April 19-27th is National Park Week and in celebration you can get free admission to NPS sites across on the country this weekend on April 19th-20th. For more information visit http://www.nps.gov/npweek. Last year my family and I took advantage of the opportunity for a spur-of-the-moment trip to nearby Yosemite (you can read our trip report here). This year, we’ll be headed to Japan, but that doesn’t mean I can’t join in on the fun by looking back at some of our favorite trips throughout the years!
Mai Tai’s Favorites:
Yellowstone and Grand Teton
Both of these Wyoming parks hold a special place in my heart due to the large amount of time I’ve spent there thanks to having family in the area. Yellowstone is of course America’s First National Park and a definite must-see. While the main (and most famous) attraction is Old Faithful, I’ve found the nearby geyser pools to be equally, if not more spectacular, and the wildlife viewing is unrivaled.
Grand Teton also has some incredible wildlife opportunities as my mom and I found out during an early-morning airport run in 2010 (fun fact: JAC is the only major commercial airport within a national park in the US). Other favorites in the park include the very photogenic Oxbow Bend, Snake River Overlook, and Jenny Lake. The mountains after which the park is named are pretty nice too.
How to get there: Your best bet and closet airport is Jackson Hole, Wy. Also nearby: Cody, WY and West Yellowstone, MT.
World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (Pearl Harbor)
I could never get sick of going back to visit Pearl Harbor and it has been subject of numerous trip reports here at Miles, Points, and Mai Tais (here, here, here, and here). If you’re ever on Oahu, make time to go learn more about our nation’s incredibly history and pay your respects the the thousands of Americans who lost their lives there on December 7th, 1941.
How to get there: Pearl Harbor is just minutes away from HNL by cab, take a bus from Waikiki, or parking is available on site.
Pu’unoa o Honaunau (CIty of Refuge)
An unsuspected favorite on the Kona Coast of the Big Island, we visited here in 2009. Tikis (or rather “ki’i”) and turtles adequately sum up the attractions, yet there was something more about this place. In ancient times anyone sentenced to death for breaking kapu (sacred laws) could seek refuge here and be given a second chance. As screwy as it sounds, there is an incredible aura of calmness and sense of peace here that needs to be experienced in order to be believed.
Closest Airports: KOA and ITO
This is perhaps my all-time favorite park after 3 visits. By far my favorite area of the park is the Island in the Sky district, which is 1,000 feet above the rest of Canyonlands, overlooking the confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. Mesa Arch at Sunrise is worth getting up to see, and if you’re up for a real adventure, there’s some cool secret stuff to be explored here as well.
How to get there: About an hour away from Moab, UT and Arches National Park
It’s hard to mention Canyonlands without talking about nearby Arches, which is probably the most accessible park I’ve ever been to. It is small, easy to cover in a half day, yet with plenty to see. Most of the parks attractions can be seen from the road, but if you’re looking to dig deeper and get up close and personal, consider the short hike to Delicate Arch at sunset; it’s well worth the effort.
How to get there: Just minutes outside the small town of Moab, Utah. Closest Airport: Grand Junction, CO. SLC is about 3 hours away.
Another unsuspected favorite, this place is arguably much more impressive in person than in pictures. Also there’s plenty more to see in the Black Hills area of South Dakota that makes it worth the trip: Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave, the world’s largest (and kitschiest) drug store- Wall Drug, the Minuteman Missile and America’s First National Monument- Devil’s Tower, which is just across the border in Northeastern Wyoming.
Closest Airport: Rapid City, SD
Maybe I’m biased as a California native, but this park will make every list I ever compile simply because it’s awesome! I don’t know what more I can say that hasn’t been covered in earlier trip reports other than try go to Glacier Point if it’s open (seasonal). The birds-eye views from up there of the high Sierra, giant rock monoliths and cascading waterfalls almost don’t seem real.
How to get there: About 3 hours driving from SFO and 4 hours from SMF. Also consider Modesto (MOD) and Fresno, CA (FAT).
I’m a sucker for nice beaches, and Trunk Bay did not disappoint. My husband and I visited in 2010 as part of a Eastern Caribbean cruise (we day-tripped over from nearby St. Thomas) and I’m still obsessing over that white sand and warm turquoise water.
How to get there: A short ferry ride from St. Thomas (STT) and catch a ride to the beach in the back of a truck (available near the National Park Visitor Center)
Also check out: Last year’s Best of America’s National Parks