Today is the 98th birthday of the National Park Service, so Happy Birthday, NPS!
On the Modern Hiker Twitter and Facebook feeds, we’ve been celebrating by sharing some of our favorite trails in each of the 12 National Parks we currently cover. Here they are, compiled for posterity until we show off a new round for the Service’s 99th birthday!
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
My love of the Mishe Mokwa Trail to Sandstone Peak is no secret – it’s one of my all time favorite hikes and one of the few trails I can do over and over again without getting bored. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the world’s largest urban National Park and may provide a model for the proposed San Gabriel Mountains National Monument / Recreation Area if that ever comes to being! OTHER HIKES.
Cabrillo National Monument
San Diego’s Cabrillo National Monument not only has some of the best views of the city you’ll ever see, but it also marks the first place a European explorer set foot on the West Coast, houses a beautiful historic lighthouse, and preserves one of the world’s last remaining coastal sage scrub habitats. See them all on the park’s Bayside Trail.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Remote and isolated, the Carrizo Plain National Monument is easy to miss but hard to forget once you’ve been. Expansive salt flats turn into seasonal lakes full of migratory birds, and dry hillsides explode with wildflowers in the spring. You can also take a short hike to see the power of the San Andreas Fault in action at Wallace Creek. In 1897 the Fort Tejon Earthquake moved this creekbed 30 feet in one fell swoop. You’ll come home and immediately buy that Earthquake Kit you’ve been putting off for so long.
Joshua Tree National Park
The closest National Park to Los Angeles, Joshua Tree is many a SoCal hiker’s first experience with National Parks. Straddling the transition zone between high and low deserts, this park has two very distinct sections, but for my money your best bet is The Maze in the park’s northwestern section. You’ll get monstrous boulders, dizzying badlands, strange rock formations, and plenty of Joshua Trees to keep you company along the way. OTHER HIKES.
Death Valley National Park
OK, so there are “desert people” and everyone else. Death Valley is one of the hottest, driest, and lowest places on the planet and I absolutely love it. From hidden oases, colorful history, and otherworldy landscapes like Zabriskie Point there’s no place on earth like Death Valley. Don’t go in the summer, obviously – but in the winter and spring this park is top notch. OTHER HIKES.
Yosemite National Park
When you think about National Parks, the first image that probably pops into your head is that of Yosemite – and the first time you see Yosemite Valley is an experience you’re not likely to forget. There are seemingly endless amazing trails in the Park, but one of our favorites is the Panorama Loop, which treks nearly 13 miles along the South Rim of the Valley – giving you stunning views with very few fellow hikers. OTHER HIKES.
Sequoia National Park
Once you’ve seen the jaw-dropping namesake trees of Sequoia National Park, be sure to travel off the beaten path to explore the park’s High Sierra scenery. Alta Peak and Meadow will give you some of the best views the park has to offer – and that’s really saying something. OTHER HIKES.
Devil’s Postpile National Monument
Just outside Mammoth, what tiny Devil’s Postpile National Monument lacks in size it makes up for in splendor. Towering walls of oddly-geometric columnar basalt greet you on your way in, while majestic 101-foot tall Rainbow Falls provides a beautiful end point to the park’s best hike. And who knows? Dipping your toe in the Ansel Adams Wilderness might just inspire you to hike the John Muir Trail that cuts through the Monument …
Pinnacles National Park
26,000 acre Pinnacles is one of the latest National Monuments to get the upgrade to a National Park. Comprised of rolling hills, canyons, caves, and the towering remnants of an ancient volcano dragged 150 miles along the San Andreas Fault, this Park is incredibly varied for its size. Wildflower blooms make this a must-visit in the spring, and the 9 mile High Peaks Loop hits almost all of the park’s highlights on one hike. OTHER HIKES.
Zion National Park
The adrenaline-inducing Angel’s Landing and Narrows Trails gets most of the attention in stunning Zion National Park, but we’re still fans of the underdog Observation Point Trail. This 8 mile trek rises over 2000 feet from the Valley floor to the Rim, passing through slot canyons and narrow, cliff-hugging trail sections. You’ll travel through every climate zone in the park and end up with a million-dollar view of Zion Valley at the end. OTHER HIKES.
Bryce Canyon National Park
When you’re headed to Bryce Canyon National Park, you know you’re going to see some hoodoos. You just don’t have any idea how many hoodoos you’re going to see in one place – or how the red and beige stones perfectly contrast the blue skies and green pines – or what a huge smile is going to be plastered on your face the entire time you’re there. This loop combines several short, popular routes into one larger hike and will get you most of Zion Canyon’s must-sees.
BONUS: Grand Canyon National Park (adjacent)
OK, this one’s cheating a bit since the highlights aren’t technically inside of Grand Canyon National Park, but you can easily hike into the Park from here and heck, you should still visit if you’re planning a trip to the headliner. The Havasupai Reservation houses an epic backpacking trail that will take you through their main village to four unbelievable turquoise waterfalls in the middle of the desert. If this hike isn’t on your bucket list already, put it there right now.
Birthday cake image by Will Clayton. Image altered with NPS logo via Creative Commons license.