10 summer trips to America’s greatest natural treasures

A visit to a national park conjures up views of lush landscapes, dramatic skylines and lines of honking cars. While the National Park Service estimates that nearly 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon each year, you don’t need to join the throng to experience a national wonder. Consider visiting one of the following American treasures instead:

1. Arches National Park/Canyonlands National Park
A trip to Arches National Park and the nearby Canyonlands National Park in Southwest Utah can feel like visiting another world. This high desert is home to odd red-rock formations, vast canyons and some of the most delicate flora and fauna. Take a guided tour and learn about cryptobiotic soil, a black crust that covers much of the desert floor but contains live organisms that are vital to keeping the desert healthy.

2. White River National Forest
Home to the Colorado ski resorts of Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge, eight wilderness areas and Gold Medal trout waters, the White River National Forest is an outdoor sports enthusiast’s playground. Backpackers can explore the national forest by reserving a hut trip through the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association.

3. Ozark National Scenic Riverways
Located in Southeastern Missouri, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways are known for their clear, clean water, elaborate cave system and eight spring water systems. The national park is nestled near the Mark Twain National Forest and the Ozark mountains.

4. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Since its dramatic eruption on May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens in southwestern Washington has become one of the most studied volcanoes in the world. Visitors can hike and climb the mountain. Take a guided tour and learn more about how volcanoes work.5. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is located in a remote area near the Minnesota-Canada border. It is a beautiful, tranquil area meant to be navigated by canoe, so those looking to visit a park by car will need go elsewhere. But if you are looking for adventure, some prime fishing and a cool refuge from the summer heat, the Boundary Waters has much to offer.

6. Appalachian National Scenic Trail
The Appalachian Trail is more than 2,100-miles long and wanders through many of the states on the Eastern seaboard. One of the best ways to access the trail is by going to Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in West Virginia, which also is home to several Civil War battlefields.

7. Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Located in western Texas, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to a stark, dramatic desert landscape, an interesting array of plant life and fossilized reef. There’s plenty to do here for hikers and campers. It’s also within driving distance for many Americans living in the Midwest.

8. Everglades National Park
Best known as a home for alligators and snakes, the Everglades in southern Florida also are unlike any other national park. The swampy, grassy wetland is easy to tour by foot or canoe. It’s also home to several endangered species, including the manatee. A guided tour can help ease any jitters about alligators, while also help to guarantee that you’ll see one.

9. Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park offers a great escape from the hectic pace of Southern California’s cities. Located off the shore from Santa Barbara, the boat ride to the islands alone makes the trips worth it. Expect to see dolphins chasing your charter boat and if the timing is right, you may even see a few whales. The Channel Islands are home to bald eagles and sea lions. The best way to tour the islands is by sea kayak.

10. Acadia National Park
Located on Maine’s southern rugged coast, Acadia National Park is a haven for outdoor recreation enthusiasts looking to beat the heat and the crowds in many of the country’s national parks to the West. You can canoe fresh water or take a kayak along the Atlantic shoreline, or hike along the coastline bluffs.

Tamara Miller is a Seed.com writer based in Portland, Ore.

Channel Islands on Frommers

Most travelers know of a little thing called The Lonely Planet Effect. In fact, I spoke with LP’s former global editor Don George about this very topic in a podcast way back when. The idea is simple: Guidebooks like Lonely Planet are here to tell you about great places that still have the charm and exoticness of being “undiscovered”. But there mere fact they are mentioned in Lonely Planet then discovers them and, potentially, ruins them by making them popular.

And so with this in mind, I hesitate to say much more about California’s Channel Islands. Sure, I’ve written about them before, so the point is kind of moot, but I still feel that bringing to much attention to them is a good way to ruin what is a lovely, near pristine place just off the coast of California. Sigh.

Well, Frommer’s has kind of beaten me to the punch here, anyway. Just a few days ago they listed the Channel Islands as their Park of the Week, providing a nicely detailed article on the park. It’s actually quite informative. I actually learned a few things such as the fact that the park is home to over 2,000 plants and animals, of which 145 are found nowhere else in the world. That makes them a bit like California’s Galapagos.

When I was there one of the things I most enjoyed doing was paddling the massive sea caves around Santa Cruz Island. There’s some info about doing that as well as myriad other activities to keep you busy should you decide to make the trip. I highly recommend you do, but be careful about telling all your friends. I’d hate to see the place become California’s off-shore Disneyland.

Cave Paddling at the Channel Islands

I loved the fact that someone so quickly identified the photo of Potato Harbor at Channel Islands National Park in our recent Where on Earth. It suggests that some folks regard the islands as highly as I do. As Neil mentioned, a group of us have done a series of trips out to the islands, and each time found the experience rewarding. The one thing that I really want to call attention to at the Islands are the sea caves. Santa Cruz Island has some of the largest explorable sea caves in the country. They make for a superb day out in boats and, should you bring along a fishing pole, you might even catch dinner. The best thing about the islands is how undeveloped they are. Unlike Catalina, which can be a weekend circus, the Channels Islands are largely privately-owned by the highly regarded conservation organization the Nature Conservancy. The section that is accessible to the general public is run by the National Park Service who generally does a fantastic job keeping the islands clean and in good condition.

I really just wanted to second Neil’s enthusiasm for the islands and to call your attention to this fine article over at Canoe/Kayak Magazine about paddling the sea caves. I fondly remember my own experience exploring these caves and look forward to being able to fully circumnavigate one or a few of them at some future time.

World’s Best Islands

Guess what? There actually are people who don’t like islands. I know, I know, it seems crazy to me, too, but these are probably the same people who dislike ice cream, tax refunds, and heaven. For the rest of us… we’ll always have islands.

T&L recently compiled a list of their favorite islands. As you’d expect, the list includes some real hum-dingers:

  • Santorini, Greece
  • Cocoa Island, Maldives
  • Mount Desert, Maine
  • Capri, Italy
  • Kauai, Hawaii
  • Vancouver Island
  • Anguilla
  • Bora Bora, French Polynesia
  • Virgin Gorda, BVI
  • Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, Brazil

Of course, for the “real people” out there, I thought I’d drop in 5 more islands that are beautiful, accessible, and not bank-breakers — at least for those people living in the US:

Sanibel and Captiva are a boomerang-shaped pair of islands off Florida’s southwest coast. Known for their plentiful shells, warm waters, excellent kayak opportunities, and laid-back atmosphere, the islands are an easy jaunt for most people in the southeastern US. Sanibel is nice — but in my opinion, Captiva has more spark, and more of a “feel.” With its tightly-clustered village center, Captiva is among the most romantic islands on the planet.

Tybee Island, Georgia, is big enough to have options, but small enough to not feel overdeveloped. With a rich history and plenty of options for sightseeing, Tybee also features kayak opportunities, dolphin excursions, and the chance to dangle your worm in the water. Don’t let the island’s “barrier island” status fool you: it’s wild but comfortable.

California’s Channel Islands — known as America’s Galapagos — are a haven for wildlife and a dream come true for campers and hikers alike. With numerous opportunities for diving, snorkeling, and whale watching in the waters among the islands — which Traveler refers to as a Paradise Found — there are alos plentiful routes for you to explore on sea kayaks.

The hundreds of islands that make up Washington’s San Juan Islands, feature beaches, mountains, cliffs, and forests. The area also boasts plenty of fog, which gives it a dreamy quality. Between the flightseeing, horseback riding, boating, shopping, hiking, and kayaking, I’m pretty sure you can keep busy.

Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Outdoor adventurers can hike, sail, paddle, fish, and swim around the island. History buffs can inspect the local castles (castles!), or tour the island’s numerous museums. A hodgepodge of cultures, explorers can sample both French and Celtic culture on the same trip.

Eagle Hatches on Santa Cruz

Man, it seems like Santa Cruz Island
is in the news all the time these days. It’s not like I have a Google alert sending me info about the island, I just
keep finding stories about it. Remember, Santa Cruz is one of several islands that make up the Channel Islands off the
coast of California, about 20 miles from Ventura, and I’ve posted about them several times before
because, well, they’re a great place to go and hang out on a lazy California weekend, and b) the paddling around Santa
Cruz itself is superb. The sea caves there offer one of the best paddling experiences around.

But there is
also some great wildlife there. First, there are feral pigs. Not as many as there used to be
because they just recently hunted many of them down to thin the population, but you know a few hearty souls are still
lurking in the bushes. There are seals and porpoises. And, as of recently, there are eaglets. Yes, according to this story, a pair of bald eagles
hatched a chick on Santa Cruz on Wednesday for the first time in more than 50 years. Biologists say that the last known
successful nesting of a bald eagle on the Channel Islands was in 1949 on Anacapa Island. As most people know  this
is a big deal because the widespread use of DDT almost wiped the birds off the California coast in the 60s. So this is
good news and very cool.