Cruise into the United States’ Most Beautiful Natural Gems
By Suzanne Carmel
As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial this summer, where better for cruisers to get their land legs back than hiking or biking in one of this country’s 59 national parks? There are many ways to uncover the scenic bounty in these rightfully designated sites that give cruisers a reason to get on dry land and celebrate the beautiful and varied American landscapes. So if you want to take part in the 100-year milestone this summer, here are 10 national parks worth cruising to.
Acadia National Park – This glacially carved New England park, located in Bar Harbor, Maine, boasts Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast at 1,530 feet. In season (April 15 through November 24) visitors can drive the entire 27-mile loop through the park along ocean shoreline and coastal forests with the mountains as a backdrop. While in the park, it’s possible to bike, hike, climb, birdwatch, boat, fish, horseback ride, picnic, swim, and try the EarthCache Program (explore via GPS). There are a variety of ranger-narrated boat cruises and several national park tours by bus, carriage, and trolley. Larger mammals such as black bear and moose are hard to spot but it’s possible to see some of the 338 bird species encountered here as well as marine life including seals and porpoises.
Olympic National Park – Covering nearly 1 million acres in Port Angeles, Washington, this national park is a landscape of rivers, mountains, forests, and coastline. Highlights include the Kalaloch area where it’s possible to walk the beaches along part of the park’s 73-mile coastline and look for marine life and birds. Lake Ozette has two easy boardwalk trails and is a good spot for boating. The Hoh Rain Forest is the prime spot for elk viewing in early morning and evening hours. Other wildlife includes whales and dolphins off shore, more than 300 species of birds, and coyotes, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats on land. At Lake Crescent, take the ¾-mile hike to Marymere Falls. If it’s mountains you’re after, head to Hurricane Ridge where you can hike the trails to enjoy scenic vistas.
Redwood National Park – Though the soaring trees here may be the tallest on Earth, there are many other reasons to visit this park in California’s Del Norte and Humboldt counties. Look for gray whales at Enderts Beach and Crescent Beach Overlook. Drive 10-mile Howland Hill Road to view the redwoods or the 8-mile Coastal Drive for ocean views and to see seabirds nesting. Davidson Road leads to Elk Meadow, Trillium Falls Trail (to one of the few waterfalls in the park), and Fern Canyon. There are 170 miles of hiking trails in the park, along with 50 miles of designated bike trails, horseback riding, ranger-led kayaking, and wildlife viewing for bald eagles, banana slugs, giant green sea anemone, and California sea lions.
Denali National Park – One of the best ways to see the interior of Alaska and its scenic beauty is in part of this 6-million-acre wilderness, which includes North America’s tallest mountain, 20,310-foot Denali. Join a ranger-led program from the Denali Visitor Center, stop at the Toklat River, and visit the Savage River area where you can hike to see the mountains and wildlife. Cycle along 92-mile Denali Park Road, go flight-seeing, visit the sled dog kennels, or take a bus trip (which goes beyond where private vehicles can travel). Wildlife includes 39 species of mammals, 169 species of birds, 14 species of fish, and one amphibian. There are more than 650 species of flowering plants covering the forests, valleys, and mountains.
Glacier Bay National Park – Located in Alaska’s Inside Passage, this national park is one that is viewed by cruise ship, as the 3.3 million acres primarily cover water, along with mountains, glaciers, a temperate rainforest, jagged coastlines, and majestic fjords. Visit Bartlett Cove, kayak through protected inlets, view glaciers calving, stroll through small town Gustavus, flight-see, birdwatch for 274 species and fresh and saltwater fish, and look for everything from humpback whales and killer whales to sea lions, harbor seals, moose, and bears.
Everglades National Park – There is nothing quite like exploring the nation’s largest subtropical wilderness by airboat on the lookout for manatee, American crocodile, or the seldom-spotted Florida panther. The landscape of sawgrass prairies, hardwood hammocks and pinelands, mangrove swamps and estuaries is like nothing seen elsewhere. Take a tram through Shark Valley, a boat…
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Photo: Alamy Stock Photo