Six Great Unsung Parks
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Six Great Unsung Parks
Only 54 plots of American soil have earned the designation “National Park,” so it’s little wonder that high-season elbow room is at a premium in many of them. Better to investigate the lesser-known marvels that lack nothing in scenic beauty-they’re only bereft of tram systems, computerized reservations, and traffic jams. Herewith we sing
Teddy’s badlands may get overlooked by the hordes bound to see his visage at Mount Rushmore, but these buttes, gorges, gullies, domes, cliffs, and spires are every bit as ornery as their southern cousins. The deeply corrugated landscape lies 135 miles west of Bismarck. On a short visit, do the scenic loop drive just out of the Medora South Unit Visitor Center near
There is one campground in the park’s South Unit and another in the North Unit; they both have flush toilets, grills, picnic tables, and water. There is also backcountry camping; get a free permit at either of the visitor centers. For additional information contact Theodore Roosevelt National Park at 701-623-4466.
If only to see the most worthless military facility ever built-Fort Jefferson, on Garden Key-it’s worth a seaplane or boat trip to this archipelago of bone-dry islands and coral reefs 70 miles west of Key West. The massive red-brick fort was obsolete long before it was finished, though it came in handy as a more-foreboding-than-Alcatraz prison in the 1860s. Today you can
Above ground is an astonishing array of migrating birds, including 100,000 sooty terns that nest on Bush Key from February through September (alas, the key is closed to visitors during this period). You can boat down from Key West for $85 round-trip ($50 for ages 2-16) with the Yankee Fleet (800-634-0939) or fly down via Seaplanes of Key West for $299 per person round-trip
As intriguing as forests of conifers gone to stone may be, it’s the multihued glory of the Painted Desert that’s most memorable here. To ogle Medusa-ized logs, head to Rainbow Forest in the south part of the park. A short loop trail leads to the one known as Old Faithful, 9.5 feet in diameter, and to others as long as 120 feet. Then head up the northbound park road to see
That 90 percent of this park’s visitors merely drive through on the North Cascades Highway (Washington 20) is hardly a crime-it is, after all, one of the world’s great scenic drives. Plus it leaves to the more adventurous a mostly wilderness realm of sheer, serrated peaks, wildflower meadows, old-growth forests, 245 lakes, and 318 glaciers: America’s Alps.
The park complex comprises a north and south unit as well as Ross Lake and Lake Chelan national recreation areas. A great way to experience the backcountry without a long, laden schlep is to hop a water taxi ($20 one-way for up to six passengers) at Ross Lake Resort and ask to be dropped at Big Beaver. There you can set up a base camp for hikes amid a remote realm of beaver
Accommodations include three campgrounds along Washington 20, housekeeping cabins at Ross Lake Resort (bring your own food), and sites throughout the south part of the complex at Stehekin. For more information, call North Cascades National Park Service Complex at 360-873-4500.
West Texas’s greatest relief is this rocky massif that rises abruptly from the Chihuahuan desert, harboring lush, steep-walled canyons, pi-on and Douglas fir woodlands, and the highest peak in Texas: Guadalupe Peak, at 8,749 feet. The mountains are part of the same limestone fossil reef that houses a more famous neighbor, Carlsbad Caverns. The don’t-miss hike here is the
There are two vehicle-accessible campgrounds in the park with restrooms, tent pads, and picnic tables ($7 per site per night). There are also about ten backcountry camping areas with two to eight sites; permits are free but must be obtained in person. Contact Guadalupe Mountains National Park at 915-828-3251.
Bryce and Zion have no monopoly on Utah’s red-rock wonderlands: Capitol Reef National Park, in fact, is larger, just as compelling, and far less visited. Its defining feature is the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long maze of lifted and bent parallel ridges. Among them are an especially dazzling array of formations: slickrock, cliffs, spires, monoliths, arches, and
A traverse of the park via its main and best road, Utah 24, is over all too soon, but you can still get a feel for the Waterpocket Fold. Be sure to visit the remnant Mormon orchards at Fruita-you can stop here to pick some apples, apricots, peaches, pears, and cherries, depending on the season.
Afterwards, proceed to Hickman Bridge for a two-and-a-quarter-mile hike (one-way) on the Rim Overlook Trail, which leads to a vertiginous view of Fruita and the Fremont River Valley 1,000 feet below. For a taste of some of the park’s really remote reaches, head south on unpaved Notom-Bullfrog Road to Burr Trail Road, where you’ll find access to four-wheel-drive routes and
The park has just one developed campground in Fruita ($8 per site) with 70 sites, restrooms, and running water. There are also two primitive campgrounds with five sites each that have pit toilets but no water; pick up free permits at the visitor center. Call Capitol Reef National Park at 435-425-3791.
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