50 Top Adventures
Guide to the
Great ParksBetween the U.S. and Canada, it's time to gear up for a summer like no other.
National Parks main page Online Exclusive:
Weird and Wild
in the ParksDiscover the most mind-bending natural phenomena, plentiful wildlife, and sybaritic pleasures in the national parks.
See the mapUNITED STATES
Kenai Fjords National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Joshua Tree National Park
Sequoia and Kings
Canyon National Parks
Yosemite National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Reserve
Mesa Verde National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
FloridaBiscayne National Park Everglades National ParkIdaho, Montana, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park
KentuckyMammoth Cave National Park
Acadia National Park
North Carolina, Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Capitol Reef National Monument
Arches National Park
U.S. Virgin Islands
Virgin Islands National Park
Mount Rainier National Park
Grand Teton National Park
AlbertaBanff National Park
Alberta and British Columbia
Canadian Rockies National Parks: Banff, Glacier, Jasper, Kootenay, Yoho
British ColumbiaGwaii Haanas National Park Reserve
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Riding Mountain National Park
Gros Morne National Park
Mingan Archipelago Park and Reserve
Yosemite National Park: Pay Tribute to the King
The insider's guide to the great parks of North America.
Text by Robert Earle Howells Photograph by Cliff Leight
||PLANET GRANITE: Surveying the High Sierra, above Tuolumne Falls
John Muir was prophetic when he wrote that in Yosemite Valley "Nature had gathered her choicest treasures, to draw her lovers into close and confiding communion with her." That communion can get downright cozy with the park's 3.4 million visitors a year. But the truth is, they don't all need to squeeze into the seven-mile (11-kilometer) valley. Marvel at the temple, by all means, but look to high country, low country, and the unsung glories of the Sierra Nevada for your solitude. There's a lot of park out there. One-Night Stand: Just off Tioga Road in Tuolumne Meadows is the trail to Elizabeth Lake. It's only a five-mile (8-kilometer) hike, but one that distills all the joys of the High Sierra into an easy jaunt. You'll take in granite outcroppings; lodgepole pines; grassy, flower-strewed meadows; and, finally, the frigid reflecting pool of Elizabeth Lake. The glacial tarn lies at 9,508 feet (2,898 meters), beneath 10,823-foot (3,299-meters) Unicorn Peak. Camp here and you'll have seen Yosemite—even if you never venture into the valley.
Three Days or More: If Yosemite has a gentle side, it's near the settlement of Wawona, in the southern portion of the park. The elevations are lower but this is still the majestic Sierra—just with a longer hiking season and fewer crowds. For a three-day highlights tour, forge a 22-mile (35-kilometer) clockwise loop, hiking from Wawona to Buena Vista Pass. Along the way, stop off at Chilnualna Fall, a series of foamy tumbles that would be a major tourist attraction were it in Yosemite Valley. Camp the first night just down from the pass at Buena Vista Lake, in a beautifully carved cirque below 9,709-foot (2,959 meter) Buena Vista Peak. On day two take it easy: Wind your way through forest until you reach the picture-perfect campsites at either Johnson or Crescent Lakes.
Must-Do Secret: It sounds preposterous, but there's a hidden path in the heart of Yosemite. The 13-mile (21-kilometer) Valley Floor Loop Trail is an old bridle path that hasn't seen much traffic since the 1950s. Still, the trail is signed and very much intact. Pick it up behind Yosemite Lodge or Camp 4 and walk west, hugging the base of El Capitan, as far as Pohono Bridge. There, the trail crosses over to the south side of the valley, then east past Bridalveil Fall, through El Capitan Meadow, and across Swinging Bridge over the Merced River for a stunning view of Upper Yosemite Fall.
Vitals: The pine-shrouded cabins at Evergreen Lodge, about 500 yards (457 meters) from the park's western boundary on the road to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, are a good way to dodge the larger and louder campgrounds in the valley ($129; www.evergreenlodge.com). For park info and free backcountry permits, visit www.nps.gov/yose. PLUS: The Top Five
The Thrill Factor
Five unexpected itineraries that scream action
Trips Through the Ages
Five classic adventures that will never go out of style
Five off-the-charts escapes that reach deep into the wild
Moments to Live For
Five of life's most essential experiences, done perfectly in the parks
Pick up the June/July 2006 issue for 50 top adventures in the national parks; how to move to Montana; the best ten-day Brazil vacation; 11 instant weekend escapes; and new watches, cameras, and sunglasses for summer.