Earlier this month, I checked three more off the list thanks to a long weekend over the Labor Day holiday and a few travel points burning a hole in my pocket. In a previous column, I touched on the role Open Lands have for Western ranchers, but they make for great opportunities to enjoy the outdoors as well.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to visit our National Parks, you’re missing out on quite a treasure. The National Park Service recently celebrated its 100th birthday and there is no better time to get out and explore our public lands. From the oldest Yellowstone National Park, to the newly expanded Yosemite National Park, there is something for every level of explorer.
My weekend adventures focused on opportunities to sneak in a little trail running as part of my training and preparation for the upcoming Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. next month. Luckily, southern Utah is the perfect place for miles of running and climbing.
After landing in St. George, Utah, I headed for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and set down the North Kaibab Trail and 10-mile round trip to the Roaring Springs Day Use Area. While the South Rim offers the more iconic views of the Grand Canyon, I was told the North Rim offers great access and smaller crowds. I definitely wasn’t disappointed. The views were awesome with little trail traffic and a challenging climb back up the 3,000+ foot drop from the canyon rim.
Zion National Park is one of the busiest parks in the region and was my next stop for the weekend. Be prepared for heavy traffic and a hike from your vehicle in order to explore the great sights and climbs this park has to offer. To be honest, the crowds were a little more than what I was looking for in order to appreciate the park and enjoy some quiet on the trip. I did manage to hike a few miles out and take in some breathtaking views of the high features in this iconic southwest Utah landscape.
Instead of spending more time fighting the crowded trailheads in Zion, I headed 100 miles up the road to Bryce Canyon National Park for an afternoon in second canyon. While Bryce may be smaller than the Grand Canyon, it’s features are still something to admire and explore. The easiest to access, the Rim Trail offers great views of Bryce Canyon above the large amphitheater. However, it’s definitely worth your time to hike down into the canyon using the Navajo Loop Trail. While there was heavy traffic at Bryce, the trails are still accessible for hiking and running down to enjoy the view.
One thing that struck me in all three National Parks visited on Labor Day weekend was the extremely high proportion of foreign visitors to the Parks. Those from the U.S. were far outnumbered by visitors from overseas exploring our great landscapes. That is a great opportunity to host tourists in our backyard.
So I ask, how many National Parks have you visited? Even though school is back in session and frost on the pumpkins isn’t far away, this Fall season is still a great opportunity to get out and explore these three high desert parks.