5 U.S. National Parks That Truly Surprised Us

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We’re in full-on celebration mode here at TREKKN for 2019 National Parks Week (April 20th – 28th) and are continuing the party with yet another NP focused post. 

So far, we’ve…

Today, it’s all about five National Parks we’ve visited that completely surprised us. Meaning, we had no idea what an incredible experience we would have in these parks. But let me tell you, we’re very glad we took the time to stop for a visit.

5 U.S. National Parks That Truly Surprised Us

Badlands National Park in South Dakota

In all honesty, we traveled through South Dakota purely for the purpose of getting back to the west after our time on the east coast. We had originally planned on following the fall foliage down from Maine and over back to Texas. (Which we still hope to do someday.) But as we talked about it, all of us were really feeling a pull back to the western US, Glacier National Park to be exact.

So we booked it across the country, making a quick stop in South Dakota. While we were there, we decided to mark off another National Park – Badlands.

Badlands National Park Badlands National Park

As you can hopefully see from the picture above, the landscape is dramatic and astounding. For someone who didn’t know a lot about this National Park, it was completely unexpected. We spent hours exploring this terrain – hiking, scrambling up rocks and snapping hundreds of pictures.

Badlands National Park

If you’re looking for a National Park you can easily explore from your car, this is the park for you. The Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240) winds through the park, taking you to easy to get to scenic outlooks.

As far as wildlife, we personally encountered momma bighorn sheep and their babies on one of our hikes. You’ll also most likely see bison and plenty of cute little prairie dogs.

We loved this park so much, we shot two videos to give you an idea of what to expect.

If you’re RVing to this area, we highly recommend Sleepy Hollow Campground & RV Park. It’s within walking distance of Wall Drug, a town we recommend experiencing. There’s some shopping, good food, ice cream and more. You’ll see plenty of signs on the highway letting you know a stop in Wall Drug is a must.

A few things to know about this National Park:

  • Here’s a breakdown of costs to get into the park: Private, non-commercial vehicles – $25; Individual (hike, bicycle) – $12; Motorcycle – $15
  • The best time to visit is spring and fall, although since this is a lesser known park, crowd wise it’s great to visit year-round compared to others. But, the summer temps can reach into the 100s and the winter temps can be quite cold.
  • A few things to do in the park include walking The Fossil Exhibit Trail, driving the Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240) and visiting the Ben Reifel Visitor Center where several trails begin.

Everglades National Park in Florida

While staying in Miami at one of our all-time favorite RV parks, we took a day trip to Everglades National Park. This was a park I knew absolutely nothing about and now name it as one of the top must-see National Parks in the U.S. 

Why you ask?

Two reasons really.

  • Animals such as alligators, crocodiles, manatees, heron, osprey, roseate spoonbills, white ibises, softshell turtles and
  • The park has nine ecosystems altogether making you feel as if you’ve been transported to another state with each new part of the park you experience

Everglades National Park is truly remarkable and fascinating.

If you decide to RV to this area, check out Miami Everglades RV Resort. It has amenities out the wazoo, is very clean and a great location for relaxing, sightseeing and soaking in that warm Florida sun.

A few things to know about this National Park:

  • The cost to get into the park is: $30 for a private vehicle or vessel, $25 for a motorcycle and $15 for pedestrian/cyclist
  • The best time to visit Everglades National Park is from November to March when the average high temps are in the 70s and lows in the 50s. This is also prime time for wildlife viewing
  • There is no shortage of things to do in this park. From taking a guided boat tour or renting a kayak to bicycling along one of their many trails or abundant wildlife viewing, this area is perfect for the outdoor lover.

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

Crater Lake National Park surprised the boys and me, but not Todd since this is his neck of the woods. He grew up visiting this park, so he already knew just how extraordinary it was, but it had been many, many years since he’d been back. Which made it a lot of fun for him to see us experience it for the first time and for him to soak in the beauty as an adult.

Crater Lake National Park

 

 

Crater Lake is in the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon and was formed by the now-collapsed volcano, Mount Mazama. The island you see on the very right in the photos above is Wizard Island. You’ll also want to experience and photograph Phantom Ship Island, which gets its name from the fact that it does indeed look like a ship out on the water.

Visiting this park and getting out of our truck to see this lake for the first time was a jaw-dropping moment. We were there in September and they had just received a dusting of snow the night before, which added to the beauty. It doesn’t get much better than a blue lake with snow-capped mountains.

A few things to know about this National Park:

  • The cost to get into this park is: Cars – $25 in the summer (May 22-October 31), $15 in the winter (November 1-May 21); Motorcycles – $20 in the summer (May 22-October 31), $15 in the winter (November 1-May 21); Bicycles & Pedestrians – $12 per individual
  • The best time to visit Crater Lake National Park depends on what activities you enjoy doing. Summer is when the park is most accessible, April & May can be tricky weather-wise as it’s winding down from winter and some of the park may not be accessible and winter highlights fun activities such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
  • There are enough things to do in Crater Lake to keep you busy for days including driving the Rim Drive which allows you to see the lake from many angles, visit Crater Lake Lodge or taking a boat ride to Wizard Island.

Zion National Park in Utah

If you’re not familiar with the National Parks in Utah, they’re called the Mighty Five and while we didn’t get to experience all five of them, the ones we did were phenomenal.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Zion National Park sticks out the most in our minds as far as Utah National Parks go because, as Todd calls it, its red rocks on steroids. It was incredible.

As we were hiking and soaking in the beauty of this park, we kept saying it felt as if we were on another planet. This place is definitely a hiker’s paradise, offering many trails of different levels to explore.

A few things to know about this National Park:

  • The cost to get into this park is: Private Vehicle: $35; Motorcycle: $30; Hikers, pedestrians, cyclists $20 per person
  • This park is open year round with April through October being the most popular months. Spring, Summer, and Fall are more popular and more crowded than winter. If you enjoy hiking, fall is the best time to come. This is when the temperatures and hiking conditions are best.
  • A few things to do in Zion are taking a drive on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway for epic views, hike the Narrows or pick up maps/information and cool off at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia

Shenandoah National Park extends along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, includes a section of the long-distance Appalachian Trail and incredible hiking trails. 

We visited there in May and it has, to this date, been our most relaxing and quiet National Park visit. The crowds were very sparse in the spring, which we didn’t mind a bit.

Overlooking the Shenandoah Valley was a surreal experience and we spent quite a bit of time enjoying the view and the sunset. It was in the 70s in the spring, making it perfect hiking and sightseeing weather.

On our first visit to the park, we saw not one, but four black bears. One of the bear sightings was a mom and her two cubs crossing the road. We immediately stopped the truck and watched the bears cross, snapping some pictures and video to document our experience.

While we were stopped, not a single car passed by. Did I mention the slow crowds? It was a perfect moment in a beautiful location. One we’ll never forget.

A few things to know about this National Park:

  • It’s currently $25 per vehicle, $20 per motorcycle and $10 per person to get in
  • The best time to visit Shenandoah National Park is during the spring and on the weekdays from June to October
  • A few things to do while you’re there are: hike a section of the Appalachian Trail, make a stop at the Byrd Visitor’s Center and walk the Stony Man trail for an incredible view

Have you been to any National Parks that completely surprised you? We have so many more to visit that I know we’ll be blown away by. If you visit any of the five mentioned here, feel free to share what your experience was like.

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National Parks that surprised us

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