Top 5 forgotten parks in the American West
The American West is a very popular travel destination. And who has never heard of Monument Valley or the Grand Canyon?
But what about the other parks that are less visited by tourists, but deserve to be better known?
Here then is our list of the Top 5 forgotten parks in the American West. Psst! They are best discovered on a USA RV road trip!
1. Sequoia National Park
Located on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada, Sequoia was the first national park in California and the second in the U.S. after Yellowstone.
Sequoia National Park stands out for its large number of giant sequoias. These trees, which certainly live up to their name, are simply immense. They owe their impressive size to the elevation and the region's ideal climate, in winter and summer alike.
Sequoia is also home to Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the U.S. outside of Alaska, with an elevation of 4,418 metres. You will feel very small among all of this majestic nature.
The park's must-see attractions include:
- General Sherman Tree: This venerable tree is the park's star attraction. It is more than 2,200 years old and is the largest living organism on the planet by volume.
A short trail (800 metres round-trip) leads to the Sherman Tree from the parking lot.
- Congress Trail: This magnificent 3.2-kilometre trail begins near General Sherman and leads into the heart of the impressive sequoia forest.
The loop takes about 1 hour, but take the time to enjoy the moment. When I said you would feel very small, it is probably during this hike that you will feel it the most.
- Moro Rock: The top of this bald granite dome offers a panoramic view of the Sierra Nevada.
To get there, you will need to climb 400 steps carved into the rock, which will take about 30 minutes. For best visibility, do this hike in the morning.
2. Canyonlands National Park
Covering more than 1,366 km2 (that's 200 km2 larger than the island of Martinique!), Canyonlands National Park is an immense desert wilderness which contains the most beautiful landscapes in the western United States.
Located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, the diversity of the park's dramatic desert landscapes leaves no one indifferent with its colorful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches, and spires.
The park is divided into 3 sections, the most visited and accessible of which is Island in the Sky. This vast mesa rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 304 m above the surrounding terrain and offers exceptional vistas of the geological formations carved by the Colorado River and the Green River.
During your visit, don't miss:
- Mesa Arch: A must! If there's one thing to do in Canyonlands, it's the hike to the famous Mesa Arch, perched on a cliff edge. An easy 0.8 km round-trip walk will get you there in under 30 minutes. The view from the arch is breathtaking.
If you're an early riser, the sunrise is absolutely magical.
- Grand Point Overlook: Simply one of the most beautiful views in the area!
A 3.2-kilometre (round trip) trail leads to the overlook. It's an easy walk that tales less than an hour.
- Shafer Canyon Overlook: Located next to the Visitor Center, this viewpoint overlooks Shafer Trail, a winding trail once used by cowboys and miners.
3. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park in northern Montana covers 4,101 km2. It is so vast that it stretches across the border into Canada, under the name Waterton Lakes National Park.
The park features 25 small glaciers, more than 700 lakes and hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails for observing its abundant and varied wildlife.
Keep your eyes open and be on the alert because you could see a wolf, a coyote, a deer or even a bear!
Going-to-the-Sun Road, a spectacular 84-km drive, crosses the park from one side to the other. It has been named a National Historic Landmark.
Here are some points of interest along the way that are worth a stop:
- McDonald Lake: The road runs along the edge of this lake, the largest in the park. There are several designated areas where you can stop to enjoy the scenery.
- Hidden Lake Trail: One of the most popular hikes in the park. This intermediate-level trail takes about 3 hours (10 kilometres round-trip) and leads to a spectacular viewpoint overlooking Hidden Lake.
If you keep going down to the lake, you may encounter mountain goats.
- Wild Goose Island Overlook: This viewpoint offers a splendid view of small Wild Goose Island and St. Mary Lake, against a beautiful backdrop of mountains and glaciers.
St. Mary Lake is the second-largest lake in the park. It is also, according to some, the most photographed spot in the park, so there's a good chance you won't be the only ones there!
4. Capitol Reef National Park
This national park is geologically captivating, in addition to being one of the wildest parks in the American West. It receives about 600,000 visitors a year.
More than 300 million years ago, Capitol Reef was submerged by a sea, which left behind salts, sand and other sedimentary deposits as it dried up. This layer can be seen at the base of the cliffs that characterize the park. If you are interested in this phenomenon, you can learn all about it at the Visitor Center.
The park offers a fascinating diversity of landscapes, with sprawling desert, arches, red cliffs and canyons, along with more than 300 animal species and close to one thousand plant species that have adapted to the particular climate of this region.
The park is divided into 3 sections and the most visited of these is Fruita Area, in Fremont Valley. You will find many beautiful viewpoints and accessible hiking trails. Once known for the quality of its fruit, today the valley's historic orchards contain about 2,000 trees. Visitors can pick fruit for a small contribution.
If you don't have much time (between half a day and a full day), I suggest staying in this section only.
Here are some attractions you won't want to miss:
- Scenic Drive: This dead-end tourist route begins just after the Fruita campground. It winds along the western side of the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (wrinkle) extending more than 160 km, through magnificent landscapes dominated by immense multicoloured sandstone cliffs.
There is an entrance fee of $10 per vehicle to travel on Scenic Drive, unless you have an "America The Beautiful" pass.
- Goosenecks Overlook: From Panorama Point, a short easy walk leads to Goosenecks Overlook and a dramatic view of Sulphur Creek and its 150-metre-deep canyon.
5. Joshua Tree National Park
Located in southeastern California, Joshua Tree National Park straddles 2 deserts with two distinct ecosystems whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation: the higher Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert, which is also dryer. It's a complete change of scenery, guaranteed!
You absolutely need to stop there on your California tour holidays.
The Mojave Desert is home to the famous Joshua Tree, a species of tree found only in the American southwest. A member of the agave family, the Joshua tree tolerates a broad range of temperatures and can live for up to 200 years.
The best time to visit the park is in the spring, from March to April. The temperature is comfortable and, more importantly, the desert wildflowers are in bloom. It's an impressive sight, especially in such an arid environment!
There is a 100-kilometre scenic drive through the park from the northwest to the south, with access to many points of interest. Here are my two favourites:
- Cap Rock: A short 0.6-km loop offering opportunities to look at Joshua trees and many other Mojave Desert plants.
- Keys View: The panoramic view from the top of the ridge is well worth the 20-minute detour from the main road. In my opinion, this is the one of the best views in the park, with the Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea and the famous San Andreas Fault.
For information, this geological fault is at the boundary of two tectonic plates, the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate, and is responsible for many of California's earthquakes.
Location of the 5 national parks
American road trip
Discover the most beautiful parks in the western U.S. with the freedom of a rental vehicle.
And there you go!
Would you add any other parks to this Top 5?
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