Three Midwest parks to cater to your summertime plans

The Midwest may not have the mega-parks of the National Park Service, but they’ve got something you won’t find at top tourist attractions: solitude. You won’t find huge waterfalls or towering mountains in the midwest, but then again, you also won’t have to wait in line for jockey for a camping space. You’ll find peace, quiet and an abundance of wildlife often unappreciated. If you’re looking for something a little different this summer, take a drive through America’s heartland and check out these three midwest parks:

Effigy Mounds National Monument, Harpers Ferry, Iowa
There is a small exhibit area with a movie theater and plenty of very knowledgeable rangers in Effigy Mountains. The hiking trails that cover the area take you past American Indian mounds and deposit you on rocky outcroppings overlooking the majestic Mississippi River. Eagles, egrets, herons and hawks regularly fly the skies in this area and you might run into a few deer while you hike. The trails are moderately strenuous and some are handicap accessible. Make sure to take You must go to Firepoint, if it’s possible. On inclement days, this trail is often closed but the view is stellar. Camping is not allowed at the park, but there are many campsites in the area. Saint Croix National Scenic River, Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin
In the fall the colors of the trees along this river will take your breath away. Largely unknown, even in the area, this area offers camping, hiking and canoeing with an eye toward complete immersion in nature. I recommend starting at the beginning, at the park headquarters in St. Croix Falls. In the summer, the park gets crowded, especially on weekends, and camping space is on a first come, first serve basis. Cell phone service is dicey in the area, but that’s part of the appeal. Keep an eye out for eagles, as well as fish, deer, bats and more stars than you’ve ever seen in the night sky.

Sleeping Bear Dunes, Empire, Michigan
Hiking in the sand is completely different from hiking trails in the forest. For starters, regular hiking boots feel like dead weight while climbing the dunes of this magnificent park. Start at the visitor center in Empire. Get a map and your bearings and head out along the scenic drive. Read all the information and follow the trails where you can. Admire the changes in the flora between the parking lot and the lakeshore. Be careful, because on really windy days, it can feel like you’re being sandblasted. There are tours available to two adjacent islands and a lighthouse (not often seen in the midwest). The park is open all year and the dunes are beautiful in every season.

Deb Montague is a writer.

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 writer based in Portland, Ore.

Daily deal – REI Super Summer clearance – up to 50% off online and in-store

Outdoors fans, pay attention! REI is holding its yearly super Summer clearance, with 50% off 100’s of items. You’ll find $10 North Face shorts as well as some discounts on “high tech” products, like this $4 memory card pouch.

The sale starts today, and lasts until Labor day (September 1st). If you are not a fan of online shopping, or simply prefer to browse the racks for your bargains, then head on over to your local REI store, as many of these bargains can be found at their retail locations too. In total, over 500 products are on sale, so there really should be something for everyone.

Be on the lookout for prices ending with the magic .83 number, as those will be the sale items. And just to avoid confusion; the prices are “as marked”, there are no further discounts.

Of course, since this is a summer discount, most of the fashion on sale is being discounted to make way for winter gear, but unless you plan to gain a few sizes by next year, it should be a cheap way to get your gear purchased for next years trip.