Hidden Gems

Sand dunes in Death Valley California
National Parks

A Day in Death Valley: From Sunrise to Stars

Begin your adventure in Death Valley National Park, a land of extremes, where the stunning landscapes tell tales of geological wonders, and the temperatures soar to record highs. Even with just one day to spare, you can experience the best of Death Valley, from the salt flats of Badwater Basin to the panoramic views from Dante’s View. Prepare for an unforgettable journey through one of the most unique national parks in America with our itinerary.

Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Planning Your Visit to Death Valley National Park

Sand dunes in Death Valley National Park
Sand dunes in Death Valley National Park, California, USA

When to Visit:

Timing is everything when planning a visit to Death Valley National Park. Known for holding the record for the hottest place on earth, the best time to visit is during the cooler months from November to March. During this period, daytime temperatures are pleasant, and the park’s unique landscapes are more accessible. If you’re aiming to capture the beauty of Death Valley under a blanket of wildflowers, plan your visit for late February to early April, when the desert blooms in a rare display of life.

Parking and Entrance Fees:

Death Valley is vast, and knowing where to park can save you time. Most major attractions, like Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, have designated parking areas. Despite its size, parking spots can fill up quickly during peak visitation times, so arriving early or later in the day is advisable.

The entrance fee for a private vehicle, which covers a 7-day period, is $30. This fee is particularly worthwhile if you’re planning multiple entries into Death Valley over several days, though it’s also applicable for single-day visits. For those entering on foot or by bicycle, the cost is $15 per person, also valid for 7 days. While walking into Death Valley might seem unusual, it remains an available option.

For extensive explorers, the annual America the Beautiful Pass, priced at $80, offers incredible value. This pass grants access to all national parks and federal lands that charge entry fees. Having purchased my first pass in 2017, I can attest to its value as a significant cost-saving measure for frequent visitors to these natural treasures.


After a long day of exploration, finding a comfortable place to rest is crucial. Where to stay in and around Death Valley offers options ranging from camping under the stars to enjoying the comfort of historic inns. Inside the park, The Inn at Death Valley and The Ranch at Death Valley provide a range of accommodations, from luxury rooms to more budget-friendly options, along with amenities like swimming pools and dining. For those who love the great outdoors, several campgrounds are available, offering both RV hookups and tent sites. Booking in advance is highly recommended, especially during the cooler months when the park sees the highest visitation.

Preparing for Your Visit:

A successful trip to Death Valley requires preparation. Check the Death Valley National Park website for the latest information on weather conditions, road closures, and safety tips. Remember, cellular service is limited, so download or print maps and guides ahead of time. Pack plenty of water—at least one gallon per person per day—sunscreen, and protective clothing to shield yourself from the sun. Finally, always inform someone of your travel plans, especially if you’re venturing into remote areas of the park.

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point

Rock formations at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park, Nevada
Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

First Light on Golden Hills: Start your day with the sunrise at Zabriskie Point, where the early morning light paints the badlands in hues of gold and amber. This spot offers one of the most iconic views of Death Valley, showcasing the park’s rugged beauty.

Preparation is Key: To catch the sunrise, you’ll want to arrive early. This means leaving your accommodation while it’s still dark, so plan your route and pack the night before. Essentials include a flashlight (like this solar powered one), warm layers (mornings can be cool, even in the desert), water, and of course, your camera to capture the moment.

Breakfast at Furnace Creek

A group of palm trees in Death Valley
Furnace Creek, Death Valley

Fuel Up for the Day: After sunrise, head to Furnace Creek, located about a 20-minute drive from Zabriskie Point. Here, you can enjoy a hearty breakfast at one of the local eateries, gearing up for a day of exploration.

  • Dining Options: Choose from a variety of dining venues at Furnace Creek, ranging from casual cafes to more formal sit-down restaurants. Whether you’re in the mood for a quick, energizing breakfast to get back on the road or a leisurely meal to savor the morning, you’ll find something to suit your taste and schedule. Don’t miss out on local favorites like hearty omelets, fresh-baked pastries, and, of course, plenty of coffee to kickstart your day.
  • Visitor Center Stop: After breakfast, a quick visit to the Furnace Creek Visitor Center is highly recommended. Here, you can gather valuable information about the park, including current conditions, recommended hikes, and any ranger-led programs happening during your visit. It’s also a great place to pick up souvenirs and educational materials about Death Valley’s unique ecosystem, geology, and history.
  • Preparation for the Day: Furnace Creek’s amenities provide a perfect opportunity to prepare for the day’s adventures. Stock up on water and snacks at the general store, check the weather forecast, and make any last-minute adjustments to your itinerary. The friendly staff at the visitor center and dining establishments are also a great resource for insider tips on how to make the most of your day in the park.

Morning Hike: Golden Canyon

Golden Canyon among mountains and rocks in Death Valley National Park
The Golden Canyon among mountains and rocks in Death Valley National Park

Trail Wonders: A short 10 minute drive from Furnace Creek, Golden Canyon offers an accessible hike that leads you through narrows and to viewpoints overlooking the Red Cathedral. It’s an excellent introduction to Death Valley’s geological marvels.

  • Trail Highlights: The path through Golden Canyon feels like a journey through time, with informative markers detailing the geological history and pointing out significant features. Highlights include the Red Cathedral, an imposing natural edifice at the trail’s end, and various side paths that offer unique perspectives and solitude. Keep an eye out for the diverse plant and animal life that has adapted to thrive in this harsh environment.
  • Hiking Tips: To fully enjoy your hike in Golden Canyon, start early to beat the heat and the crowds. Wear sturdy hiking shoes, as the terrain can be uneven and rocky. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat to protect against the relentless sun. Although the trail is well-marked, carrying a map or downloading a trail guide on your phone is a good idea for navigation and learning more about the canyon’s features.
  • Safety First: Remember, even in the cooler morning hours, temperatures in Death Valley can rise quickly. Listen to your body, and don’t push beyond your comfort level. Rest in shaded areas when available, and always stay on designated trails to minimize your impact on the fragile desert ecosystem and ensure your safety.

Badwater Basin: A Midday Marvel

Badwater Basin and Telescope Peak. Salt Crust and Clouds Reflection. Death Valley National Park. California, USA
Badwater Basin and Telescope Peak

Below Sea Level: A 15 minute drive from Golden Canyon, no visit to Death Valley is complete without stepping onto the salt flats at Badwater Basin. The lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level, presents a landscape so alien, it transcends the ordinary into something utterly breathtaking. The vast white expanse set against the desert mountains is a sight to behold.

  • Walking on Salt: The main boardwalk at Badwater Basin allows you to step directly onto the salt flats. Here, the ground crunches underfoot, a tapestry of salt crystals stretching to the horizon. For those adventurous spirits, walking out into the flats reveals intricate patterns and polygons formed by the evaporating water—a photographer’s and geologist’s delight. Remember, though, the salt can be sharp, and sturdy shoes are a must.
  • Heat Precautions: Midday at Badwater Basin is an awe-inspiring experience but also a challenge due to the Death Valley National Park temperature potentially soaring. It’s crucial to be well-prepared with water (more than you think you’ll need), high-SPF sunscreen, and protective clothing. A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses are not just accessories but necessities to shield yourself from the intense sun.
  • The Vast Perspective: For those looking to comprehend the vastness of Death Valley, Badwater Basin provides a unique perspective. The surrounding mountains, including Telescope Peak—the highest point in the park—offer a stunning visual contrast from the basin’s depths. This juxtaposition of the highest and lowest points within the same park underscores the extreme nature of Death Valley’s landscape.

Lunch and Leisure at Stovepipe Wells

Colorful Sand Wave of Stovepipe Wells
Photo by Wilson Ye

Desert Dining: Head to Stovepipe Wells for a casual lunch, about a 30-minute drive from Badwater Basin. This small village offers dining options where you can refuel and relax before continuing your adventure.

  • Dining Delights: Choose from a variety of dining options available at Stovepipe Wells. The local eatery specializes in hearty, comforting dishes that satisfy the hunger built up from a morning of adventure. From juicy burgers to refreshing salads, there’s something to please every palate. Enjoy your meal in a casual setting where the decor and atmosphere pay homage to the pioneering spirit of the early explorers of Death Valley.
  • Relax and Recharge: After lunch, take advantage of the amenities offered in Stovepipe Wells. The village features a general store where you can stock up on supplies, souvenirs, and maybe some ice cream to beat the heat. For those looking to cool off, the village’s swimming pool is a refreshing retreat. Lounging by the poolside, you can relax and soak in the stunning desert vistas that surround you.
  • Explore the Village: Stovepipe Wells isn’t just a place to eat and run; it’s worth exploring. Take a leisurely stroll around the village to discover its quaint charm. You’ll find informational displays that offer insights into the area’s history and natural features. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about Death Valley’s environment and the adaptations that life here requires.

Afternoon Adventure: Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Sands of Time: The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are a testament to the diverse landscapes of Death Valley and 2 miles from the Stovepipe Wells. Spend your afternoon wandering among the dunes, where the shapes and patterns change with the wind.

  • Exploring the Dunes: The beauty of Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes lies in their accessibility and the freedom they offer. There are no designated trails, allowing you to create your own path through the soft sand. As you walk, the dunes unfold in various shapes and sizes, some reaching as high as 100 feet. The sound of the sand shifting underfoot and the sight of rare mesquite trees dotting the landscape add to the experience, making every step an adventure.
  • Photography Tips: The afternoon light at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes casts dramatic shadows, highlighting the dunes’ curves and textures. For the best photographs, aim to capture the contrast between light and shadow. Play with angles and perspectives—low shots can emphasize the dunes’ height, while panoramic views showcase their vastness. Remember, the dunes are most photogenic during the golden hours, when the sun is lower in the sky, enriching the colors and deepening the shadows.
  • Safety and Preparation: Venturing into the dunes, especially under the afternoon sun, requires preparation. Wear sun protection, including a hat and sunglasses, and apply sunscreen regularly. Carrying water is a must, as the trek can be dehydrating. Additionally, wearing closed-toe shoes can protect your feet from the hot sand. Always keep the park’s landmarks in sight to navigate your return easily.

Sunset at Dante’s View

Dante’s Viewpoint at Night
Dante’s Viewpoint at Night

A Heavenly View: Conclude your day with a drive to Dante’s View, about an hour from Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and Stovepipe Wells if you decide to go back and grab dinner from there. This mountaintop overlook provides one of the most spectacular vistas of Death Valley, especially at sunset.

  • Preparing for Sunset: To experience the full majesty of sunset at Dante’s View, plan to arrive at least 30 minutes before the sun begins to dip below the horizon. This gives you ample time to find the perfect spot and set up any photography equipment. The temperature can drop quickly after sunset, so bring along extra layers to stay warm as you watch the day turn into night.
  • Photography Tips: Sunset at Dante’s View is a dream come true for photographers. To capture the sprawling vistas, a wide-angle lens is recommended. Play with settings to catch the changing light, and consider using a tripod for stability, especially as the light fades. The moments just after the sun dips below the horizon can produce some of the most stunning photos, with the afterglow illuminating the valley in soft, pastel hues.
  • Embracing the Silence: Beyond the visual spectacle, Dante’s View at sunset offers a moment of profound peace and reflection. As the hustle of the day fades away, take the time to simply be present and soak in the silence of the desert. The tranquility of watching the sunset from such an awe-inspiring vantage point is a fitting end to a day spent exploring one of nature’s most extraordinary landscapes.

Stargazing: The Night Sky Above

If you’re not ready to leave, stargazing is a great way to end the adventure. After the sun sets and darkness blankets Death Valley National Park, the celestial show begins. Stargazing in Death Valley offers an unparalleled experience, thanks to the park’s remote location and minimal light pollution. The night sky here is one of the darkest in the United States, making it an ideal canvas for the Milky Way, constellations, and meteor showers to reveal their splendor.

  • Planning Your Stargazing Adventure: To maximize your stargazing experience, check the lunar calendar and aim for a night when the moon is least visible, as moonlight can diminish the visibility of stars. Familiarize yourself with the park’s best stargazing spots, such as Harmony Borax Works or the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, where the horizon stretches wide and unobstructed. Bring a blanket or a reclining chair, and dress warmly—the desert can get surprisingly cool at night.
  • Tools of the Trade: While the naked eye can see plenty, bringing binoculars or a telescope (like this portable one) enhances the experience, allowing you to spot celestial bodies in greater detail. A star chart or an astronomy app can also be invaluable tools for identifying constellations and planets. Remember to give your eyes time to adjust to the darkness, a process that can take about 30 minutes, to fully appreciate the depth of the night sky.
  • Embracing the Silence: As you stargaze, embrace the serene silence that envelops the desert at night. The quietude, punctuated only by the sounds of nature, adds a layer of tranquility to your astronomical exploration. It’s a moment to reflect, to dream, and to feel awe at the universe’s vast beauty and mystery.

Top Books for Death Valley National Park

The Explorer’s Guide to Death Valley National Park, Fourth Edition

The Explorer’s Guide to Death Valley National Park, Fourth Edition” isn’t just another guidebook; it’s a deep dive into one of the most extreme environments on Earth, wrapped up in an easy-to-digest format. This updated edition brings to light the park’s recent changes and challenges, like the Dingell Act adjustments and the Scotty’s Castle flood aftermath, all while keeping the adventurous spirit alive with new maps, stunning color photos, and comprehensive details on everything from hiking and biking to the rich cultural history and natural science of the area. Whether you’re a first-timer eager to explore the vast, stark beauty of Death Valley or a seasoned veteran looking to deepen your knowledge and appreciation, this guidebook is as indispensable as a bottle of water in the desert. It’s clear that the authors have poured extensive research and love into this book, offering insights not just on the trails, but on the very soul of Death Valley National Park.

Death Valley National Park: A History (America’s National Parks)

This read offers a profound and engaging exploration into the heart and soul of one of America’s most enigmatic landscapes. Far from being just a barren wasteland, this book uncovers the rich tapestry of environmental, cultural, and political narratives that have shaped Death Valley into the national treasure it is today. Starting from its geological origins and the lives of the Timbisha people, through the era of mineral exploitation and resort development, to the park’s hard-won battle for recognition and resources, the narrative is as compelling as it is informative. What makes this book stand out is its deep dive into the complexities and contradictions of preserving such a stark yet beautiful place. It’s not just a history book; it’s a story of survival, resilience, and the evolving understanding of what it means to protect natural wonders.

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Wizard Island on Crater Lake
National Parks

Crater Lake National Park for First-Timers: Essential Tips and Must-See Spots

Welcome to your ultimate guide to Crater Lake National Park, a crown jewel of natural beauty in the Pacific Northwest. Renowned for its deep blue waters and stunning scenic views, this guide is tailored for first-time visitors looking to make the most of their trip. From navigating the journey to pinpointing unmissable sights, this comprehensive overview ensures you won’t miss a beat.

Some posts on this site contain affiliate links, meaning if you book or buy something through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Planning Your Journey to Crater Lake

Embarking on an adventure to Crater Lake National Park begins with crafting the perfect plan to get you there. Nestled in the heart of Oregon, this natural wonder is accessible, yet remote enough to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Whether you’re flying in from afar or driving from a nearby city, understanding your options is the first step toward an unforgettable journey.

  • Flying In: For those coming from further afield, the nearest airports are in Medford, Oregon (about 80 miles from the park), and Klamath Falls, Oregon (about 60 miles). Both offer rental car services, which you can book in advance to ensure a seamless transition from air to land. From there, the drive to Crater Lake is scenic and straightforward, with well-marked signs guiding you to your destination.
  • Driving to Crater Lake: If you’re coming by car, you’re in for a treat. The routes to the park are as stunning as the destination itself. From the north, take Oregon Route 62, winding through lush forests and past rushing rivers. From the south, Route 97 offers breathtaking views of the Klamath Basin. Remember, the park has two main entrances – the north entrance is open seasonally, while the south entrance welcomes visitors year-round.
  • Best Time to Visit: Timing is everything when it comes to visiting Crater Lake. The peak season runs from July through September, offering the warmest weather and full access to park amenities. However, for those seeking solitude and don’t mind a bit of snow, visiting in the off-season can be magical. Winter transforms the park into a snowy wonderland, ideal for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Where to Stay: Accommodations Inside and Near the Park

Choosing the right accommodation is crucial to maximizing your Crater Lake adventure. Whether you prefer to slumber under the stars or enjoy the comforts of a cozy lodge, Crater Lake National Park and its surrounding areas offer a variety of options to suit every preference and budget.

  • Inside the Park:
    • Crater Lake Lodge: Experience historic charm with a stay at the Crater Lake Lodge. Overlooking the lake, this lodge offers stunning views and a rustic ambiance. Advance reservations are highly recommended, especially during the peak summer months.
    • Mazama Village Campground: For those who love the great outdoors, the Mazama Village Campground provides a perfect base to explore the park. With sites for tents and RVs, plus nearby amenities, it’s an ideal choice for families and groups.
  • Near the Park:
    • Union Creek Resort: Just a short drive from the park, this resort offers cozy cabins and vacation rentals, perfect for those looking for a comfortable retreat after a day of exploration.
    • Prospect Historic Hotel: Nestled in the nearby town of Prospect, this hotel serves as a charming gateway to the park. It’s a great option for travelers seeking a mix of adventure and history.

Navigating the Park: Transportation Tips and Tricks

Navigating Crater Lake National Park is an adventure in itself, with its vast landscapes and scenic beauty around every corner. Whether you’re driving yourself, hiking, or considering other transportation options, knowing the ins and outs can significantly enhance your visit.

  • Driving Around the Park:
    • Rim Drive: This scenic route offers breathtaking views of the lake and access to various trailheads and overlooks. It’s a must-do for first-time visitors. Be mindful of the weather, as parts of the road can be closed due to snow, even in summer.
    • Parking: During peak season, parking spots at popular viewpoints like Rim Village can fill up quickly. Arriving early in the morning or later in the afternoon can help you find a spot more easily and enjoy the views with fewer crowds.
  • Hiking and Biking: For those looking to explore the park’s natural beauty up close, Crater Lake offers an array of trails ranging from easy walks to challenging hikes. Biking is allowed on park roads but note that steep terrain and traffic can make it challenging. Always carry water, a map, and check trail conditions before setting out.
  • Park Shuttle Service: To ease congestion and provide a hassle-free way to explore, the park offers a seasonal shuttle service. This service, Wizard Island Shuttle, is a great option to access key locations without the worry of parking. It also allows you to enjoy the panoramic views without having to keep an eye on the road.

Must-See Spots in Crater Lake National Park

Wizard Island
Wizard Island on Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake National Park, with its deep blue waters and stunning landscapes, is full of must-see spots that enchant visitors. From panoramic vistas to serene trails, here’s where you absolutely must stop:

  • Rim Village: Start your adventure at Rim Village, where you can enjoy spectacular views of the lake. Don’t miss the Crater Lake Lodge and the Rim Visitor Center. It’s the perfect spot for those first awe-inspiring photos of the lake’s vivid blue waters.
  • Wizard Island: Accessible by boat tour, this cinder cone island offers unique hiking opportunities and incredible views back towards the crater rim. Hiking to the summit provides a different perspective of the lake and surrounding park.
  • Cleetwood Cove Trail: The only legal access to the lake’s shore, this trail is a must-do for visitors. The hike down is moderately strenuous but rewards with up-close views of the lake and the chance for a dip in its waters.
  • Watchman Overlook: Offering one of the best views for sunset, Watchman Overlook is a short hike away from the parking area and gives visitors a panoramic view of the lake and Wizard Island. It’s also an excellent spot for stargazing.
  • Pinnacles Overlook: Venture to the park’s southeast side to view the Pinnacles, where volcanic activity has sculpted ash and pumice into towering spires. This less-visited spot showcases the park’s volcanic history and is ideal for those looking for a quieter experience.

Each of these destinations within Crater Lake National Park offers a unique way to connect with nature, whether you’re seeking the thrill of a hike or the tranquility of panoramic views. From the geological wonder of Wizard Island to the peaceful shores at Cleetwood Cove, Crater Lake’s must-see spots are treasures waiting to be explored.

Hiking Trails for Every Level

Crater lake views hiking to Garfield peak
Crater lake views hiking to Garfield peak, Oregon

Crater Lake National Park is a hiker’s paradise, offering trails that cater to every level of experience. Whether you’re a family looking for a leisurely walk or an experienced hiker seeking a challenging ascent, the park has something special for you.

  • Easy Trails for Families and Beginners:
    • Sun Notch Trail: A short and sweet 0.8-mile round trip that provides stunning views of Crater Lake and the Phantom Ship. It’s an excellent choice for families, offering easy terrain and unforgettable vistas.
    • Godfrey Glen Trail: This 1.2-mile loop takes you through a tranquil forest setting, perfect for those seeking a peaceful walk. The trail is flat and accessible, ideal for beginners or those with young children.
  • Moderate Hikes with Rewarding Views:
    • Garfield Peak Trail: For those seeking a bit more adventure, this 3.6-mile round-trip hike offers panoramic views of Crater Lake and the surrounding peaks. The trail is well-maintained but can be steep in sections, making it a rewarding challenge for intermediate hikers.
    • Cleetwood Cove Trail: The only trail that leads down to the lake’s shore, this 2.2-mile round trip is moderately strenuous but offers the unique reward of accessing Crater Lake’s waters. Remember, the hike back up is quite steep!
  • Challenging Trails for the Experienced Hiker:
    • Mount Scott Trail: At 4.4 miles round trip, this is the park’s highest point and offers unmatched views of Crater Lake and beyond. The trail is challenging, with a steady ascent, but the effort is rewarded with a panoramic vista from the summit.

Capturing the Moment: Photography Tips

Woman looking at Crater Lake
View of Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park offers a plethora of breathtaking vistas, making it a paradise for photographers. Whether you’re a seasoned photographer with a DSLR or a casual snapper using a smartphone, these tips will help you capture the park’s majesty in all its glory.

  • Understanding Light:
    • Golden Hours: The hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are magical times when the light casts a warm glow over the landscape. During these times, Crater Lake’s blues appear most vibrant, and the shadows create dramatic landscapes.
    • Midday Challenges: Bright midday light can flatten the visual depth of your photos. If visiting during these hours, seek out shaded areas or use a polarizing filter to reduce glare and enhance the sky’s and water’s blues.
  • Iconic Shots and Unique Perspectives:
    • Rim Village: Offers classic views of the lake. Experiment with different focal lengths; a wide angle can capture the lake’s expanse, while a telephoto lens can isolate distant features like Wizard Island.
    • Seek New Angles: Don’t just stick to the popular spots. Trails like Garfield Peak or Watchman Overlook provide higher vantage points. For a unique perspective, try capturing reflections of the lake in puddles or from less frequented west side overlooks.
  • Night Sky Photography:
    • Stellar Displays: Crater Lake’s dark skies offer fantastic opportunities for night sky photography, including star trails and the Milky Way. Use a tripod and a long exposure to capture the stars’ movement or the galaxy’s swirl.
    • Light Painting: For an artistic touch, use a flashlight to gently illuminate foreground elements like trees or rocks against the backdrop of a star-filled sky.
  • Respecting the Environment:
    • Remember, while capturing the beauty of Crater Lake, it’s essential to respect wildlife and the natural landscape. Stick to designated paths and viewpoints to minimize impact. Always prioritize the environment over getting the perfect shot.

Activities Beyond Hiking

Crater Lake in Winter
Crater Lake in Winter

Crater Lake National Park isn’t just a haven for hikers; it’s a playground for all kinds of adventurers. From serene boat tours to thrilling snowshoe walks, the park offers a myriad of activities that allow visitors to engage with its natural beauty in diverse and exciting ways.

  • Boat Tours to Wizard Island:
    • Embark on a scenic boat tour that takes you across the crystal-clear waters of Crater Lake to Wizard Island. This is a unique opportunity to see the lake from a different perspective and explore the cinder cone island up close. Tours typically run during the summer months, and reservations are highly recommended due to their popularity.
    • Once on Wizard Island, you can hike to the summit or enjoy fishing in the pristine waters, making for an unforgettable experience.
  • Stargazing Nights:
    • Crater Lake’s remote location and clear skies provide perfect conditions for stargazing. The park organizes night sky viewing events, where rangers guide you through the constellations, planets, and galaxies visible overhead. It’s a mesmerizing experience to witness the Milky Way’s band stretching across the sky, with shooting stars occasionally darting through the darkness.
    • Bring a blanket, some warm clothes, and a thermos of hot chocolate for a cozy night under the stars.
  • Snowshoeing Adventures:
    • In the winter months, Crater Lake transforms into a snowy wonderland, offering a whole new array of activities. Ranger-led snowshoe walks are a popular choice, providing a fun and educational way to explore the winter landscape. The park provides snowshoes free of charge, making this an accessible activity for everyone, regardless of experience.
    • These walks not only give you a unique view of the park’s winter beauty but also teach about the park’s geology, wildlife, and history.
  • Biking Around Rim Drive:
    • For those who prefer wheels to walking, biking around Rim Drive is an exhilarating way to take in the panoramic views of Crater Lake. With challenging ascents and thrilling descents, the road offers a rewarding experience for cyclists. Early summer, when parts of the road are still closed to motorized vehicles, is the best time to enjoy a quieter ride.
    • Ensure you’re well-prepared with water, snacks, and a repair kit, as the route can be demanding. But the effort is well worth it for the unparalleled views and sense of achievement.

Dining Options: What and Where to Eat

Finding the perfect spot to dine can be just as important as planning your hikes and activities at Crater Lake National Park. Whether you’re looking for a quick snack to fuel your adventures or a sit-down meal to relax and enjoy the park’s natural beauty, there are options to satisfy every appetite.

  • Rim Village Café:
    • For a casual dining experience with a view, the Rim Village Café offers a variety of options, from sandwiches and salads to more hearty fare. It’s the perfect place to grab a bite while enjoying spectacular views of Crater Lake. Don’t forget to try their famous huckleberry ice cream – a treat well deserved after a day of exploring.
    • The café also provides grab-and-go options, ideal for those looking to picnic along the rim or on a trail within the park.
  • Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room:
    • If you’re seeking a more formal dining experience, the Crater Lake Lodge Dining Room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with an emphasis on local Oregon cuisine. The dining room’s large windows offer diners breathtaking views of the lake, making it a memorable place for a meal.
    • Reservations are recommended, especially for dinner, as it’s a popular spot for guests to unwind and enjoy the sunset over the lake.
  • Mazama Village Store:
    • Located near the Mazama Campground, the Mazama Village Store is your go-to for self-catering supplies. Here, you can stock up on groceries, snacks, and all the essentials for a perfect picnic or campfire meal. They also offer a selection of prepared foods for a quick and easy meal solution.
    • This is a great spot to gather ingredients for a meal under the stars, offering everything from fresh produce to local wines and craft beers.
  • Bringing Your Own Food:
    • For those who love to cook, bringing your own food and utilizing the picnic areas scattered throughout the park can be a rewarding experience. Many sites offer picnic tables and grills, allowing you to prepare your meal surrounded by nature. It’s a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the park’s serene beauty while enjoying your favorite foods.

Top Books for Crater Lake National Park

Trails of Crater Lake National Park & Oregon Caves National Monument

“Trails of Crater Lake National Park & Oregon Caves National Monument” is your ultimate travel buddy for exploring the breathtaking landscapes of Oregon. This guidebook doesn’t just walk you through the trails; it immerses you in everything from the vibrant wildflowers to the local wildlife, all while dishing out practical tips on where to crash after a day of adventuring. The detailed trail descriptions make navigation a breeze, and the illustrated chapters on the parks’ history and geology are like having a personal tour guide in your backpack.

Crater Lake National Park (Images of America)

This offers a visually stunning journey through the transformation of Mount Mazama into the breathtaking Crater Lake. This book is a treasure trove of historical photographs and stories that chart the park’s evolution from a volcanic powerhouse to a serene national treasure. The narrative is as captivating as the images, taking readers on a geological and ecological adventure that is as educational as it is visually appealing. It’s an accessible and engaging read that makes the history of Crater Lake National Park come alive, proving that sometimes, the most mesmerizing stories are those carved by the earth itself.

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park Sign
National Parks

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Hidden Gems in the Area

When one thinks of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, they likely envision the breathtaking underground wonders and the awe-inspiring flight of bats. But, the area surrounding the park is also brimming with hidden gems waiting to be explored. From pristine waterfalls to captivating desert flora and fauna, this article will take you on a journey to discover the lesser-known attractions in the vicinity of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico.

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Sitting Bull Falls – A Natural Oasis

Sitting Bull Falls is a hidden gem in the heart of the desert, just 32 miles west of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It’s a true oasis in the arid landscape, featuring a stunning 150-foot waterfall cascading into a cool, clear pool.

Take a refreshing dip in the pool or enjoy a picnic surrounded by the lush vegetation that thrives in this microclimate. The falls are also a fantastic spot for birdwatching and wildlife photography. So, if you’re looking to escape the desert heat or simply appreciate the beauty of nature, Sitting Bull Falls is a must-visit.

Here are a few tips for visiting Sitting Bull Falls:

  • Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, as the hike to the falls can be slippery.
  • Bring plenty of water and snacks, especially if you plan on hiking to the top of the falls.
  • If you plan on swimming, be careful of the cold water and the slippery rocks at the bottom of the pool.

Living Desert Zoo & Gardens – A Unique Desert Experience

Chihuahuan Desert
Chihuahuan Desert

Nestled in the Chihuahuan Desert, the Living Desert Zoo & Gardens offers a unique experience for visitors interested in the desert’s flora and fauna and it’s about a 10-minute drive from Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It’s not your typical zoo; here, you’ll encounter animals and plants native to the desert, providing a fascinating insight into this ecosystem.

As you explore the gardens, you’ll encounter a breathtaking array of cacti, succulents, and desert flora, each showcasing its remarkable survival strategies in a harsh environment. The zoo itself features captivating desert-dwelling creatures like the elusive bobcat, the charming prairie dog, and an array of reptiles, all thriving in their natural habitat.

The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens isn’t just a place to observe animals; it’s an educational journey through the complex web of life in the desert. The exhibits are thoughtfully designed to provide insight into how these creatures have evolved and adapted to thrive in challenging conditions. It’s a perfect opportunity to gain a deeper appreciation for the intricate balance of life in the desert.

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park is a great place to visit for people of all ages. The zoo is small enough to see in a day, but it has a wide variety of animals to see. The gardens are also beautiful and well-maintained.

Here are some of the things you can do at the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens State Park:

  • Take a guided tour of the zoo.
  • Feed the animals.
  • Explore the gardens.
  • Attend an educational program.
  • Have a picnic.
  • Play in the children’s garden.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park – A Hiker’s Paradise

Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Photo by Ryuta F.

While not a exactly a hidden gem, it’s worth mentioning another national park. Just a short drive from Carlsbad Caverns National Park, you’ll find Guadalupe Mountains National Park, a true paradise for hikers and nature enthusiasts. It boasts some of the most extensive and rugged wilderness landscapes in Texas. It is approximately 40 miles east of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Embark on hiking adventures along challenging trails, including the iconic Guadalupe Peak Trail, which leads to the highest point in Texas. The park also features diverse flora, fauna, and stunning vistas that will take your breath away. Don’t forget your camera, as this is an outdoor photographer’s dream.

Brantley Lake State Park – A Water Lover’s Haven

Brantley Lake State Park
Photo by Mike Goad

For those who crave water-based activities, Brantley Lake State Park is the ideal destination. Located about 12 miles north of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, it’s a haven for boating, fishing, and camping enthusiasts.

Spend a day on the lake fishing for catfish, bass, or walleye. If you’re more into boating, you can rent a kayak or paddleboard to explore the scenic waters. With well-maintained campgrounds, you can also enjoy stargazing by night and hiking by day.

Carlsbad Museum & Art Center – A Cultural Gem

While the natural wonders of Carlsbad Caverns National Park are undoubtedly the main attraction, the Carlsbad Museum & Art Center offers a different kind of experience. This cultural gem houses an impressive collection of art, historical artifacts, and exhibits that tell the story of Carlsbad and the surrounding area.

Stroll through the art galleries showcasing both local and international artists’ work, or immerse yourself in the history of the region. It’s a perfect place to gain a deeper understanding of the community’s heritage.

Bats at Sunset – A Spectacular Natural Phenomenon

Bats flying at sunset
Flock of bats flying at sunset

Though Carlsbad Caverns National Park is famous for its caves, one of the lesser-known yet astonishing attractions is the evening emergence of bats. Every evening, from late spring to early autumn, thousands of bats exit the cave in an awe-inspiring spectacle. As the sun begins to set, these winged creatures take flight, creating a dark ribbon against the golden sky. It’s a mesmerizing display of nature’s precision and beauty.

But what makes this phenomenon even more captivating is the educational aspect. Carlsbad Caverns National Park offers interpretive programs where rangers provide insights into the lives and behaviors of these fascinating creatures. Learn about the various species of bats that call the caverns home and the crucial role they play in the ecosystem by consuming insects, including agricultural pests.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park Tours – An In-Depth Exploration

Carlsband Caverns Cave

While Carlsbad Caverns National Park itself is a well-known attraction, many visitors don’t realize the range of tours available. These tours offer a more in-depth look at the park’s wonders, from the King’s Palace tour to the adventurous Lower Cave tour.

1. King’s Palace Tour: If you’re eager to venture deeper into the cave system, the King’s Palace Tour is a must. It takes you through a majestic chamber adorned with stunning formations, from delicate stalactites to enormous columns. The journey unveils the geological history of the caves, showing how the intricate formations were sculpted over eons.

2. Lower Cave Tour: For the adventurous at heart, the Lower Cave Tour is a thrilling option. This tour takes you on an underground trek through narrow passages, where you’ll encounter unique rock features and delicate formations. Exploring the uncharted lower realms of the cave system is an experience that few have had the privilege to enjoy.

3. Slaughter Canyon Cave Tour: For those looking to go off the beaten path, the Slaughter Canyon Cave Tour offers a chance to explore a remote and pristine cave. This journey takes you into a world less traveled, where you’ll witness awe-inspiring formations and perhaps even spot some of the cave’s unique inhabitants.

4. Spider Cave Tour: If you’re intrigued by the mysteries of the cave’s darker corners, the Spider Cave Tour is a compelling choice. This tour delves into an intriguing underground realm with unique wildlife and peculiar cave formations. It’s an adventure that introduces you to the enigmatic side of the cave system.

Christmas on the Pecos – A Festive Experience

Pecos River

If you’re visiting Carlsbad Caverns National Park during the holiday season, don’t miss Christmas on the Pecos. It’s a magical boat tour along the Pecos River, where you can admire beautifully decorated homes and landscapes along the riverbanks. It is about 25 miles southwest of Carlsbad Caverns National Park in Carlsbad.

Every year, local residents deck the halls, or in this case, the riverbanks, with a spectacular display of holiday lights and decorations. As you embark on a boat tour along the Pecos River, you’ll be surrounded by a twinkling wonderland, with beautifully adorned homes and landscapes. The festive atmosphere is truly heartwarming.

The tour offers a chance to immerse yourself in the holiday spirit and enjoy the charm of the season. The boat captains share stories and historical insights about the decorated homes, making it not just a visual treat but an educational experience as well.

Top Books for Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns: The Story Behind the Scenery

This book offers a captivating exploration of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, a gem in southeastern New Mexico that became a National Park in 1930 and a World Heritage Site in 1995. Renowned for housing some of the world’s most exceptional limestone caves, the narrative delves into the contrasting worlds within the park. It highlights the stark differences between the vibrant, sunlit surface of the Chihuahuan Desert, rich with distinct flora and fauna, and the mysterious, pitch-black depths of the caverns below, home to unique rock formations and minerals. This dichotomy paints a picture of two parks in one, offering readers an insightful look into the diverse beauty and geological significance of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Carlsbad and Carlsbad Caverns (Images of America)

This book offers a compelling narrative of Carlsbad, a community in New Mexico shaped by visionaries and marked by significant historical events. Charles B. Eddy’s dream transformed a modest tent city into a thriving town on the Pecos River, thanks to one of the largest irrigation projects of the time. The discovery of the Carlsbad Caverns by James Larkin White, and their documentation by photographer Ray V. Davis, unveiled the hidden wonders beneath the desert. The book also recounts Carlsbad’s involvement in World War II, with local members of the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery units enduring the Bataan Death March. Carlsbad’s story continues with the discovery of a substantial potash deposit, sparking agricultural growth and bringing prosperity. The town’s role didn’t diminish in the nuclear age; it contributed significantly with the 1961 Gnome Project detonation and the ongoing Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, enhancing America’s knowledge in nuclear energy and waste management. This book not only chronicles Carlsbad’s rich history but also highlights its impact on both local and national levels.

Additional great options for Carlsbad Caverns National Park

White’s City Cavern Inn – White’s City Cavern Inn in Carlsbad offers a strategically located and culturally enriching stay, just an 8-minute walk from the stunning Carlsbad Caverns National Park. It’s an ideal base for exploring the area’s natural wonders, with attractions like the Bat Flight Program, Slaughter Canyon Cave, the Big Room, and the Carlsbad Caverns National Park Visitor Center all within a short 12-minute drive. The inn is also conveniently close to cultural sites such as the Carlsbad Community Theatre and the Carlsbad Museum & Art Center. For those seeking a mix of nature and culture, the nearby Living Desert Zoo & Gardens State Park and Carlsbad Water Park offer additional recreational options. This location makes White’s City Cavern Inn a great choice for travelers looking to experience the best of Carlsbad’s natural and cultural offerings.

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Bryce Canyon National Park
National Parks

Bryce Canyon’s Hidden Gems: Unveiling Nature’s Best-Kept Secrets

Bryce Canyon National Park is celebrated for its striking hoodoos and mesmerizing amphitheaters, drawing thousands of visitors each year. Yet, beyond the iconic viewpoints and well-trodden trails, lies a world of hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. In this guide, we embark on an adventure to unveil Bryce Canyon’s hidden gems, those lesser-known trails, viewpoints, and natural wonders that often escape the spotlight. Join us as we explore these secret corners and reveal why they deserve a spot on your Bryce Canyon itinerary.

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Mossy Cave Trail – A Hidden Oasis in the Desert

Nestled at the park’s northern edge, the Mossy Cave Trail is a serene escape from the crowds. A short, family-friendly hike leads you to a delicate waterfall and a hidden alcove with lush moss. This unexpected oasis is a refreshing surprise in the arid desert landscape.

Yovimpa Point – A Panoramic Vista Less Traveled

While Bryce Point and Inspiration Point get most of the attention, Yovimpa Point offers a quieter, equally breathtaking panorama of the canyon. Here, you’ll find solitude and a chance to soak in the grandeur of the amphitheaters without the crowds.

Yovimpa Point sits on the southern rim of the Bryce Amphitheater, providing a unique perspective on the hoodoos and rock formations that define the park’s landscape. What sets it apart is the tranquility you’ll find here. While other viewpoints might be bustling with tourists, Yovimpa Point often offers a peaceful and contemplative atmosphere, making it an ideal spot for reflection and connection with nature.

The panoramic vistas from Yovimpa Point stretch for miles, allowing you to fully appreciate the geological wonderland that Bryce Canyon represents. The hoodoos, those whimsical and intricate rock sculptures, take center stage as they cast dramatic shadows across the amphitheater floor. It’s a place where you can marvel at the forces of erosion and time that have shaped this unique landscape.

Hat Shop – A Quirky Natural Formation

Venture off the beaten path to discover the Hat Shop, a unique collection of hoodoos that resembles a cluster of fanciful hats. It’s a short, moderate hike to this hidden wonder, but the reward is a whimsical landscape that sparks the imagination.

Bristlecone Loop – Ancient Trees and Starry Skies

The Bristlecone Loop is a short, family-friendly trail that winds its way through a forest of ancient bristlecone pines. These trees are among the oldest living organisms on Earth, with some dating back nearly 5,000 years. As you meander along the trail, you’ll encounter these ancient sentinels, their twisted and gnarled branches testaments to the harsh conditions they’ve endured over millennia.

While the daytime hike is a rewarding experience, the Bristlecone Loop truly comes alive after the sun sets. Bryce Canyon is designated as an International Dark Sky Park, meaning the night skies here are exceptionally clear and free from light pollution. Stopping at one of the trail’s viewpoints after dark reveals a breathtaking celestial display. The Milky Way arches overhead, and constellations twinkle with crystal clarity.

As you stand beneath the ancient bristlecone pines, it’s easy to imagine the centuries they’ve witnessed and the countless stars that have adorned the night sky above them. If you’re an astrophotographer or simply an enthusiast of the cosmos, the Bristlecone Loop provides an ideal setting for capturing the magic of Bryce Canyon’s starry nights.

Aquarius Plateau – A Remote Adventure

The Aquarius Plateau is an often-overlooked part of Bryce Canyon. It offers opportunities for backcountry exploration, solitude, and rugged beauty. Consider an overnight backpacking trip to fully immerse yourself in this hidden gem.

Natural Bridge – A Marvel of Erosion

Bryce Canyon Natural Bridge
Photo by Oleg Chursin

Hidden away in the northern reaches of Bryce Canyon National Park, the Natural Bridge stands as a testament to the artistry of erosion. While many visitors flock to the park’s more famous viewpoints, this hidden gem offers a quiet, awe-inspiring spectacle. Carved by the relentless forces of wind and water, the Natural Bridge is an exquisite example of nature’s sculpting prowess.

The short hike to the Natural Bridge begins along a gently meandering trail through the pine-scented forest. As you approach, the first glimpse of the bridge might leave you breathless. Standing beneath its massive stone arch, you’ll feel dwarfed by its grandeur. Sunlight filters through the delicate patterns in the rock, creating a mesmerizing play of shadows that dance along the ground.

What makes the Natural Bridge even more captivating is its role in the ongoing geological drama of Bryce Canyon. Erosion continues to shape this formation, albeit at an imperceptibly slow pace. Every visit to the bridge offers a snapshot in the ever-evolving story of the park’s geology.

Peekaboo Loop Trail – Hoodoo Magic Beyond the Rim

While the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop are well-known trails, the Peekaboo Loop offers a more remote and equally mesmerizing experience. Descend into the heart of the canyon and encounter a maze of hoodoos that feel like a secret world.

Farview Point – A Serene Sunrise Alternative

Bryce Canyon Farview Point
Photo by Lacza

Sunrise at Sunrise Point is undoubtedly popular, but consider Farview Point for a quieter sunrise experience. The views are just as breathtaking, and the serene ambiance makes it a hidden gem for early risers.

Arriving at Farview Point before dawn is like stepping into a tranquil sanctuary. The brisk morning air fills your lungs as you wait in anticipation of the first rays of sunlight. As the sun crests the horizon, it bathes the amphitheater in warm hues of orange and pink. The hoodoos, those whimsical rock formations, cast elongated shadows that seem to dance with the light.

One of the beauties of Farview Point is its peacefulness. You’ll likely have more elbow room here than at the more popular sunrise spots. This solitude allows you to connect more intimately with the landscape, to listen to the wind whisper through the pine trees and the distant songs of awakening birds.

For photographers, Farview Point offers a unique opportunity to capture Bryce Canyon’s grandeur without the crowds. The soft, diffused morning light enhances the details and colors of the hoodoos, creating a painterly canvas for your shots. It’s a place where you can exercise your creativity and capture the essence of Bryce Canyon at your own pace.

Bryce Canyon Pines – Your Cozy Hideaway

While not a natural wonder, the Bryce Canyon Pines offers a charming, family-owned lodging option that’s often overlooked. Located just outside the park, it provides a warm and welcoming base for your adventures.

Top Books for Bryce Canyon National Park

Lonely Planet Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks 4

Packed with insider tips and up-to-date recommendations, this book goes beyond the typical tourist hotspots. Whether you’re conquering the Cable Mountain trail in Zion, embarking on a horseback adventure through Bryce Canyon, or taking a refreshing dip in the Virgin River, this guide equips you with the knowledge to craft an unforgettable itinerary.

But this book is more than just a checklist of sights. It delves into the heart of these majestic landscapes, revealing hidden gems and local secrets. With its engaging writing and helpful maps, Lonely Planet ignites your curiosity and inspires you to truly experience the magic of Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Moon Zion & Bryce

“Moon Zion & Bryce” is a comprehensive guide to Utah’s awe-inspiring national parks, catering to both casual sightseers and adventurous outdoor enthusiasts. Packed with flexible itineraries, detailed trail maps, and insider tips, it helps you craft the perfect trip, whether you’re seeking a quick day hike or an epic week-long exploration. From capturing breathtaking sunrises to navigating heart-pounding white-water rapids, the book encourages you to immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes, ancient history, and vibrant nearby towns. With expert advice on everything from camping options to avoiding crowds, “Moon Zion & Bryce” equips you with the knowledge and inspiration to unlock the magic of Utah’s natural wonders.

Frommer’s Utah

Ditch the tourist traps and delve into the heart of Utah with Frommer’s Utah! This guidebook bursts with insider knowledge, leading you from the awe-inspiring landscapes of Bryce Canyon and Zion to the slopeside havens of Park City. Hike secret trails, camp under star-studded skies, and discover the soul of Utah, from its Native American heritage to its quirky pioneer history. Packed with opinionated reviews, budget-friendly options, and star ratings, Frommer’s Utah equips you with the tools to craft your own unforgettable adventure in the Beehive State.

Additional great options for Bryce Canyon National Park

1 Day Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park Tour – Embark on a captivating tour of Utah’s iconic Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Departs from Las Vegas.

10 Day US National Park Tour of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada– Trafalgar has a great 10-day adventure through Utah’s iconic national parks and stunning landscapes, where you can experience the beauty of Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks.

Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel – The Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel is one of the best hotels in Bryce Canyon City with a variety of amenities, including free breakfast, free parking, and a free airport shuttle.

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Photo of Devils Garden in Utah
National Parks

Arches Beyond the Arch: Uncovering Hidden Gems and Lesser-Known Sights

Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, is a place of wonders known worldwide for its remarkable sandstone arches. But beyond the iconic Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch lies a realm of lesser-known treasures waiting to be unveiled. In this exploration, we take you on a journey through the secrets of Arches National Park, where hidden gems and enigmatic sights redefine your perception of this desert wonderland. From secluded arches in Devils Garden to the maze-like Fiery Furnace, towering titans in the Windows Section, and the magic of stargazing after dark, discover why Arches is not just a national park; it’s a world of captivating surprises. If you’re ready to delve into the heart of this natural wonder, let’s embark on a trail less traveled.

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Devils Garden: Where the Trail Unfolds

Photo of Devils Garden in Utah
Photo by Achim Ruhnau

Devils Garden is often the first stop for visitors, but it holds a lot more than meets the eye. Beyond the well-trodden path leading to Landscape Arch lies a trail that takes you deeper into the heart of this mystical desert landscape. As you navigate the primitive trails of the Devils Garden Loop, you’ll encounter a series of hidden arches, such as Partition Arch and Navajo Arch. These secluded gems offer a more intimate experience of Arches’ natural beauty. The trail also presents unique rock formations and the surreal sight of pine trees growing improbably amidst the desert rocks.

The Fiery Furnace: A Maze of Red Rock

Few areas in Arches National Park remain as enigmatic as the Fiery Furnace. This labyrinth of towering red rock formations and narrow passages is accessible only through a guided tour or by obtaining a permit for a self-guided hike. The Fiery Furnace isn’t just a collection of arches but a mesmerizing maze of canyons and fins. As you navigate this intriguing landscape, be prepared for surprises around every corner, from hidden arches like Surprise Arch to intriguing rock sculptures formed by millennia of erosion.

Towering Titans: The Windows Section

While the Windows Section isn’t exactly a hidden gem, it’s often overshadowed by the more famous arches. Yet, it’s here that you’ll find some of Arches National Park’s most captivating sights. Turret Arch, Double Arch, and the North and South Windows are all easily accessible from the parking lot, making them perfect for a shorter visit. However, venture a little further along the primitive trails, and you’ll discover viewpoints that offer breathtaking perspectives on these natural wonders.

Exploring Arches After Dark: Stargazing in the Park

Arches National Park, Park Avenue Trail at night
Arches National Park, Park Avenue Trail at night

One of the lesser-known but equally spectacular experiences in Arches National Park is stargazing. As the sun sets, the park transforms into an astronomical wonderland. With minimal light pollution, the night sky comes alive with stars, planets, and celestial events. Consider joining a ranger-led stargazing program or, if you’re well-versed in astronomy, bring your telescope for a night of cosmic exploration.

Petrified Puzzles: The Remarkable Petrified Dunes

While the towering arches often steal the spotlight, the Petrified Dunes of Arches National Park hold their own unique charm. Located near the park’s entrance, this area offers a mesmerizing landscape reminiscent of an alien world. These ancient sand dunes, frozen in time, have solidified into rock over millions of years. The result is a surreal terrain of rippling, petrified sand that you can explore via an easy, family-friendly trail.

As you amble through the Petrified Dunes, you’ll notice the intriguing textures and patterns etched into the stone. Some portions of the trail wind through narrow slots between the dunes, creating a sense of wandering through a natural labyrinth. This area is particularly magical during sunrise and sunset when the low-angle sunlight accentuates the dunes’ textures, casting dramatic shadows that transform the landscape into a photographer’s dream. The Petrified Dunes offer a serene and contemplative contrast to the bustling arches, making them a must-visit for those seeking a quieter and more introspective side of Arches National Park.

Recommended Reading for Arches National Park

Best Easy Day Hikes Canyonlands and Arches National Parks

Packed with detailed trail descriptions, hidden gems, and maps, this guidebook leads you to the author’s favorite short hikes in these two iconic parks. Whether you’re a novice hiker or an experienced adventurer, these well-defined and easy-to-follow trails will take you on a journey through some of the most awe-inspiring sections of the parks.

Additional great options for Arches National Park

The Moab Resort – The Moab Resort is a highly-rated hotel with a variety of room types and amenities, including a pool, hot tub, and fitness center. Exceptional rating of 9.6 from 308 reviews.

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National Parks

Discover Hidden Gems: 5 Underrated National Parks in the US

Are you tired of crowded tourist hotspots and seeking a unique adventure in the heart of nature? Look no further! In this blog post, we’ll take you off the beaten path to uncover five hidden gems among the US national parks. These underrated destinations offer awe-inspiring landscapes, abundant wildlife, and unforgettable experiences. So, pack your bags, grab your camera, and let’s embark on a journey to these lesser traveled to National Parks!

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1. Biscayne National Park (Florida)

Where Land Meets Sea

Welcome to Biscayne National Park, a hidden paradise on the coast of Southern Florida. With its turquoise waters, lush mangrove forests, and vibrant coral reefs, this park is a haven for snorkelers, divers, and nature enthusiasts alike. Dive into crystal-clear waters to witness stunning underwater ecosystems teeming with colorful fish and explore shipwrecks from centuries past. Don’t miss the chance to kayak through mangrove trails or embark on a scenic boat tour, where you might spot playful dolphins or graceful manatees. Biscayne National Park is where land meets sea, and adventure meets tranquility.

Top Attractions in Biscayne National Park

  • Snorkeling and Scuba Diving: Biscayne National Park is renowned for its crystal-clear waters and vibrant coral reefs. Visitors can explore the underwater world, encountering colorful fish, coral formations, and other marine life. The Maritime Heritage Trail, a series of shipwrecks, is also popular among divers.
  • Boca Chita Key: This island within the park is home to the iconic Boca Chita Lighthouse, which offers stunning views of Biscayne Bay. Visitors can climb to the top of the lighthouse for panoramic vistas, relax on the beach, or enjoy a picnic.
  • Elliott Key: The largest island in the park, Elliott Key, offers beautiful sandy beaches, nature trails, and opportunities for boating and camping. It’s a great place to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy outdoor activities.
  • Dante Fascell Visitor Center: Located on the mainland, the visitor center provides an excellent introduction to the park. It offers informative exhibits, ranger-led programs, and educational displays about the park’s diverse ecosystems and wildlife.
  • Boat Tours and Kayaking: Exploring Biscayne National Park by boat or kayak is a fantastic way to experience its unique landscapes. Several companies offer guided tours, allowing visitors to navigate through mangrove forests, shallow flats, and the stunning coastline.

Top Hotels near Biscayne National Park

  • Beach Haus Key Biscayne: Great for families! Beach Haus Key Biscayne is a highly-rated aparthotel with a variety of room options to suit different needs. It is located near the beach and offers amenities such as a pool, free parking, and a kitchen.
  • The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne: If you’re looking for a private beach! The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami is an upscale resort on the beach with a variety of amenities and room options to suit different needs and budgets. It is also located near Key Biscayne Beaches, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, and Crandon Park. The resort is a 28-minute drive from Miami International Airport.

Best Tours in Biscayne National Park

  • Boat Tour of Historic Stiltsville: Embark on a unique and memorable boat tour to Stiltsville, a historic neighborhood on the water inside Biscayne National Park, and experience the vibrant sights and culture of Miami along the way.

Fun Fact

Biscayne National Park is home to the world’s third-largest coral reef system. The park encompasses over 173,000 acres of marine and terrestrial environments, with about 95% of the park being underwater. The coral reefs in Biscayne National Park are teeming with diverse marine life, including over 200 species of fish and various species of corals, sponges, and sea turtles. It’s a fantastic destination for snorkeling, scuba diving, and exploring the vibrant underwater world.

2. Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

The Majestic Floodplain Forest

Nestled in South Carolina, Congaree National Park is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. It boasts the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. As you wander through the elevated boardwalks and hiking trails, you’ll find yourself surrounded by towering trees, tranquil waterways, and a symphony of bird calls. Congaree offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in nature’s tranquility and witness the delicate balance of the floodplain forest ecosystem. Canoe or kayak along the Congaree River for a different perspective and a chance to spot fascinating wildlife. Congaree National Park is a majestic escape into the heart of nature.

Top Attractions in Congaree National Park

  • Boardwalk Loop Trail: This 2.4-mile loop trail is a popular attraction for visitors. It takes you through a section of the park’s old-growth bottomland hardwood forest, allowing you to experience the towering trees, including some of the tallest in the eastern United States. The elevated boardwalk makes it easy to navigate through the swampy terrain.
  • Canoeing and Kayaking: Congaree National Park is known for its waterways, and exploring by canoe or kayak is a great way to experience the park’s wilderness. Paddling along Cedar Creek provides an opportunity to observe the park’s flora and fauna up close, including cypress trees, birds, turtles, and possibly even alligators.
  • Weston Lake Loop Trail: This 4.4-mile loop trail offers a chance to explore a different part of the park. It takes you around Weston Lake, providing scenic views and opportunities for birdwatching. The trail passes through various habitats, including wetlands and pine forests.
  • Ranger-Guided Programs: The park offers a range of ranger-led programs and guided hikes, providing educational and interpretive experiences. These programs cover various topics, such as the park’s ecology, cultural history, and nighttime explorations.
  • Wilderness Camping: Congaree National Park offers designated backcountry campsites for those looking to spend a night immersed in nature. Camping permits are required, and visitors can enjoy a serene and peaceful experience in the park’s remote areas.

Top Hotels near Congaree National Park

  • Graduate Columbia: The Graduate Columbia, S.C. is a highly-rated Art Deco hotel in Downtown Columbia, near the University of South Carolina. The hotel has a 9.4/10 rating on Expedia and is considered “Exceptional”.
  • Hotel Trundle: It is a small boutique hotel in Downtown Columbia, South Carolina. It is close to the University of South Carolina and other popular attractions. It’s a 16-minute drive from Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

Fun Fact

A lesser-known fact about Congaree National Park is that it contains the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States. These ancient trees, including towering bald cypress and water tupelo, can reach impressive heights and diameters. Some of the trees in Congaree National Park are estimated to be over 1,000 years old. This makes the park a remarkable living museum of the forest ecosystems that once covered vast areas of the southeastern region. Additionally, the park is home to one of the highest canopies of deciduous trees in the world, creating a unique and awe-inspiring natural environment.

3. North Cascades National Park (Washington)

A Mountain Wonderland

North Cascades National Park, located in Washington State, is a hidden gem that will leave you breathless. With its rugged peaks, cascading waterfalls, and pristine alpine lakes, this park is a haven for hikers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts. Lace up your hiking boots and explore trails that wind through majestic forests, leading you to breathtaking vistas and roaring waterfalls. With over 300 glaciers, North Cascades offers a unique opportunity to witness the raw power of nature. Whether you’re camping under starry skies or spotting elusive wildlife, North Cascades National Park is a mountain wonderland that will captivate your soul.

Top Attractions in North Cascades National Park

  • Cascade Pass: This iconic hiking trail offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. The trailhead is accessible from the North Cascades Highway, and the hike provides stunning vistas of the rugged peaks and alpine meadows.
  • Diablo Lake: Known for its stunning turquoise color, Diablo Lake is a popular attraction in the park. Visitors can enjoy scenic drives along Highway 20 or take a boat tour to appreciate the vibrant glacial meltwater that gives the lake its unique hue.
  • Ross Lake: Spanning over 20 miles, Ross Lake offers opportunities for boating, kayaking, and fishing. The lake is surrounded by pristine wilderness and provides access to numerous hiking trails and camping spots.
  • Hidden Lake Lookout: This challenging hike rewards adventurers with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the Hidden Lake below. The trail is renowned for its alpine wildflowers and is a must-do for experienced hikers.
  • Stehekin: Accessible only by boat, plane, or hiking, the remote community of Stehekin is a hidden gem within the park. Visitors can explore the picturesque valley, enjoy outdoor activities, and immerse themselves in the tranquil beauty of the area.

Top Hotels near North Cascades National Park

  • Rolling Huts: Rolling Huts is a campground in Winthrop, Washington that offers a unique lodging experience in modern, minimalist cabins.
  • Ski-In Ski-Out Studio: A cozy and comfortable studio apartment in a rural setting, ideal for those seeking to unplug and enjoy nature. Located in Mazama, WA, at the base of the North Cascades Mountains and close to the Mazama Store, which has a local ambiance and delicious food.

Best Tours in North Cascades National Park

Fun Fact

A fun, lesser-known fact about North Cascades National Park is that it is home to one of the largest concentrations of glaciers in the contiguous United States. In fact, there are more glaciers in North Cascades National Park than in all other U.S. national parks combined. These glaciers have shaped the landscape over thousands of years, carving out deep valleys, creating stunning alpine lakes, and contributing to the park’s dramatic and rugged scenery. While some of the glaciers are easily visible from popular viewpoints and trails, many others are tucked away in remote and less-visited areas of the park, offering a sense of solitude and adventure for those willing to explore off the beaten path. The presence of these glaciers makes North Cascades National Park a unique and remarkable destination for experiencing glacial landscapes in the lower 48 states.

4. White Sands National Park (Colorado)

Nature’s Dazzling Masterpiece

Welcome to White Sands National Park, a hidden gem in New Mexico that will transport you to a surreal desert dreamscape. Picture vast stretches of white gypsum sand dunes that seem to go on forever. The ethereal beauty of this park is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Take a stroll on the glistening dunes, watch the sunset paint the landscape in warm hues, and feel the soft sand beneath your toes. Whether you’re sliding down the dunes or marveling at the unique plant and animal life that has adapted to this harsh environment, White Sands National Park is a nature’s dazzling masterpiece that will leave you in awe.

Top Attractions in White Sands National Park

  • Dune Drive: The Dune Drive is an 8-mile scenic road that takes you through the heart of the dune field. It offers an opportunity to enjoy panoramic views of the dunes from your vehicle and provides access to picnic areas and hiking trails.
  • Alkali Flat Trail: This 5-mile roundtrip trail takes you to the edge of the dune field and provides an immersive experience in the desert environment. It leads to the Alkali Flat, a dry lake bed where you can witness the expansive white sand stretching into the distance.
  • Sunset Stroll Nature Walk: This ranger-led nature walk takes place in the evening, allowing visitors to experience the unique flora and fauna of the park as the sun sets. The walk provides insight into the adaptations of plants and animals that survive in this harsh desert environment.
  • Full Moon Night Programs: During full moon nights, the park offers special programs where visitors can experience the dunes under the moonlight. These guided walks or ranger-led programs provide a magical and otherworldly experience.
  • Wildlife Viewing: While the desert may seem inhospitable, White Sands National Park is home to a surprising array of wildlife. Visitors may encounter animals such as roadrunners, kit foxes, lizards, and various bird species. Keep an eye out for animal tracks in the sand as you explore the dunes.

Top Hotels near White Sands National Park

  • The Classic Desert Aire Hotel: The Classic Desert Aire Hotel is a highly-rated, pet-friendly hotel in Alamogordo, New Mexico that is great for those on a budget! Also, its a 15 minutes drive from White Sands National Park.
  • White Sands Motel: Great mid-ranged priced motel. It’s close to several attractions, including the Flickinger Center for Performing Arts, Alamogordo, NM (ALM-White Sands Regional), New Mexico Museum of Space History, and Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center.
  • Home2 Suites By Hilton: 20 minutes from White Sands National Park, the hotel offers a variety of amenities, including a 24-hour fitness center, spa, business center, and free breakfast.

Fun Fact

A lesser-known fact about White Sands National Park is that it was used as a testing ground for the world’s first atomic bomb during World War II. In the early 1940s, a section of the park known as the “Jornada del Muerto” (Journey of the Dead Man) was chosen for the secret Trinity Test, which took place on July 16, 1945. The test resulted in the successful detonation of the first atomic bomb, marking a significant milestone in human history. Today, the park preserves this historical significance and provides visitors with a chance to explore the natural beauty of the dunes while reflecting on the pivotal role the area played in shaping world events.

5. Kings Canyon National Park (California)

The Majesty of the Sierra Nevada

Located in California, Kings Canyon National Park is a hidden treasure nestled in the embrace of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. With its towering granite cliffs, pristine lakes, and lush meadows, this park offers a majestic escape for nature enthusiasts. Lace up your boots and hike through ancient sequoia groves, where you’ll encounter trees that have stood tall for thousands of years. Marvel at the power of water as you explore the depths of Kings Canyon, home to breathtaking waterfalls and dramatic canyons. Kings Canyon National Park is a place where you can reconnect with nature’s grandeur and find solace in its serene beauty.

Top Attractions in Kings Canyon National Park

  • General Grant Grove: This grove is home to the General Grant Tree, one of the largest and oldest sequoias in the world. Visitors can walk among the towering giants and explore the nearby Grant Grove Visitor Center to learn about the park’s natural and cultural history.
  • Kings Canyon Scenic Byway: Also known as Highway 180, the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway offers breathtaking views as it winds through the park. The road takes you through dramatic canyons, towering cliffs, and dense forests, providing numerous opportunities for scenic stops and photo opportunities.
  • Zumwalt Meadow: This tranquil meadow is a picturesque spot for a leisurely walk. A one-mile loop trail leads you through the meadow, along the Kings River, and offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains.
  • Mist Falls: This popular hike takes you through lush forests along the South Fork of the Kings River. The highlight of the trail is Mist Falls, a powerful waterfall that cascades over granite rocks. The hike is about 8.5 miles roundtrip and provides stunning views along the way.
  • Rae Lakes Loop: For experienced hikers and backpackers, the Rae Lakes Loop is a challenging but rewarding multi-day trek. This 41-mile loop takes you through some of the park’s most scenic areas, including pristine lakes, alpine meadows, and high mountain passes.

Top Hotels near Kings Canyon National Park

  • Wuksachi Lodge: Great for hose who want a premier lodging experience. Wuksachi Lodge is a highly-rated hotel situated in the national park. Notable landmarks near the hotel include Lodgepole Visitor Center (3 minutes away), General Sherman Tree (6 minutes away), and The Congress Trail (9 minutes away).
  • Montecito Sequoia Lodge: Montecito Sequoia Lodge is a family-friendly ski-in/ski-out lodge. It is located near Buena Vista Peak (6 min drive), Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (11 min drive), and Big Stump Trail (16 min drive).

Best Tours in Kings Canyon National Park

Fun Fact

A fun, lesser-known fact about Kings Canyon National Park is that it is home to the largest remaining natural grove of the rare and endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. These magnificent animals, known for their impressive curved horns, inhabit the rugged and remote areas of the park. The population of Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep in Kings Canyon National Park is estimated to be around 600 individuals, making it an important stronghold for the species. The park’s vast wilderness and protected habitat provide a sanctuary for these iconic and elusive creatures. While encounters with the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep may require some luck and patience, spotting one of these rare animals can be a thrilling and memorable experience for visitors exploring the park’s backcountry.

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