National Parks Rangers' Secrets

National Parks Rangers' Secrets

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Walk or Cross Country Ski to Shoshone Point
This lookout provides spectacular views no matter what time of year you visit, said Outdoor Recreation Planner Vanya Pryputniewicz. Located near the east entrance of the park, visitors should plan to park in the lot between mile markers 244 and 245 on East Rim Drive. The trip to Shoshone Point is a one-mile hike in warmer months or can be made on cross country skis in the winter, depending on conditions. As one of the higher elevation points on the canyon rim, the area often has snow from December through February.

“When you get to the lookout, you can walk on a spindly promontory, and it feels like you’re in the canyon rather than on the rim,” Pryputniewicz said.

Because you can’t take a shuttle bus or car directly to the lookout, only a small percentage of park visitors take advantage of this area.

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Backpack the Deer Creek Thunder River Trail
For the experienced desert backpacker, this strenuous trip is an ideal way to see three of the Grand Canyon's biggest waterfalls, according to Pryputniewicz.

"Water in the desert is always a really special experience," she said. "After you've been walking across miles of treeless, hot [land], you hear this roar and you see Thunder River gushing out of a cliff wall."

Because of the intensity, remoteness and duration of this hike, Pryputniewicz recommends knowing the current road conditions (especially in the spring) and bringing ample amounts of food and water. Furthermore, backpackers should be familiar with the capricious weather of the Grand Canyon.

"It doesn't have to be June for the Grand Canyon to be 110 degrees at the bottom," Pryputniewicz said. "And on the same trip you often have both heat and snow."

This trail can start from one of two points: Monument Point (Bill Hall Trail) or Indian Hollow.

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Hike the Waldron Trail
Take the shuttle bus to the West Rim, but rather than hike the area’s popular Hermit Trail, venture onto the Waldron Trail for a quieter adventure with equally amazing views.

“It’s an old historic trail and nobody knows about it because it doesn’t end up at a camp or at the river,” Pryputniewicz said. “You’ll have the canyon to yourself, and in the summertime that’s rare.”

The Waldron and the Hermit both begin at the same point, but watch for the fork about two miles into the hike. The new path will take you through a side canyon. This trip is an out-and-back, so you can turn around and head back the way you came whenever you prefer.

And here’s another bonus: With fewer tourists, you’ll have a better chance to see wildlife including deer, coyote, elk, bobcats and foxes.

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Bird Watch on the Old Ingraham Highway
This hiking and biking trail begins close to park headquarters and runs for 11 miles. It’s the first mile, however, that Lead Interpretive Ranger Bob Showler finds most interesting. This restoration area is now a beautiful wetland and an ideal spot for birding from November to April. The spot is overlooked by most tourists, as well as regional birding guides, despite its biological richness.

“I’ve seen as many as 40 species on a single day,” Showler said. He's also seen birds that are hard to find in other places, such as snail kites and limpkins.

For directions to the area, stop at the visitor’s center.

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Spot Wildlife at Snake Bight
Rent a canoe or kayak and make your way to Snake Bight, a shallow bay about a mile east of the Flamingo Visitor Center. When the tide recedes from this area, large mud flats emerge where many birds go to feed. It’s also a great spot to see crocs, manatees, dolphins, sharks, stingrays and huge shallow water fish such as tarpon. But there are logistical challenges, Showler warned. If the tide gets too low, you can have trouble crossing the flats or even get stuck. Showler advises a stop at the Flamingo Visitors Center, where rangers can help you plan your trip around tides and winds.

If you’re worried about paddling near alligators and crocodiles, Showler has good news: these reptiles are not as aggressive as species in Africa and Australia. Although attacks are rare, you should still try to maintain a safe distance.

For more rangers' secrets from Everglades, click here.

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See the Grizzlies in Willow Flats
“When I moved here 36 years ago, it was rare that you would come across grizzly bears,” said Park Spokeswoman Jacki Skaggs. “But now we are every bit as much a grizzly park as Yellowstone or Glacier.” Thanks to a successful management program, the bear population in the Grand Tetons has regained its footing, she explained.

While you may see these animals anywhere in the park, certain areas offer a greater chance of a sighting. During the month of June and July, for instance, the grizzlies concentrate in and around the Willow Flats. Elk go to this area so they can give birth under the shelter of the trees, while grizzlies go in hopes of catching a newborn calf.

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Watch the Sunset at the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River or Signal Mountain Summit
Located in the heart of the park, the Oxbow Bend of the Snake River gives you enough distance from the peaks for a truly panoramic view, while the slackwater reflects the colors of the sunset and the mountains. This section of the river is along Highway 26-287.

If you’d prefer a 360-degree view of Jackson Hole, Jackson Lake and Grand Teton National Park at sunset, drive 30 minutes from the park road to the top of Signal Mountain. While the road to the summit is just five miles, it’s very curvy and gains 700 feet of elevation.

For more rangers' secrets in Grand Teton, click here.

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Take a Beach Trek to Cape Johnson
While many people visit the Olympics rainforest and mountains, significantly fewer explore the 73 miles of wilderness coast, said Public Affairs Specialist Barbara Maynes.

One of Maynes's favorite places is Cape Johnson, just north of Realto Beach. While visitors can do the trip in a day, she recommends an overnight or weekend excursion to the area.

The hike will take you along the beach, where you'll walk on cobble-sized rocks and may sometimes need to climb over boulders. As you go, you'll have incredible views of the area's seastack rock formations just offshore and you may spot bald eagles or sea otters. You'll also have a chance to stop at Mora's Hole in the Wall. At low tide, this area has amazing tidepools.

The tides are a critical part of the trip, so it is vital to check them before you depart. Some areas of the coast are only passable at the lowest tide and can be very dangerous at other times.

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Backpack the High Divide Loop to Seven Lakes Basin
This 18.2-mile loop is a moderate hike with 3,050 feet of elevation gain. You’ll begin in an old-growth rainforest and make your way up into the high country. Once you've arrived at the basin, you can spend several days camping and exploring the area.

“You’ll be surrounded by mountains,” Maynes said. “And if you hike up onto High Divide on the south rim, you can look straight across at Mount Olympus, which is the highest peak in the area. It’s just spectacular.” From this vantage point, you can also see into both the Sol Duc and Ho River areas—two distinct parts of the park.

Permits are required and access is limited May through September, so it’s best to call ahead. For more information, contact the Wilderness Information Center at the park. Maynes also cautions hikers to be wary of mountain goats. In some areas, these animals have become accustomed to people, and hikers have been injured or killed after wandering too close.

For more rangers' secrets from Olympic, click here.

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Take in the Views from Sargent Mountain
To find great views without the crowds, Sargent Mountain is your best bet, according to Lead Education Ranger Michael Marion. This hike is often overlooked for the highest point in the park, Cadillac Mountain. However, those who climb Cadillac have to share the view at the summit.

“There’s a road, so you can spend a day hiking and then find RV's and buses at the top,” Marion said. “[Sargent Mountain] would be a more remote trip and has similar and wonderful views."

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Watch Storms on the Schoodic Peninsula
The busiest time for Acadia is in the summer, but the late fall offers some of the most spectacular conditions, including vibrant foliage and a series of huge storms that roll in over the Atlantic Ocean, Marion said. During this time, strong winds whip up huge waves that break over the rocky shore. It’s an incredible spectacle that’s popular with the locals, but make sure to keep a safe distance, he warned.

“We don’t have fences and guardrails because we want to preserve the natural scenery, so you have to be extremely careful,” he said. People have died after getting too close to the edge and being washed into the sea. Marion suggests heading out just after the storm, when you can still see the surf, but conditions are safer.

For more rangers' secrets from Acadia, click here.

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Hike the Kuna Crest
One of Park Ranger Kari Cobb’s favorite parts of Yosemite is the Kuna Crest. Due to its high-altitude and remote location, it’s a great place to spend time alone with nature. From the top of the crest, you look down onto a series of icy, turquoise lakes at the bottom of the cliffs. You also have great views of Banner Peak and Mount Ritter, as well as the Lyell and Maclure Glaciers—the only two glaciers in the park.

The roundtrip hike is a strenuous 14-mile loop between 9,800 and 12,200 feet. You’ll start at the Mono/Parker Pass Trailhead and follow the trail to Spillway Lake. At this point, abandon the path and hike up and along the Kuna Crest on the western shore of the lake, traveling northwest toward Mammoth Peak. Once you reach Mammoth Peak, cut north and you’ll find the trail to return to your car. Because there is no path, make sure to take a compass, map and GPS.

For more rangers' secrets from Yosemite, click here.

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Watch the Sun Set From Mount Dana
Mount Dana, the second-highest peak in Yosemite, sits just on the border of the protected area. For this reason, few people think to go there. However, this means visitors miss out on a unique vantage point.

“Not only can you see into Yosemite, but also into multiple forest service [areas] that surround the park and even down into the Mono Basin,” she said. “It gives you views that are just spectacular.”         

From the Tioga Pass Road (generally closed November-May), you can find numerous routes that rise about 3,200 feet over 2.9 miles to the 13,053-foot summit. The paths are not official NPS trails, so they are not frequently maintained and often not shown on maps.

For more rangers' secrets from Yosemite, click here.

Flickr/Jason and Kris Carter

Fish on Hazel Creek
The southwest section of the park is the largest roadless area, so it’s an ideal spot for people who want to escape the crowds, said Public Affairs Specialist Dana Soehn. Visitors can arrange a drop-off and pickup time with The Smoky Mountain Shuttle based on their unique backpacking itinerary.

Soehn recommends visiting Hazel Creek, one of the most beautiful streams in the park. The surrounding area is dotted with historic structures and cemeteries and the creek offers great fishing. Most regions of the park are closed to fishing, but here—above the 3,000-foot elevation range—visitors can catch rainbow and brook trout.

Flickr/cm195902 and NPS Staff Photo

Trek to the Mount Cammerer Fire Tower
On the extreme eastern end of the park lies the Mount Cammerer Fire Tower. According to Soehn, the 12-mile roundtrip journey is worth the work.

“It has fabulous 360-degree views of the mountains and it’s spectacular any time of the year,” she said.

This area is a great place to see wildflowers in the spring or summer, or for admiring foliage in the fall. As you get to the top, you’ll also have a chance to see black bears. There’s a population of about 1,500 of these animals in the park.

The trail starts and ends at the Low Gap Trailhead in the Cosby Campground.

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Hike the West Rim Trail
Park Ranger Dave Grimes recommends this unpublicized path that extends from the better known Discovery Point Trail and is normally open from July through September.

Discovery Point Trail begins in Rim Village and ends a mile later at a lookout. At this point, most people turn back. If you continue on to North Junction, however, the crowds disappear and you get some of the best views in the park. Not only will you see classic landmarks such as Wizard Island, but also the Pacific Ocean to the west and several nearby mountain ranges. This 12-mile roundtrip hike will take a full day.

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Snowshoe the Crater Rim
While a summer visit combines spectacular views with spectacular weather, Grimes also highly recommends a trip to Crater Lake in its “determining season.”

“When you visit in midsummer, you don’t get a sense of how important the winter is to the park,” he said, explaining that the harsh weather is responsible for the clarity and depth of the lake, as well as the area’s unique plants and animals.

For an incredible experience, Grimes recommends a snowshoe trip. While you can opt for a short, ranger-guided walk, more adventurous travelers will prefer a self-guided 3- to 4-day trip around the perimeter of Crater Lake. While summer visitors are not allowed to camp on the rim of the lake, those who brave the winter can have a campsite with a view. Throughout the journey, you’re likely to have complete privacy. Only a couple hundred people do this trip each year, Grimes said. The route is best in March and April.

National Parks Rangers' Secrets