Giant mountains and massive trees, desert landscape peppered with Joshua trees and snow-scaped ridges make up the national parks of America’s West. Discover the beauty of Grand Teton, Glacier, Joshua Tree, Mount Rainier and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in summertime.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Named for Grand Teton, the majestic peak that rises 7,000 feet above Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park encompasses 485 square miles of mountains, rivers and wilderness in northwest Wyoming just 10 miles south of Yellowstone. Here you can find bald eagles, otters and beavers in Oxbow Bend, elk on Timbered Island and bison along Snake River. The park includes the major peaks of the 40 miles of the Teton Range and the valley village of Jackson Hole.
Several scenic drives and hikes line the park. The Teton Park Road follows the base of the Teton Range from Moose to Jackson Lake Junction. The one-way Jenny Lake Drive begins just south of String Lake and provides stunning views of the peaks. Signal Mountain Summit Road climbs 800 feet to panoramic landscapes of the Teton Range, Jackson Hole valley and Jackson Lake.
Glacier National Park, Montana
According to the Native Americans, Glacier National Park was the “Backbone of the World,” and named for the glaciers that carved its landscape millions of years ago. More than 700 miles of hiking trails snake through the park, making it one of Montana’s biggest draws for outdoor adventurers. The park covers more than 1 million acres bordering Alberta and British Columbia, Canada and includes two mountain ranges, 130-plus lakes and hundreds of species of animals. The park contained 150 glaciers in the mid-19th century, but now only 25 active glaciers remain. One of the highlights is a drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This engineering marvel spans 50 miles through the park’s interior to showcase the mountainsides in northwest Montana. Got the kids in tow? Take a boat cruises or guided horseback ride to experience the wonder of the great outdoors.
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree National Park in southeastern California is home to the parts of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts, 500-plus archaeological sites and 800,000 acres of pure wilderness. Ten mountains reach an elevation of more than 5,000 feet, giving you views of the park on one of the dozen self-guided nature trails, including Keys View, where you can see all the way to Mexico on a clear day. Other trails lead you past remnants of the gold-mining era. Be sure to see Giant Marbles, a rock formation 100 million years old created by cooling magna.
Mount Rainier, Washington
The country’s fifth oldest national park, Mount Rainier, was established in 1899. It’s star attraction of the same name rises 14,410 feet to dominate the park’s landscape. Visit Paradise, renowned for its wildflower meadows and views of Mount Rainier. Longmire, the park’s former headquarters, was previously James Longmire’s homestead, lodging and mineral springs resort. Now it houses a museum about the park. From here, you can reach Christine Falls, just four miles east. A short walk from the pullout you can find a view of the falls below a rustic stone bridge. Glacier Bridge, five miles from Longmire, offers views of Nisqually Glacier. The one-way Ricksecker Point Road six miles east of Longmire has some of the best views of Nisqually Valley and the Tatoosh Range. Walk the steep, but short trail at Narada Falls, eight miles from Longmire for a view of this spectacular waterfall.
Drive up to the highest point you can reach by car at Sunrise with an elevation of 6,400 feet. Here you can find mountain meadows filled with wildflowers in the spring. A trek up here is worth the drive and on clear days, Sunrise provides breathtaking views of Mount Rainier, Emmons glacier and the many volcanoes in the Cascade Range. Ohanapecosh, named for a Taidnapam Indian habitation site along the river, sits among Douglas firs, western red cedars and western hemlocks. At the Grove of the Patriarchs, located about three miles north of the visitor center and campground, hike a one-mile nature trail along the Ohanapecosh River and through old growth forest. Carbon River, named for coal deposits found in the area, resembles a temperate rainforest. Drive the short loop trail to get a sense of it’s climate. Another trail heads to the Carbon Glacier, one of the largest and lowest-elevation glaciers in the lower 48 states. Mowich Lake is the largest and deepest lake in Mount Rainier National Park.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, California
Sequoia, established in 1890, is the nation’s second-oldest national park after Yellowstone. The 406,425-acre park is home to some of the world’s largest trees, including the famous General Sherman tree named after American Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks contain five unique regions called Foothills, Mineral King, Giant Forest & Lodgepole, Grant Grove and Cedar Grove, each with its own climate. The Mineral King and Cedar Grove regions are accessible only in the summer. The lower elevations of Sequoia National Park make up the Foothills with elevations from 500 to 3,500 feet. This area offers more varieties of plant and animal species than the conifer and High Sierra areas combined. Hike Marble Falls Trail through chaparral to a cascade or the Paradise Creek Trail across a bridge over the Middle Fork Creek. Lady Bug Trail takes you along the South Fork of the Kaweah in the upper foothills. The trail ends at one of the lowest-elevation sequoia groves. Or reach Garfield Grove in South Fork on this relatively steep climb.
The stars of the park are in the Giant Forest Sequoia Grove. Hike along 40 miles of trails such as Big Trees Trail at 6,400 feet. General Grant Tree trail takes you to one of the five largest trees on earth. Moro Rock is a prominent granite dome with a steep one-quarter-mile staircase to the summit and a spectacular view. Tunnel Log features the only tree you can drive through. See summer wildflowers in Crescent Meadow and access Tharp’s Log, a cabin in a fallen sequoia. At Crystal Cave you can tour one of the hundreds of marble caves in the park.
At Grant Grove find Panoramic Point Road with its views of Hume Lake and Kings Canyon. Redwood Mountain Overlook gives you a view of one of the world’s largest sequoia groves. Kings Canyon Overlook offers vistas of the High Sierra wilderness. General Grant Tree is here too and one of the world’s largest living trees. North Grove Loop gives you an up close and personal look at these massive organisms, while Dead Giant Loop gives you a look at a dead sequoia and an historic mill pond. A hike to Buena Vista Peak rewards you with a 360-degree vista of Redwood Canyon, Buck Lookout and the High Sierra.
Cedar Grove features a glaciated valley with towering granite cliffs, tumbling waterfalls and the powerful Kings River. Two prominent rock formations, the North Dome at 8,717 feet and Grand Sentinel at 8,518 feet, rise above the canyon floor. Many spectacular trails to the backcountry also originate in the area, especially near Roads End. Walk to Roaring River Falls to see a waterfall rushing through a granite chute. Hike Zumwalt Meadow on a trail that leads by high granite walls, lush meadows and the Kings River. At Roads End, one of the most popular places in the park, discover Muir Rock and the High Sierra.
Discover the Mineral King subalpine valley with its dense forests of pine, sequoia and fir and colorful granite and shale landscapes. The area features 11 steep alpine trails along with 14,494 foot Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States. The twin Upper and Lower Monarch Lakes sit at the foot of Sawtooth Peak, where you can see Monarch Creek canyon, Timber Gap, the Great Western Divide and Sawtooth Pass. A hike on White Chief Trail takes you up the west side of the Mineral King Valley. Trails around Eagle and Mosquito Lakes take you on the west side of Mineral Valley.