To follow up after last month’s blog posting on the same topic, here are three more bucket list worthy travel destinations within the United States.
Although they’re all in the Western U.S., they’re very different from each other in many respects; what they share in common is that previous generations made it a priority to preserve these treasured places.
I’d love to hear what some of your bucket list destinations are, too, so thanks for letting me know!
Here are three more of my favorite places, all of which happen to be national park units.
California’s Death Valley National Park is amazing in scale, contrast, and biodiversity, despite its forbidding name.
The place really grows on you, slowly revealing its secrets over repeated visits, especially when you move across the landscape at a deliberate pace. Side canyons, draws, sand dunes, and alkali flats predominate at lower elevations, as do shallow warm springs and streams supporting desert pupfish.
Human history is abundant here, too. Some gold miners perished, and some barely survived, vying for a shortcut across this vast desert to northern California’s goldfields in the late 1840s. For eons, Native Americans have lived here, and still do so today, making their living in a landscape with little water.
Death Valley is the largest national park in the Lower 48 states, and the actual valley is about 140 miles long. Elevation ranges from 282 feet below sea level at Badwater Basin to over 11,000 feet at Telescope Peak, which Erik and I would like to climb some day
The best time to visit Death Valley is from October to to early May, and after rare, heavy winter rains, wildflower blooms can be astonishingly beautiful from February into March..
Montana’s Glacier National Park is another bucket list destination.
Often referred to as the “Crown of the Continent,” it’s a unique place where rain forests, alpine and sub-alpine habitats, and prairie grasslands converge. It’s also a place where winter can show up any month of the year, and wildfires may erupt from summer into fall.
Instead of driving in traffic and vying for limited parking spaces I recommend taking free National Park Service shuttle buses on the Going-to-the-Sun Highway to Logan Pass and beyond. Then you can enjoy the scenery, watch for wildlife, and meet international visitors here to experience what’s truly in our own backyard.
You can also do some cool through hikes by using the park shuttle buses; consider getting off at one trail head and catching a bus ride back at another one. Be prepared and carry bear spray when hiking, though,as you are very much on your own in this wild corner of Montana!
Going early, or late, in the season to Glacier has its advantages and its drawbacks, depending on what Mother Nature is up to at the moment. Figure out and reserve where you’re staying well in advance, or go very early or late in the season and try your luck.
Whether you’re considering back country camping, front country campsites, or historic inns and lodges in or outside the park, there are many places to choose from. Although there’s not nearly as much lodging open in the winter, Glacier is a phenomenal place to experience Montana’s longest season. The nearby Blackfeet and Flathead Indian reservations, along with the National Bison Range closer to Missoula are also worth visiting and exploring when your travels take you to Glacier Country.
Olympic National Park in Washington State is another place you should see and experience in your lifetime.
It’s like a chunk of Alaska peeled off, traveled south and rammed into the Lower 48 in western Washington. The area is strikingly wild and different from nearly everything else close by-at times it’s easy to forget that over 3.6 million people live a few hours east in Seattle, Tacoma and Bellevue!
The Olympic Peninsula’s remoteness and rugged terrain kept it from large scale European American settlement until the late 19th century, Today, from Grays Harbor north to Neah Bay, Sekiu and Clallam Bay, numerous Native American tribes live on or close by reservations where they maintain cultural traditions to different degrees. The Makah Cultural Center near Neah Bay is an especially impressive place to visit.
Olympic has glaciers, alpine environments, coastal and lowland rain forests, and rugged, wild beaches where black bears and even mountain lions still roam out to the ocean’s edge. Tide pooling, storm and bird watching opportunities abound, and botanists and wildflower lovers will be in heaven with the tremendous biodiversity that thrives here.
What’s also notable about Olympic National Park is how quiet it can be when you’re deep in the forest. During the “dry season” from April through September you should bring all rain gear anyway, but night skies can be amazingly clear and starry when the weather cooperates.
The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary preserves over 3,000 square miles offshore, protecting marine wildlife and their habitats, traditional cultures, and the region’s maritime history. No matter where you go or stay on the Olympic Peninsula, be ready for a positively life-changing adventure.
Stay tuned for more suggestions in the future, and in the meantime, I invite you to share some of your bucket list recommendations. It would be great to hear from you!