Monica Prelle is a freelance writer and outdoors adventurer based in California's Eastern Sierra, a fact that strongly influenced her top picks. In fact, it looks like Pinnacles and Joshua Tree—the only of California's national parks she didn't choose—ought to feel left out.
Besides being the camping editor for About.com, her writing appears regularly in Backcountry Magazine and online at the Matador Network and here at The Active Times. She is a climber, mountain biker, road cyclist, surfer, snowboarder, backpacker, fly fisherman and all around outdoors adventurer. The national parks—especially those in California's Sierras—are some of her favorite playgrounds, and represent some of the landscapes where she's most at home. Here are her top 19:
1. Yosemite National Park (#2 on the list)
Yosemite Valley’s glacier-sculpted granite walls and giant waterfalls make the park one of the more spectacular sightseeing destinations for travelers of all sorts. Since I began climbing, I’ve found a new level of appreciation and respect for Yosemite’s high country. The granite slabs in and around Tuolumne Meadows are a fantastic playground for the adventurous spirit. Standout memories: topping out on West Crack (DAFF Dome) as the sun was just waking up; and watching the sunset from atop Cloud’s Rest on my last night on the John Muir Trail.
2. Sequoia National Park (#9 on the list)
My first childhood memories of being in the great outdoors come from camping with my family in Sequoia National Park. The crisp mountain air and trees bigger than I could wrap my arms around will forever be engrained in my memory. Sequoia is one of the best, if not the absolute best backcountry region in the Sierra Nevada for fly fishing, backpacking and mountain climbing; it’s hard to beat. The Kern Drainage in Sequoia is home to the native Golden Trout, which is California’s state fish. And, of course, Mt. Whitney is the tallest peak in the Lower 48 states.
3. Kings Canyon National Park (#16 on the list)
This park is often overshadowed by, or considered to be the same as, Sequoia, though it’s one of most beautiful parks in the US—you just have to hike a ways to get to the goods. The John Muir Trail travels through the park; Le Conte Canyon and Evolution Valley are among the most popular destinations for backpacking. At 13,200 feet, Forester Pass is highest and arguably the most challenging pass on the John Muir Trail.
4. Redwood National Park (#15 on the list)
I tend to like things that are tall; mountains and trees included. One day I’d like to sit on top of a Redwood tree, but for now, hiking the coastal trails and walking among the earth’s tallest trees is inspiration enough.
5. Glacier National Park (#4 on the list)
Riding a road bike up to Logan Pass in Glacier National Park is, for lack of better description, not easy; but to experience the Going-to-the-Sun Road from behind the handlebars was incredible. If I'd had more time to explore this park, it would most likely be ranked a bit higher—assuming that I didn’t get eaten by a grizzly, that is.
7. Death Valley National Park (#11 on the list)
Though I’ve never set foot in tourist areas like Scotty’s Castle and Furnace Creek, the outter areas of Death Valley National Park are great for wintertime exploring. It’s a darn big park and it is a barren landscape. From hot springs to petroglyphs to sand dunes and slot canyons, Death Valley has a variety of intriguing natural features.
8. Haleakala National Park (#42 on the list)
Maui’s famous volcano is pretty incredible. On a clear day, you can see the ocean from a 10,000-foot plus vantage point. But whatever you do, don’t take any rocks with you.
9. Yellowstone National Park (#1 on the list)
Geysers are awesome!
10. Olympic National Park (#8 on the list)
When you live in a high desert, nothing is better than visiting a rain forest.
11. North Cascades National Park (#14 on the list)
12. Mount Rainier National Park (#18 on the list)
13. Lassen National Park (#41 on the list)
14. Rocky Mountain National Park (#13 on the list)
15. Grand Teton National Park (#6 on the list)
17. Crater Lake National Park (#24 on the list)
18. Shenandoah National Park (#30 on the list)
19. Zion National Park (#7 on the list)
For more from Monica Prelle, visit her website, monicaprelle.com.