With April 20-28 (2019) marking National Park Week, there’s no better time to check out some of our nation’s greatest treasures. Get to your nearest national park, forest, river or lake, or adventure on to one of our favorite National Parks to visit in April…
Joshua Tree National Park takes your breath away the first time you see it with your own eyes. Sure, you’ve seen the giant rock cathedrals and Seussical J-trees in pictures, but you can’t fully grasp the awesomeness of these bizarre formations until they’re right in front of you. With hundreds of trails, thousands of official climbing routes and even more unofficial bouldering routes, Joshua Tree lives up to the hype. Though a relatively small national park, it’s the meeting point of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts and offers great variation in ecosystems. Explore the prickly cholla (pronounced “choy-ya”) garden and keep going to check out the ocotillo cactuses (both of which may be in bloom in April), scramble around Jumbo Rocks and make your way into the Fortynine Palms Oasis. You might have some trouble booking a campsite last minute, but there are plenty of first-come first serve sites and designated areas for hike-in backpacking (even as close as .5 miles from your car). Pack up and go, wherever you are.
Grand Teton National Park is something to behold any time of the year, but when the spring sunshine hits the mountains and greets the buds below, there’s nothing like it. Head out to the lake shore trails and enjoy a stroll by Jenny Lake or String Lake. Bradley and Taggart Lakes are mellow lowland hiking options early in the season. And when the sun goes down and you’re left to reflect, best to do it over a killer Jackson Hole burger. Be sure to check road conditions and road status before heading up to Grand Teton. It’s not uncommon for a late spring snow storm to close roads, even after they’ve opened for the season. Be aware of the possibility for inclement weather any time of year. This is the Wild West, after all.
Massive sandstone cliffs, never-ending slot canyons, green and pink vistas—there’s no shortage of “WHOA” in Zion National Park, southwestern Utah’s bragging rights territory. Within its 229 square miles are high plateaus, a maze of narrow, deep, sandstone canyons, the Virgin River and its tributaries, 2,000-foot Navajo Sandstone cliffs, and countless waterfalls supporting lush hanging gardens. And all those wonders are magnified when spring has sprung. Like natural springs? They burst from cracks, running to the Virgin River. Like springtime blooms? The cottonwood trees blossom and begin to show some color. Like hiking? Most of the main canyon and the Upper East Canyon are hikeable, but the Kolob Terrace and Lava Point may remain buried in snow until late April or May. Either way, you’ll be busy saying “WHOA!”
Just 75 miles from downtown DC you’ll find yourself at the top of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, overlooking cascading valleys enfolding the Appalachian Trail. Shenandoah is known for it’s gorgeous fall foliage, but trust us – it’s just as spectacular in spring! Bike or drive historic Skyline Drive and rest at overlooks along the route positioned above the sprawling valley. Paddle along the Shenandoah River, take your adventure underground to the nearby Luray Caverns, or lace up your kicks and explore more than 500 miles of trail networks, including the most challenging hike in the area, Old Rag Loop. Whatever you do, catch a sunrise and sunset in the same day—your soul will thank you.
Sure the Rockies are pretty great, but one of Colorado’s lesser known National Parks is just as awesome: Great Sand Dunes National Park. The Great Dunes, North America’s tallest sand dunes, rise more than 750 feet, with the Sangre de Cristo Range as the backdrop. These dunes are simply phenomenal, especially at dusk. Spend the night at Zapara Falls, just 11 miles south of the park, but bring an extra blanket because at 9,000 feet it can get chilly. When you’ve had your fill of the dunes, get a taste of the jagged peaks of the Sangres from the Comanche-Venable Trail loop near Westcliffe.