Been There, Seen That

Josh Shaffer is a man with a mission: to explore every one of America's national parks. (To date, it's 20 down, 37 to go.) The 34-year-old from Wilmington, North Carolina, talks about the best places he's seen so far.

The prickly horizon of the Needles section of Utah's Canyonlands National Park     Photo: Corel

Elephant Canyon
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK, UTAH
Getting there requires a tough hike, about 11 miles round-trip from the Squaw Flat trailhead, in the Needles section of the park. But it's worth the effort: Elephant Canyon is a harsh, beautiful landscape with a forest of 200-foot sandstone spires and no other people for miles.

Brown Mountain Trail
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK, VIRGINIA
When the tourists pour in to see the autumn leaves, traffic on Skyline Drive can be a bit much. This 11-mile out-and-back trail from Skyline into Big Run Valley scares most people away, so hikers have the deep forest of oaks, hickories, and maples all to themselves.

Box Canyon Campsite
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, COLORADO
Getting here requires about a six-mile hike on the Colorado River Trail. It's fairly gentle until the last mile, when it goes almost straight up. I topped out at 10,480 feet, in the middle of a meadow, where I camped among elk and could look up to see bighorn sheep on the 12,000-foot peaks above.

Riley Creek
DENALI NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA
I didn't want to see the park by bus, so I hiked south from the Denali visitor center and spent two days bushwhacking along deep, fast Riley Creek. I camped in a small clearing, where the ground was covered with moss so thick and spongy that I could hardly walk.

Guadalupe Peak
GUADALUPE PEAK NATIONAL PARK, TEXAS
The four-mile hike up 8,749-foot Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, can be brutal in winter. It was about 35 degrees, and the winds were unreal. But at the top, I had uninterrupted views for more than 100 miles in every direction.

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