As the ground begins to thaw, our desire for hot chocolate fades, and that puffy coat that reaches our knees starts to seem a bit extreme, it only means one thing; spring is here!
With Spring comes warmer weather, longer days and three day weekends (Memorial Day)! It's the perfect time for a road trip/long weekend birthday adventure/excuse to take a few days off work and visit your long lost Aunt Lorine on the other side of the country. AKA it’s the perfect time to use whatever excuse you have to find a little adventure! And there’s no better place than in our National Parks.
Here are three underrated National Parks to add to your Spring bucket list. Start planning now!
With so many options for National Park weekend getaways in the Utah area, it’s easy to overlook this hidden gem. From infamous delicate arch in Arches National Park to the million dollar views from Angel’s Landing in Zion, to Bryce and the Canyonlands, there’s a lifetime of adventures for Utahns to go on in home state. Neighboring Utah, Great Basin National Park is just over the border in Nevada, about 230 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Take the scenic drive to the face of Wheeler Peak (13,063 ft.) or see ancient 5,000 year old Bristlecone pine trees grow on rocky glacial moraines. The park is best in late Spring, as some years the road will still be covered in snow in April and May.
Where to go and what to do:
Hiking: Explore a number of trails that take you up to a six-story limestone arch, to beautiful alpine lakes and past ancient trees.
Camping: Known for super dark skies and starry nights, Great Basin National Park is the perfect place to practice your starry night photography. You might also have an easier time finding camping here than you would at more popular National Parks.
Cave Exploring: Although this National Park contains more than 40 known caves, Lehman Caves is the only cave open to the public. You’ll need to register online, pay a small fee and be guided by a Ranger.
Fishing: Wear your rainbow trout tee-shirt and enjoy catch and release fishing! Brown, brook and rainbow trout and Lahonton cuttroats and Bonneville cutthroats are all present a long these creeks and lakes.
From the south (Utah): Travel north on Utah State Highway 21 through Milford, UT and Garrison, UT, which will become Nevada State Highway 487 as you cross the border. Turn west on Highway 488 in Baker and travel five miles to reach the park.
Keep in mind, you will be crossing into the Pacific Time zone when you cross the Nevada border.
From the south (Nevada): Travel north on U.S. Highway 93 (Great Basin Highway). At the junction of U.S. Highway 6 & 50, drive east to Nevada State Highway 487 and turn south. Travel five miles to Baker, NV. In Baker, turn west on Highway 488 and travel five miles to reach the park.
More information: Visit the Parks Website; https://www.nps.gov/grba/index.htm
2. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Yosemite gets more visitors in a day than Isle Royale gets in a year. And it makes sense, not because this place isn’t worth it, because it is, but because the only way to get to Isle Royale is by boat or seaplane! Located in the northwest corner of Lake Superior, this island is known for its solitude and adventure. Isle Royale is closed during the winter and opens back up on April 16th making it a great place to visit just as the weather in Michigan gets a little warmer in the Spring.
Where to go and what to do:
Scuba Diving: Talk about bucket list worthy. Sunken vessels are protected by the National Park Service as cultural treasures and can be explored by scuba diving! You’ll need to get certified before going, and you can learn more here.
Backpacking: Isle Royale has 36 campgrounds located across the island. Campsites are accessible only by foot or watercraft. Typically, campers backpack from one campground to another, traveling six to eight miles per day. The Spring is a great time to backpack because in the summer there are limits on consecutive camping.
Camping: Camping on offshore islands is limited to designated campsites. Groups (7-10 people) must stay at designated “group campsites," and must get backcountry permits in advance. Permits should be displayed on your tent or shelter when at camp. Camping is recommended because you’ll have more of a chance to explore the island, and do day hikes from your campground.
There are three ports to take ferries from that provide service to and from Isle Royale National Park.
Houghton, Michigan Port: Houghton is located in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It is 200 miles north of Green Bay, Wisconsin, 400 miles north of Chicago, Illinois, and 250 miles west of the Mackinac Bridge. Houghton is located off of US-41 at the base of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Copper Harbor, Michigan: Copper Harbor is located at the tip of Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is located off US-41 just 52 miles north of Houghton, Michigan.
Grand Portage, Minnesota: Grand Portage, located in Minnesota's northeastern section, is 150 miles north of Duluth, Minnesota. It is located off US-61 50 miles southwest of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada.
More information: Visit the Park’s website: https://www.nps.gov/isro/index.htm
3. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
Oh California, with your ancient giant trees in Sequoia and your glistening boulders in Joshua Tree, your stunning mountains gushing with waterfalls in Yosemite, and your babbling mud pots and volcanic activity… in Lassen National Park?
If you haven’t heard of Lassen National Park - listen closer. This is one place that roars, hisses and bubbles. Literally. Just 50 miles east of Redding, CA, this area can see up to 30 feet of snow a year, which makes Spring a great time to visit as things melt out, but snow still blankets the higher elevations and leaves opportunity for snowshoeing and skiing.
Where to go and what to do:
Day Hiking: Lassen contains nearly every kind of volcanic feature known (shield, composite, cinder cone, and plug dome), and with over 150 miles of trails, you can pick and choose your own adventure. Not all of the trails will be open by Spring, so if you’re strictly a hiker, consider waiting until June/July to visit. Find out more about the hiking trails here.
Ranger-led Snowshoe Walks: Could there be a cooler way to explore a park other than snowshoeing with a Ranger? This program ends on April 1, so like they say, there is no time but the present!
Explore the Hydrothermal Areas: This is the reason to go this park! You’ll find piping mud pots, boiling pools, volcanic gas vents, and more! And if you can, summit the 10,462-foot Lassen Peak, the namesake for the park and the world's largest volcanic dome (recommended time = summer)!
Camping: The Southwest Campground Walk-In is open year round, so even if it’s a big snow year, this is one place you can call home away from home in the Spring.
Lassen Volcanic National Park is located in northern California, about three hours northeast of Sacramento. The park is accessed via Hwy 44 (to the north) or Hwy 36 (to the south). The nearest airports are Redding, California; Sacramento, California; and Reno, Nevada.
More information: Visit the Parks Website; https://www.nps.gov/lavo/index.htm
So what’s it going to be this Spring? A magical land of Islands and blue water in Michigan? Volcanic explorations in the California Cascades? Or Cave exploring in Nevada’s one and only National Park? And if you can’t make it in the Spring, we promise Summer is also a great time to knock these underrated parks off your bucket list.