Ultimate National Park Guide: Western States

If you haven’t read the first post in my National Park Series, you can do that here first.

The next area we’re going to look at is the West Coast. That includes Washington, California, Arizona.

I’ve included a description of the park with the main things to do there, as well as an interesting fact about each of them. If you’re visiting any of these areas, or you’re just a fellow National Parks fan, you’ll love this read!

Washington

Mount Rainier

Tacoma, as its often called, is a stratovolcano. It is currently active- although the last time it erupted was in 1894. The mountain itself has a ton of different hikes you can take, and they all range in difficulty and scenery. The higher the climb the better the view. The area around Mount Rainier is filled with lakes and waterfalls which also make for some incredible hikes. It has the most glaciers of any mountain in America, many people love to visit it while the mountain is covered in snow- which is around eight or nine months out of the year.

Interesting Fact: The mountain appeared on Lewis and Clark’s original map, but they called it Mt. Regniere.

North Cascades

This park is perfect for nature lovers. With glaciers, lakes, and mountains that span over 500,000 acres, there’s so much to explore. They flaunt the highest number of plant species in their forests- more than any other National Park. It’s located so far upstate it’s nearly in Canada. The Northern location makes it very cold, and also provides the park with the largest, most expansive glaciel system in the contiguous United States.

Interesting Fact: There is no entrance fee for this park, but the visitor rate still remains rather low at only 30,000 in 2017.

Olympic

This park has it all- meadows, forests, and coastline. It’s so large it has four different regions within it. The Pacific coastline, the alpine, the west side rainforests, and the east side forests. Ninety-five percent of the park is considered wilderness, and although there are roads, none lead very far into the parks core. The parks holds a ton of history including ancient drawings throughout it that can be found on rocks and in caves. Because of the different terrain, there are a plethora of different animals that can be discovered from gray whales to elk. There are many activities whether you love the beach or the mountains, so this park is great for a multi-day stay.

Interesting Fact: Due to the remoteness and vastness, many search and rescue missions take place in this park.

California

Channel Islands

This park is made up of five islands right off the coast of California. One of it’s most sought after landmarks is a lighthouse that dates back to 1932. The oceanic climate is home to thousands of seals, seabirds, and other aquatic and land wildlife. The five islands that encompass the park include Anacapa, Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, and Santa Rosa. With all of these islands being very different, there are endless things to do at this park. From snorkeling, to hiking, to kayaking- any outdoors lover will find joy at Channel Islands.

Interesting Fact: Dating all the way back to 13,000 B.C., the oldest human bones ever found in North America were discovered on Santa Rosa Island.

Death Valley

This is one of the largest National Parks at 3.4 million acres. It is home to the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet below sea level. It rarely has rain and is known for its blisteringly hot temperatures- up 134 degrees Fahrenheit. The extreme heat is caused by the park being encapsulated by mountains which trap the hot air inside. Death Valley has many animal species, but mostly the amphibious and repitilous type like snakes and lizards.

Interesting Fact: The highest point in the country is Mt. Whitney which is located only 76 miles from the very lowest point- the Badwater Basin. Whitney stands at 14,505 feet above ground while the basin is 282 feet below.

Joshua Tree

This park is known for it’s stunning desert landscapes and, of course, the Joshua Trees. It became a national park in only 1994 after being declared a national monument is 1936. This is where the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert meet. Although both deserts, they are vastly different in most aspects due to the differences in elevation; Mojave is high while Colorado is low. The Colorado Desert is the more typically thought of “cactus-y” desert while the Mojave is full of trees. The park also is home to six different mountain ranges spread throughout the parks 1,235 miles. If you like hiking, this is the perfect park for you with over 190 miles of trails.

Interesting Fact: Attendance rates at Joshua Tree National Park have nearly doubled over the past few years. In 2013 the park recieved 1,383,340 visitors whereas in 2017 the park had 2,853,619 guests.

Kings Canyon

Originally General Grant National Park, King’s Canyon is often lumped together with Sequoia National Park. If you look at the two parks on a map they seem to be inside of each other. Franklin Roosevelt created Kings Canyon National Park in 1940. John Muir gave this park most of its attention when he visited and realized the park needed extra protection.

Interesting Fact: US Secretary Harold Ickes enlisted the help of famous photographer Ansel Adams to take pictures of the park in all of it’s glory. It was with these photos that the bill was made to make Kings Canyon into National Park.

Lassen Volcanic

This National Park is laden with hydrothermal areas. There is a region known as the “Devastated Area” where lava rocks lay from its last eruption. The park was being destroyed by logging and development until it was made a National Preserve. The elevation varies a ton which makes the foliage very differing throughout the park. The type of trees and forests varies greatly throughout Lassen Volcanic. The last volcanic eruption in the park occurred in 1915. There are four types of volcanoes found in the park including shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome- they can be seen bubbling and steaming to this day.

Interesting Fact: The park was originally two separate parks- Cinder Cone National Monument and Lassen Peak National Monument. They were combined in 1916 to make Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Redwood

This park is famous for housing some of the tallest trees on Earth. It is also home to prairies, rivers, coastline, and forests. The park is 131,983 acres with 37 miles of coastline. The Northern spotted owl and bald eagle are just two of the many rare and endangered species that can be found in the park. The park also holds many invasive species like poison hemlock. If you’re a hiker, there is over 200 miles of trails- you can even take your bike.

Interesting Fact: Back in 1859 there was over 2 million acres of Redwood trees. People began such intense logging that they nearly wiped out all of the trees- that’s when the area became a National Park and the trees became protected.

Sequoia

First inhabited by the Monache Indians, Sequoia National Park was only the second National Park established in America in 1890. It is most famous for having the biggest tree in the world- the General Sherman Tree. Millions visit from around the world just to see this tree; last year the park acquired over a million guests last year. The park has a ton of other well-known sites like the Tunnel Tree and Moro Rock.

Interesting Fact: The great Sequoia trees are basically immortal. They can withstand disease, fire, and age. The only way the trees are usually downed is by falling over due to their massive size.

Yosemite

This is America’s very first National Park. It’s known for its Sequoia trees, Tunnel View, El Capitan, Half Dome, and its beautiful waterfall- Bridalveil Fall. Tunnel View is an amazing viewpoint where you can see most of the Yosemite Valley. El Capitan is a tall rock over 3,000 feet from the base- this is a very popular destination for rock climbers. Half Dome is a giant granite formation that protudes 5,000 feet above the valley floor. With up to 500 black bears in the park, it’s easy to come face-to-face with one.

Interesting Fact: As popular as the park is with 3.5 million visitors each year, most of it remains untouched by humans.

Arizona

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of America’s most popular theme parks. It attracts a whopping 6 million plus every year and counting. It’s known for its beautiful red rock canyons that were completely earthmade. The schist rock found at the bottom on the canyon dates back 2 billion years. Sightseeing, hiking, and rafting are all popular activities in and around the canyon.

Interesting Fact: The Grand Canyon is so large it’s actually bigger than the entire state of Rhode Island. It is 277 miles long and 18 miles wide.

Petrified Forest

Most commonly known for its Rainbow Forest, Petrified Forest National Park is located in Northeastern Arizona. The park holds over 800 historical/archaeological sites. 50,000 acres of the parks 230 square miles are classified as wilderness and therefore will not ever be developed. The petrified wood can appear in almost every color of the rainbow because of the minerals quartz, manganese, and iron oxides.

Interesting Fact: One site at the park contains remnants from the “Agate House.” This house was made from petrified wood and dates back to AD 1100.

Saguaro

Named after its giant Saguaro cactuses, this park is over 92,000 acres. It encompasses two different sections- the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District. Roadrunners, woodpeckers, black bears, mountain lions, and bobcats are a few of the animal species that can be found in Saguaro National Park. Since it’s a desert it does get mighty hot- the most blistering temperature recorded was 117 degrees.

Interesting Fact: The fruits of the cactuses are still harvested every year as can be witnessed by guests.

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