We’re in a traffic jam. This is not your typical Friday afternoon slowdown on the Kennedy, though—this is traffic Wyoming-style. A herd of bison has taken over our two-lane road through Yellowstone. Wildlife has the right-of-way here, so we’re going nowhere.
Looking to escape suburbia and head into the wilderness on your next vacation? Follow the trail to your wildest adventure yet by visiting one of America’s iconic national parks. In 2016, we will mark the centennial of the U.S. National Park Service, a great time to explore the natural wonders of the U.S. Here are a few national parks that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Rocky Mountain Highs
Who wouldn’t want to experience the Rockies?! Camping is one affordable option, but another budget friendly approach is the YMCA of the Rockies. We’re not talking about overnighting at the neighborhood Y where you play basketball and take swim classes. We’re talking about the rustic lodge and cabins that generations of families have enjoyed, just outside Rocky Mountain National Park.
“There were organized hikes with knowledgeable guides and tons of kid friendly activities,” says Evanston resident Jay Shefsky, reporter and producer at WTTW Channel 11. He made two summer trips with his wife and daughters and still has fond memories. “We’d hike in the morning, then my wife and I would collapse and the kids could safely play miniature golf or do arts and crafts with the Y staff.”
Another lodging option is renting a condo at one of the nearby ski resorts. Winter Park is the closest major ski resort to Rocky Mountain National Park. Besides the lower rates on lodging, staying at Winter Park in the summer has other perks. “We have special events in Winter Park Ski Village virtually every weekend in the summer,” says Steve Hurlbert, public relations director for Winter Park Resort.
Yellowstone National Park & the Grand Tetons
Bison, geysers and bears…oh my! There’s so much to see in the nation’s oldest national park. To really experience it all, and enjoy it, consider hiring a professional. Group outfitters like Austin Adventures take all the work out of planning and traveling. The only thing you’re in charge of is getting to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After that, they’ll take care of meals, lodging, and organizing activities, including rafting the White River and scenic bike rides.
Stay at the iconic Old Faithful Inn, a national historic landmark, and ask for a room that overlooks Old Faithful and the many other geysers. Be aware that summer reservations for Old Faithful Inn and campsites book up a year in advance. If you travel with a group outfitter like Austin Adventures, they’ll make the reservation for you.
Any trip to Yellowstone should be combined with a few days at Grand Teton National Park. They’re only ten miles apart! Stay at the historic Jenny Lake Lodge where you can relax in the grand lobby with its breathtaking floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Tetons. Then explore the area via horseback from Lost Creek Ranch, a dude ranch less than a half hour from Jackson Hole Airport. Located at the base of the Grand Tetons, Lost Creek Ranch is surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery. Combine daily horseback rides with the pool, spa and other activities like rafting, stargazing and a trip to the Jackson Hole Rodeo.
Grand Canyon National Park
Looking to unplug from the cell phones and computers that occupy most of our daily lives? Sign off from your Facebook feed and get ready for some digital detox as you descend into the ultimate natural wonder, the Grand Canyon.
The best way to see the Grand Canyon is by raft. There are dozens of Grand Canyon outfitters to choose from, but two of the most respected are O.A.R.S. and Western River Expeditions. Described by many as a life-changing experience, you get to hike Native American ruins, roar through rapids and camp on sandy beaches, all while being surrounded by towering cliffs.
When planning your next vacation, consider answering the call of the wild by visiting one of our country’s iconic national parks. And don’t forget to say thank you to Teddy Roosevelt, our “conservation President.” During his presidency, Roosevelt protected some 230 million acres of public land. After camping in Yosemite, he was quoted as saying, “It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built by the hand of man.” Amen.
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