US National Park Expedition

7:12 p.m. on February 29, 2004 (EST)

I am thinking about taking maybe 3-4 weeks this summer to visit most of the larger national parks in the west/midwest this summer. Has anyone done a trip similar to this and have any advice? I will be driving in between each of these and I hope to have at least a 2 day stop at each, maybe more for Yellowstone and Olympic. This in order:

Mammoth Cave
Grand Teton
Glacier National Park
Mt. Rainier
Olympic National Park
Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge
Crater Lake National Park
Yosemite National Park
Las Vegas
Grand Canyon National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Anyone think that's too much or have any advice? I just want to get out and see it all. I'd love to do some climbing, but unfortunately I don't have any experience or climbing centers near me. I live in TN.

9:25 p.m. on February 29, 2004 (EST)

Over then past ten years, I have been to many of the National Parks throughout the country. My first impression from you trip plans is that you are taking on way too much. To really see the parks' beauty you must go beyone the park loop, and the highly populated senic overlooks, and the1 mile trails. You could spend 2+ weeks in many of the parks and not get bored. Try going to a couple of parks this summer that are in close proximity to each other, and then go see another part of the country next year. Backpacking or - if this isn't for you - day hiking on some of the longer and less popular trails are great ways to experience what the parks have to offer. Talk to the Park Rangers they will be knowledgable about the park and its offerings.

I'm not sure about the climbing in Tenn but I know Red River Gorge in Kentucky is a great place for rock climbing. I'm sure you could take a lesson or meet other climbers there.

11:09 a.m. on March 1, 2004 (EST)
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The Great National Parks Tour

(mumbles heard from the Old GreyBearded One) Why, that's the traditional Great National Parks road trip that every family used to take in their car in the days before everyone just flew over everything in the jets!

Well, ok, there are a whole lot more parks than there were 4 or 5 decades ago, but it is still the same idea. There was even a movie about it - The Long Trailer, with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez.

Anyway, your trip is of the "if it's Tuesday, it must be Belgium" variety - part of a day at each of gazillions of "sights to be seen." That's ok if all you want is a glance. But I really have to agree with Mike. All you will get is a glance. Many of those parks you name call for at least a week to even get a good taste of the park. Yellowstone by itself is barely touched in 2 weeks, if you want to see more than a couple of geysers - Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Mammoth, the whole northern section. And throw in at least a couple days backpacking (get a good ranger briefing on grizzlies, before going out, although they are readily avoided). Grand Teton is worth a week, too. If you want to do a climb there, sign on with Exum Guides (you said you have no real climbing experience). They are a great group, and in 3 or 4 days, they sill teach you the basics and take you up one of the more interesting peaks (I haven't used them myself, since I generally do not use guide services, but I know several of the guides as climbing and skiing partners, plus have friends who have used them).

Yosemite is another place worth a week by itself. Most people just go to the Valley. Beautiful place, dozens of great hikes (go up Yosemite Falls, 4-mile trail, Nevada and Vernal Falls by the Mist Trail, do Half Dome by trail and cable, etc). Yosemite Climbing School is an excellent place to learn the basics of rock climbing (some of the local scout troops hire them for a weekend of climbing). But also get out to Tuolumne Meadows and take day hikes up Lyell Canyon, Waterwheel Falls, and so on. Hike out to the Tuolumne Grove, or the south end of the park to Wawona. Glacier Point has fantastic views.

Grand Canyon is certainly worth 4 or 5 days, just so you can do an overnight to Phantom Ranch (take the mule trek, unless you are in excellent condition, since you drop down several thousand ft, then have to climb back out the same amount). The drive around to the North Rim will take a few hours, and you certainly want to at least look into the canyon from both north and south rims. The hike into Tapeats (North Rim) is great, too, but is at least an overnight (and you have to pack a lot of water, because there are some long dry sections).

Las Vegas - forget it. Doesn't fit in a National Parks tour.

Rainier - at least 2 days. Be sure to hike up from Paradise to Muir Hut, and then go around to Sunrise and hike into Glacier Basin. I don't recommend the RMI 2-day summit climb, but if you take their 5-day course that includes a summit climb, people tell me that is fairly enjoyable (haven't used RMI, but I have watched the thrashed-out folks they drag up on the 2-day climbs that look more like cattle-herds).

The other ones on your list are also worth at least a day or two (Glacier more like 3-5 days).

Take your time, take lots of film (or a big memory cartridge for your digicam).

And as Mike says, Red River Gorge isn't that far from you. Lots of good climbing there.

April 26, 2018
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