National parks come in all sizes and shapes, offering nothing if not variety.
One of the highlights of our snowbird lifestyle is touring national parks. National Park Service sites are a great national resource—places where nature, history, geology, art, culture, and wildlife are protected and preserved forever.
From scenic to sensational, history to mystery; from the cool forests of Sequoia National Park to the barren heat of Death Valley to the remote Capitol Reef National Park, to South Carolina’s Congaree National Park, largest old-growth forest in the southeastern United States—there’s something for everyone. Literally.
You can visit volcanoes, glaciers, white sand beaches, dinosaur fossils, giant trees, vast deserts, rain forests, caves, and many other things including some you may not have believed existed.
In addition to the 58 designated national parks, National Park Service sites include national monuments, national recreation areas, national lakeshores and seashores, national historic sites, national battlefields, national scenic and historic trails, national rivers, national preserves, and national memorials. They’re all “national parks” even if they aren’t called National Park in their official name.
Homing in on just the 58 national parks that reported visitation in 2015, recreational visits totaled 75.3 million, besting the 1997 record of 69.5 million. We’ve contributed to this trend, having visited 22 national parks during our snowbird travels.
And why not? We’ve all familiar with the spectacular beauty of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, Arches, Glacier, Great Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon national parks.
Over the course of the last century, the National Park Service has protected America’s wildest, most historically significant, and culturally important locations, and transformed them into 407 parks.
The National Park Service turned 100 years old in August thanks to President Woodrow Wilson, who signed the Organic Act of 1916, but few presidents have done as much for conservation as Teddy Roosevelt.
National parks aren’t just summer destinations. Many parks see significant visitation during the fall and winter months, offering everything from wildlife to fall foliage to cooler temperatures.
While every national park has its own charm, here is my list of National Park Service sites with great appeal for snowbirds during their autumn and winter travels.
Tucson is flanked on its western and eastern edges by Saguaro National Park, showcasing the giant cacti native only to the Sonoran Desert. With a lifespan of up to two centuries, Saguaro can reach the height of a six-story building and grow as many as two dozen arms.
Death Valley National Park sits in a low depression east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Though Death Valley measures in at just 12 miles wide, the expanse covers 130 miles in length. Telescope Peak marks the highest elevation in the park at 11,039 feet, while the lowest spot, Badwater, is down at 282 feet below sea level, the fifth lowest point in the world.
Cumberland Island National Seashore includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world. The park is home to a herd of feral, free-ranging horses. Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history. Built by the Carnegies, the ruins of the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness are a must-see for visitors.
Bryce Canyon is world-famous for its vibrant red rock spires that shoot hundreds of feet into the air. Known as hoodoos, these totem pole-like formations are collected in a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters that are easily accessible and provide breathtaking views.
In Far West Texas, along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park, there’s a magical place with a great deal of silence, beauty, and space—creating an ideal habitat for the turkeys, javelinas, roadrunners, and coyotes.
Please Note: This is part of an on-going series on America’s National Parks Centennial
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.