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Sulphur pools at Lassen Volcanic National Park

National parks offer reasons for pause … and applause

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postedJuly 14, 2018
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Sometimes, staring is just the best option.

Not in a creepy sort of way, but rather in a mouth-wide-open-wow-I-can’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing way.

Like when you get your first glimpse of the stunning turquoise waters at Alberta’s Lake Louise.

Or when your eyes see the oversized eyes of Abraham Lincoln looking out on the National Mall from his namesake memorial.

Or when you gaze up at artistic stalactites adorning the interior of ancient Carlsbad Caverns.

These and thousands of other memorable experiences await at the more than 600 sites that are managed by the U.S. National Park Service and Parks Canada. Read on to learn more about some of these magnificent places.


Caves to rave about

Underground exploration is front and center at the many caves found in North American national parks. When they visit the following three U.S. caves, groups can take part in guided walks that showcase the amazing rock formations or go for more demanding wild cave tours and spelunking adventures.

Carlsbad Caverns
New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns is an underground world of magnificent stalactites, stalagmites and other rock and ice formations. (Photo by Gavin Newman/NPS)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Below the Chihuahuan Desert lie the remains of millions of years of erosion and sculpting. A quarter-mile trail leads to one of the New Mexico cave’s signature features, the aptly named Big Room, which is 4,000 feet wide and 255 feet high. Carlsbad also is known for its night sky programs.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Located in the hills of south-central Kentucky, this attraction is home to the world’s longest known cave system. There are a number of ranger-led tours, which take groups to notable areas including Frozen Niagara, Grand Avenue and Fat Man’s Misery.

Wind Cave National Park

As they explore hundreds of miles of passageways, visitors can see Wind Cave’s rarely found boxwork, a honeycomb-like pattern formed on the rocks. Above ground, bison, elk and other wildlife are visible among the rolling prairie of western South Dakota.


Discovering Dazzling Denali

Let’s be honest, there is no way to miss Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve.

For starters, the park is home to North America’s highest point, the 20,310-foot Denali peak. Secondly, at a whopping 6 million acres, it is larger than five states (Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Rhode Island). But what those massive numbers don’t account for is the massive beauty that awaits within its borders.

“The park’s varied terrain includes brilliant mountains, pristine rivers and lakes, colorful tundra, alpine meadows, sweeping vistas and abundant wildlife,” says Scott McCrea, director of tourism for Explore Fairbanks. “Along the way you may spot moose, caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bears, wolves or any of the hundreds of other species that call the park home.”

A visit typically starts at the main information center, which is open during the summer months. Groups can see an introductory film, check out exhibits about the natural and cultural history of the Denali area, and join a variety of talks from park rangers. The visitor center also is the departure point for the popular bus tours that head along the 92-mile-long Denali Park Road.

Sled dog team
Sled dog team (Photo by CC Flickr/Joseph: bit.ly/2jNEbnO)

Two of the more unique ways to see the park are flightseeing excursions and rafting trips. Local outfitters offer tours in helicopters or small planes that take guests high above the vast landscape and allow them to see the rugged peaks of the Alaska Range up close. Rafting tours run the gamut from heart-pumping paddling adventures through raging whitewater rapids to float trips and canoeing outings on serene lakes.

McCrea says another aspect of local culture—sled dog racing—also can be explored. “Denali is the only national park with a kennel of working sled dogs, and (groups can) stop by to meet the dogs or attend a ranger-led mushing demonstration.”

For more information, reach out to McCrea or visit explorefairbanks.com.


Redding-area parks boasts volcanoes, waterfalls

National park enthusiasts who head to California have a seemingly endless array of experiences awaiting them.

They can be dwarfed by mammoth redwoods and sequoias at the big trees’ namesake parks, experience the other-worldly desert environs of Death Valley and Joshua Tree, and stand beneath renowned rock formations, such as Half Dome and El Capitan, at Yosemite. 

Adding to that diversity are two A-list spots situated in the north-central part of the state near Redding: Lassen Volcanic National Park and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area.

“The best part about coming to Redding is you can travel an hour in any direction and be surrounded by awe-inspiring natural beauty, including lakes, mountains, waterfalls and volcanoes,” says Jennifer Fontana, industry relations and group coordinator for the Redding CVB.

Lassen, which is an hour east of the city, remains one of North America’s most active hydrothermal areas. The park’s volcano last blew its top in 1915, and minor eruptions continued through the next decade. Things have settled down considerably in the ensuing years, but visitors can still see (and smell) a number of active spots—Bumpass Hell, the Sulphur Works, Boiling Springs Lake and Devils Kitchen.

For all of the park’s bubbling and gurgling, it also is home to peaceful meadows, lush Red Fir and mixed-conifer forests, pristine high-altitude lakes, ever-present snowfields and even a section of painted dunes near Cinder Cone. Groups can see those features up close as part of driving tours, ranger-led programs and hiking excursions. For more active travelers, Juniper Lake is a top spot for canoeing, and kayak rentals are available at Manzanita Lake.

Waterfall
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area's Brandy Creek Falls (Photo by CC Flickr/RubenGarciaJrPhotography: bit.ly/2rvbCPf)

When it comes to on-the-water experiences, the Redding region’s main attraction is Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. Crystal-clear Whiskeytown Lake is a prime destination for boating, sailing, water skiing, scuba diving, canoeing and fishing. Its more than 35 miles of shoreline also include large beach areas that are perfect for swimming.

Beyond the lake, travelers can stick with the water theme by hiking to Brandy Creek Falls, Boulder Creek Falls, Crystal Creek Falls and Whiskeytown Falls. In honor of its big four falls, the park has hosted Waterfall Week the past few years to commemorate National Park Week. Visitors receive a stamp for their waterfall passports after they’ve hiked to each site, and those completing all four during the mid-April event earn a special prize.

In addition to seeing Lassen and Whiskeytown, visits to state parks around Redding can round out a nature-based itinerary. Fontana says groups can check in for a lesson on California gold rush history at Shasta State Historic Park and check out the limestone caves at Lake Shasta Caverns National Natural Landmark. Another local favorite she recommends is McArthur-Burney Falls State Memorial Park and its namesake falls that were dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

Contact Fontana or go to visitredding.com to learn more.


Hitchin' a ride at Riding Mountain

Located 60 miles north of Brandon in the southwest Manitoba, Riding Mountain National Park showcases the beauty of area’s forests, lakes, flora and wildlife.

True to the riding part of its name, the park is a top spot for horseback tours. Local outfitters offer a variety of options for expert riders and novices alike that take them out on popular routes, such as the North Escarpment Trail, the Ochre River Trail and Central Trail. The 250 miles of trails throughout the park also are put to good use by hikers, bicyclists, birders and, in the winter, cross-country skiers.

As they head out on those pathways, groups can check out Riding Mountain’s abundant wildlife. Animals to be discovered include everything from moose, elk and black bears to deer, wolves and owls. The park’s resident bison herd, which can be found near Lake Audy, is a visitor favorite.

Buffalo
Bison herd at Riding Mountain National Park's Lake Audy (Photo by CC Flickr/Norm Andrew: bit.ly/2jPwpti)

School groups have plenty of options when they visit, including indigenous interpretation programs such as Dancing on the Land, Speaking Circle and Sounds of the Anishinabe Fiddle. The nonprofit Friends of Riding Mountain National Park also offers a series of interactive, age-specific learning adventures.

Riding Mountain is unique in that it’s one of only five Parks Canada sites that includes a resort townsite. Located along the shores of Clear Lake, picturesque Wasagaming oozes small-town charm with its blend of quaint shops, boutiques and restaurants.

To learn more, contact Parks Canada’s Jennifer Burnell or go to pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/mb/riding

Top photo: Sulphur pools at Lassen Volcanic National Park
Photo by CC Flickr/Becky Berry bit.ly/2KKUcqI