“We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope.” – Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Just as the majority of the nation was looking forward to the freedom of spring and the summer travel season ahead, the United States (and much of the world) has been forced to retreat indoors as the current health crisis continues. As more and more states are issuing “shelter in place” orders, the thought of being restricted to our homes may have many dreading the inevitable cabin fever that is sure to follow.
The next few weeks — and likely months — of social distancing needn’t inhibit you from exploring many of the U.S. National Parks in what James Bryce called “the best idea America ever had.” And while I’m sure we all have a few on our shortlist, perhaps now is the time to explore some of the lesser-known parks from the safety of your sofa. Of the more than 60 parks that carry the National Park designation, it’s possible to tour 31 of them via Google Earth while most are closed to the public during this challenging time.
So, for the time being, don’t grab your hiking boots or daypack, but rather, travel over to Google Earth and click on a park and prepare to be swept away to some of the most scenic landscapes America has to offer.
Here are three of our favorites to fuel your virtual wanderlust and get you started on your post-lockdown road trip.
Established in 1910, the park is aptly named for the glacial activity that shaped this impressive and rugged mountain topography. This geological wonder is still home to roughly a dozen glaciers and boasts more than 700 miles of hiking trails throughout its more than one million acres. An engineering marvel, the Going-to-the-Sun Road snakes across the park from east to west and crosses the continental divide at Logan Pass. Stretching more than 50 miles, this may arguably be one of America’s most scenic drives. In addition to its numerous waterfalls and an abundance of lakes, the area is also home to a plethora of unique wildlife. including bears (both grizzly and black), mountain goats, and bighorn sheep.
Originally protected as a national monument in 1909 by Teddy Roosevelt, the nearly 1 million acres would be designated a national park in 1938 by Franklin Roosevelt. Located on the Olympic Peninsula, this protected area may be one of the most unique in the National Park’s quiver. The park encompasses multiple ecosystems within its boundaries: Wild and rugged coastline, temperate rainforest, and subalpine forest and meadows. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated wilderness and the park also carries the UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Located just 75 miles from our nation’s capital, this jewel in Virginia’s crown is just under 200,000 acres and stretches 105 miles to create this narrow national park in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Skyline Drive runs the length of the park and provides access to scenic vistas along its route. If you want to make the journey longer, you’re in luck. The 105-mile Skyline Drive connects to the 469-mile long Blue Ridge Parkway that connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With over 500 miles of hiking trails located within the park’s boundaries, this is a hiker’s paradise.
Take your time and enjoy the journey. Here’s the rest of the list:
- Acadia National Park
- Arches National Park
- Badlands National Park
- Big Bend National Park
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Bruce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Channel Islands National Park
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Denali National Park
- Dry Tortugas National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Great Smoky Mountain National Park
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Mount Rainier National Park
- Redwood National and State Parks
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Sequoia National Park
- Virgin Islands National Park
- Wind Cave National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Zion National Park
- Forget overcrowded national parks – these are the best hiking trails in national forests
- U.S. national parks have a plan to go carbon neutral — here’s what that means for visitors
- Where will the next U.S. national park be?
- These are the best national parks to visit when the weather warms up
- Take a break at one of these U.S. National Parks this winter