U.S. National Parks are famous for their incredible scenery. Some of the most iconic views, like Tunnel View can be seen from a parking lot. However, you’d be missing out if you didn’t lace up your hiking boots and leave the pavement and boardwalks to see these gorgeous vistas!
POTATO HARBOR - CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK (SANTA CRUZ ISLAND)
Channel Islands National Park is only accessible by boat or plane, but we can assure you that the 60-minute cruise to get to Santa Cruz Island is worth the time and money. Once we left the boat and hiked away from Scorpion Anchorage, we were on our own for most of the day. If you like to hike and are looking for an amazing day trip adventure while visiting the coast of California, pack a lunch, board an Island Packers cruise, and take a hike to Potato Harbor.
DELICATE ARCH - ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Delicate Arch is a stone icon and people from around the world flock to Arches National Park to get a look. However, don’t let the idea of crowds dissuade you-it IS impressive. No matter the time of year, you’ll want to set out early in the morning to do this popular hike (and get a parking spot). Getting there requires a moderate to difficult 3-mile roundtrip hike with no shade, so make sure to bring plenty of water.
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TAGGART LAKE- GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK
There are so many stunning hikes and viewpoints in Grand Teton National Park that it can be hard to choose where to spend your time. The Taggart Lake trail is one of the park’s easier hikes, yet it offers incredible views of the Teton Mountain range the entire way out to the lake. We recommend combining it with the Beaver Creek trail to climb the glacial moraine and loop back to your car along the Beaver Creek. Or, if you feel a bit more ambitious, try the Taggart Lake-Bradley Lake loop which adds a little distance but provides a nice variety of scenery for your return trip.
UNCLE TOM'S TRAIL - YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Yellowstone is full of geologic wonders that can be viewed from boardwalks, but if you are in shape and aren’t afraid of climbing back up 328 steps, we think Uncle Tom’s trail is a must-do. There’s no better way to get up close and personal with the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and feel the power of the Lower Falls. When we visited in June of 2017, the parking lot to Tom’s Trail was closed for construction and we had to hike down from the trail starting at Artist Point. This is a great way to extend the otherwise short hike and enjoy views of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone away from the crowds at Artist Point.
CAPROCK COULEE TRAIL - THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
Most people that visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park never make the ~1 hour drive up to the North Unit. There are so many beautiful overlooks in this park, but we think hiking in the uncrowded North Unit is a must! The Caprock Coulee trail is a hidden gem with spectacular scenery and fascinating geology. We only ran into a handful of hikers on this trail on a June morning. Perhaps the sign warning visitors about the presence of bison, poison ivy, and rattlesnakes scared everyone else away???
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SENTINEL DOME - YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
If you want to experience panoramic views away from the crowds at Glacier Point, the hike to Sentinel Dome is worth a little effort. It is relatively easy, aside from the short steep climb up to the top of the dome. We left the parking lot early in the morning and were lucky to share the dome with only a couple other families. Looking to the north, you can see El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. To the east are views of Half Dome, Nevada Falls and Clouds Rest. To the west, you can look down into Yosemite Valley. Of note, the high altitude may bother some and it is best hiked in the summer when the trail is dry. The Glacier Point Road, which you need to take to access the trailhead, is closed to cars in the winter.
SUN NOTCH TRAIL - CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
This last hike is a quick loop just off Rim Road and is a great way to see Crater Lake for the first time if driving in from the south of the park. We were shocked that the parking lot for this trailhead was nearly empty since this hike offers a big payoff for very little effort. The Sun Notch Trail is a great hike, even for little kids. We enjoyed watching as our three (ages 6, 8 and 10 at the time) reached the edge of the rim and gazed in wonder at the striking blue water of the lake below. Two different lookouts offer fantastic views of Phantom Ship and Wizard Island. We also spotted our first yellow-bellied marmot on the return trip to the car. If you want your first view of the lake to be away from the crowds of tourists at the visitor center, make this your first stop!
We offer downloadable National Park itineraries with great hints and tips for over 25 National Parks. Check out our downloadable itineraries here.
OTHER USEFUL LINKS
Just Go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park - Hiking the Caprock-Coulee Trail in the North Unit
- Just Go to Channel Islands National Park - A Day Trip to Santa Cruz Island
- Just Go to Acadia National Park - Hiking the Beehive Trail
- Ask Andrew - Yellowstone National Park
- Ask Andrew - Death Valley National Park