2020 will forever be known as a year of major changes all over the world, and travel has been no exception. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about the ways of transmission, plane travel is very limited. International travel is almost unheard of for enjoyment or vacation. Now is the time to see the incredible national parks that we have domestically. Hopefully, this article will send you packing to find out what you’ve been missing right in your own “backyard”.
#1 Rainbow Bridge National Monument
Forbidding Canyon, Lake Powell, UT
Where is Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge is accessible following a short hike from the National Park wharf in Bridge Canyon, after a scenic two-hour boat ride on Lake Powell from a marina in Page, Arizona. If you prefer hiking the entire trip you will need to obtain a permit from the Navajo Nation in Window Rock AZ. Plan for that hike to take several days overland from a trailhead on the south side of Lake Powell.
What is Rainbow Bridge
During the last ice age, Bridge Creek was flowing toward the great Colorado River carving through the softer rocks and veering away from the harder Triassic and Jurassic era sandstones. This pathway created a wide hairpin bend that flowed around a solid sandstone that would become Rainbow Bridge. Surrounded by fossilized dinosaur prints, and at the foot of the powerful Navajo Mountain, visiting Rainbow Bridge feels like a step into another world or another time. The size and scope of the land bridge is truly awe-inspiring.
Why You Must See Rainbow Bridge
Rainbow Bridge is regarded as the world's highest natural bridge. The bridge is 290 feet tall from the base to the arch, and stretches 275 feet across the creek bed. Relatively recently, the Navajo, Hopi, San Juan Southern Paiute, Kaibab Paiute, and White Mesa Ute tribes have fought The Park Service expressing concerns about visitors destroying the Bridge. Studies have shown that increased use and erosion are causing crumbling and there is growing concern that the bridge will begin to collapse. In 1993 a National Park Service General Management ruling asks that visitors be respectful of its significance to the people who have long held Rainbow Bridge sacred. Visitors are no longer allowed to walk across the bridge, however, you can approach and walk under the bridge from one side to the other along or just above the creek bed, and there is a well-worn path under the bridge that is regularly used.
#2 Uncle Tom’s Point Trail Overlook
Grand Canyon of Yellowstone South Rim, Yellowstone National Park WY
Where is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone South Rim
Yellowstone National Park covers nearly 3,500 square miles in the northwest corner of Wyoming. Yellowstone has five entrance stations, and you can get to the South Rim portion of the Grand Canyon by taking South Rim Road off of the Grand Loop Road. From there you will see signs for Uncle Tom's Point Trail.
What is Tom’s Point Trail Overlook
"Uncle Tom" Richardson was an early concessioner in the canyon area. From 1898–1905, he guided visitors to the canyon floor down a steep trail using rope ladders. Today Tom’s Point Trail descends partway into the canyon via 300 steep steel steps. That is a large number of steps you must ascend and descend, so be sure you check the weather report and the physical restrictions before you head out for this one.
Why you must see Tom’s Point Trail Overlook
This overlook is the only place in the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone where you can view 2 falls on one hike. The 109-foot (33.2-m) Upper Falls can be seen from Uncle Tom's Trail. A third falls is located in the canyon between the Upper and Lower falls. Cascade Creek descends into the canyon via Crystal Falls. It can be seen from the South Rim Trail just east of Uncle Tom's area.This is also the only location where you can reach the canyon floor. The beauty and enormity of the canyon will move you when you are on the top. But when you are in the canyon looking up, it is overwhelming.
#3 Medano Creek
Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Alamosa, CO
Where are the Great Sand Dunes
The Great Sand Dunes National Park is at the foot of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains in Mocsa, Colorado. The park covers 149,137 acres of forest, wetlands, tundra and soaring sand dunes in one of our country’s most unique combinations of geographic formations. Medano Creek is the melted snowfields from the dunes that run down to Medano lake and on down to the base of the dunes.
What is The Great Sand Dunes National Park
The Great Sand Dunes earn their name. These are the tallest sand dunes in North America. Visitors are free to climb, play, sleep, sled, roll, and pretty much whatever else they want to do in the sand. You can go to the creek and play in the water. Visitors have also come to search for fossils. Many bones have been found, including a mammoth tooth that was as large as a human head. Of course, if you find a fossil please notify a park official immediately. Native American followers will enjoy the rich heritage of nineteen indigenous tribes at the Sand Dunes Park. There are also 200 ponderosa pines that were used by native Americans hundreds of years ago and are the only grove of trees in the National Register of Historic Places.
Why you must see the Great Sand Dunes
For a minute you will think you have arrived in the Sahara Desert. The Sand dunes are majestic and beautiful. Help yourself; you can run, play and have fun on them. Or you can go bird sighting in the wetlands or look for the different animals in the other terrains. Swim in the river, enjoy the history. But don’t wear yourself out too much, because you will want to be laying on a sand dune at night. The sand blows and settles at night, and when it moves, the sand sings. But don’t close your eyes to listen: In 2019, Great Sand Dunes became a certified International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. It’s an ideal location for viewing galaxies thanks to the dry air, limited light pollution, and high elevation. A moonless night between mid-summer and early fall offers the best view of the Milky Way. Visitors even hike at night because it is bright enough to see without lighting.
#4 Route 191 Driving Tour
Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole WY
Where is Grand Teton National Park
Teton Park Scenic Drive Loop can be accessed via three entry points. From Jackson, head north on Highway 26-89-191 and enter at Moose Junction. Travelers coming from Yellowstone follow the Rockefeller, Jr. Parkway and enter the park at the Jackson Lake Junction. For those coming from Dubois, WY (east), drive over Togwotee Pass and enter the park at Moran Junction.
What is the Route 191 Driving Tour
For a change of pace, this site is a driving tour with numerous places you can stop and explore along the way. The best way to see all of the 42 mile Grand Teton National Park is to turn it into a loop. From Moose, drive up the inner park road to Jackson Lake Junction and follow the outer park road through Moran Junction back down to Moose. Allow 2 hours for the round trip so you can explore all of the points of interest you want to see, at least 3 or 3 1/2 hours if you want to dine on your tour.
Why you must see Grand Teton from Route 191
The biggest draw of viewing Grand Teton from Route 191 is the combination of the incredible views of the Menor’s Ferry ride, the Jenny Lake Boat ride, the Hidden Falls, the Chapel of the Transfiguration (very tiny church with a perfect view of the Tetons), a Historic Mormon Homestead, various outlooks and off roads for wildlife sighting, and a variety of restaurants and shops for visitors to visit. Sixty-one species of mammals live beneath the peaks of the majestic Teton Range. Moose, elk, bison and pronghorns can often be seen from the roadways in the park. However to see grizzly bears, black bears, wolves and mountain lions; you may need to take one of the many hiking trails. Bison and pronghorn can be seen grazing in spring, summer and fall. As you cross Moose Bridge, look up and down the Snake River, and depending on the time of day and the temperature, you will likely see a moose or two munching in the grass. You may also see bison grazing off of the edge of the water. If you are drawn by awesome mountain views, beautiful foliage, historic lifestyles, or animal life, this tour has it all.
#5 Many Glaciers Region
Glacier National Park, West Glacier MT
Where is Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is located in the northwest corner of Montana along the spine of the Rocky Mountains. The park straddles the Continental Divide, and although the distance doesn't look far on a map, it's made up of long winding mountain roads. Going-to-the-Sun Road is the only road that stretches across the interior of the park, connecting West Glacier and St. Mary. U.S. Highway 2 skirts the southern boundary, connecting West Glacier and East Glacier.
What is the Many Glacier Area
Glacier National Park is beautiful and unusual, but the Many Glacier section is less traveled, has a much more remote feel and shouldn’t be missed. Getting into Many Glacier is a little rough and bumpy and can be filled with free roaming cattle. Be prepared to drive in very slowly and enjoy the view as you go. The hikes in Many Glacier are a little longer and or steeper than most in Glacier National Park and can be more strenuous.
Why you must see Many Glacier
The Apakuni Falls trail is less than 2 miles, however it gains 600 feet in elevation from bottom to top. Most of the hike is forested and at the top opens up to the stunning Apakuni Falls. There is also a beautiful view back into the valley. The hike around Fishercap Lake, Redrock Lake, Redrock Falls and Bullhead lake is a roundtrip 7 miles. It is well worth it to view the beautiful blue waters and the majestic mountains. The Iceberg Lake Trail is another iconic sight-seeing attraction in Many Glacier. It's spectacular! You will climb a total of 1200 vertical feet, but you won't even notice it because the climb is so gradual. And lastly, the Many Glacier boat tour is another must do while vacationing in Glacier National Park. This is a boat ride that you will never forget!
Continue exploring with Part 2 of the 10 Must See Sites in US National Parks!