The ultimate Guide to U.S National Parks.

Visiting national parks within the USA is such a unique and breathtaking experience that you shouldn’t miss under any circumstances! Spectacular, fascinating and magical sceneries, a crazy adventure that you will for sure never forget! Many of us embark on this extraordinary journey and the thing is, once you have started you won’t be able to stop! But the good news is that the federal agency of the U.S governemnt: National Park Service (NPS) oversee 409 areas of which 59 are designated national parks. Enough to satisfy our thirst of adventures!

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Here are 6 tips to follow to have the best experience possible!

 

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1 – PLAN YOUR VISITS USING THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE’S WEBSITE

This website is a real gold mine of informations. You will find all the details (fees, hours of operation, weather, what to do etc…) you need to plan your visits and it is really easy to use (website).

2 – BUY THE ANNUAL PASS

The pass “America the beautiful” is worth buying if you are going to visit more than 3 national parks. It will save you a lot of money as the entrance fee, for most of the parks (Grand canyon, Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, Zion etc…) are $30/vehicle in high season and $25/vehicle in low season. If we wouldn’t have bought it we would have spent $224.

– Cost : $80
– Where to get it : Online or at the first park that you will visit.
– Validity : 1 full year from month of purchase (through last day of that month).
– Who it covers : The pass owner and three accompanying adults.
– Tip : There are fee-free days yearly. Check out the NPS’s website to find out when they are (here).

20150622_36883 – PLAN AT LEAST 2 DAYS BY PARKS

Most parks are huge and may require more than an hour and half to get from one point to another by car. For example, the area of the Grand Canyon is 4926 km². So that is why we highly recommend you to plan at least 2 entire days (only for the big ones) so you won’t miss a thing!

IMG_0739blog4 – Book your accommodation within or near the park

If you plan to visit a park for two days or more, try to find an accommodation that is located within or really near. This is quite expensive to book a lodging in a national park area but it is really worth it! Do not make the mistake to book a room that is located more than 20 miles away in order to save a few dollars. You will waste a lot of times (and money for the gaz) and you won’t enjoy your visit properly believe me! If you are on a budget the best way is to camp. And what an exciting thing to do in a national park!

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5 – Book your accommodation in advance

If you are visiting a national park in high season (May through September) like most of people, we highly recommend to book your accommodation in advance as the lodging are fully booked a long time ahead! You can find an accommodation on booking websites such as Booking.com or on the official National Park Service‘s website.

6 – Make sure to have the equipment needed

Even if you do not intend to hike the trails within the national parks, make sure to have at least a comfy pair of shoe, even if it is just to get off your car once in a while you will have to walk a little bit at some point. And if you are visiting while summertime bring a jacket as well as it is getting cold at the end of the day and even in the Death Valley!

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Here are all the parks we visited with our tips, infos and comments

 

WHITE SANDS, New Mexico

20150515_2154 One of my favorite! I do not know if it’s the fact that it was the first national park we ever visited, but let me tell you that this is quite an unusual experience to wander down those huge white sands dunes. We felt a strong feeling of being on another planet! Definitely a must seen.
Check out our video here.

Entrance fee : $5/person
Operating Hours : Daily, year round (closed on Christmas day). Visit their website for hours of operation as they vary throughout the year.
Do not miss : Pack a pic-nic and go hike the dunes.

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GREAT SAND DUNES, Colorado.20150518_2500

I can proudly say that we climbed the tallest dunes of North America! This was quite a powerful adventure and unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the top. There were sandstorm and we were obviously not equiped to do it, so it was safer for us to turn around.

Entrance fee : $15/vehicle (valid for 7 days).
Operating Hours : 24/7, 7 days a week, year round.
Useful Tip : Be ready physically and mentally! First you will have to walk through a freezing creek and second you will probably have to fight against sandstorm. So make sure you have all the equipment needed to do so or it would be a nightmare and can be dangerous too.
Do not miss : Hike to the top if you can, to have an amazing view over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And you want some fun you can sand boarding!

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MESA VERDE, Colorado.

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We didn’t plan to visit this park (because we never heard of it before) until the day we pick up our rental car and that we plan our road trip for the upcoming 3 weeks. We basically just stopped there because it was located right in the middle of the road to go to Monument Valley from Great Sand Dunes but we were glad we did as we really liked it. This national park is a world heritage site, it protects some of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan archeological sites of the United States.

Entrance fee : $15/vehicle (valid for 7 days).
Operating Hours : 24/7, 7 days a week, year round.
Useful Tip : Plan an entire day to visit. Before driving to a point make sure it’s open, to avoid wasting time as distances can be a little long within the park.

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MONUMENT VALLEY, Arizona.

IMG_9137A trip to the USA wouldn’t be complete without a visit at one of the most iconic park of the country! It was a dream come true to drive on this famous road. After seeing a thousand pictures of it and in western movies we finally made it here.

Entrance fee : $20/vehicle (annual pass is not accepted).
Operating Hours : 7 days a week, May-Sept:  6am to 8pm / Oct-Apr: 8am to 4:30pm
Useful Tip : Make sure that your car is not to low, otherwise you will not be able to visit the park.
Do not miss : The sunrise and/or the sunset and if you are in a cowboy mood, book a horse ride tour with a navajo guide!

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LAKE POWELL, Arizona and Utah.

IMG_9308Lake Powell is a reservoir on the Colorado River, straddling the border between Utah and Arizona. It is a major vacation spot that around 2 million people visit every year. The main city is Page and the most famous attractions are Antelope Canyon, Glenn Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and Rainbow bridge. There are plenty of activities to do such as swimming, kayaking, fishing etc…

Do not miss : -Rainbow bridge national monument. Visitors can access it by boat from Glenn canyon and would just have to pay the entrance fee for glenn canyon national park. And if you do not have a boat you can hike and will have to pay a permit to the Navajo nation.
-Kayaking on the lake and make it to Horseshoe Bend.

IMG_9486GLENN CANYON.
We only stayed there for an hour as we were running late for our visit to the Antelope Canyon but it is worth to stay an entire day to enjoy all the activities that this park has to offers (boating, fishing, swimming, kayaking…)

Entrance fee : $25/vehicle (valid for 7 days).
Operating Hours : 24/7, 7 days a week, year round.

IMG_9371HORSESHOE BEND.
This is free and it’s definitely a must seen while in the Lake Powell area. One of the most breathtaking view I have ever seen in my entire life!

IMG_9526ANTELOPE CANYON.
There are two canyons: the Upper and the Lower. We visited the lower which is the less famous one and the cheaper. For both canyons you can only visit them on guided tour, so that means you will be with a bunch of other people and you will not be able to do what you want. It takes a little bit the magic away, but those places are incredible and really worth visiting anyway.

Entrance fee : $28/person (the annual pass is not accepted).
Operating Hours : 7 days a week, March – Oct 8:00am – 5:00pm / Nov – Feb 9:00am – 3:00pm
Useful Tip : Visit it around noon to have the best light of the day! If you would like to visit both canyons do it on the same day so you would just have to pay the Navajo permit which is only valid for 24h (price is $8/person).

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BRYCE CANYON, Utah.

IMG_9696Bryce Canyon offers such a unique experience with its very own scenery. The park holds the largest collection of hoodoos (odd-shaped pillars of rock left standing from the forces of erosion) in the world!

Entrance fee : $30/vehicle (valid for 7 days).
Operating Hours : 24/7, 7 days a week, year round.
Useful Tip : If you’d like to hike some trails you should plan at least two days there. For the one that do not attend to hike the park can be visited in one day and here is what you shouldn’t miss: drive to Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce viewpoints.
Tip : Fulfill that childhood dream by staying in an authentic Native American Tipi at the Ruby’s Inn which is located at the park entrance.

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GRAND CANYON, Arizona.

IMG_9958The most famous of all! Despite the fact that there are tons and tons of people visiting the park all at the same time, seating at the edge of a cliff dangling legs and scanning the horizon while the sunset, is a very special and priceless moment in your life!

Entrance fee : $30/vehicle (valid for 7 days).
Operating Hours : 24/7, 7 days a week, year round.
Useful Tip : Distances within the park are huge so make sure to plan two entire days to visit this incredible place and find an accommodation that is really near. We booked a room which was located a 1h30 drive from the park, as the rooms left nearby were too expensive, so we didn’t make the most of our visit and we missed a lot of amazing things!

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JOSHUA TREE, California.20150607_3022

My favorite! Well I do not know if I have a favorite one actually as they are all different, but Joshua Tree has definitely stollen my heart. It was one of the parks I wanted to visit the most and it didn’t disappointed at all!

Entrance fee : $20/vehicle (valid for 7 days).
Operating Hours : 24/7, 7 days a week, year round.
Tip : Make sure to be there at the end of the day to watch an amazing sunset.
Useful tip : Be aware of snakes!

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MONO LAKE, California.

20150617_4056This is not a national park but it’s definitely worth paying a visit to the strangest lake ever if you are on your way to visit Yosemite National Park. Mono Lake is located just 13 miles of the east entrance, near the town of Lee Vining on the Highway 395.

Entrance fee : Donation box
Operating Hours : Always open
Don’t miss : A swim in Mono Lake is a memorable experience. The lake’s salty water is denser than ocean water, and provides a delightfully buoyant swim. Old timers claim that a soak in the lake will cure almost anything.

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YOSEMITE, California.20150618_3963

Entrance fee : $30/vehicle (valid for 7 days).
Operating Hours : 24/7, 7 days a week, year round.
Useful tip : Plan at least 2 days (3 would be best) there and book an accommodation within the park to make the most of your visit.
Don’t miss : Camping on top of a hill and waking up to wonderful sceneries!

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DEATH VALLEY, California.20150619_3904

Death Valley is probably one of the most wonderful place I have ever seen in my entire life so far! It was for sure the national park I liked the most on our trip. There are no words to describe this breathtaking land and don’t let its name fool you, you won’t die there. At least if your car have the air conditioning and if you bring a lot of water (we drank a whole water tank in one day).

– Entrance fee : $20/vehicle (valid for 7 days).
– Operating Hours : 24/7, 7 days a week, year round.
– My favorite point : Zabriskie, Artists palette and dante’s view.
– Don’t miss : The sunset at Dante’s view and a crazy ride at the Twenty Mule Team Canyon winding through otherworldly badlands.
– Useful tip : Bring a lot of water and wear very very light clothes as it could be up to 50°!!!
– Tip : If you are driving from Yosemite to Death Valley (or the way around), we highly recommend to stop at Lone Pine, a small town from the gold rush era, between desert and mountain.
An inescapable stopover to eat an authentic cheeseburger, have a beer in a real saloon and discover the stunning Alabama hills were famous western movies were shot.
We advice you to plan at least half a day there to do all those exciting things.

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RED ROCK CANYON, Nevada.

IMG_0779If you are in vegas for a few days and you wan’t to avoid the hustle and bustle of the strip, this small parc is a great way to get your wilderness fix. It is located just 20 min away from Sin City and can be visited in just a few hours as the scenic drive is just a 13 miles length.

Entrance fee : $7/vehicle (valid for 1 day).
Operating Hours : April-Sept: 6am to 8pm / March and October: 6am to 7pm / Oct-Feb: 6am to 5pm
Useful tip: The colors of the rocks are stunning around 5pm (summer) when the sun is going down.

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VALLEY OF FIRE, Nevada.

20150621_3717Same here, if you are in vegas for a few days, this parc is a great one day getaway to escape all the casino madness. It is located 1 hour north from Vegas. If you have to choose between this one and red Rock Canyon, I really advice you to pick this one as it is most impressive of those two.

Entrance fee : $10/vehicle 
Operating Hours : 24/7, 7 days a week, year round.

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TO BE CONTINUED…

 

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