Moran Junction, or Granite Canyon, and spend a few hours admiring the impressive Teton Range, Emma Matilda Lake, Jenny Lake, the Snake River, Jackson Hole valley, and all the different birds, mammals and other fascinating creatures who call the area home. Note that Jackson’s airport is closed for construction until June 28, 2022, but you can still fly into Idaho Falls and either drive two hours or take a bus to downtown Jackson. UTAH Arches National Park Use Moab as your base to hike or cycle the Arches National Park, known for its vast collection of natural arches, giant balancing rocks, and impressive pinnacles among other geologic formations dating back to 65 million years ago. Make the 1.9-mile hike from the Devils Garden trailhead for impressive views of Landscape Arch, the longest in the world at 306 feet. Don’t forget about Delicate Arch, which can be seen from two viewpoints located a mile away near the parking lot. Otherwise, enjoy the challenging three-mile return hike to its base, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views and a closer look. Bryce Canyon National Park Bryce Canyon National Park Hoodoos are the name of the game at Bryce Canyon National Park, where you can see this fascinating rock formation in all its glory whether you drive, take the free shuttle, hike, or cycle your way around the park. Located four hours from Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, the popular park sports pink cliffs, red rocks, and amazing views from its perch at the top of the Grand Staircase plateau. Visit Bryce Amphitheater, home to the Sunset Point, Sunrise Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point overlooks, which lead to some of the park’s best hiking trails. Make time to visit the Natural Bridge and Rainbow Point side of the park for even more memorable views. Zion National Park Zion National Park impresses with vast and colorful sandstone cliffs, narrow canyons, and plenty of opportunities to go hiking and cycling. While cars aren’t allowed in the park, a free shuttle takes visitors around to the most popular scenic overlooks and trailheads, including easier hikes like the Grotto Trail and Riverside Walk, moderate hikes like the Kayenta Trail and walks to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools, and more strenuous hiking adventures to The Narrows or Angels Landing via the iconic West Rim Trail. Be aware that in response to concerns about crowding and congestion on the trail, on and after April 1, 2022, everyone who hikes Angels Landing needs to have a permit. COLORADO Rocky Mountain National Park About 90 minutes from Denver or 10 minutes from Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to more than 300 miles of scenic hiking trails, taking visitors through impressive alpine terrain past beautiful lakes and waterfalls, and giving you a chance to spot bobcats, moose, coyotes, deer, black bears, bighorn sheep, and more than 280 species of birds, among other wildlife. Start with a relaxing walk near Bear Lake, Cub Lake, or along the Lily Lake Loop before moving on to moderate hikes to Ouzel Falls and Cascade Falls, or a challenging hikes to the Deer Mountain summit. CALIFORNIA Yosemite National Park Yosemite National Park One of the most popular national parks in the country and just a four-hour drive from San Francisco, Yosemite is home to 1,200-square-miles of natural wilderness featuring waterfalls, ancient sequoia trees, vast valleys and meadows, and lots of opportunities to go hiking, biking, fishing, stargazing, birdwatching, rock climbing, horseback riding, and camping — you’ll need to apply for a permit to do overnight hikes or climb to the top of Half Dome, though. Try an easy day hike in Mariposa Grove or the Wawona meadow before taking on more difficult treks to Chilnualna Falls or around the Guardians Loop Trail. Note that Glacier Point Road is closed until May 2023. Kings Canyon National Park Located about 4.5 hours from either Los Angeles or San Francisco, Kings Canyon National Park is a beautiful place to take a hike, especially on Congress Trail, which passes by the largest sequoia in the world at 275 feet tall and more than 36 feet in diameter at its base, the 2,200-year-old General Sherman Tree. For incredible views of the Great Western Divide and Kings Canyon, try the 4.4-mile return hike along Big Baldy Trail. Don’t miss Giant Forest, home to enormous redwood trees, and scenic hikes to Tokopah Falls or through Cedar Grove, Grant Grove, and Mineral King. Death Valley National Park At a whopping three million acres, Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the country outside Alaska as well as the lowest, with an elevation of –282.2 feet. A great day trip from Las Vegas just two hours away, the park is known for its many scenic hikes of varying difficulty, as well hundreds of miles of paved and dirt roads perfect for cycling. “Star Wars” fans can also visit several film locations, including Artists Palette, Dante’s View, Desolation Canyon, Golden Canyon, Twenty-Mule Team Canyon, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which doubled as Tatooine in “Episode IV: A New Hope” and “Episode V: Return of the Jedi.” OREGON Crater Lake National Park For a memorable West Coast road trip through the wilderness of southern Oregon, head to Crater Lake National Park, located about five hours south of Portland or 7.5 hours north of San Francisco. Formed by a violent volcanic eruption roughly 7,700 years ago, Crater Lake is the deepest in the U.S., with depths of up to 1,949 feet and the bluest water you’ve ever seen. Take a few hours to enjoy a scenic drive around the lake, stop by Sinnott Overlook for a closer look at the caldera, or hike to the summit of Mount Scott, Watchman Peak, or Garfield Peak for a different point of view. SOUTH DAKOTA Badlands National Park Badlands National Park About an hour outside Rapid City, enter Badlands National Park and drive or cycle along the Badlands Loop Road, where you’ll find 12 scenic overlooks, each offering incredible views of the area’s otherworldly landscapes, unique wildlife, and ancient geology. Stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn more about the national park, the history and culture of the Oglala Lakota people who live in the area, and to see the working fossil lab. For a real treat, stick around after dark for stargazing and a ranger-led astronomy talk with telescopes at the Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater, offered nightly between Memorial Day and Labor Day. FLORIDA Everglades National Park Everglades National Park makes a great day trip from anywhere in South Florida, especially if you’re driving from Miami to the Florida Keys. The 1.5-million acre UNESCO World Heritage site is the largest subtropical wilderness area in the country and you’ll be able to spot alligators, American crocodiles, manatees, over 360 species of birds, and the elusive Florida panther, among its mangroves and sawgrass prairies. Stop by the Shark Valley Visitor Center to learn more about the park’s natural inhabitants, hit the Ottercave Trail or Bobcat Boardwalk (each under 0.5 miles), then rent a bike or take a two-hour guided tram tour along the 15-mile loop to the observation tower for beautiful views of the park and its wildlife. ALASKA Denali National Park Denali Mountain, Denali National Park Accessible by plane, Alaska Railway, or car, Denali National Park is about 2.5 hours from Fairbanks or four hours from Anchorage. Once inside the park, take one of the free buses — the Riley Creek Loop shuttle, Savage River shuttle, or the Sled Dog Demonstration shuttle — or choose from several narrated tour buses or non-narrated transit buses to get around. Either way, you’ll want to try the scenic 6.5-mile Curry Ridge Trail, which offers excellent views of alpine lakes and the highest point in North America, 20,310-foot-tall Denali (formerly Mount McKinley). Remember to keep an eye out for the big five: grizzly bears, caribou, moose, wolves, and Dall sheep. Content sponsored by IntrepidYour North America adventure is right here, right now. Learn more at https://www.intrepidtravel.com Check out more people and planet-friendly adventures at Intrepid Travel:Explore epic national parks of the USIntrepid Travel
A few things might wake you up in the middle of the night the first time you climb under the covers inside an RV. Fearing that you forgot to engage the parking brake and are in danger of rolling down the hill to your death, for one. (You did, and you are.) Thinking someone left the light on in the bathroom and wondering whether that will drain the RV's battery by morning. (They did, but it didn't.) Hearing campers breaking the sacred "quiet after 9 p.m." rule and imagining they'll get busted. (They did.) Wondering if the bacon and eggs you bought for tomorrow morning's breakfast are now, effectively, toast, because you'd been told that the fridge will mysteriously stop working if the RV is parked on even the slightest incline. (They are.) Funny, I'd spent half my life dreaming about setting off in an RV for parts unknown and maintaining perfectly level appliances never once figured into the fantasy. To me, RVing was simply the ultimate escape route. Maybe that's because my early family vacations revolved around campgrounds and car trips. Or maybe because buying an RV is the landlocked states' version of saving up for a sailboat. It's a vacation home wherever you want it, whenever you want it. It's freedom and security in equal measure. It's Lewis and Clark with a V-8 engine. "I studied online forums for RV enthusiasts, campground-review sites, and the orientation video on the RV-rental website." Still, in the weeks leading to my maiden RV voyage, my anxiety was rising almost as fast as gasoline prices. The sheer size of the vehicle—and the fact that it would be filled with cutlery and combustible fuels—grew scarier by the minute. To quell the panic, I studied online forums for RV enthusiasts, campground-review sites, and the orientation video on the RV-rental website (twice). And I brought backup: Lindsay and Lola, a couple of friends I've known since college who have a generous way of seeing disasters as adventures. They tried to distract me by focusing on our packing priorities: hiking gear vs. lawn games, SPF 15 or 30. Not that it helped. ROAD-TESTED TIP #1: "Use an RV-specific route planner on a GPS. It'll factor in overhead clearance and other restrictions, such as which roads, bridges, and tunnels won't allow propane tanks through." —Richard Coon, former President, Recreational Vehicle Industry Association And yet, when we arrived at the rental lot in Durham, N.C., I started to calm down, in part because a petite 20-something gal handed me the keys, and I figured that if she could pilot a big rig, then maybe I could, too. We got a few simple pointers from the RV folks: Pull far into intersections before making a turn. Leave lots of room for braking. Always use a spotter when you back up. Drive-through restaurants are just not worth the risk. We learned when to use battery power, propane, shoreline electricity, and our generator; how to restart a dead battery; the necessity of turning off the propane tank before refueling; how to heat water for showers and how to tell when the water supply is nearly depleted; and how to level out the rig with a pair of two-by-four boards if our campsite is on a slant. And we learned the finer points of emptying the holding tanks—a polite way of saying draining the toilet—a task that quickly supplanted merging onto the highway as my most dreaded challenge. "Once you get the hose screwed on—and make sure you screw it on really tight—then open the valves and walk away," said Tommy, our orientation instructor. "Or run. I've gotten wet feet more times than I like to recall." The girls and I made a pact to use the campgrounds' rest areas whenever possible and added latex gloves to the top of our shopping list. Then we took a few trial spins around the parking lot, and with Lindsay in the navigator's seat and Lola on loose-objects duty in the back, we headed into the great wide open. "We quickly learned that RV trips are all-hands-on-deck endeavors." First came the rattle. With every bump in the road, each cup, dish, and saucepan in our kitchen cabinets shuddered like a beat-up shopping cart being pushed down a gravel road. (I learned later that putting paper towels between the plates helps immensely.) Then came the thuds. Turn left, and one set of drawers would slide open with a thwak. Turn right, and another drawer would do the same. We were already learning that RV trips are all-hands-on-deck endeavors. In addition to navigating, Lindsay was my second set of eyes for lane changes and would become my second-in-command for ticking off setup and breakdown duties. Lola wrangled drawers and cabinets, stood lookout at the rear window for minor back-up missions, and became galley chef for the length of the trip. "This is like a ropes course," Lindsay said after our first refueling stop, with its propane-off, propane-on, secure-all-items drill. "Maybe we should do some trust falls at the beach." Six hours, three pit stops, and one possible bird collision (none of us wanted to check the grille for confirmation) later, we arrived at Frisco Campground, one of four in the area run by the National Park Service. We had just enough time to practice back-in parking before nightfall. That's when I realized my first RV mistake: Anywhere we wanted to go, we'd have to take the RV, repositioning it each time we returned. (The pros either bring bikes or tow a regular car—often referred to as a dinghy—behind the RV.) So we strapped ourselves back in to fetch dinner in Hatteras Village, five miles away, and performed the parking routine again an hour later—this time in the dark, with the girls wielding flashlights like traffic batons. ROAD-TESTED TIP #2: "We try to bring or rent bicycles to visit nearby areas while camping. It beats packing up the RV to move it to a trailhead for hiking, only to find out there is no room to park a larger vehicle! Many times, you can access a 'bikes only' trail or (at the Grand Canyon, for example) trails for shuttle buses and bikes only." —Debby Schlesinger, BT reader, Grenada Hills, Calif. To celebrate—not just the parking but surviving the first day—we split a bottle of convenience-store wine around the RV's dinette, the only spot where all three of us could sit facing each other. "I've had worse apartments than this," I said, looking around. "Definitely worse kitchens." The furnishings were surprisingly modern—navy fabric upholstery and matching window coverings, new-looking appliances and cabinets. And even though I assumed we'd overpacked, there was plenty of unused storage space in the RV's dozen cabinets. More impressive to me was the fact that I could walk around the whole cabin standing at full height, without crouching or hitting my head on anything. That was, until bedtime. I called the bunk over the cab—possibly an unconscious compulsion to stay near the driver's seat. Maneuvering my limbs into the crawl-space-size cubby guaranteed a bumped elbow, knee, or forehead with every entrance and exit. The girls shared the double bed in back, since converting the dinette to a third bed would have required clearing the piles of maps, snack-food containers, and bug repellent cans that had already accumulated on the tabletop. Calling out our good nights and cracking jokes in the dark, it was the closest thing to an adult sleepover I could imagine—more intimate than sharing a hotel room, and sillier, too. "Orchestrating our morning routines was easier than I'd thought." Seeing the Frisco campground in daylight—just after sunrise, in fact, thanks to the chatter of the campground's early risers—provided a fresh perspective after that fitful first night's sleep. Orchestrating our morning routines was easier than I'd thought. The toilet and the shower—one of those flimsy jobs with a handheld sprayer that tumbles readily from its mount—were bundled in one closet-size room, about four feet by four feet, tops. (Its door was inches away from where Lindsay and Lola slept, another reason to make sparing use of its facilities.) Still, the teensy bathroom sink was just outside the shower/toilet stall; at the slightly larger kitchen sink a few feet away, two people could brush their teeth simultaneously. Lindsay was the first one out, conferring with the park ranger and plotting the day's activities (hit the beach, visit a lighthouse, find lunch). The ocean's proximity redeemed the transportation issue. After all, who needs a car when you can walk to the beach? The geography of the Outer Banks—a 130-mile stretch of narrow barrier islands, less than a mile wide for much if its length—was the primary reason I'd chosen this spot for my trial run. There are 20-plus campgrounds along the strip, none much more than a mile away from the Atlantic Ocean or Pamlico Sound. At Frisco, $28 a night buys you peace, quiet, and your own little slice of unlandscaped beachfront real estate. What that $28 doesn't buy you: heated campground showers or any way to charge a cell phone. Hence, one night would be our limit. ROAD-TESTED TIP #3: "If you're exhausted and not near a campground, Walmart stores sometimes allow campers to use their parking lots. Just check to make sure there's not a no overnight parking sign, and choose a spot near one of the lot's outer edges." —Kevin Broom, former Director of Media Relations, Recreational Vehicle Industry Association Courtesy RVshare The 30 miles of road between Frisco and Rodanthe, where we'd camp next, passes through a series of near-identical hamlets with dreamy names: Avon, Salvo, Waves. The longer we drove, the less I worried about all the folks in my rearview mirror who clearly wanted to pass me on the two-lane highway. Rolling down the windows and turning on the radio helped distract me. So did focusing on our next stop, an oasis where water and electricity flow freely and quiet hours don't start until a wild-and-crazy 10 p.m. As much as I'd been obsessing about life inside an RV, pulling into the Cape Hatteras KOA was a revelation. Here, everyone was living outside their vehicles. All around us, colorful awnings, canvas camp chairs, outdoor carpets, wind chimes, string lights shaped like Airstream trailers, plastic gingham tablecloths, tiki torches, and dream catchers marked off each site's would-be front lawn. We envied our neighbors, a retired duo from Farmville, N.C., for their old-school, beige-striped Winnebago (our RV was plastered with rental ads) and simple setup: an AstroTurf swatch just big enough for their two folding chairs and a small table. ROAD-TESTED TIP #4: "If you're staying parked in one spot for a while, run the RV engine for a few minutes each day to recharge the battery." —Tommy Summey, Cruise America rental agent, Hillsborough, N.C. We'd brought nothing—and I mean nothing—to make the outside of our RV feel like home. Alas, the homiest thing we could muster was to try out the RV kitchen. "Grilled cheese sandwiches, everybody?" Lola asked. With no real counter space, she spread plates across the stovetop to prep the ingredients, then shifted the plates to a little sliver of awkward space behind the sink. As the stove (and, soon after, the RV) heated up, she had a change of heart. "Cold cheese sandwiches, everybody?" she asked. The plan abandoned, we carried our sandwiches out to the nearest picnic table. And never turned on the stove again. "Having a place to spread out is crucial." Having a place to spread out is crucial—especially when you've crammed a family of four or five into a usable living space the size of a large toolshed. But it would also be a shame to stay inside; an RV park is a voyeur's paradise—people watching at its most reciprocal. Several times, I passed a man with a white ponytail sitting shirtless outside his RV, shelling peas. He asked how I was doing, and when I replied in kind, he said, "I'm just making do, trying to enjoy myself...it's not too difficult." He didn't need to wink—but I think he did anyway. Our favorite acquaintance at the camp was Kilo, a nervous but friendly tan-and-white Chihuahua that accompanied John, a KOA staffer, on all his rounds—showing new arrivals to their sites and helping campers set up. (The explanation for his name? "He's from Mexico." Roger that.) Judging from all the group activities at the campground, it's safe to say that RVers are very social. Even those campers who'd rather spend their afternoons at the beach—as we did, most days—have ample opportunity for mingling after sundown. One evening, we caught the opening number at karaoke night—Cee Lo Green's expletive-free radio hit "Forget You," performed by a teenage staffer; the next, we watched an outdoor screening of Kung Fu Panda. We even organized some social events of our own, enlisting a couple of 30-something Texan guys to help us start a fire to make s'mores. Another snafu: not knowing the proper way to extinguish a fire when you're done with dessert. We poured panfuls of water from our kitchen onto the flames, sending out smoke signals to the whole campground that we were clueless. "Just as we were leaving, I was getting the hang of it." The author with her Class C RV. Credit: Brent Humphreys By the last day, we'd had more than our share of screwups, most easy enough to laugh off. But there was one RV task I really couldn't afford to botch. It was time for the Holding Tank. Lindsay followed me outside to offer moral support—and to remind me to run. Fortunately, I didn't get my feet wet, though I did leave a small trail of blue chemicals between our site's dump station and the RV (and hoped no one would notice). ROAD-TESTED TIP #5: "Be sure to get a tutorial on how to empty the holding tanks. One time, we forgot to add chemicals to the black-water tank after emptying it—the smell was terrible, and we quickly learned our lesson." —Laurie Huhndorf, BT reader, San Antonio The payoff for that 5 a.m. waste disposal came when we finally hit the empty road pointing north toward Nags Head, the sky slowly brightening with each mile. The only other travelers out were sea birds and jackrabbits, and I'd long since stopped fretting over every lane change, left turn, or loose kitchen drawer rattling with dishes. Even shutting off the propane at our last gas-station stop was second nature. Finally, just as we were leaving, I was getting the hang of it. Next time, I may even get up the nerve to grill a cheese sandwich or two. Content Presented by RVshare, the world’s first and largest peer-to-peer RV rental marketplace with more than 100,000 RVs to rent nationwide. RVshare brings RV renters and RV owners together by providing the safest and most secure platform for booking an RV rental. 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