If you’ve never taken a hike in a forest full of towering California redwood trees or gotten your sneakers covered in dusty red Utah dirt, then I compel you: get out of your chair, get in your car, and go to there right now. No excuses. They don’t call it the “Wild West” for nothing— our American landmass is home to some of the most beautiful spaces in the entire world. And, summer just happens to be in full swing.
The natural colors of our National Parks abound: lush green forests, purple sand dunes, crystal blue waters, thickets of flowers that are orange and pink and yellow. Once you’ve experienced these views, your photoshop color palette will never look the same. The best part? Many of these National Parks qualify as nonprofits, so, if you end up falling in love, then you can continue supporting them throughout the year with your Goodshop account.
Olympic National Park, Washington
It only takes a few minutes spent in Olympic National Park to get the feeling that you’ve time traveled into the forests of Lord of The Rings. Thankfully though, while you hike amidst these magical trees, there will be no creepy golems chasing you. Situated high in the Pacific North West, Olympic contains a forest, coastal, and mountain ecosystems— making it the perfect destination for that long, much needed, backpacking trip.
Not To Miss: The tidepools at Kalalock Beach 4 and Mora’s Hole in the Wall!
Zion National Park, Utah
With a topography most easily described as “Seussian” (a word I’ve made up to mean “straight from a Dr. Seuss poem”), perfectly dry desert weather, and a multiplicity of emerald green canyon ponds, Zion easily tops my list of must-see National Parks. It truly is other-worldly. Plus, a 16-mile one lane highway snakes it’s way through the East edge— so you don’t even have to get out of your car to experience the magic.
Not To Miss: Angels’ Landing hike is a long hike that climbs up the canyon walls onto the highest point in the park, which also happens to be a large rock jutting out from the cliff-side. Be warned: Thousand foot drops will hug you from either side. Not for the faint of heart.
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
Mount Rainier National Park is massive: it boasts five developed areas, three visitor centers, a museum, and several climbing centers. Not to mention, one of the coolest snow-capped, cloud-wrapped mountains on the West Coast. Or, as Fodor’s so eloquently describes, Mt. Rainier is like “a mysterious, white-clad chanteuse, veiled in clouds” with “surrounding forests and fields bathed in sunlight”. I highly recommend heading over to this Park if you’ve got some children to entertain, and a week to kill.
Not To Miss: There are 35 square miles of glaciers and snowfields that lie at the base of the mountain. Go have fun!
Point Reyes National Seashore, National California
Hustling along the California coast, at the tip of a narrow peninsula that sticks out 15 miles into the ocean, lies Point Reyes National Seashore. There are over three dozen species and marine mammals that live on the seashore, and even more fantastic tide pools, species of flora and fauna, rock formations, and breath-taking views. Situated right off Highway 101, I recommend planning a fun road trip along the highway, with Point Reyes as your destination du jour. Pack a picnic, because the sunsets are magnificent.
Fun Fact: Point Reyes is on the Pacific Tectonic Plate, separated from points east — which sit on the North American Plate — by the San Andreas Fault. (The entire peninsula moved 20 feet northward during the 1906 quake that devastated San Francisco.)
Redwood National and State Parks, Northern California
Did Jurassic World get you in the prehistoric mood? Then there’s no better place to get lost than among the redwood trees of Northern California. Seriously, these bad boys spiral into the air for miles and have trunks wider than your last car. Bright green ferns, bigger than both your feet, crawl up their spines, injecting the whole scene with a dinosauric twist. Also on the coast of California, Redwood Park smells fresh like salt and has a multiplicity of surreal camping spots that overlook the ocean.
Not To Miss: Gold Bluffs Beach is perfect for camping, and is just a short walk from both the Pacific Ocean and Fern Canyon Trail.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Bordering the historic Rio Grande for 118 miles, this Texas gem is home to some of the best wildlife observing and stargazing that our country has to offer. On the clearest nights, there are over 2,000 stars to see. Expansive sunsets transform even the dullest brush into rolling, colorful grasses. Spread over 800,000 miles of wilderness, Big Bend offers 250 miles of roads connecting the deserts to the mountains and rivers, and more than 150 miles of hiking trails.
Fun Fact: Big Bend National Park is actually three parks in one and has a mountain, a desert, and sprawling river terrain!
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Of the deeply pure blue that is Crater Lake: poems have been written, songs have been sung, paintings have been painted. To experience this color in this form is one of the highlights of life, and so I encourage the visual among us to visit this National Park as soon as they can. Surrounded by snow-speckled cliffs of immense size and housing two beautiful islands, Crater Lake is arguably one of the most serenely inspiring natural spots in the country.
Not To Miss: Hike down the rim to Cleetwood Cove, and then ride the boat to Wizard Island. Cap off the day by walking to the 6,940-foot top of the island, which got its name for its resemblance to a wizard’s hat. Then ride the boat back to Cleetwood Cove and hike the steepest part of the outing back to your car. Get an early start for this one.
Glacier National Park, Montana
The picture you’re looking at can almost do all the talking necessary for this park: crystal clear waters, multi-colored pebbles, rings of pine trees and purple mountains… there are many legends that surround the mysticism of Glacier National Park. I beseech you to buy a plane ticket and a backpack, and to come see for yourself.
Not To Miss: Take a long ride on Going-to-the-Sun Road, which crosses through the park’s alpine crown, and offers views of the park’s titular glaciers as well as superlative mountain scenery, wildlife, and waterfalls.
Arches National Park, Utah
Channel your inner six-year-old and get over to the deserts of Utah, in order to scramble around on some of our oldest, still intact, geological formations. Smaller than the rest of the parks, Arches is perfect for a day trip. Make sure you bring a camera, a big bottle of water, and a good pair of climbing shoes. And make sure you stick around through sunset— watching the sun descend on these formations brings their inner fire to life, only to be bested by what comes next: a sparklingly velvet night sky.
Fun Fact: When a new arch is discovered, the person who finds it is the only one allowed to name it!name is provided by the discoverer.