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Best Things to do in Shenandoah National Park

Just 75 miles from the bustle of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is your escape to rest, relaxation and recreation. Meander along Skyline Drive — a 105-mile road that runs the entire length of the park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, generally along the ridge of the mountains. Hike to cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas and quiet wooded hollows. Or picnic with the family and enjoy the 200,000 acres of protected lands are haven to deer, songbirds, and an incredible night sky.

The park is long and narrow, with the broad Shenandoah River and Valley to the west side, and the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont to the east. Although the scenic Skyline Drive is the most prominent feature of the park, almost 40% of the land area has been designated as wilderness and is protected as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 50 of our 61 National Parks — and I have explored many areas of the park — so I’m here to offer some suggestions! If this is your first time to the park, or you’re returning after many years, check out some of the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park!

Experience Skyline Drive

As you travel along Skyline Drive you will notice mileposts on the west side of the road (right side if you are traveling south, left if you are heading north). These posts help you find your way through the park and help you locate areas of interest. The miles begin at 0 at Front Royal and continue to 105 at the southern end of the park. The largest developed area, Big Meadows, is near the center of the park, at mile 51. All park maps and information use these mileposts as a reference.

Shenandoah National Park - Skyline Drive

The speed limit is 35 mph, so you can roll down your windows, feel the breeze and experience every curve and turn of this beautiful drive. There are nearly 70 overlooks that offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. Black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels. Watch carefully for these animals who may dart across your path without warning.

Who Doesn’t Love a waterfall?

Shenandoah National Park - Dark Hallows Falls

Besides small cascades along streams, there are large and lovely waterfalls in each section of Shenandoah National Park. All are accessible from a parking place along Skyline Drive. But they all involve a hike downhill—and, of course, the harder hike back up! Check out the waterfalls — each with its own beauty and personality. Here are some of the more popular falls…

  • Overall Run Falls at mile 21.1
  • Whiteoak Canyon Falls at mile 42.6
  • Cedar Run Falls at mile 45.6
  • Rose River Falls at mile 49.4
  • Dark Hollow Falls at mile 50.7
  • Lewis Falls at mile 51.4
  • South River Falls at mile 62.8
  • Jones Run Falls at mile 84.1

Get Out and Hike!

Shenadoah National Park - Hiking

There’s so much more to see than just waterfalls, and hiking is the best way to get out an explore the park. There are over 500 miles of hiking trails in Shenandoah ranging from easy to very strenuous. You can even hike part of the Appalachian Trail! When you are out on the trails, look for the concrete trail markers with directional information at trailheads and intersections. Here are some suggestions for hiking the North, Central and Southern Districts of the park.

North District Hikes in Shenandoah

From the tallest waterfall in the park, to the quiet historical Fox Hollow Trail, the North District of Shenandoah has something for everyone. Hikes in the North District of Shenandoah National Park include the quiet, historical Fox Hollow Trail, the scenic Overall Run Falls, and Compton Peak, with impressive columnar jointing geological features. While in the North District be sure to talk to a ranger at Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.

Central District Hikes in Shenandoah

Whether you are looking for a short hike through the forest or a destination hike leading to peaks or waterfalls, the Central District of Shenandoah National Park offers many options for recreation and relaxation. Hiking options in the Central District include scenic waterfalls like Dark Hollow Falls and Whiteoak Canyon, sweeping summits like Stony Man Mountain and Marys Rock. The Central District also includes Big Meadows and Skyland, areas rich with history that currently are home to lodging, dining, and shopping options.

South District Hikes In Shenandoah

The South District is the most remote area of Shenandoah National Park. Whether you are looking to take a shorter hike to rugged talus slopes or a longer trip into the Wilderness, your adventure starts here. The South District offers plenty of hiking opportunities from the easier Blackrock Summit — featuring a rocky talus slope and majestic views — to the very strenuous Riprap Trail featuring cascades, and views of Shenandoah’s Wilderness. While there is no visitor center in the South District, the Loft Mountain Wayside and Campground can offer some services.

Bicycling Through the Park

Another great way to see the park is on two wheels! Bicycling is permitted along Skyline Drive and on paved areas in the park. Bicycles (road and mountain bikes) are not permitted on trails, unpaved roads or in grassy areas. Because Skyline Drive is a two-lane road with steep hills and numerous blind curves, cyclists are urged to use extreme caution.

Shenandoah National Park - Bicycling - Neal Lewis
Photo Courtesy NPS/Neal Lewis

Cyclists should be prepared to operate their bicycles during periods of low visibility, or while traveling through a tunnel, or between sunset and sunrise. During periods of fog, reflectors will not provide the necessary safety for bicyclists. Lights on both the front and rear of the bicycle are required. Mountain areas can experience dramatically different weather than what is being experienced in the lowlands, so be prepared!

Camping & Sleeping Under the Stars

There’s no better place to do it than Shenandoah! Beautiful campgrounds, each with unique features and access to nearly 200,000 acres of backcountry to explore are perfect for your next camping adventure!

Shenandoah National Park - Moonrise

Mathews Arm Campground

Mathews Arm, at mile 22.1 of Skyline Drive, is the nearest campground for those entering the park from the north. It is next to a nature trail and the trail to Overall Run Falls, the tallest waterfall in the park. Elkwallow Wayside, with camping supplies and food service, is two miles away.

Big Meadows Campground

Located at mile 51.2 of Skyline Drive, Big Meadows Campground is near many of the major facilities and popular hiking trails in the park. Three waterfalls are within walking distance; the Meadow, with its abundant plant growth and wildlife, is close by.

Lewis Mountain Campground

Lewis Mountain Campground is located off mile 57.5 of Skyline Drive and is the smallest campground in the park.

Loft Mountain Campground

Located at mile 79.5 of Skyline Drive, Loft Mountain Campground is the largest campground in the park. The campground sits atop Big Flat Mountain with outstanding views to east and west. Two waterfalls and the trails into the Big Run Wilderness area are nearby.

Fishing in Mountain Streams

Shenandoah National Park - Fishing
Photo courtesy NPS/Neal Lewis

Shenandoah National Park contains over 70 mountain streams that support diverse aquatic resources including brook trout populations. Fishing opportunities are abundant but are also regulated in order to preserve and protect fish resources. For current rules, license requirements, guidelines on ethical fishing techniques, and planning a fishing trip, make sure to review the park’s fishing regulations.

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is a popular activity in Shenandoah National Park. Opportunities for all levels of climbers abound. Providing these opportunities are part of Shenandoah’s mission as is protecting the resources. Responsible rock climbing practices will ensure that these opportunities will be enjoyed by future generations.

Ranger Programs

Ranger-guided programs give visitors the opportunity to explore the wonders of the park with a Ranger. Programs are offered in spring, summer, and fall. Discover the many stories of Shenandoah’s past, take a walk through the splendor of a unique mountain meadow, or learn about the many animals and plants that thrive in Shenandoah National Park.


I’ve created a poster for Shenandoah National Park that features Dark Hollow Falls.

Shenandoah National Park

Click here to see the Shenandoah National Park poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our National Parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!

Click here to learn more about Rob & the National Park Poster Project!

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Best Things To Do at Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier from Reflection Lake

Mount Rainier National Park is home to Washington State’s 14,410-foot-tall active stratovolcano — and the highest point in the Cascade Range. Mount Rainier is surrounded by valleys, waterfalls, subalpine meadows, and old-growth forests. More than 25 glaciers flank the sides of the volcano, which is often shrouded in clouds, which dump enormous amounts of rain and snow. So, whether you’re coming to tackle the mountain on a challenging hike, eager to see Paradise’s wildflower meadows, or drive to Sunrise – there is something for every visitor. Even in winter, when portions of the park are closed, activities are available for outdoor adventurers, including skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.

2019 marks the 120th Anniversary of Mount Rainier National Park…and you can see the commemorative poster I’ve created at the bottom of this post!

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 National Parks — and I have explored many areas of the park — so I’m here to offer some suggestions! If this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, check out some of the best things to do in Mount Rainier National Park!

The park has five developed areas — Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise and the Carbon River & Mowich — with three visitor centers, a museum, and several wilderness and climbing centers and ranger stations. There are three main drive-in campgrounds, and two inns that provide lodging within the park.

Longmire

Mount Rainier from Longmire
Mount Rainier from Longmire

The original 1916 headquarters and museum are located here and offer information and exhibits that tell the story of the early days of the park. The Longmire Wilderness Information Center as well as the National Park Inn are located here, too. There are several hiking trails within Longmire, including the Trail of the Shadows, a short loop that begins near the museum, takes you on an easy walk past Longmire hot springs, through the surrounding forest and past a replica of one of the park’s earliest homesteads.

Paradise

Paradise, located at 5,400 feet, is a great place to start your park visit. Here you’ll find the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center — the main visitor center for the park. It offers general information, exhibits, a park film, guided ranger programs, a gift store and cafeteria. The historic Paradise Inn — usually open from mid-May to early October — is located here. And, you’ll also find The Guide House, where climbers can obtain permits and hiking and backcountry camping information. In the summer, this area is perfect for wildflower viewing. In winter, it’s the place for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and tubing.

Ohanapecosh

Located 42 miles east of the Nisqually Entrance, Ohanapecosh is thought to mean “standing at the edge.” Situated among Douglas fir, western red cedar, and western hemlock, you can experience the beauty and complexity of an old-growth forest. The east side of the park is also somewhat drier and sunnier than the west side, making it a good destination when Paradise and Longmire are wet or foggy.

Sunrise

Mount Rainier from Paradise
Mount Rainier from Sunrise

Sunrise is the highest spot in the park that can be reached by vehicle. And at 6,400 feet, you’ll have amazing 360-degree views of the surrounding valleys. You also have views of Mount Rainier and Mount Adams, as well as other volcanoes in the Cascade Range. The spectacular views, coupled with a varied trail system, make Sunrise one of the more popular destinations in the park.

Carbon River & Mowich

Rainforest near the Carbon River
Rainforest near the Carbon River

The history of this quiet corner of the park goes back well beyond the mining and logging that took place here. The Carbon River, named for coal deposits found in the area receives consistently high amounts of rainfall so the climate and plant communities found here resemble that of a temperate rainforest. Mowich Lake is set in a glacial basin surrounded by fragile wildflower meadows, and is the largest and deepest lake in Mount Rainier National Park.

Hike to Waterfalls & Wildflowers

Narada Falls
Narada Falls

Mount Rainier National Park offers more than 260 miles of maintained trails that lead through peaceful old-growth forest, river valleys and high subalpine meadows. From these trails you can explore and experience the forests, lakes, and streams and view the fields of wildflowers and network of glaciers.

If you’re looking for easy and enjoyable trails that the whole family can experience together, here are some of my favorites.

Sunrise Nature Trail & Sunrise Rim Trail

At Sunrise, you can access two short hikes: the Sunrise Nature Trail and the Sunrise Rim Trail. The 1 ½-mile Sunrise Nature Trail starts from the Sunrise picnic area and is a self-guided loop that weaves through meadows with breathtaking views of Mount Rainier and the Cascades. The 1-mile-long Sunrise Rim Trail leads to two overlooks of Emmons Glacier.

Grove of the Patriarchs Trail

Located west of the Stevens Canyon Entrance on the Ohanapecosh River, this 1-mile loop takes you to an island where 1,000-year-old Douglas fir and western red cedar trees tower overhead. There’s also a swinging suspension bridge on this trail!

Silver Falls Trail

This 3-mile round-trip trail begins at the Ohanapecosh Campground and takes visitors to the spectacular Silver Falls. It is relatively flat and easy to hike, making it popular with families. The trail follows the river to the falls, crosses a bridge and then loops back to the campground.

Skyline Trail

Fall Colors along the Skyline Trail
Fall Colors along the Skyline Trail

This 5 ½-mile hike starts near the entrance to the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center and is marked by stone steps inscribed with a quote by John Muir that reads: “… the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.” Head clockwise and the trail climbs 2 miles to Panorama Point, where you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views.

Climb a Volcano!

Mount Rainier, the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States, offers an exciting challenge to the mountaineer. Each year thousands of people successfully climb this 14,410 foot active volcano. Will you be next?

Climbing Glaciers
Climbing Glaciers

To reach the summit, you’ll have to climb some 9,000 feet over a distance of eight or more miles. You must be in good physical condition and well prepared! Proper physical conditioning can offset the effects of fatigue that lead to mistakes and injuries. Weather, snow, and route conditions can change rapidly, so before beginning a climb, obtain a current weather forecast.

Experience the Wildflowers

Penstemon
Penstemon

Mount Rainier’s renowned wildflowers bloom for a limited amount of time every year. The “peak” bloom for wildflowers is heavily dependent on weather and precipitation patterns, so accurate predictions are difficult. But in most years, many flowers will be blooming by mid-July, and by the first of August the meadows should be very impressive. Frost can occur by late August, but even after light frosts the meadows continue to be very beautiful, thanks to changing leaf colors and seed pod development that take the place of colorful blossoms.

Bicycling

At Mount Rainier, cyclists can enjoy bicycling that is both challenging and scenic. Bicycles are allowed on park roads but they are not permitted on any hiking trails and the park does not have any designated bike trails. September and early October are generally excellent times for cyclists to visit Mount Rainier. During these months, there are usually fewer vehicles on the roads and fall colors enhance the scenery.

Fishing

Mount Rainier National Park isn’t known for its fishing, so don’t be disappointed if you fail to catch fish, or if the fish are small! Only experienced anglers do well and then only during limited times of the season. Rivers and streams are open from late-May or early-June through late-October, and most lakes are ice-free July through October.


I’ve created a poster for Mount Rainier National Park, featuring a view of the volcano from Reflection Lake.

Mount Rainier National Park

Click here to see the Mount Rainier National Park 120th Anniversary poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our National Parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!

Click here to learn more about Rob & the National Park Poster Project!

Share this with Friends, Family & Followers
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Best Things To Do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Though it’s only a short distance from the urban areas of Cleveland and Akron, Cuyahoga Valley National Park seems worlds away. The park is a refuge for native plants and wildlife, and provides routes of discovery for visitors. The winding Cuyahoga River gives way to deep forests, rolling hills, and open farmlands. Walk or ride the Towpath Trail to follow the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal. You can fish, golf and even enjoy skiing and snowboarding!

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 National Parks — and Cuyahoga Valley is a great place to visit – regardless of the time of year! Cuyahoga Valley is unusual in that it is adjacent to two large urban areas and includes a dense road network, small towns, and private attractions. I have explored much of the park — so I’m ready to help!

If this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park!

Ride the Scenic Train

The National Park Scenic Railway is a unique way to experience all the natural wonder Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Sit back and relax as the train weaves through the Cuyahoga Valley and races along with the rushing Cuyahoga River. Look for eagles, deer, beavers and otters in their natural habitat.

From January-May, the National Park Scenic excursion is a two-and-a-half hour round trip through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Board at Rockside Station, Peninsula Depot, or at Akron Northside Station. From June through October, the train runs Wednesdays-Sundays on an extended schedule. You can choose from a variety of seating options including coach, table top, first class, lounge, upper dome, executive class, or suites.

Hiking

Hiking

You can hike more than 125 miles of trails in Cuyahoga Valley National Park that range from nearly level to challenging. ,Pass through various habitats including woodlands, wetlands, and old fields. Some trails require you to cross streams with stepping stones or log bridges, while others, including the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, are nearly level and are accessible to all visitors. A portion of Ohio’s Buckeye Trail also passes through the park.

Biking

Biking the Towpath Trail

Towpath Trail

This multi-purpose trail was developed by the National Park Service and is the major trail through Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Mountain Biking

The East Rim Trail System has stunning views, varied terrain, exciting obstacles, and an element of adventure for anyone who explores it.

Bike and Hike Aboard

Bike or hike the Towpath Trail in one direction and hop on the train on your way back! The train can be flagged down at boarding stations by waving both arms over your head. You should arrive 10 minutes prior to the train’s scheduled arrival…and you can pay your fare when you board.

Visit the Beaver Marsh

Beaver Marsh

The Beaver Marsh is among the most diverse natural communities in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The exceptional scenery and wildlife make it one of the park’s most popular destinations. Here you can enjoy photography, bird watching, and sharing nature with family and friends.

Enjoy Brandywine Falls

Brandywine Falls

Brandywine Falls is one of the most popular locations in the park. This 65-foot waterfall is accessed via a partially accessible boardwalk. For a more challenging trip, take the steep stairs to the lower viewpoint or the 1.4-mile Brandywine Gorge Trail.

Hike or Picnic at The Ledges

The Ledges

The Ritchie Ledges are witnesses to change – from creation out of Sharon Conglomerate millions of years ago, to landscapes wrecked by humans and to preservation today. The Civilian Conservation Corps created the park you see today, building trails and shelters throughout the area.

Explore Blue Hen Falls

Blue Hen Falls

This 15-foot waterfall is a beautiful hike every time of year. There is a small parking lot located across the street from the main trailhead. From there, the falls are a steep half-mile hike.

Fishing

The Cuyahoga River and numerous ponds are open to fishing. Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s philosophy is to maintain the predator-prey relationship rather than to stock fish for recreational fishing. Catch-and-release fishing is encouraged to maintain the fish populations needed for continued sport fishing. The park has over 65 species of fish that live in its waters. Steelhead trout and bullhead can be caught in the Cuyahoga River. Bluegill, bass, and crappie can be caught in lakes and ponds in the park.

Cuyahoga River

Kayaking and Canoeing

People who want to canoe or kayak the Cuyahoga River in Cuyahoga Valley National Park need to bring their own equipment and have experience to manage the safety risks posed by the river. The National Park Service does not maintain the river for recreational use. Canoeing and kayaking the river can be dangerous. Water quality, low head dams, and debris in the river all pose hazards.

Horse Riding

Viewing the Cuyahoga Valley landscape from horseback is like no other experience. Horseback riding is permitted only on trails signed and designated as horse trails. Horses need to be brought in as there are no horse rentals adjacent to the bridle trails.

Try Your Hand at Canalway Questing

Find more than 40 adventures—called quests—along the Ohio & Erie Canal! Put on your sleuthing hat and follow rhyming clues and a curious map to each hidden quest box. Along the way, discover the area’s treasures—the natural and cultural gems of the Canalway. Unlike geocaching, no GPS unit is needed and no trinkets are exchanged. When you find a quest box, collect its unique stamp, sign its logbook, and put it back in place for others to discover.

Golfing

Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers the unique opportunity for golfing within the park, although none of the golf courses are federally owned or operated. You can golf at any of the following courses:

Astorhurst Country Club
Brandywine Golf Course
Shawnee Hills Golf Course
Sleepy Hollow Golf Course

I’ve created a poster to celebrate Cuyahoga Valley National Park that features the famous Brandywine Falls. The poster can also be purchased at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park shops in the park!

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Click here to see the Cuyahoga Valley National Park poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our National Parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!

Click here to learn more about Rob & the National Park Poster Project!

Share this with Friends, Family & Followers
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Best Things To Do at Golden Gate National Recreation Area

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is unlike most national parks. It is stretched across 82,000 acres north and south of the Golden Gate Bridge, making it one of the world’s largest national parks in an urban setting and home to one of the largest urban parks in the world. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area protects a wide range of ecologically and historically significant landscapes surrounding the San Francisco Bay Area. Much of the land in the park was formerly used by the United States Army. Now managed by the National Park Service, it is the most visited unit of the National Park system, with more than 15 million visitors a year.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s national parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 national parks — and Golden Gate National Recreation Area is one of my personal favorites — having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area. With 37 distinct park sites, from Muir Woods National Monument to Fort Point National Historic Site to Alcatraz Island, more than 130 miles of trails, and 1,200 historic structures, Golden Gate National Recreation area truly has something for everyone!

If this is your first time to the San Francisco Bay Area, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Golden Gate National Recreation Area!

Marin County (North of Golden Gate Bridge)

Fort Baker

Fort Baker is a 335 acre former 1905 U.S. Army post located immediately north of the Golden Gate Bridge. This hidden gem of a site consists of over 25 historic army buildings clustered around a main parade ground, a sheltered harbor protected by a jetty, a number of historic gun emplacements, and trails and forested areas climbing gently up from San Francisco Bay.

Headlands Center for the Arts

The Headlands Center for the Arts is an artist residency program set in renovated military buildings in the Marin Headlands. Offers programs including performances, discussions and lectures, and displays a 1,800-square-foot project space with a rotating roster of artists open to the public.

Marin Headlands

Marin Headlands from Fort Point
Here you can discover the many cultures that have called the Marin Headlands home, from the Miwok Indians to the American Military and everything in between. Enjoy a hike through its varied trails, including dog-friendly Rodeo Beach, or visit The Marine Mammal Center, Rodeo Lagoon, Muir Beach, Tennessee Valley and the Gerbode Valley. Take a drive along Conzelman Road from the northern foot of the Golden Gate Bridge to Point Bonita. This five-mile road offers breathtaking views of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean.

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument

Walk among old growth coast redwoods, cooling their roots in the fresh water of Redwood Creek and lifting their crowns to reach the sun and fog. Federally protected as a National Monument since 1908, this primeval forest is both refuge and laboratory, revealing our relationship with the living landscape. You’ll also see Coast Douglas-fir, Bigleaf Maple, Tanbark Oak, and California Bay Laurel.

Oakwood Valley

On a clear day you can see as far as Point Reyes from this park adjacent to the Marin Headlands. Trails loop through groves of eucalyptus and bay laurel. In the spring you will find lupine and California poppies. In summer, the grasses turn golden, and by late summer you can find fennel, sagebrush, and blackberry bushes. Oakwood Valley contains the largest untouched woodland of Coast Live Oak and California bay trees in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Olema Valley

Olema Valley is a rolling landscape of grassland and forest a ten mile stretch from Tomales Bay to Bolinas Lagoon. This area has been shaped by geologic forces and changing patters of human use. Until recently, the dynamic story of the valley remained largely undiscovered. Now, steps are underway to preserve both the history and fragile beauty of this northern corner of the park.

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Point Bonita Lighthouse

A secret jewel of the Bay Area, the Point Bonita Lighthouse, built in 1855, was the third lighthouse built on the West Coast and helped shepherd ships through the treacherous Golden Gate straits. Today, the lighthouse is still active and is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. Discover Point Bonita’s wild landscape, geology and fascinating history by hiking the trail to the Point Bonita Lighthouse!

Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach
Stinson Beach is one of Northern California’s best kept secrets. It’s located about 20 miles NW of San Francisco alongside Mt Tamalpais State Park. Being only a 35 minute trip from the Golden Gate Bridge, Stinson Beach is a very popular day trip for residents and tourists alike. With opportunities for volleyball, hiking, picnicking, fishing, or surfing, people continue to visit Stinson Beach to escape from the frantic pace of everyday life, just they have been doing for more than a century.

Muir Beach Overlook

Muir Beach
Muir Beach Overlook provides expansive views of the Pacific Coast, including the Point Reyes Peninsula. Visitors can also explore several historic base-end stations, observation posts that were part of the San Francisco Bay coastal defense system. From this vantage point soldiers could view ships through telescopes, and plot their distance, speed, and direction in order to aim nearby coastal defense guns that protected the area from invading warships in the 1900s.

Fort Cronkhite

Located in the Marin Headlands north of Rodeo Lagoon, Fort Cronkhite is a former World War II military post that stands at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Fort Cronkhite is one of the few examples of these World War II “mobilization posts” remaining in the country. The fort’s barracks, mess halls, and other structures are preserved to tell the story of the soldiers who waited here for an enemy that never came. Today, Fort Cronkhite’s buildings are used as offices and housing for the National Park Service and its park partners.

Nike Missile Site SF-88

SF-88 is a decommissionedArmy surface-to-air missile (SAM) site located near Fort Barry, in the Marin Headlands to the north of San Francisco, California. Opened in 1954, the site was intended to protect the population and military installations of the San Francisco Bay Area during the Cold War, specifically from attack by Soviet bomber aircraft.

San Francisco County (South of Golden Gate Bridge)

Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz
Alcatraz reveals stories of American incarceration, justice, and our common humanity. This small island was once a fort, a military prison, and a maximum security federal penitentiary. In 1969, the Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz for 19 months in the name of freedom and Native American civil rights. Here you can explore Alcatraz’s complex history and natural beauty.

China Beach

China Beach is in a tiny cove tucked between Lands End and Baker Beach in the Sea Cliff neighborhood of San Francisco. This sheltered pocket of sand features a picnic area, sunbathing, good play spots for children, and spectacular views of the Marin Headlands and Golden Gate.

Fort Funston

Fort Funston Beach
Fort Funston features 200-foot high sandy bluffs on San Francisco’s southwest coast where the winds blow reliably wildly. No surprise it is one of the premier hang-gliding spots in the country. A network of trails make it ideal for hiking and horseback riding. Dog owners will be happy to know they can take leashes off here. It is also home to the Fort Funston Native Plant Nursery.

Fort Mason

Once known as San Francisco Port of Embarkation, this former United States Army post located in the northern Marina District, alongside San Francisco Bay. Fort Mason served as an Army post for more than 100 years, initially as a coastal defense site and subsequently as a military port facility. During World War II, it was the principal port for the Pacific campaign. The National Historic Site now houses non-profit organizations and offers a variety of cultural activities.

Fort Miley Military Reservation

The Fort Miley Military Reservation, sits on Point Lobos (not to be confused with Point Lobos near Carmel-by-the-Sea), one of the outer headlands on the southern side of the Golden Gate. The grounds and buildings have been converted into the San Francisco VA Medical Center are administered by the Veterans Health Administration of the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

Lands End

At every turn of the trail on this wild and rocky northwestern corner of San Francisco, there is another stunning view. Along the way you’ll see hillsides of cypress and wildflowers, views of old shipwrecks, access to the epic ruins of Sutro Baths in the Sutro Historic District, pocket beaches, and a new Lookout Visitor Center.  A natural preserve including the Coastal Trail will bring you to scenic views of the Marin Headlands and Golden Gate.

Presidio of San Francisco

For 218 years, the Presidio served as an army post for three nations. World and local events, from military campaigns to World Fairs and earthquakes, left their mark. Here you can enjoy the history and the natural beauty of the Presidio. Explore centuries of architecture. Reflect in a national cemetery. Walk along an historic airfield, through forests or to beaches, and admire the spectacular vistas.

Baker Beach

This is the birthplace of the Burning Man festival, a popular sunbathing spot that is clothing-optional at its northern end. Stretching a mile below the rugged cliffs on the Presidio’s western shoreline, Baker Beach’s spectacular outside-the-Gate views of the Bridge and the Marin Headlands are unsurpassed. Keep your eye out for harbor porpoises frolicking in the surf and for California’s State Rock (serpentine). And, you can learn about an early 20th-century “disappearing gun.”

Battery Chamberlin

Battery Chamberlin holds the last 6-inch “disappearing gun” of its type on the west coast. Built near Baker Beach in 1904, Battery Chamberlin was constructed to accommodate the lighter, stronger, more powerful coastal defense artillery developed in the late nineteenth century.

Crissy Field

Crissy Field is the premier recreation area on the Presidio. The Golden Gate Promenade provides access to the restored tidal marsh and beaches along the bay shore. Whether your exercising or merely contemplating at the shore, you can enjoy the expansive views, water birds, native plants and sandy beaches along Crissy Field.

Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point - Corridor
From its vantage point overlooking the spectacular Golden Gate, Fort Point defended the San Francisco Bay following California’s Gold Rush through World War II. Its beautifully arched casemates display the art of 3rd system brick masonry and interacts gracefully with the Golden Gate Bridge. Situated at the southern base of the Golden Gate Bridge, it once housed 126 cannons to protect the bay against invaders. The fort was completed just in time for the Civil War, but never fired a shot in combat.

The San Francisco National Cemetery

Situated in the northern center of the Presidio, the San Francisco National Cemetery offers a breathtaking final resting place for the nation’s military veterans and their families. Framed by Monterey Cypress and other majestic trees, the cemetery rests on a slope overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Among the 30,000 Americans laid to rest here are Civil War generals, Medal of Honor recipients, Buffalo Soldiers, and a Union spy.

Ocean Beach

Picture a 3.5-mile stretch of white beach with few tourists and no high rise buildings. It’s just you and the waves and the seabirds at Ocean Beach, on the westernmost border of San Francisco, adjacent to Golden Gate Park. Great for strolling and flying kites, but the water is frigid and the currents hazardous for all but the most experienced surfers.

The Sutro District

Sutro Baths
A collection of historic attractions developed by Adolph Sutro in the late 19th Century, including the Cliff House – a historic restaurant first built in 1863, rebuilt following fires in 1894 and 1907. Also houses the Camera Obscura, a historic building containing a device which projects a 360° image

Sutro Baths

Since 1863, visitors have flocked to San Francisco’s western shore to enjoy sweeping ocean views and fine dining at the Cliff House. The concrete ruins just north of the Cliff House are the remains of the grand Sutro Baths. These are the concrete ruins of an indoor swimming pool constructed in 1894 by former SF mayor Adolf Sutro.

Sutro Heights Park

In 1885, self-made millionaire Adolph Sutro created the Sutro Heights Park, an elegant and formal public garden that covered over twenty acres in the area now known as Lands End. Inspired by the rugged beauty and incredible scenery, Sutro intentionally designed the grounds to capture the views of the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands.

 

San Mateo County (South of SF)

Milagra Ridge

Surrounded by urban development, Milagra Ridge forms what biologists call an island ecosystem. Here, wildlife is isolated from other habitats, feeding and migration corridors are compromised and exotic species can easily invade native habitat. Despite this isolation, Milagra Ridge hosts a surprising number of threatened and endangered species including Mission blue and San Bruno elfin butterflies and the California red-legged frog. This 240-acre parcel of land was also home to the Nike Missile Site SF-51L.

Sweeney Ridge

Sweeney Ridge is a hilly hiking area of ridges and ravines and its 1,200-foot-high summit, covered with coastal scrub and grassland, slopes down to the bay on one side and to the Pacific on the other. Wildlife at Sweeney Ridge includes hawks, deer, and a plethora of both native and introduced spring wildflowers. The sandy coastline and adjacent wind-protected valley of Thornton State Beach are good venues for picnicking, beach walking, surf fishing, and flying remote-control gliders. This is also the location of where Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portolà discovered the San Francisco Bay and is home to several World War II lookout nests and pillboxes as well as Nike missile site SF-51C

Phleger Estate

Part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail,  here you can enjoy a verdant redwood forest reborn here at the southern tip of the Golden Gate National Parks. This tranquil park was once severely logged and century-old redwood stumps and remnants of steam mills are still in evidence. But along its miles of trails and tumbling creeks, second-growth redwoods and firs are rising again.

Mori Point

Located on a promontory just south of the city of Pacifica, the 110 acres of Mori Point are one of the newest additions to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. High up above the cold waves, the site boasts sweeping views from Point Reyes all the way to Pedro Point. It protrudes several hundred feet out into the Pacific and is plainly visible from any high point in the City of Pacifica. Trails lead across the ridge and to Sharp Park beach. The site includes recently restored wetlands and a pond, protecting endangered San Francisco garter snake and red-legged frog habitat.

Rancho Corral de Tierra

A former Mexican land grant north of Half Moon Bay and on Montara Mountain, at nearly 4,000 acres, Rancho Corral de Tierra is one of the largest undeveloped parcels of land on the San Mateo peninsula. Once planned for development, now visitors can enjoy its awe-inspiring views, important watersheds, miles of public trails, and diverse wildlife.

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Best Things To Do at Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim)

Grand Canyon - Hermit Road

There’s nothing like your first visit to Grand Canyon National Park — and the first time you look over the rim — it’s simply awe-inspiring! The extraordinary combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate this canyon, which is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Without question, the Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s national parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 national parks — and Grand Canyon National Park is one place you have to see! Whether you’re more comfortable exploring the canyon from the rim, or want to take a more adventurous route on foot, by bike, or on the back of a mule, I’ve been to Grand Canyon National Park many times — so I’m ready to help! If this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Grand Canyon National Park!

Grand Canyon - Bright Angel Trail

Walking or Hiking

The Rim Trail

Going on a hike is a wonderful way to experience the Grand Canyon National Park’s rich natural beauty and immense size. The Rim Trail is perfect for quiet views of the inner canyon and for visitors who desire an easy hike. The Rim Trail stretches from the South Kaibab Trailhead west to Hermits Rest, a distance of about thirteen miles — and most of the trail is paved. Between Pipe Creek Vista and Bright Angel Lodge only a few short sections of the trail have grades that exceed accessibility standards. West of Bright Angel Lodge, the Rim Trail narrows and climbs the Bright Angel Fault to viewpoints along Hermit Road. Between Powell Point and Monument Creek Vista the trail is a three foot wide dirt trail. The section of the Rim Trail between Monument Creek Vista and Hermits Rest is also known as the Hermit Road Greenway Trail and provides three miles of paved greenway trail provide additional views for cyclists and hikers.

Walk the Trail of Time

Grand Canyon - Yavapai Geology Museum

Start at the Yavapai Museum of Geology and finish up at the Verkamps Visitor Center — a 1.2 mile stroll along the canyon rim. The path contains information about the canyon’s geologic history, and samples from each layer of the canyon.

Day Hikes: Exploring the Canyon on Foot

Day hikes are by far the most popular type of trip into the Grand Canyon. A down-and-back excursion lets you commit to traveling only as far as you think you can handle, and it allows for carrying less of a load to weigh you down.

One of the most popular day hikes in Grand Canyon National Park is the 9-mile round-trip on the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Garden and back. If you go, you must bring enough food and water — and sunscreen — to last the day. Because this hike starts by descending into the canyon — the easy part comes first. You’ll start at an elevation of 6,860 feet and drop to 3,800 feet — a hike that will take you 5-6 hours when taking plenty of breaks.

Overnight Backpacking

Grand Canyon - Phantom Ranch

Spending the night is the best way to experience Grand Canyon National Park. You can take more time to enjoy the scenery — and travel farther to see more of it. Traveling to the bottom of the canyon in one day, camping at the bottom, and coming up the next day is the best way to see the Colorado River. Most people can’t make it to the river and back in one day. The walk to Phantom Ranch is approximately 7.5 miles down the South Kaibab Trail (4-5 hours) or 10 miles on the Bright Angel Trail (4-6 hours). A good rule of thumb is for every hour it takes to hike down, it will take two to hike up.

Bicycling

Bicycling is a great way to experience the South Rim at Grand Canyon National Park. And bicycles are allowed on all paved and unpaved roads on the South Rim. Cyclists can enjoy approximately 13 miles of roads and Greenway Trails that allow for more intimate explorations along the rim. If you get tired, load your bike on one of the park’s bicycle-friendly shuttle buses – there is a bus stop every one-half to one-mile along the 13 mile-stretch.

Scenic Hermit Road follows the canyon rim for seven miles and is one of the best places in the park for cycling. Most of the year, private vehicle restrictions eliminate most traffic. The Hermit Road Greenway Trail, between Monument Creek Vista and Hermits Rest, provides a 2.8-mile bicycle path away from the road and, in places, along the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Don’t have a bike with you? Rent one from Bright Angel Bicycles, next to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. Bright Angel Bicycles provides rentals and guided bicycle tours between mid-March and October 31.

There is also a small coffee bar and café with a grab & go menu targeted toward hikers, bikers and pedestrians. The café is open year-round.

Tour the Scenic Hermit Road (also known as West Rim Drive)

Hermit Road is a scenic route along the west end of Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim which follows the rim for seven miles out to Hermits Rest. Access this popular route by using the free park shuttle, or travel on foot, by bicycle, or commercial bus tour. Along the canyon rim are nine designated viewpoints where the free Hermits Rest Route shuttle bus stops.

Free shuttle bus service runs from March 1 through Nov. 30. During this time, the road is closed to private vehicles. Besides the main road, there is a designated greenway for travel by foot or bicycle. Commercial bus tours, jeep tours, and van tours, are also available.

Tour Desert View Drive (Hwy 64 – also known as East Rim Drive)

This 25 mile road leaves Grand Canyon Village, then travels east to Desert View. You can drive your private vehicle, or take a commercial bus tour, a jeep tour, or van tour. View the Colorado River at Moran, Lipan and Desert View Points. You may exit or enter the park on the eastern end at Desert View. (via Arizona Highways 64 and 89)

Explore Desert View Point

Grand Canyon - Watchtower

Climb to the top of a 70 ft. tall stone Watchtower for a panoramic view extending more than 100 miles on a clear day. Designed in 1932 by Mary Colter, the historic Watchtower is a replica of prehistoric towers found on the Colorado Plateau. There is also a general store, deli, seasonal campground, and gas station.

Experience Desert View’s Cultural Demonstration Program

At Desert View, you can interact with tribal artisans from Grand Canyon’s traditionally associated tribes – where they share their history and crafts. Jewelers, silversmiths, weavers, potters, sculptors, and a variety of other artisans are present throughout the year. The demonstrations are free and take place in the historic Watchtower on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

Tusayan Ruin

is the remains of a small Ancestral Puebloan village located 3 miles west of Desert View.
The Tusayan Ruins — also known as the Tusayan Pueblo — is an 800-year-old Pueblo Indian site within Grand Canyon National Park. Many consider it to be one of the major archeological sites in Arizona. The site comprises a small, u-shaped pueblo featuring a living area, storage rooms, and a kiva.

Tusayan Museum

Grand Canyon - Tusaynan Museum

This interactive facility contains a variety of exhibits designed to enhance visitors’ understanding of the unique human history of the Grand Canyon National Park area. The museum provides interesting displays — including artifacts dating back to 4,000 years. Admission is free. Hours: 9 am to 5 pm. There are also daily ranger-led tours of the ruins.

Explore the Grand Canyon on the back of a Mule

South Rim Mule Trips

Grand Canyon - Mule Trip

For the more adventurous visitor looking to create the memory of a lifetime, take a mule ride along the rim or perhaps down into the Grand Canyon itself. Horses may be iconic to the American West, but the equine of choice at Grand Canyon has long been its hybrid relative, the mule. These animals have the sure-footedness of a burro along with the larger size and strength of a horse. They have been carrying canyon visitors since the late 1800s. In fact, more than 600,000 people have taken Grand Canyon mule rides since they were first offered in 1887.

There is no Grand Canyon National Park adventure more rewarding or more unique than a mule ride. The overnight rides take you deep into the canyon, where you can stay overnight at Phantom Ranch. If you think the view from the rim takes your breath away, wait until you experience the Grand Canyon from within.

Canyon Vistas Mule Ride

If you only have a short time to visit the South Rim, but are still looking for some adventure, take the Canyon Vistas Rim Ride. The ride doesn’t take you into the canyon itself, but the views along the way are stunning. Grand Canyon mule riders can take in the breathtaking vistas of Grand Canyon National Park while traveling along the rim of the canyon.

Whitewater and Smooth-water Raft Trips on the Colorado River

Sit back, relax, listen and learn as you learn the story behind the scenery of one of America’s great rivers. Here, canyon walls rise a thousand feet into the sky. Mysterious messages have been carved into stone by the Ancient Ones. And, look skyward for eagles, herons, and maybe even a California condor as you drift on the crystal clear water, carried by the gentle current of the Colorado River.

Grand Canyon - Whitewater

Ask any of the 22,000 Colorado River runners who brave the Grand Canyon white water river rafting trips each year to describe the experience — and you’re likely to hear that it is “the trip of a lifetime.” Whitewater trips through Grand Canyon last from 3 days to 21 days and require reservations made well in advance.

Or, you can experience the thrill of a 15.5-mile smooth water float trip down the Colorado River, through Glen Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Any lodge within the park may arrange half-day and all-day smooth water trips from Glen Canyon Dam. Excursions include transportation from the lodges.

Photographing the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic landscapes in the United States and is a favorite destination of many photographers. Although there are endless amazing photographic opportunities at Grand Canyon National Park, once you spend a little time at the rim, and you soon realize why most viewpoints are the best places to view and photograph the canyon. The overlooks are at places where the rocks jut out into the canyon, providing the best views.

Here are some of my favorite places to make lasting images…

  • Yaki Point – Best to shoot here at dawn.
  • Mather Point – The classic Grand Canyon view, and for good reason.
  • Mohave Point – A spectacular view of the river looking west.
  • Hopi Point – Another classic South Rim overlook with expansive views both east and west.
  • Desert View Point – The Watchtower with the river below and the Palisades of the Desert in the background. Makes a great sunset shot.

Attend Free Ranger Programs

Grand Canyon National Park offers one of the most extensive ranger programs in the National Park Service system. Learn more about Grand Canyon nature, science, history and culture with a park ranger as your guide.

Grand Canyon - Ranger Program

Ranger programs offer guided hikes, where you will learn about the wild inhabitants who survive in this place of extreme changes in elevation, exposure, and climate. Join a ranger to discover stories of humankind’s enduring relationship with the canyon, or to hear captivating stories about diverse human connections. Learn how the Grand Canyon was formed while exploring Yavapai Geology Museum. Or, enjoy special events and evening programs during the summer in a beautiful auditorium or outdoor amphitheater — like star walks, night hikes, cemetery tours, and more.

There are too many programs to list — and they are always changing, so check the South Rim Village or the South Rim Desert View Ranger Program schedule once you arrive.

Stop by a Visitor Center, Historic Home or Museum

And don’t forget the Visitor Centers, historic homes and museums that house exhibits and provide all the park information you’ll need for your stay at Grand Canyon National Park, including the film: Grand Canyon: A Journey of Wonder, that’s shown in the theater at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.

Grand Canyon National Park

Click here to see the Grand Canyon National Park poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our national parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!

Click here to learn more about Rob and the National Park Poster Project

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Best Things To Do in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park protects the natural beauty of the highest rocky headlands along America’s Atlantic coastline. This 47,000-acre recreation area — primarily on Maine’s Mount Desert Island — features woodland, rocky beaches and glacier-scoured granite peaks such as Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the United States’ East Coast. Among the wildlife are moose, bear, whales and seabirds. The bayside town of Bar Harbor, with restaurants and shops, is a popular gateway. And each year, more than 3.5 million people explore seven peaks above 1,000 feet, 158 miles of hiking trails, and 45 miles of carriage roads with 16 stone bridges.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 National Parks — and Acadia is great park the whole family can enjoy! I have explored most areas of the park — so I’m ready to help! So if this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Acadia National Park!

Explore Mount Desert Island

The majority of Acadia National Park is located on Mount Desert Island. The island offers an endless array of activities for everyone including a visit to Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff. Here, the mountains truly meet the sea and you can enjoy one of the most spectacular settings on the entire East Coast. With its beautiful coastal scenery, the island is a great location for hiking or ocean kayaking. Bar Harbor, the largest town on Mount Desert Island is often thought of as synonymous with the Park. But visitors can also stay in charming Northeast Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Bass Harbor, Otter Creek, Seal Harbor or Somesville.

Drive the Park Loop Road

Park Loop Road
The 27-mile Park Loop Road is the best way to navigate through Acadia National Park. The loop begins near the Hulls Cove Visitor Center on the north side of the island in Bar Harbor. It connects the park’s lakes, mountains, forests and rocky shores — making exploration easy. Sand Beach, Thunder Hole and Otter Cliff and other popular sites and trails can be reached from the road. 20 miles of the Park Loop Road is one way. But there is a two way section that begins near Wildwood Stables — perfect for taking in the magnificent views.

Hike, Bike & Ride the Carriage Roads

Carriage Roads
This 57-mile long network of paved paths created and financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. provides hikers, bikers, inline skaters, horse riders, and horse-drawn carriages a unique way to visit Acadia National Park. Over the course of the 27-year project, Rockefeller designed the paths to highlight the best scenery in the park — circling around Jordan Pond, Eagle Lake and Mount Desert Island. The Carriage Roads are off-limits to motor vehicles. During the winter months, some of these allow for cross-country skiing and limited snowmobiling.

Explore Jordan Pond

Jordan Pond
When you think of the most idyllic spot in Acadia National Park, Jordan Pond with its pristine calm waters surrounded by lush, majestic mountains in all directions usually comes to mind. The Jordan Pond Nature Trail — an easy stroll through the evergreens — and the Jordan Pond Shore Trail — a more difficult trek along the rocky coast — spill out to the picturesque and pleasant respite of Jordan Pond. Regardless of your route, at the end you’ll find crystal-clear waters that mirror the surrounding mountains. Swimming is not allowed, but non-motorized boats such as canoes and kayaks are permitted.

Hike Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain
Cadillac Mountain — at 1530 feet — is not only is it the tallest mountain in the park, but it’s the tallest mountain on the North Atlantic seaboard. It’s also the first point of the United States to greet the rising sun — a spectacular sight to see. Largely composed of pink granite, it’s covered with spruce and pitch pine forests, tiny sub alpine plants, short gnarled trees and wild blueberries. You can hike the Cadillac Summit Loop Trail or drive the narrow 3.5-mile access road. The only attraction that can be reached by car, Cadillac Mountain tends to draw large crowds. There are several observation areas along the way — perfect for taking in the views before you reach the top.

Enjoy Sand Beach

Sand Beach
On the east side of Mount Desert Island, Sand Beach is nestled between two walls of solid pink granite and surrounded by towering evergreens. With 290 yards of shoreline, Sand Beach is the most popular beach in the park because the views are outstanding. And, you can hike up the Great Head Trail for an even better vantage point. The beach is largely comprised of sand and shell fragments created by the pounding surf. The waterline can vary quite a bit because of the difference between high and low tide.

Visit Otter Cliff

Otter Cliff
One of the most spectacular sights along the North Atlantic Seaboard, Otter Cliff is a classic stop along the Park Look Road. The famous 110 foot high granite precipice is one of the highest Atlantic coastal headlands. In the summer, you may see adventurous rock climbers working their way up the granite cliffs and whale pods spouting off shore. In the fall, large flocks of ducks congregate here in the waves before migrating south for the winter.

Experience Thunder Hole

Feel and hear the thunder of the sea against the rocky shores at this small inlet, naturally carved out of the rocks. At the end of this inlet is a semi-submerged cave where the waves rush in and air and water is forced out like a clap of thunder. Water can spray as high as 40 feet with a thunderous roar! To catch the big boom, there’s an element of luck, as well as timing. The best time to visit is when the tides are changing. From here, you can also take in the views — Schoodic Peninsula in the distance, Sand Beach to your left and Otter Cliff to the east.

Ride at Wildwood Stables

Wildwood Stables provides a variety of daily horse-drawn carriage rides and tours from end of May through mid-October of each year. Tours follow the famous and scenic carriage roads that were originally constructed by John D. Rockefeller. Tour lengths include one and two hours with the option to charter a private carriage driven by a Wildwood Stables’ coachman. The stables are located next to the picturesque Park Loop Road on the southeastern side of Mount Desert Island.

Explore Schoodic Point

Located at the southern tip of Schoodic Peninsula in Winter Harbor, Schoodic Point is composed of a craggy shoreline, granite headlands and spruce-fir forests. It provides one of the best places to view the pounding surf during rough seas as well as great views of Cadillac Mountain. Schoodic Point isn’t as easily accessible as some of the park’s other major attractions. But that’s precisely why park visitors find this area so special. There are four hiking trails; the Schoodic Head Trail, Anvil Trail and East Trail lead hikers through spruce-fir forests to pine woodlands at the top of Schoodic Head. The less-strenuous Alder Trail guides visitors through a shrubland.


Acadia National Park

Click here to see the Acadia National Park poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our National Parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!

Click here to learn more about Rob and the National Park Poster Project

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Best Things to do in Yellowstone National Park (Part 1)

Blue Pool

One of the greatest experiences in Yellowstone National Park is witnessing its geologic wonders. Topping the list are the hydrothermal features: hot springs, mudpots, fumaroles, and geysers — particularly, Old Faithful. Well over 10,000 different hydrothermal features have been estimated to be active within the park. Even more incredible might be that over half of the world’s active geysers are found here. Every year, some 500-700 geysers are active. In 2011, it was determined that 1,283 geysers have been recorded as erupting in Yellowstone. This is truly incredible, when all of the rest of the world’s geysers combined number less than 500. Hydrothermal features are extremely dynamic, changing throughout the day, across seasons, and over the years. This makes revisiting the different thermal basins so interesting. Besides seeing familiar sites, you can also see how those areas have changed since the last visit.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 National Parks — and Yellowstone is one of my all-time favorites! I have explored most areas of the park — so I’m ready to help! So if this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Yellowstone National Park!

Yellowstone is huge…and this is the first of three posts describing what to do and what to see when you visit Yellowstone National Park. Read on to learn more about the southern part of the park.

Watch Old Faithful Geyser

Old Faithful Geyser
Watching Old Faithful Geyser erupt is a Yellowstone National Park tradition. People from all over the world have journeyed here to watch this famous geyser. The park’s wildlife and scenery might be as well-known today, but it was the unique thermal features like Old Faithful Geyser that inspired the establishment of Yellowstone as the world’s first national park in 1872. Old Faithful is one of nearly 500 geysers in Yellowstone and one of six that park rangers currently predict. It is uncommon to be able to predict geyser eruptions with regularity, but Old Faithful has lived up to its name, only lengthening the time between eruptions by about 30 minutes in the last 30 years. Thermal features change constantly and it is possible Old Faithful may stop erupting someday. Geysers and other thermal features are evidence of ongoing volcanic activity beneath the surface and change is part of this natural system.

Check out Fishing Bridge

The original bridge was built in 1902. It was a rough-hewn corduroy log bridge with a slightly different alignment than the current bridge. The existing bridge was built in 1937. Fishing Bridge was historically a tremendously popular place to fish. Angling from the bridge was quite good, due to the fact that it was a major spawning area for cutthroat trout. However, because of the decline of the cutthroat population (in part, a result of this practice), the bridge was closed to fishing in 1973.

Visit Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake

Large volcanic eruptions have occurred in Yellowstone approximately every 600,000 years. The most recent of these erupted from two large vents, one near Old Faithful and one just north of Fishing Bridge. Ash from this huge explosion — 1,000 times the size of Mount St. Helens — has been found all across the continent. The magma chamber then collapsed, forming a large caldera filled partially by subsequent lava flows. Part of this caldera is the 136-square mile basin of Yellowstone Lake. The original lake was 200 feet. higher than the present-day lake, extending northward across Hayden Valley to the base of Mt. Washburn.

Explore the West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake

Members of the 1870 Washburn party noted that Yellowstone Lake was shaped like “a human hand with the fingers extended and spread apart as much as possible,” with the large west bay representing the thumb. In 1878, however, the Hayden Survey used the name West Arm for the bay. West Bay was also used. Norris’ maps of 1880 and 1881 used West Bay or Thumb. During the 1930s, park personnel attempted to change the name back to West Arm, but West Thumb remains the accepted name.

West Thumb

Explore the West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin, including Potts Basin to the north, is the largest geyser basin on the shores of Yellowstone Lake. The heat source of the hydrothermal features in this location is thought to be relatively close to the surface—only 10,000 feet down! The West Thumb of Yellowstone Lake was formed by a large volcanic explosion that occurred approximately 150,000 years ago. The resulting collapsed volcano later filled with water forming an extension of Yellowstone Lake. The West Thumb is about the same size as another famous volcanic caldera, Crater Lake in Oregon, but much smaller than the great Yellowstone Caldera. It is interesting to note that West Thumb is a caldera within a caldera. The hydrothermal features at West Thumb are found not only on the lake shore, but extend under the surface of the lake as well. Several underwater geysers were discovered in the early 1990s and can be seen as slick spots or slight bulges in the summer. During the winter, the underwater thermal features are visible as melt holes in the icy surface of the lake. The ice averages about three feet thick during the winter.

View Wildlife in Hayden Valley

Bison, Yellowstone National Park

Hayden Valley is located six miles north of Fishing Bridge Junction. Hayden Valley offers some of the best habitat in the lower 48 states for viewing wildlife like grizzly bears, bison, and elk. Hayden Valley was once filled by an arm of Yellowstone Lake and it contains fine-grained lake sediments that are now covered with glacial till left from the most recent glacial retreat, about 13,000 years ago. Because the glacial till contains many different grain sizes, including clay and a thin layer of lake sediments, water cannot percolate readily into the ground. This is why Hayden Valley is marshy and has little encroachment of trees.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Best Things to do in Yellowstone National Park!

Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful Geyser

Click here to see the Old Faithful poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist with a single passion for our National Parks! Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph each of our national parks and to create WPA-style posters to celebrate the amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and rich history that embody America’s Best Idea!

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Best Things To Do in Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff Palace

Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 to preserve and interpret the archeological heritage of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from 600 to 1300 CE. Today, the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 47 of our 61 National Parks — and Mesa Verde is a unique park, given its historical and archeological significance. I have explored most areas of the park — so I’m ready to help! So if this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Mesa Verde National Park!

Self-Guided Tours

Spruce Tree House – Best-Preserved Cliff Dwelling

Spruce Tree House
You can observe Spruce Tree House from viewpoints near the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum. Rangers are available at the overlook to answer questions and share information.

Mesa Top Loop Road – Auto Tour – 700 Years of Mesa Verde History

A 6-mile driving tour with short, paved trails. Twelve easily-accessible sites, including surface dwellings and cliff dwelling overlooks. Highlights include Square Tower House, Sun Point Overlook, and views of Cliff Palace from Sun Point and Sun Temple stops.

Far View Sites Complex – Five Mesa Top Villages & Far View Reservoir

Far View
Far View House plus four other villages and a dry reservoir on a level 3/4-mile (1.2 km) unpaved trail. Four miles north of the Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum.

Step House – Pithouse, Petroglyphs and Cliff Dwelling

Step House
A 100 foot descent and ascent on a winding path. Total walking distance is about one mile (1.6 km) round-trip. Allow 45 minutes to one hour. Trail begins near the Wetherill Mesa Kiosk.

Badger House Trail – Trail to Four Mesa Top Sites

The 2.25 mile round-trip trail through Badger House Community surface sites begins at Wetherill Mesa Kiosk. Your walk through this area is a journey through 600 years of prehistory. Combination gravel and paved trail.

Cliff Dwelling Guided Tours

Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House can only be visited by taking a ranger-guided tour which are very popular. A tour of Long House, on Wetherill Mesa, can be taken on the same day as a Cliff Palace or Balcony House tour. Tours can be strenuous.

There are no height or age restrictions for tours, but children must be capable of walking the extent of the trails, climbing ladders, and negotiating steps independently. All infants must be carried in backpacks while on tours and adults carrying children in backpacks must be able to maintain mobility and balance.

Tour tickets for Balcony House, Cliff Palace, and Long House must be purchased in person. Tour tickets sell out quickly, but can be purchased up to two days in advance.

Cliff Palace – Mesa Verde’s Largest Cliff Dwelling


This one-hour, ranger-guided tour involves climbing five, 8-10 foot ladders, on a 100 foot vertical climb. Total walking distance is about 1/4-mile, round-trip. The tour begins at Cliff Palace Overlook, an 23-mile, one-hour drive from the Visitor and Research Center.

Cliff Palace Twilight Tours

Enjoy an intimate, leisurely encounter with Mesa Verde’s largest cliff dwelling. Dramatic sun lighting will appeal to both amateur and professional photographers as well as those seeking a deeper connection with this extraordinary archeological treasure.

Balcony House – Adventurous Cliff Dwelling Tour

Balcony House
This one-hour, ranger-guided tour involves climbing a 32-foot ladder, crawling through a 12-foot long tunnel, and climbing up a 60-foot open rock face with two 10-foot ladders to exit the site. The tour begins at the Balcony House parking area, a 25-mile, 1-1/4 hour drive from the Visitor Center.

Long House – Mesa Verde’s Most In-Depth Tour

Long House
Starting at the Wetherill Mesa information kiosk, this two-hour ranger-guided tour involves hiking at least 2.25 miles round-trip, and climbing two 15-foot ladders within the site. The hike has an elevation gain of about 130 feet. The tour ends at the Long House trailhead, giving you the choice of returning to the kiosk or exploring more of Wetherill Mesa on your own. Allow about 2.5 hours (total) for tour and return to kiosk.

Half-Day Guided Bus Tours

Mid-April to mid-October
Mesa Verde National Park concessioner, Aramark Leisure, conducts guided bus tours that offer modern views of the Ancestral Pueblo people. Tours include the 700 Years and Far View Explorer Tours. Tickets may be purchased at the Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center, Far View Lodge and Terrace, and Morefield Campground.

Balcony House Sunrise Tour

Rise before dawn, and experience the magic of Balcony House at sunrise! For centuries, Pueblo farmers have been observing the sky and the change of seasons. Take the Sunrise Tour of Balcony House at summer solstice or fall equinox and join in the long tradition of skywatching in Mesa Verde.

On this 90-minute tour, you will climb a 32-foot ladder, crawl through and 18-inch wide and 12-foot long tunnel, and climb up a 60-foot open cliff face with stone steps and two 10-foot ladders to exit.

Cliff Palace Early Bird Tour

Looking for an early morning adventure? This daily, early bird tour offers the benefits of a smaller group size, cooler temperatures, and the ability to reserve a tour of Cliff Palace in advance with online reservations!

On this 60-minute tour, you will descend uneven stone steps and climb four ladders, with an elevation change of 100 feet. Total walking distance is 1/4 mile.

Evening Programs

Morefield Campground Evening Program

In 1907, archeologist Jesse Fewkes began the first evening campfire talks in the history of the National Park Service at Mesa Verde. That tradition continues today. Enjoy a free, 45-60 minute presentation each evening by rangers at the Morefield Amphitheater (weather permitting). The amphitheater is located at the end of the road in Morefield Campground. Bring a flashlight. Program is free and offered each evening.

Bird Watching

Mesa Verde National Park is home to several distinct habitats. The types of species which you will encounter depends on the habitat present. If you are an avid birder, make sure to purchase a copy of the brochure, “Checklist of the Birds.” This will help you locate where species are found in the park. The listing of birds in this page will get you started as a bird watcher in Mesa Verde.

Take the Petroglyph Point or Spruce Canyon Trail and look for warblers, flycatchers, woodpeckers, jays, hawks, chickadees, titmice, and other species. The Knife Edge Trail also has good birding. If you are lucky, you may see a peregrine falcon or a golden eagle soar from its nest out across the Montezuma Valley.

During the summer months, you can walk the Soda Canyon Overlook Trail near Balcony House, or the short trail to the Park Point lookout. The Park Point area is a good place to see hawks, towhees, grouse and eagles, in addition to the many species listed above.

In the fall, you may want to take the Knife Edge Trail early in the morning to catch migrating warblers and hummingbirds feeding on the Indian Paint Brush.

During winter months, be on the lookout for chickadees, nuthatches, an occasional brown creeper, canyon wrens, woodpeckers, flickers, and jays during your Spruce Tree House tour. Turkey vultures usually arrive in late March and leave in early October, so the large black birds you see will likely be common ravens or the vivid black-billed magpie.

Photography

Picture Taking Tips

Some cliff dwellings are open only from late spring through early fall. During the off-season, photos may be taken from the overlooks above the cliff dwellings, weather permitting.

Most of the cliff dwellings are best photographed in mid-to-late afternoon.

If you have an adjustable lens we suggest you close your lens down at least 1/2 stop from what the photo meter indicates (spot meters excepted). For example, in black and white photography the front walls of Cliff Palace will give your meter a false light reading. We suggest you bracket your settings on Cliff Palace exposures.

If you are looking for pointers to help you make your summer snapshots look more like professional photographs, see the Amateur Photographer’s Guide to Mesa Verde National Park (pdf, 317 kb).

Best Times to Photograph by Season

June to September – 3:45 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
October to November – 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
December to March – 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
April to May – 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

During mid and late fall and early and mid spring the sun is lower in the southern sky and more light strikes the cliff dwellings. Winter light is generally less bright. On overcast days the soft light allows for photos to be taken that will show good details and subtle colors. During the winter months there is less vegetation obstructing views from the overlooks after the scrub oak has lost its leaves for the season.

Stargazing

While not offered as a guided activity, Mesa Verde National Park provides wonderful opportunities for stargazing. Since there are no large cities in the Four Corners region, there is very little artificial light to detract from the stars in the night sky. Most nights the skies are clear and full of stars. On a clear night, you can see the Milky Way. The locations recommended for stargazing in the park are listed below:

Far View Lodge

The only lodging available in the park from mid-April to mid-October. Each room has a balcony where guests can see for miles. For visitor safety, this area is well-lit. You may want to seek out a darker place, if this obstructs your view of the stars.

Morefield Campground

The only place to camp in the park from mid-May to mid-October. Located in the Morefield Valley, this is an especially place good for looking at stars since there is little artificial light. Join a ranger at the Morefield Amphitheater for the nightly (Memorial Day through Labor Day) campfire program. Bring a flashlight for the walk back to your campsite.

Montezuma or Mancos Overlooks

These are really the best areas in the park for stargazing. If you are staying outside of the park or want to get away from artificial lights, both of these overlooks along the Main Park Road provide views of the twinkling lights of the valley towns and the stars above. Unfortunately, these areas are not available for overnight camping.


Mesa Verde National Park

Click here to see the Mesa Verde National Park poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who had the rare privilege of studying under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph all 61 of America’s National Parks. He’s creating WPA-style posters to help people celebrate their own national park adventures — as well as encourage others to get out and explore!

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Best Things To Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses more than 800 square miles and is one of the most pristine natural areas in the eastern United States. There are many ways to enjoy the park — an auto tour, bicycling, hiking, horseback rides — and take in the panoramic views, tumbling mountain streams, weathered historic buildings, and mature hardwood forests stretching to the horizon.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 48 of our 61 National Parks — and Great Smoky Mountains is one well worth the visit. I have explored many areas of the park — so I’m ready to help! If this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Auto Touring

There are 384 miles of road to choose from in the Smokies. Most are paved, and even the gravel roads are maintained in suitable condition for standard passenger cars. Travel speeds on most of the park’s paved roads average 35 miles per hour.
Great Smoky Mountains - Cades Cove
Here are some of the more popular routes:

  • Cades Cove Loop Road
  • Cataloochee Valley
  • Newfound Gap Road
  • Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail
  • Upper Tremont Road

Fishing

Great Smoky Mountains Fishing
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has about 2,900 miles of streams within its boundaries. Approximately 600 miles of stream contain fish, providing for an abundance of angling opportunities from high elevation trout streams to cool water low elevation streams.

Rainbow trout, brown trout, and the native brook trout are the fish that are primarily targeted by fisherman inside the park. However, the streams of the Great Smoky Mountains do offer other angling opportunities. Smallmouth bass are another native game fish species that can be found in a number of the large lower elevation streams in the national park.

Hiking


Hikers enjoy the Smoky Mountains during all months of the year with every season offering is own special rewards. During winter, the absence of deciduous leaves opens new vistas along trails and reveals stone walls, chimneys, foundations, and other reminders of past residents. Spring provides a weekly parade of wildflowers and flowering trees. In summer, walkers can seek out cool retreats among the spruce-fir forests and balds or follow splashy mountain streams to roaring falls and cascades. Autumn hikers have crisp, dry air to sharpen their senses and a varied palette of fall colors to enjoy.

Hiking with children? Kid-friendly hikes are an excellent way to learn and enjoy the outdoors. Check at the Visitor Center for your best options.

Horse Riding

Horseback Rides

Guided horseback rides are available at four concession horseback riding stables in the park from mid-March through late November. Rides on scenic park trails are offered lasting from 45 minutes to several hours. All rides proceed at a walking pace.

Hayrides

Cades Cove Riding Stables offers a 1.5 – 2 hour hayride around the Cades Cove Loop Road. Passengers sit on a bed of hay in a trailer pulled by a truck and enjoy an open air view of the scenery of Cades Cove.

Ranger-led hayrides are also offered on some evenings on a first-come, first-served basis. See the Schedule of Events for scheduled ranger-led hayrides.

Carriage and Wagon Rides

Carriage or wagon rides are offered at two of the horseback riding stables in the park. These rides provide an opportunity to experience a 20-30 minute horse-drawn carriage or wagon ride on a park trail.

Carriage Ride – Cades Cove, near Townsend, TN
Wagon Ride – Smokemont, near Cherokee, NC

Picnicking

Picnic areas are located at Big Creek, Chimneys, Cades Cove, Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, Heintooga, Look Rock, Metcalf Bottoms, and Twin Creeks.

The picnic areas at Cades Cove, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, and Metcalf Bottoms remain open year-round. The remaining picnic areas are closed during the winter.

Picnic pavilions are available at Collins Creek, Cosby, Deep Creek, Greenbrier, Metcalf Bottoms, and Twin Creeks, Pavilions can be reserved for groups one year in advance.

Waterfalls

Great Smoky Mountains - Waterfall
Every year over 200,000 visitors hike well-worn trails to view Grotto, Laurel, Abrams, Rainbow, and other popular waterfalls in the park. Large waterfalls attract the crowds, but smaller cascades and falls can be found on nearly every river and stream in the park.

The Great Smoky Mountains abound with the two ingredients essential for waterfalls-ample rainfall and an elevation gradient. In the Smokies high country, over 85″ of rain falls on average each year. During wet years, peaks like Mt. Le Conte and Clingmans Dome receive over eight feet of rain. This abundant rainfall trickles and rushes down the mountain sides, from high elevation to low, sometimes dropping more than a mile in elevation from the high peaks to the foothills at the park’s boundary.

Waterfalls You Can Drive To

Meigs Falls

The pulloff to view Meigs Falls is along Little River Road, 13 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center (7 miles east of Townsend). The falls is tucked away on the far side of Little River and can be easily missed while driving.

The Sinks

This waterfall is short in stature, but its volume includes the entire flow of Little River. The parking area to view the falls is along Little River Road, 12 miles west of Sugarlands Visitor Center.

Place of a Thousand Drips

During wet periods, this waterfall is dramatic as the flow of water splits into numerous small channels cascading around rocks and creating “a thousand drips.”

Wildlife Viewing

Great Smoky Mountains Wildlife
Viewing wildlife in the Smokies can be challenging because most of the park is covered by dense forest. Open areas like Cataloocheeand Cades Cove offer some of the best opportunities to see white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, raccoon, turkeys, woodchucks, and other animals. The narrow, winding road of Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail encourages motorists to travel at a leisurely pace and sometimes yields sightings of bears and other wildlife. During winter wildlife is more visible because deciduous trees have lost their leaves.

Because many animals are most active at night, it can be advantageous to look for wildlife during morning and evening. It’s also a good idea to carry binoculars. Some people like to sit quietly beside a trail to see what wildlife will come out of hiding. And don’t forget to scan the trees—many animals spend their days among the branches.

So, if you’ve never been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park — put it on you bucket list! If you have been, you might enjoy my WPA-style poster for Great Smoky Mountains National Park to celebrate your adventures!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Click here to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who had the rare privilege of studying under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph all 61 of America’s National Parks. He’s creating WPA-style posters to help people celebrate their own national park adventures — as well as encourage others to get out and explore!

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Best Things To Do in Big Bend National Park

Los Chisos Mountains

Big Bend National Park offers nearly limitless opportunities for scenic driving, hiking, camping, backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding, bird watching, wildlife observation, and stargazing. Additionally, the Rio Grande borders the park for 118 miles providing options for half-day floats to extended excursion by raft, canoe, or kayak.

My name is Rob Decker and I’m a photographer and graphic artist with a single great passion for America’s National Parks! I’ve been to 47 of our 61 National Parks — and Big Bend is one well worth the visit. I have explored many areas of the park — so I’m ready to help! So if this is your first time to the park, or your returning after many years, here are some of the best things to do in Big Bend National Park!

Scenic Drives

Chihuahuan Desert
100 miles of paved roads and 150 miles of dirt roads connect the desert to the mountains and the river and offer exceptional ways to explore the park by vehicle.

Here are the top five scenic drives — on paved roads!

Chisos Basin Road – 6 miles

A drive to the Chisos Basin is an excellent way to experience the transition between arid desert and cooler mountain habitats. As this scenic, winding road rises over two thousand feet above the desert floor, it offers breath-taking vistas of the mountain peaks and the erosion-formed basin area. The Chisos Basin has a visitor center, campground, lodge, restaurant, camp store, and access to miles of hiking trails.

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive – 30 miles

A trip along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive highlights the geologic splendor Big Bend is famous for, and offers many scenic overlooks and exhibits along the way. Sotol Vista, Mule Ears Overlook, and Tuff Canyon are all worthwhile stops. Continue the drive to the magnificent Santa Elena Canyon, where limestone cliffs rise 1,500′ above the Rio Grande. A short trail leads into the canyon.

Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village – 21 miles

The drive to Rio Grande Village traverses ancient limestone and has marvelous vistas across the river to the magnificent Sierra del Carmen escarpment. In twenty miles, the road descends nearly two thousand feet. There are several worthwhile stops and highlights along the way. Dugout Wells includes a desert nature trail and a shady oasis, nice for picnicking and birding. A soak in the Historic Hot Springs is also a popular activity.

Persimmon Gap to Panther Junction – 28 miles

This road connects the north entrance to park headquarters at Panther Junction. From Persimmon Gap, the road descends a long, gentle, gravel slope to Tornillo creek and Tornillo Flat. The Rosillos Mountains rise to the west; to the east the Dead Horse Mountains dominate the skyline.

Maverick Entrance Station to Panther Junction – 23 miles

This drive, through striking desert scenery, has excellent views of the surrounding mountains. Several roadside exhibits describe wildlife that might be seen along the drive. Junctions for the Chisos Basin road and Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive are located along this route.

Hiking

Day Hikes

Big Bend is a hiker’s paradise containing the largest expanse of roadless public lands in Texas. More than 150 miles of trails offer opportunities for day hikes or backpacking trips.

Desert Hikes

The Chihuahuan Desert covers about 80% of the park and surrounds the Chisos Mountains. Bare, rocky ground and sparse vegetation are hallmarks of the desert, but there is plenty of life here. Look for termite nests along plant stems, exoskeletons of millipedes, animal scat, and rodent and reptile tunnels. Bird life is plentiful, especially in the morning; look for nests hidden in yuccas and cacti. In the spring, bluebonnets, paintbrush, bi-color mustard, desert marigold, yucca, ocotillo, and cacti blossoms add color to the desert landscape.

Mountain Hikes

The Chisos Mountains contain some of the most rewarding day hikes in Big Bend, especially during the summer months when it is too hot to hike at lower elevations in the park. It is not uncommon to see tracks and scat of black bear, mountain lions, and gray fox along Chisos Mountains trails. Carmen Mountain white-tailed deer, rock squirrels, whiptail lizards, spotted towhees, tufted titmice, and Mexican jays are also common in these mountains.

River Hikes

The Rio Grande creates a distinct environment in Big Bend National Park. Countless bird species can be found in the riverbank vegetation. The river provides water for many desert animals; look along the muddy shoreline for tracks, signs, and scat.

Backpacking

Backpacking in the Desert

The most remote areas of Big Bend National Park are best left to experienced backpackers. Each year, park rangers respond to desert emergencies when hikers are not prepared for the heat and extreme conditions of the desert. Due to the complex topography and vague trails/routes, a topographic map and a compass/gps are necessary for some hikes. Not for novices, you will need to be fully equipped and physically prepared to pack your gear and water into the desert and camp primitively.

River Trips

Santa Elena Canyon

Floating the Rio Grande

Big Bend offers a variety of river adventures. Enjoy a day trip, or plan an extended float through spectacular limestone canyons. If you have the time and a spirit of adventure, you may want to consider a river trip. Seeing the park’s canyons from the middle of the Rio Grande can be an incredible experience. There are many possibilities including half-day floats or multi-day excursions.

Floating the Rio Grande can take you through miles of canyons up to 1,500 feet deep, where the sunlight may reach the bottom only briefly on winter days. As in other parts of the park, your ears may tell you more than your eyes. Listen for beavers crawling through the brush;you might catch a glimpse as one slides down the riverbank into the water. Turtles, especially red-eared sliders, often sun themselves on rocks and logs just above the waterline. Great blue herons and green kingfishers are just some of the many birds you may see flying along the river.

Bicycling

Lightly traveled roads and varied terrain make Big Bend a premier bicycling location. Over 100 miles of paved roads and 150 miles of backcountry dirt roads provide challenges for riders of all types and abilities. Bicyclists must be extremely cautious and well-prepared, but bicycling allows outstanding panoramic views unobstructed by a windshield. It also allows the bicyclist to see and hear some of the smaller wonders of Big Bend from a more intimate viewpoint.

Bird Watching

Big Bend’s position near the 100th meridian in the middle of the continent and along a migration route makes the park ideal for bird diversity throughout the year. Northern species migrate here for the warm winter climate, while birds from the tropics range this far north to breed in the spring. One of Big Bend’s highlights, the Colima warbler, is a predominantly Mexican species that only nests in the United States in the Chisos Mountains from April to September.

Fishing

Sometimes visiting a National Park can seem as though time is not on your side and the pace of “have to see everything” takes over. Perhaps fishing, which might seem unusual in a desert park, could be just what the “ranger” ordered. This activity is less harried, relaxing, and most of all, edible. Fishing the Rio Grande is something that is fun for visitors of all ages. And best of all it’s free, and requires no Texas fishing license. All that is required is a fishing permit which may be obtained at any open visitor center. So if a lazy day by the Rio Grande is something you might enjoy, ask a ranger about fishing opportunities here in the park.

Stargazing

El Capitan
On the clearest nights, more than 2,500 stars are visible to the naked eye! Big Bend is known as one of the outstanding places in North America for stargazing. In fact, it has the least light pollution of any other National Park unit in the lower 48 states. One factor that makes this possible is simply the sparse human occupation of this region.


I’ve created a WPA-style poster for Big Bend National Park to celebrate the 75th Anniversary!

Big Bend 75th Anniversary

Click here to see the Big Bend National Park poster.

Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who had the rare privilege of studying under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, Rob is on a journey to explore and photograph all 61 of America’s National Parks. He’s creating WPA-style posters to help people celebrate their own national park adventures — as well as encourage others to get out and explore!

Share this with Friends, Family & Followers