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Tips for Camping in Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier is an icon, not just for Washingtonians but for all outdoors enthusiasts. At 14,410 feet of elevation, Mount Rainier is one of the tallest peaks in the contiguous United States. It is also the most glaciated U.S. peak (outside of Alaska, of course): it’s the starting point for five major rivers! So it’s no wonder that camping in Mount Rainier National Park is a very popular and worthwhile adventure.

The park covers a massive 235,625 acres with over 260 miles of maintained hiking trails. Mount Rainier itself is an active volcano, and the surrounding area has wildflower meadows, forests with thousand-year-old trees, and tons of amazing wildlife. Ready to start planning your trip? Let’s dive into our top camping tips to get you started!

Plan Your Trip Thoroughly

The first thing to know about the park is that it is huge. There are five entrances, three drive-in campgrounds, two inns, and so much more. It’s essential that you know where you plan to spend your days and nights, so you don’t waste time driving around. Luckily, the National Park Service has loads of maps to help you plan, as well as information about road closures and other alerts.

Where to Camp

There are plenty of options for staying overnight in Mount Rainier National Park, but be sure to book early, as sites fill up fast during the summer months. For drive-in camping in Mount Rainier, two excellent options are the Ohanapecosh and Cougar Rock Campgrounds.

Ohanapecosh Campground

  • Number of sites: 188
  • Fee per night: $20
  • Attractions: Surrounded by old-growth forest and close to popular hikes
  • Amenities: water, flush toilets, fire pits, grills, picnic tables
  • Other information: Groups larger than 12 people must stay at Cougar Rock Group Campground.

Book at Recreation.gov

Cougar Rock Campground

  • Number of sites: 173
  • Fee per night: $20
  • Attractions: Lookout point of Mount Rainier, close to a wildflower meadow, access to the Wonderland Trail
  • Amenities: water, flush toilets, fire pits, grills, picnic tables

Book at Recreation.gov

Mount Rainier
Photo by Dan Purdy

Backcountry Camping in Mount Rainier NP

For backcountry camping, there are also many fantastic options. Very little of the park is accessible by car, meaning that the rest is just for wilderness camping. To get an idea of where you might want to camp, you can check out all of the trails of Mount Rainier. Once you know where you want to camp, you can refer to the Trails and Backcountry Camping Conditions to double-check that your desired site is open.

The most popular backcountry camping options, and for good reason, are along the Wonderland Trail. This 93-mile long trail encircles Mount Rainier and covers a lot of elevation gain and loss along the way. The National Parks Service recommends reserving your wilderness permit for this trail since the permits go fast. (More on that below.) 

Wonderland Trail
Photo by Danielle Plouffe

The Wonderland Trail has eighteen wilderness campsites and three non-wilderness campsites, one of which is the Cougar Rock Campground mentioned above. The best way to plan your trip is to use the Wilderness Trip Planner that shows all the campsites along the Wonderland Trail. Keep in mind that you are not allowed to camp within a quarter-mile of any trail or road. There are also three developed areas that are designated for day-use only: Longmire, Paradise, and Sunrise.

Finally, a few trails branch off from the Wonderland Trail to head higher up the mountain. The best of these is the Camp Muir Route, which ends at the Muir Public Shelter. This strenuous 9-mile round-trip trail has an elevation gain of 4,680 feet. Please note that this route is unmarked and only for experienced hikers and climbers. Before you go, be sure to check trail conditions and know your route!

Camp Muir View
View from Camp Muir: Photo by Dan Purdy

When to Go Camping in Mount Rainier NP

If you plan on camping in Mount Rainier National Park, the optimal season to visit is late spring through early fall. Average temperatures in these months hover in the 40s to 60s degrees Fahrenheit, with the best weather coming in August. Most important, though, is the average rainfall. The Pacific Northwest is notoriously drizzly, but the summer tends to be a bit drier, keeping hiking trails and campsites comfortable and safe.

That being said, if you choose to go during their peak visit times, know that you won’t be alone. Reservations book quickly, parking spots get taken, and entrance roads become congested and slow-moving. Be sure to reserve your sites and permits early. You can get up-to-date information on congestion updates via NPS Mount Rainier’s Twitter account, and be sure to check out their other summer congestion tips.

Mount Rainier Trail
Beautiful fall colors near Paradise on Mount Rainier: Photo by Danielle Plouffe

Know the (Permit) Rules

There are many different permits and reservations you could need in Mount Rainier National Park, including ones for weddings and military activities. I’ll stick to the basics and just cover what you’ll need to know to go camping in Mount Rainier. First, the single-vehicle park entrance fee is $30 unless you have a Mount Rainier Annual Park pass ($55/year) or an America the Beautiful NPS Park pass ($80/year).

Second, camping sites are $20 per night and can be reserved on Recreation.gov. Backcountry camping requires a wilderness permit, and NPS has an Early Access lottery for permits as the Wonderland Trail is so popular. 

Lastly, if you plan to hike/camp above 10,000 feet, climb, or walk on a glacier, you’ll also need to pay a Climbing Cost Recovery Fee ($52) and get a climbing permit. 

Mount Rainier Spring
Don’t forget your backcountry permits: Photo by Danielle Plouffe

Prepare for Unpredictable Weather!

Finally, one more very important tip for Mount Rainier camping is that the weather is extremely unpredictable. Even if you go in the summer, you should be prepared for it to start raining at any time. That means packing a waterproof shell and extra socks in your day bag. You should also check the weather every morning before heading out to make sure you don’t get caught in a storm.

If you plan to hike up the mountain, you’ll need to be extra prepared, as there will be different weather conditions than at lower elevations. For example, the snow around the 5,000-foot elevation mark on Mount Rainier doesn’t fully melt until July. Keep this in mind as you pack and plan your trip, as you might need heavier gear and better boots the higher up you hike on the mountain.

Final Thoughts

No matter where you stay in Mount Rainier National Park, you are sure to have an amazing time. You’ll see beautiful wildflowers, interesting wildlife, and of course, the awe-inspiring Mount Rainier. Plan ahead of time and pack well, and you’ll undoubtedly set yourself up for a memorable adventure!

Once you’ve picked out your camping spots, don’t forget to review our top camping tips to make your trip as fun as possible.

*Written by BestDraft LLC. contributor Benjamin Panico.

How to Keep Your Gear Dry While Hiking in Rain

Most of us don’t plan to go hiking in the rain, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Besides, a little water shouldn’t stop you from a rewarding outdoor adventure. If you’re planning to hike in wet conditions, here are some precautions you can take to make sure you and your gear stay as dry as possible. Following these hiking tips will help you to have a safe trip and allow you to embrace Mother Nature in all her stormy and wonderful glory!

So, keep a close eye on the weather forecast leading up to your trip. If it looks like a wet hike, don’t forget these tips.

Keeping Yourself Dry

First and foremost, you need to keep yourself from getting soaked. If you don’t wear the proper gear and get drenched, you’ll be extremely uncomfortable. In cold enough conditions, you will also be more susceptible to hypothermia.

Waterproof Outer Layers

The first step for hiking in rain is to wear waterproof gear. An outer shell that is waterproof and windproof will keep you warm and dry underneath. When shopping for such gear, one with a hood is key. While a hat may keep your head dry, you don’t want cold rain dripping down your neck and back. I always keep a poncho in my pack for this reason. Even if I think the weather will be nice, a small and lightweight poncho protects me from an unexpected downpour.

Waterproof pants are another key ingredient for a happy hike in the rain. In my opinion, insulated waterproof pants are better than a thin shell that you wear over other pants. One solid layer is a good way to prevent cold air or water from sneaking up under a baggy shell. Also, keep an eye open for rain pants that zip up the entire leg length, allowing you to put them on without needing to take off your boots.

If you like a little music while you hike, you may want to grab a waterproof speaker like the Turtle Shell.

hiking in rain
Photo by Gabriela Palai from Pexels

Boots and Socks

Finally, waterproof hiking boots are a must. This applies to all weather conditions since you never know when you’ll find a puddle or shallow stream. As all experienced hikers know, wet feet are a surefire way to end up with blisters. There is nothing worse than hiking in wet boots, so it’s no surprise that most hiking boots are waterproof. 

But in addition to waterproof boots, you should also pack an extra pair of socks at the very least. If you are on a long camping trip, pack at least a few extra pairs and plan to dry them out every night. Allowing your feet at least twenty minutes to air dry before putting on dry socks is a great way to prevent blisters. If you’ve gotten wet on a rainy day or if your feet have gotten sweaty (as all ours do!), you will want to change socks during your lunch break.

Don’t forget to check out our Guide to Outdoor Apparel to make sure you’re prepared for any type of weather.

Keeping Your Pack Dry

It goes without saying that you can’t stay dry if all your gear gets wet. Here are a few great hiking tips for preventing even the wildest rainstorm from getting into your pack. 

rain in forrest
Photo by Raphaël Menesclou on Unsplash

Pack Liners

First, I like to pack all my gear in garbage bags when hiking in rain. There are purpose-built waterproof bags and pack liners, but garbage bags are a great budget alternative. You can bring multiple bags for different bits of gear (clean clothes, dirty clothes, sleeping bag, toiletries) so you can keep everything separate and easy to find. It’s especially important to keep your wet clothes separate from the dry ones, so you don’t accidentally ruin your dry socks. 

Dry Boxes

Another key piece of gear is a dry box. I have a small Pelican dry container that perfectly fits my phone and wallet. The sealed edges and heavy-duty latch keep my gear well protected from a rainstorm or even a dip in a lake. For a simple budget solution, head to your kitchen for some Ziplock bags. Sandwich bags are perfect for cell phones because you can keep an eye on the time and notifications through clear plastic. 

It’s essential to keep important gear in watertight containers. You want to make sure your wallet, camping permits, maps, and such stay dry. You should also have a dry box for your first aid kit and fire starters. Waterproof boxes for matches are obviously important if you plan to start a fire after the weather clears – though you might have trouble finding dry wood!

Pack Covers

Lastly, pack covers will keep your whole pack protected from the elements. While some packs come with them, many you have to buy separately. Luckily, pack covers are not too expensive, and they really are worth the cost. They are extremely lightweight, so you don’t have to worry about carrying extra pounds. Mine folds into a tiny bag that I keep on the outside of my pack for easy access should I get caught in a surprise storm.

If you buy a pack cover separately, make sure you get the correct size for your pack. The cover should fit pretty snugly around your pack. A pack cover that is too loose can come off in windy conditions. Your cover should have elastic or drawstring to tighten around your pack and keep rain from sneaking in. 

backpacking gear
Photo by mohammad alizade on Unsplash

Keeping Your Tent Dry

Hiking in rain is one thing, but camping in rainy weather adds a whole new component. When you need to camp in the rain, you’ll need to think about where to put your tent to keep you and your gear dry.

First, your tent should be on a gentle incline, with the entrance facing downhill. Having a tent on flat ground is a bad idea as the water won’t drain away, and you’ll wake up in a puddle. Also, you might think that having your tent under a tree will keep you drier, but a shady spot will prevent the sun from drying you off the next day.

Tarps and Tent Flies

Before you set up your tent, first set up your tent fly or tarp. This way, you can put your gear down out of the rain and stay dry while setting up camp. Keep in mind that a tent fly or tarp needs to be extremely taut in order to be waterproof. Wrinkles or folds in the material will allow water to pool and drip down onto you. 

Next, you absolutely need a ground tarp under your tent – often called a tent footprint. I use one even when it is totally dry just to give my tent a little extra protection from the rocks below. Again, being on higher ground and at a slight angle will allow water to drain off your tarp instead of pooling around your tent. 

rain on tent
Photo by Frame Harirak on Unsplash

Rope, Towels, and Newspaper

The final pieces of gear that are essential for hiking in rain are micro-cloth towels, a rope or string to make a clothesline, and newspaper. These are gear items that you will likely already be bringing on a hike. Okay, maybe not the newspaper, but I’ll explain why you should pack some, and it’s not for reading.

Micro-cloth towels are great for drying up after you wash your face, but they also come in handy when hiking in rainy conditions. You should always dry off your gear before putting it away to ensure your pack stays dry. It is even more important to dry the tent off before packing up since the material can soak through once folded.

A rope or string will allow you to set up a clothesline to dry key items before the next day. If you have piles of wet socks, set up a clothesline next to (not uphill from) your tent so you can dry your clothes out. If it’s still pouring out and you have limited space, you can even set up a clothesline inside your tent.

Finally, newspaper is a great material for absorbing moisture. Stuff some crumpled pages into your hiking shoes to help them fully dry out overnight.

Final Thoughts

Hiking in rain doesn’t have to be a terrible experience. If you prepare with the proper gear, you can enjoy the outdoors in any weather conditions. Hopefully, these hiking tips will keep you from canceling your next trip when the weather turns! Stay safe, stay dry, and have fun.

*This article written by BestDraft contributor Ben Panico.

Choosing the Best Travel Camera for Adventuring

This isn’t just a camera buying guide; it’s better. In this guide, we won’t be focusing on specific models as much as how to choose the best travel camera for you. It’s our goal to help you navigate the plethora of options by explaining common camera specs and their various applications in certain scenarios and aspects of adventuring. 

So, let’s dive straight in and look at the most common camera features.

Best Travel Camera Features and Specs

Manual Settings

If you want to hone your skills as a professional adventure/travel photographer, choose a camera with full manual settings. You’ll have a wide range of options when it comes to what you can photograph if you’re able to adjust all the camera’s settings.

Canon camera taking picture
Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Having control over your camera’s ISO (light sensitivity), shutter speed, and aperture settings can truly separate a good shot from a great one. With a fully manual camera, you’ll be able to practice taking the same photo over and over again, each time with slightly different settings. This way, not only will you be able to grow as a photographer, but you’ll also be able to develop your personal style. Do you prefer photos that are dark and moody, or light and airy? Recognizing this and controlling it from the get-go with your camera’s settings will save you tons of editing time. 

Adventure Focus: This feature will benefit almost any type of adventure – from landscapes and hiking to colorful climbing and kayaking shots.

Zoom Range/ In-Camera Lens Capability

Non-traveling photographers have the luxury of being able to store and haul around a multitude of different lenses. However, we adventuring photographers don’t have space in our luggage to store anything other than the essentials!

Camera lens in mountains
Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

Adventure photographers already have enough gear to lug around; bulky, pricey zoom and macro lenses don’t easily jam into a backpack that’s already bursting at the seams. Therefore, having a camera with a built-in zoom will make it easier to photograph landscapes, wildlife, and people. But remember, the farther the zoom, the bulkier the lens. Choose your camera’s zoom distance based on what you think you’ll be photographing the most. For portraits and up-close shots, you may not need to zoom. Of course, choose a travel camera case that is large enough to accommodate the size of your camera body and lens (if detachable) to keep it safe from harm!

Adventure Focus: Fine-tuning your zoom capability will allow you to capture stellar shots from your favorite sports. Perhaps zooming in enough to catch a climbing buddy pulling off a tough, crimpy move 100ft away (just make sure you’re not supposed to be on belay!), or zooming in on a cool mountain feature during a hiking trip.

Megapixels & Sensors

We need a basic understanding of how megapixels and sensors work together and to be aware of the ‘megapixel myth’ to choose the best travel camera. Luckily for you, we’ve done the hard work and broken down the science of megapixels and how it relates to your personal photography style.

Basically, 1-megapixel cameras take photos that have one million pixels of information in them. 8 megapixels means eight million pixels of information. The myth is that the higher the megapixels are, the better the camera and image quality. This isn’t always the case. It won’t matter if your camera has 24 megapixels if the sensor on the camera is cropped (1-inch sensors are considered small) since the sensor is the piece that’s actually storing all those megapixels and transferring them onto your image. 

old school camera
Photo by Julius Drost on Unsplash

Sensors consist of millions of photosites that record what is being seen through the lens, so size matters. For context, an iPhone 11 sensor size is around ½ inch and 12 megapixels. The image looks clear on the screen but loses quality when cropped or blown up for printing purposes. So now we know that larger sensors with high megapixel counts produce the best quality of photographs.

There are two main situations where you absolutely shouldn’t compromise and opt for the full-frame sensor over the crop. The first is if you are looking to sell prints. The second is if you aren’t carrying around several lenses and will need to crop photos. 35mm full-frame sensors are the gold standard when it comes to camera sensors. 

Choose RAW over JPEG

Shooting in RAW format saves the image without any internal modifications, unlike JPEG. Cameras that shoot in JPEG apply sharpening modifications to the image before compressing them to save. On the other hand, with cameras that shoot in RAW mode, the image is saved without any processing. The result is that the RAW image file stores a ton of color data that you would otherwise lose.

ice cave
Photo by Sean Pierce on Unsplash

At first glance, the extra processing that JPEG images go through can trick you. In fact, the software enhances the image to look sharper before you even upload it to your computer! However, for JPEG files to remain a sustainable size, the true image quality will always be compromised. RAW images are stored without enhancements and can use all their storage availability on the features that matter to you. What’s more, they can be edited more precisely. Not all cameras shoot in RAW mode, so select this type of camera if you want some extra leeway when editing your photos later on. 

Adventure Focus: Colorful landscape shots benefit tremendously from RAW shooting. Backpacking, hiking, and picturesque water sports are, therefore, prime activities for this capability. But remember, investing in RAW and learning how to harness its benefits will never detract from your adventure shots for any sport.

Weatherproofing

Some cameras are better than others at withstanding exposure to the elements. If you’re choosing a hiking camera or a camera for rock climbing, don’t compromise weatherproofing quality. The best adventure and travel camera is going to be able to hold up even through potentially years of random spells of dust and moisture. Look for the term “weather-sealed” when shopping for the best travel camera. 

water resistant minolta
Photo by Aditya Chinchure on Unsplash

Get a Tripod

Not necessarily a camera buying tip, but definitely something you won’t regret. Your camera will need to be as still as possible in low-light situations, for example, when photographing subjects with only the light of the moon or campfire. Even the best image stabilization technology can’t beat the sturdiness of a tripod. Tripods are easy to strap to a backpack, reasonably priced, and definitely the superior option over balancing your camera on a rock or between tree branches. This accessory will enhance the qualities of the best travel camera and help you get those jaw-dropping shots. 

camera taking landscape photo
Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

Go Big or Go Home?

I have a general rule when it comes to buying equipment. If I’m not making money with a piece of equipment, I don’t spend too much money buying it. This translates to: if you aren’t selling photos or striving to be known for your work as a professional photographer, go for a cheaper, decent option that’s fully manual and weatherproof. If this is you and you’re just seeking to capture the moment, then a basic, affordable camera will work just fine. After all, the saying, “A picture’s worth a thousand words,” became a cliche long before modern-day, super sharp cameras came out!

On the other hand, if you are looking to make money off your photos in any way (selling photos, building a social media following), take the camera-choosing process seriously and follow our tips. Once you have your camera, all you need to do is choose your next adventure destination and start snapping pictures!

*Written by BestDraft contributor Morgan Wilder.

Best Hiking Trails for Summer Backpackers

The United States is home to some of the world’s most diverse landscapes and best hiking trails. Every single region offers its own bounty of spectacular scenery, weather conditions, and unique challenges. But sometimes, the hardest challenge is just picking where to go! 

But we’ve got you covered; we’ve found the top hiking vacations around the country and put together your go-to guide for summer backpacking. Whether you’ve got wanderlust for snow-topped mountain views, desert heat, a tropical oasis, or wild Appalachian ponies, there’s a backpacking trip that’s perfect for you.

Glacier National Park – North Circle Loop

  • Where: Northwestern Montana
  • Length: 52 miles, strenuous
  • When to go: July-September 
  • Average Summer Temperatures: Lows: mid-30s Fahrenheit, Highs: mid-70s
Glacier National Park
Photo by Sam Solomon on Unsplash

Why Visit

This loop trail is one of the most scenic and best hiking trails in America. Expect breathtaking mountain scenes, lakes, waterfalls, active glaciers, and abundant wildlife. You’ll get to walk along 11 miles of the Highline Trail, famous both for being Glacier National Park’s most beautiful trail and for its views along the Garden Wall. The 0.25 mile stretch along the Garden Wall offers stunning views along a narrow 6-8 foot wide cliffside ledge; don’t worry, there’s a safety cable to hold onto.

Logistics

Be sure to review Glacier National Park’s trip planning resources. You’ll find maps, current trail conditions, permitting information, and park safety. Pay special attention to the permitting information; you’ll need to get your permit in person the day before your backpacking trip actually starts. 

Difficulty 

This is a strenuous hike with 12,000 feet in elevation gain. Therefore, we recommend you take 5-7 days to complete the loop. 

100 Mile Wilderness

  • Where: Monson, Maine
  • Length: 100 Miles, strenuous
  • When to Go: Late June- Early August (Early June is black fly season while August brings lots of traffic)
  • Average Summer Temperatures: Lows: mid-50s Fahrenheit, Highs: upper-70s
100 Mile wilderness
Photo by Joseph Holihan on Unsplash

Why Visit 

The 100 Mile Wilderness is the northernmost section of the Appalachian Trail (AT). This stretch of wilderness takes you through tunnels of tight pines where you may run into moose, berry bogs, craggy ridges, and jaw-dropping scenery. 

It runs from Monson, Maine, to the base of Mt. Katahdin, which is the finish line of the 2,179-mile-long AT for northbound thru-hikers. There are no places to resupply along the 100-mile long stretch, which means hikers must have enough food to last the entire 100 miles (we recommend 12 days’ worth to be on the safe side). For this reason, it’s often touted as the most challenging section of the AT and one of the best hiking vacations in the northeast. 

Logistics

This hiking vacation will take a lot of preparation as there is no trailhead or parking lot at the southern point of the trail. If you’re heading northbound, you’ll need to set up a private shuttle or hitchhike to the trail’s starting point. If you prefer to walk south, you’ll have to pay for parking and get a shuttle back up to your vehicle once you’re finished backpacking. Check out this local’s guide to a successful hiking vacation. 

Difficulty 

This is a strenuous backpacking trip. Therefore, make sure you’re comfortable with the distance and remoteness before embarking on your adventure. 

Paria Canyon – White House to Lee’s Ferry

  • Where: Utah/ Arizona border
  • Length: 38 miles, moderate
  • When to Go: April – June
  • Average Summer Temperatures:  Lows: low 40s-60s Fahrenheit, Highs: mid-60s-80s
Paria Canyon
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Why Visit

This is an incredibly unique and not overly difficult early summer hiking vacation – you’ll lose 1,130 feet in elevation total. Backpacking the Paria Canyon involves meandering along the Paria riverbed through two giant walls of breathtaking Navajo sandstone. Along the way, you’ll experience stunning rock formations and feel like a modern-day Indiana Jones as you explore the canyon’s twists and turns. 

Logistics

Riverbed hiking comes with two crucial considerations:

  • First, you’ll have to cross the river dozens of times, so plan accordingly.
  • Second, Flash flooding in the canyon is dangerous and most likely to happen between July and September. 

Make sure you check Paria Canyon weather before your trip. If there is a chance of rain, call the Ranger Station to make sure they think it’s safe to hike. Additionally, check all permitting and camping information as soon as you start planning this backpacking trip. Carve out 4-5 days for backpacking, depending on your fitness level. 

Difficulty

This hiking vacation is moderate. You’ll experience minimal elevation changes. However, warm and dry weather should play a role in your planning, especially if you’re unaccustomed to hiking in these conditions.  

Grayson Highlands State Park

  • Where: Blue Ridge Highlands, Virginia
  • Length: 22.5 miles, strenuous
  • When to Go: Spring through Autumn
  • Average Summer Temperature: Lows: low 60s Fahrenheit, Highs: upper 70s
Grayson Highlands State Park
Image by Eric Dobson from Pixabay

Why Visit

Roaming along the Appalachian Trail over balds resembling the Scottish Highlands while passing by wild ponies calmly eating their fill: does it get any more magical? 

Although there are plenty of options for hiking the Grayson Highlands, we recommend exploring the 3-day, 2-night route we call the Massie Gap Loop. This loop will take you up and over Mount Rogers, Virginia’s highest peak. Moderate temperatures make this hiking vacation feasible anytime from the spring to fall. 

Logistics

Be prepared to pay the parking fee at Massie Gap trailhead and file a camping plan at the park office. As the directions for this particular adventure are a little more complicated, we suggest the following itinerary, and remember that the best hiking trails often take a little more planning! 

  • Park in the Backpacker’s lot
  • Begin the hike on the Appalachian Blue Spur Trail until you reach the Appalachian Trail, where you’ll head south. 
  • Two miles past Virginia’s highest peak, Mount Rogers, take a right onto Mount Rogers Trail, down to Virginia State Route 603. 
  • Cross the road to take Fairwood Valley Trail; you should come to Old Orchard Trail in a mile – follow this until you reach the AT again, where you’ll go South. 
  • You’ll come back to the Appalachian Blue Spur Trail two miles past Wise Shelter, which will take you back to the parking lot! 

Keep in mind, this is a suggested itinerary and is no replacement for your own good preparation. You still need to utilize the park map and read up on general park information to plan your trip, prepare your route, and decide where to camp. 

One final note, don’t let the blue skies fool you! The Southeast is notorious for its daily summertime thunderstorms that seem to come from nowhere. Also, bring a few layers of moisture-wicking clothing as the Grayson Highland winds can be quite chilly, even in the summer! 

Difficulty

This portion of the Appalachian Trail is considered strenuous. Therefore, plan for rugged terrain and steep elevation changes. 

Kalalau Trail

  • Where: Kauai, Hawaii
  • Length: 22 miles, moderate
  • When to Go: May – September
  • Average Summer Temperature: Lows: low-60s Fahrenheit, Highs: mid-70s
Kalalau Trail
Photo by malte on Unsplash

Why Visit

The rugged out-and-back Kalalau Trail is the only way hikers can access the world-renowned Na Pali Coast and “one of the world’s most beautiful beaches,” Kalalau Beach. The trail to get there is lush, dense, strenuous, and by far one of the best hiking trails in the country. It starts (and ends) at sea level, but a 5,000-foot elevation gain over the 22 miles makes this a formidable hike. This is undoubtedly a hiking vacation to put on the bucket list! 

Logistics

Most hikers, from average to expert experience, can make it all the way to the beach (11 miles) in a day. The length of the trip just depends on how many nights you want to camp on the beach. 

Camping on one of the world’s most beautiful beaches does not come easy. Permits are available 30 days in advance but can sell out in minutes, so be prepared to be flexible about the dates of your backpacking trip since it might take a few tries to snag a permit. If you are parking a vehicle, you’ll need a permit for that too. 

The weather in the summertime is essentially perfect, but always check the forecast to be on the safe side. If there’s rain in the forecast, there could be a chance of flash flooding at one of the river crossings. 

Difficulty

This hike’s difficulty is generally considered to be moderate. However, proper preparation and safe hiking practices are just as important as physical fitness to ensure a successful and fun adventure. 

Wrapping Up

Now that you know some of the best hiking trails in the country, all you have to do is choose where you’ll adventure next! 

As always, remember to prepare and be as safe as possible by checking the weather, wearing appropriate clothing, and knowing how to hike safely at your destination. Use our beginner’s guide to backcountry hiking as a resource when you decide which one of these awesome summer backpacking destinations is perfect for you. Have fun out there! 

*This article was written by BestDraft contributor Morgan Wilder.

Tips for Camping in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park is a dream for any desert adventure enthusiast. Although a day trip in the park is still stunning, spending a few nights camping in or around the park is the only way to get a true feel for the landscape. 

Death Valley has 12 developed campgrounds within the park and various backcountry camping options if backpacking is your goal. There are also unique backcountry road camping areas along the many dirt roads throughout the park if you want something in between. 

To help you navigate the variety of camping options available, here are our top tips for camping in Death Valley National Park.

Camp according to vehicle capabilities

Where you camp in the park will be up to the type of adventure you want to have and the type of vehicle you use. There are over 1,000 miles of roadway in the park, but much of those roads are not paved and require off-road capable vehicles. 

Getting to any of the 12 developed campgrounds in the park will be feasible even for RV’s or larger rigs that don’t have 4×4 capabilities or high clearance. Of those 12 campgrounds, only nine are owned and operated by the NPS. The other three are privately owned. The developed campgrounds will offer standard services like bathrooms, tables, and fire rings. 

Death Valley is a desert, and much like visiting Joshua Tree National Park, there is a limited supply of water in the park. Not even all of the developed campsites have potable water available, so come prepared. 

There are quite a few dirt roads that standard passenger vehicles can navigate, but to reach more remote areas in the park and the backcountry road campsites, a vehicle with high clearance and 4-wheel drive is required. Be mindful that these are dry, primitive campsites with no services. They are remote and will offer more solitude than the developed campgrounds, though. 

If you are looking for an even more remote experience, Death Valley has some of California’s most amazing backpacking opportunities. Backpacking in a desert, especially a desert landscape like Death Valley, is dangerous and requires a high level of fitness, knowledge (not all areas have trails), and planning. So, before you set out on a Death Valley backpacking trek, consult the NPS website for necessary resources and recommendations. 

Beware the temperatures

Death Valley is aptly named because for much of the year you can expect scorching temperatures. Camping is not advised in the summer months, and even in the Spring and Fall, visitors can expect temperatures encroaching on 100 degrees. 

Winter can also be a shock to some visitors with cold temperatures and snow-capped peaks. Still, summer is the most dangerous time of year to visit due to the lack of water throughout the park. 

No matter the time of year you visit the park, be prepared with the resources you need for your visit’s expected length.  

Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park

Reservations and permits

Most camping areas do not require permits or reservations to stay. The only developed camping area that allows campers to make reservations is the Furnace Creek Campground. You can reserve spots during the peak visiting season (October – April). The rest of the NPS campgrounds are first-come-first-serve. 

Furnace Creek is also the only NPS campground that has any RV hookups available. Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs private campgrounds also have RV hookups. 

The three privately owned campgrounds in the park accept reservations. To do this, contact the campground directly. 

Privately owned campgrounds in Death Valley National Park: 

  1. Stovepipe Wells RV Park
  2. Fiddlers’ Campground
  3. Panamint Springs Resort

Backcountry road campsites do not require reservations, and permits are free. Permits for these areas are voluntary but highly recommended. Permits help the park track visitation to areas and provide some safety to visitors, so the park rangers know how many people are in an area at a given time. While permit information can be used in the event of a search and rescue, if you do not return by the date listed on your permit, it will not initiate a search and rescue. Tell a friend or family member about your itinerary, and they can notify park officials if needed. 

If you are prepared for a backpacking adventure in Death Valley, the park recommends getting a free permit and having an itinerary. Backpacking itineraries do not have to follow only designated trails. They can also follow dirt roads, canyon bottoms, and washes. Even well-planned trips may need backups. When arriving at Death Valley for a backpacking trek, visit the Furnace Creek Visitor Center to discuss your trip plans with a park ranger. They will have up-to-date information on conditions. 

Frequently Asked Questions about Camping in Death Valley

What’s the best time of year to visit Death Valley?

Spring is the best time of year and the most popular time of year to visit Death Valley. Spring has beautiful wildflowers and warm weather days that are not overbearingly hot. 

Is it safe to tent camp in Death Valley?

Many visitors are wary of tent camping in the desert because of critters like rodents, lizards, spiders, and snakes. However, if you are tent camping, avoid giving them access to your tent by keeping doors closed when you are not inside. Do not store food in your tent and hang food bags to avoid attracting rodents. 

Are dogs allowed in the Death Valley?

Pets are allowed in some areas of the park, but they must be kept on a leash. Pets are not permitted when backpacking, but they are allowed on some backcountry roads. Be aware of your pet and do not allow them to dig or sniff near shrubs or rocks, as that is where snakes and scorpions tend to hide. Do not leave pets unattended in vehicles any time of the year in Death Valley. 

Tips for camping in Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a world-renowned spot for rock climbing and one of the best places to go camping and hiking in Southern California. From the unique geological formations to the iconic Joshua Trees scattered throughout the park, there’s something for everyone in this park, no matter your interests. 

Camping in Joshua Tree may look slightly different from other National Parks, though, and the first thing you need to know is to plan ahead. Joshua Tree camping may take a bit of planning, but with a bit of extra effort, your trip with be stress-free as you experience the natural wonders of Southern California. 

To help guide you through planning a camping trip to Joshua Tree, we put together four of the top tips we have for camping in the park. 

Plan to supply water and for a lack of amenities 

Joshua Tree National Park is located in the Mojave Desert. That means water is limited. Not all campgrounds have water. The two camping areas that do have water are Black Rock and Cottonwood. Potable water is available at the Twentynine Palms visitor center, the Indian Cove ranger station, and the southern entrance station. You can also get water in the surrounding towns. 

All of the camping within the park has access to a toilet, but not all of them having flush toilets. Do not plan for full access to a bathroom with full amenities. You should bring in all food, firewood, and water (1-2 gallons per person, per day) that you need. 

Please also note that not all camping areas have cell phone reception. 

Choose a camping location based on the activities you have planned

Joshua Tree offers a wide variety of different activities to enjoy. You can plan on doing short day hikes, rock climbing, taking geological tours, wildlife viewing, and more. With so many options, it is a good idea to plan regarding the activities you want to do while you’re visiting. 

Once you’ve narrowed down your options, try to pick camping near those hikes or climbs. This may enable you to walk to the trailheads or at least shorten the drive to the parking area closest. 

If you plan on equestrian camping, this is especially important because not all Joshua Tree campsites have horse stalls. Black Rock Campground and Ryan Campground are the only areas that allow visitors to keep their horses overnight. 

Joshua Tree Dirt Road

Reservations required September-May for some areas

While there are several campsites within the park, depending on the time of year you visit, you may not be able to get a spot. That’s because much of Joshua Tree camping is first-come-first-serve. However, during the busy season (September-May), some of the campsites are reservation only. Five campsites require reservations part of the year: 

Black Rock Campground
Number of sites: 99
Fee per night: $25
Attractions: High concentration of Joshua Trees
Amenities: water, flush toilets, fire grates, dump station, phone reception
Other information: 20 horse-stall sites

Cottonwood Campground
Number of sites: 62 (3 group sites)
Fee per night: $25
Attractions: ideal for stargazing, hiking the Lost Palms Oasis and Cottonwood Springs
Amenities: dump station, water, flush toilets, fire grates
Other information: remote and usually the last campground to be filled

Indian Cove Campground
Number of sites: 101 (13 group sites)
Fee per night: $25
Attractions: climbing and Wonderland of Rocks
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling, fire grates
Other information: water available 3 miles away at small ranger station

Jumbo Rocks Campground
Number of sites: 124
Fee per night: $20
Attractions: Skull Rock and other popular rock outcroppings
Amenities: dump station, vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: central park location

Ryan Campground 
Number of sites: 31
Fee per night: $20 ($5 for bicycles)
Attractions: hiking and climbing options nearby
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: 4 horse stall campsites, 5 bicycle campsites 

First-come-first-serve camping areas

The three camping areas that are strictly first-come-first-serve tend to have fewer sites, are less expensive, but they fill up much faster, especially on holiday weekends. 

Belle Campground
Number of sites: 18
Fee per night: $15
Attractions: closet to climbing routes at Castle Rock
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: great area for stargazing 

Hidden Valley Campground 
Number of sites: 44
Fee per night: $15
Attractions: hiking including Hidden Valley Nature Trail, Boy Scout Trail, and Keys View
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling
Other information: campsites dispersed among rock outcroppings, near visitor center

White Tank Campground 
Number of sites: 15
Fee per night: $15
Attractions: Arch Rock interpretive trail (good area for kids)
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling 
Other information: One of the last areas filled, good for stargazing 

Other camping options in Joshua Tree

If you are traveling with a group, some of the main campgrounds do have a few group sites, but they may fill up fast. There is one campground just for groups. Additionally, if you would like a more remote experience in the park, you can check out some of the backcountry camping. 

Sheep Pass Group Campground
Number of sites: 6
Fee per night: $50
Attractions: near Saddle Rocks and climbing crags
Amenities: vault toilets, trash/recycling 
Other information: tent only, reservations required 

Twin Tanks Backcountry Camping
Number of sites: 25
Fee per night: no fee, but backcountry permit required 
Attractions: solitude, wildlife viewing, and coyote melons
Amenities: none 
Other information: Register your vehicle when you get your permit

Joshua Tree National Park black and white photo

Frequently asked questions about Joshua Tree camping

What’s the best time of year to visit Joshua Tree?
September through May is the best time to visit the park, but it is also the busiest time of year, which is why reservations are required for some camping areas. Summer months can be upwards of 100 degrees, making it dangerous for outdoor activities. 

Are there any free or boondocking campsites near Joshua Tree?
Yes, there is some BLM land located outside the park. 

Can I bring my dog to Joshua Tree?
Yes, but they are not allowed in all hiking areas. 

Wrapping things up

We hope that this info helps you plan a safe and fun adventure in Joshua Tree National Park. Now check out this video of 17 things to do in Joshua Tree.

How to Choose The Right Outdoor Apparel for Weather Conditions

Whether you’re heading outside for a vigorous run, a lengthy hike, or just a quick stroll around the neighborhood, you should take the weather into account when selecting your outfit. Wearing the wrong clothes on the wrong day could be uncomfortable and even dangerous. Choosing the right clothes, on the other hand, will help you have a more enjoyable experience.

Always Keep Yourself Dry

Nothing will ruin an outing like getting drenched to the bone. When your clothes become wet, you’ll feel cold, itchy, and uncomfortable. You’ll have a hard time enjoying whatever it is you’re doing, and you might even develop a rash. You can avoid this problem by wearing waterproof outer garments. Rain jackets are an essential wardrobe item for anybody who doesn’t live in a desert. You should also keep your legs in mind. A soaked pair of jeans can ruin your day, no matter how nice a jacket you have covering your upper body. A nice pair of waterproof pants or a waterproof Bluetooth speaker will allow you to enjoy the great outdoors no matter the extent of the precipitation.

Choose The Right Material For Your Clothes

There are all sorts of outdoor clothes to choose from, and what separates them is usually the type of material they’re made from. You should make sure you buy a wide range of materials so you’re prepared to head out in any weather. As mentioned above, waterproof materials are important for rainy days. You should also invest in some sun-protective fabric for particularly sunny days. These will allow you to spend hours in the sun without putting your skin at risk. Breathable materials are also great for hot weather, while some athletic gear has the added benefit of slicking away sweat. With a sufficiently diverse outdoors wardrobe,you’ll be able to create the right outfit for any weather imaginable.

Put Thought Into Your Footwear

Keeping your feet comfortable is essential if you really want to enjoy your outdoor activities. Nothing destroys an outing like nasty blisters or shivering toes. If you’re going to be out in the rain or snow, then you should make sure you’re wearing waterproof boots. Letting snow into your shoes could even be dangerous, since frostbite is often quick to set in. You also need to make sure your treads are appropriate for the weather and activity you have planned. Hiking in the rain with indoor soccer shoes puts you at risk of serious falls.

Use The Proper Headgear

In addition to covering your body, you should make sure you have the right gear on your head. Hats are especially useful for keeping the sun off your face and protecting the back of your neck. While baseball caps are stylish, you might want something with a full brim for complete protection. In the winter, opt for a thick, comfortable hat that pulls down over your ears. This will keep you warm while protecting your skin.

Opt For Reliable Brands

Not all outdoor attire is created equal. The clothes you wear for your outdoor adventures will be subjected to the full forces of Mother Nature. That’s why you need reliable, high-quality garments that will stand up to the heaviest of rains and hottest of summer afternoons. While it can be tempting to snatch a cheap jacket from a discount retailer, these clothes might not last as long as you’d hope. In the long run, you might actually save money by buying a more expensive product that will last a few seasons.

Always Prioritize Safety And Comfort

When choosing outdoor apparel, it’s important to have your priorities straight. The first order of business is to do what it takes to keep yourself safe. That’s why waterproof jackets and sturdy boots are so important. The second priority is to provide for your own comfort. Outdoor activities are normally quite physical, and you won’t want your clothes to restrict you or cause you pain.

Last But Not Least, Consider Style

While safety and comfort are your main priorities, there’s plenty of room for fashion in outdoor wear. Lots of brands provide exciting styles that allow you to really glow out on the trail, bicycle path, or basketball court. With a bit of patience, you should be able to find clothes that allow you to look your best and feel your best in any kind of weather.

Tips for Becoming a More Eco-Friendly Traveler

Traveling is something that many of us took for granted prior to the pandemic. But with hope on the horizon as new developments are clearing the path for a greater sense of normalcy, many are eager to get back to the world around them. In the meantime, this break can serve as the perfect opportunity to learn how you can become a better traveler in the future. One of the major focuses for travelers now is becoming more eco-friendly and responsible during their excursions. 

If this is a goal of yours, here are a few helpful tips for becoming a more eco-friendly traveler once you’re ready to set off again!

1. Seek Out Responsible Options for Luggage 

What you carry with you as you travel may not seem like it plays a major role in the environment. However, if you choose to invest in products that leave a hefty carbon footprint, you’re already starting to contribute to a larger issue long before you set foot out the door. 

The good news? Whether you’re in the market for a new set of rolling suitcases or need new carry-on items like secure laptop bags, there are plenty of options. There are many companies producing high-quality products that save energy, reduce carbon emissions, and use recycled materials.

2. Don’t Forget That a Local Trip Can Be Just As Exciting

The most exciting travel destinations are often advertised as being far away from home. While you can still be eco-friendly in another country, traveling shorter distances can reduct your carbon footprint. That being said, there are ways to offset your carbon footprint and still enjoy yourself. 

Rather than planning every trip to a faraway destination, consider alternating trips between places closer to home. Chances are you don’t need to board a plane to find somewhere to go hiking. If you look hard enough, you’ll discover plenty of opportunities and rare finds while staying close to home. Who knows? You may even fall more in love with where you currently reside.

3. Pack Your Bags Mindfully

It can be tempting to pack a bunch of items that you simply won’t need during your travels. In order to avoid this, it’s best to pack your gear mindfully and with intention. This means:

  • Bring reusable items that minimize the amount of waste you’re producing during travel (such as a reusable water bottle)
  • Use sustainable packing tools that help create more space, rather than putting items in plastic bags
  • Pack as light as possible (surprisingly, weight does make a difference on how hard your plane will have to work to get you to your destination)
  • Buy eco-friendly travel goods (clothing, toiletries, batteries, etc.)

Learn how to pack by prioritizing the environment. Once you make the adjustment, it’s just a matter of sticking to those habits and making them work. 

4. Use Eco-Friendly Booking Resources to Find Sustainable Shelter

Unfortunately, eco-friendly travel isn’t the norm quite yet, which means sustainable shelter can be hard to find. Booking sites like bookdifferent.com or lokal can help you find eco-friendly hotels or organize trips that center on sustainability. Companies like FlyGRN help offset carbon emissions by using commissions from ticket sales to plant trees or set up solar panels.

If you’re really looking to get the most out of your travels, there are plenty of resources designed to make you and the environment happy. Set aside some time to do research and seek out the tools that will make sustainable travel more achievable for you. 

Becoming an eco-friendly traveler may sound difficult, but there are actually many resources out there to help you make smarter decisions. When you get ready to venture out into the world, seek advice from established travelers that can help you work around common issues. If you’re ready to do better for the environment, use the tips listed in the guide above!

Are We There Yet? Preparing for Your First Family Hike

Going on a family hike is a great way to pull your kids away from their screens and enjoy time together in nature. Whether you visit a local park with a trail system or you travel to a faraway destination to find new places to explore, there are plenty of places to hike and there are locations that are perfect for every family. 

Preparing for your first family hike can seem a bit tricky, especially if you are bringing small children along. Hiking with your kids is a great way to help them connect with nature at an early age, but it can be a bit scary. Rest assured, though, that with a little bit of careful planning, your first family hiking adventure will go off without a hitch. Keep reading for some helpful advice on preparing for your first family hike. 

Keep It Simple

Your first hike together as a family does not need to be anything elaborate. In fact, you should try to keep it as simple and enjoyable as possible. For kids, hiking is all about the experience. If that first experience isn’t a fun one, you’re going to have a hard time getting them to go out again. Choose a trail that is relatively simple and not too long. A loop that is relatively flat is a good choice. Try to find a destination with interesting features like a waterfall, lake or stream. Point out various animals and species of birds or try to identify the trees you encounter. Maintain a leisurely pace and make it all about having fun. 

Don’t be afraid to go slow. When you are hiking with your family, it should be all about the journey rather than the destination. If you don’t make it all the way to the end of your planned hike, it’s no big deal. Exploring is just as rewarding and letting your kids do it will help build their love of nature. 

Make Sure Everyone is Dressed Appropriately

There is no need to go out and buy a bunch of fancy hiking gear for your first trek, but it is important to make sure everyone is dressed appropriately. Check the weather before you head out and choose clothing that is suitable. On a mild spring or summer day, a lightweight t-shirt and a pair of comfy pants work well for laid-back hikes. If the temperature is cooler or you are going on a more strenuous hike, it is best to dress in layers

Expect to get dirty. A family hike is not the right time to wear that brand-new shirt or outfit your kids in their Sunday best. Basic t-shirts that you don’t mind getting dirty are a much better choice. Choose appropriate footwear for everyone. Even on a simple hike, flip-flops are not appropriate. Everyone should wear a pair of sneakers or boots that is comfortable and provides adequate support. Your kids may protest about wearing sneakers instead of flip-flops or sandals, but trust us, they will complain more if they wear the wrong shoes and end up with aching feet halfway through the hike! 

Pack the Right Gear

It is important to load up a backpack with some essentials. Anytime you are going on a hike, it’s smart to bring a basic first aid kit and a few emergency supplies, including a lighter/matches/fire starter, emergency shelter and water filter or chemical purification tablets.

You should apply sunscreen before you head out, but it’s also a good idea to bring some with you for touchups. Lip balm that provides SPF protection is a must, too. Bug spray should also be applied before you start your hike but bring the can with you to reapply. Look for a high-quality spray that is formulated to combat mosquitos as well as ticks. If your kids are young, look for a product that is safe for them. 

Bring enough water for everyone in the family. If you are going on a short hike, a bottle or two per person should be sufficient. It never hurts to bring extra, though, just in case you end up being out longer than anticipated.  Pack some high-protein snacks like jerky or energy bars. Of course, make sure you have snacks that your kids will actually eat, too. Stop for snacks frequently. Having frequent snacks instead of waiting for larger meals helps keep kids energized and can prevent them from getting tired and cranky. 

Don’t forget the fun items! We suggest a bluetooth speaker that is waterproof and can keep up with your kids energetic nature. Binoculars and a magnifying glass serve as the perfect tools for helping your kids make amazing discoveries along the trail. Don’t forget a camera to capture all those memories! 

Have Fun!

When it comes to getting your kids interested in hiking, making it fun is extremely important. Keep your kids motivated and make sure they are enjoying themselves by creating games they can enjoy on the trail. Come up with a scavenger hunt, identify different types of wildflowers or look for birds that are native to the area in which you are hiking. Engage with your kids and let them explore. Tell your kids how proud you are of them and how well they are hiking. Tell them they’re strong, fast and all around amazing. Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool that will help make your first hike an enjoyable one and make kids want to go out again. 

5 National Parks to Visit this Winter

National Parks are a wonder any time of the year, but some are even better suited during the winter months. We picked out 5 of our favorite National Parks to visit in the wintertime. Whether you’re an avid cross country skier or you want to find a place warm enough to hike and swim, there will be a National Park that fit your winter adventure needs. 

Are you looking for a few other parks to visit? Check out these five must-see State Parks.

5 National Parks to Visit This Winter

All parks are subject to closures and limited access due to winter weather conditions and COVID-19 precautions. Please check for updates on National Park websites before planning your visit. 

1.   Big Bend National Park 

Instagram: @bigbendnps

Location: Texas

Best Time to Visit: October – April

Winter Temperatures: 40-60 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Hiking or Camping

The winter is the best time of year to visit Big Bend National Park in Texas, making it the busiest time of year as well. Spring and Fall can also be great times to head into the park, but high Summer temperatures make it dangerous to hike and camp.

Big Bend is widely known for its camping, hiking, and backcountry backpacking. No matter your skill level or desire for adventure, there will be a trail that you and your family can enjoy. Most winter nights, even during the coldest months, will reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it perfect for gathering around a cozy campfire and using a bluetooth speaker to sing along to campfire tunes.

If hiking isn’t your favorite activity, Big Bend also offers a wide variety of educational Ranger programs, a few scenic drives, and a must-see Fossil Discovery Exhibit

Learn more on the Big Bend National Park website.

2. Dry Tortugas National Park 

Location: Florida

Best Time to Visit: November – April 

Winter Temperatures: 50-80 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Bird Watching or Scuba Diving

The Dry Tortugas are just off the coast of Key West Florida, and it is a stunning location for any water lover to visit. From snorkeling, diving, fishing, boating, kayaking, and swimming, there is much to be explored in Dry Tortugas National Park. 

While the park can be visited at any time of year, it is essential to note the activities you would most like to participate in will vary from winter to summer. The Dry Tortugas essentially has two seasons: winter and summer. The winter is known for sporadic cold fronts, high winds, and choppy waters. This makes it more challenging to view ocean wildlife when snorkeling and can be unsafe for inexperienced boaters. 

However, the wintertime is the best time of year for bird watchers and tourists looking for fewer crowds. High winds tend to be more consistent from October to January, so if you’re looking for fewer people and still want to enjoy some snorkeling, February may be the best option. 

Be sure to plan your trip to the Dry Tortugas well in advance, as it is only accessible by boat or seaplane. 

Learn more on the Dry Tortugas National Park website.

3. Saguaro National Park 

Location: Arizona

Best Time to Visit: October – April

Winter Temperatures: 40-70 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Hiking 

Located in southern Arizona near Tuscon, Saguaro National Park is a wonderland for nature and hiking enthusiasts to enjoy. Like much of southern Arizona, the winter is the best and busiest time to enjoy outdoor activities. Saguaro National Park is well known for its hiking, and of course, the density of Saguaro cacti spread around the park and surrounding areas. 

Beyond incredible desert vistas while hiking or backpacking and the diverse flora and fauna, visitors can also enjoy the natural history by visiting area petroglyphs. 

If you’d like to camp in the park, make reservations early as camping spots fill up fast. You can make reservations as early as two months in advance. Be advised that hours and accessibility may differ due to COVID-19. 

Finally, a must mention for any trip in the Arizona desert is to take some time to view the sunset. Although sunsets are spectacular in most outdoor spaces, the sunsets seem richer due to the landscape’s natural warm coloring.

Learn more on the Saguaro National Park website.

4. Bryce Canyon National Park 

Instagram: @brycecanyonnps_gov

Location: Utah

Best Time to Visit: May – September

Winter Temperatures: 10-40 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Snowshoeing or Cross-country Skiing 

Although the winter is not deemed the “best” time of year to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, there is plenty to do for winter adventurers. If you are a lover of all things snowshoeing and cross country skiing, Bryce Canyon is a must-see park to put on your list. 

The winter is the least traveled by humans in the park, making it optimal for wildlife viewing and stunning nature photography. If you plan a visit to the park, don’t fret that daylight hours are shorter either, because the night skies in Bryce are an unforgettable sight. Study up on your winter constellations before you come, and enjoy a snowy night hike amongst the stars. 

Learn more on the Bryce Canyon National Park website.

5. Acadia National Park 

Location: Maine

Best Time to Visit: August – October

Winter Temperatures: 10-35 degrees Fahrenheit

Recommended Activity: Cross-Country Skiing 

The last park on our list is a bit further north in Maine. Acadia National Park is well known for its Fall colors, making Autumn the most popular season to visit. Still, if cross country skiing is a favorite activity of yours, then this is one of the best places to go this winter. 

Acadia’s backcountry ski trails are hard to beat since there are around 45 miles of groomed trails. Beyond that, you are also allowed to ski on unplowed park roads. Be warned that snowmobiles can also use the roads for travel though. 

Acadia National Park is also a stunning place to go for a winter hike or an afternoon snowshoe. 

Learn more on the Acadia National Park website.