By David Link
This year millions of people will visit America’s 59 national parks, and each and everyone is an excellent vacation destination for both outdoor lovers and the uninitiated outdoorsman or woman. Yet, what makes visiting a national park even better? Exploring it with new gear of course! We take a look at some popular national parks to visit this year and an item of gear that would pair perfectly with the park.
The most visited park in the national parks system is the Great Smoky Mountains situated between Tennessee and North Carolina. Consisting of 816 square miles, the park is one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States. The area gets its “smoky” name because of frequent precipitation and high humidity levels that create a foggy or smoky appearance in the valleys of the park. Popular tourist destinations include Cades Cove, a slice of early America with preserved settler’s buildings, and Chimney tops, one of the few exposed rock mountains in the park. Finally, the Great Smoky Mountains may be the best place in America to view fall leaves, as the old growth forests that dominate the area explode in fall colors each year.
The Smokies offer vast, picturesque views of peaks and valleys, a sight that is harder to find in the eastern United States as opposed to the west. Take advantage of these views with a Nikon PROSTAFF 5 20-60x85mm Fieldscope. If you’re traveling with family and children, opt for the straight body (shown below) so everyone can easily look through the scope. Don’t forget to pack a reliable tripod with the spotting scope before you leave for the Smoky Mountains. Many areas of the park are easily accessible by roads, and this Nikon Fieldscope is perfect for those sessions where you pull off into a lot and pop out to take in the nearby views. A built-in sliding sunshade will help during those beautiful sunny days in the park, and the scope only weights 33oz, so you can pack it for those short hikes if you so desire.
Another popular park in the system is Rocky Mountain National Park that offers some of the best mountain views in America. The park consists of 415 square miles, and it is dissected by the Continental Divide. The headwaters of the Colorado River are also found in the park, and several different distinct ecosystems can be viewed during your visit to the park, from wetlands and lush forests along the rivers and streams of the park to the alpine tundra found above the treeline at elevations above 11,500 ft. Must see destinations include the Alpine Visitor Center located at the end of the scenic Fall River Road, and the Bear Lake Trailhead is a great place to head for a family hike. There are countless other trails that dot the park, and it’s a worthwhile drive to see how the east side of the park differs from the west due to the Continental Divide.
It’s not uncommon to pass by a herd of elk or other animals while on the many park roads, and surprisingly you can get a fairly up close view of the animals as you explore the park. While a spotting scope like what is listed above would work out great in this park, those roadside viewing sessions can be enriched by a pair of binoculars as well. Try the Hawke Nature Trek 10x42mm Binoculars for a trip through the Rockies this year. The 10x magnification allows you to get up closer to nearby wildlife without disturbing them, but you don’t have the shaky performance or limited field of view that comes with higher powers. The 10x magnification also bridges the gap for children and elderly users who may not be able to effectively handle any higher power. Don’t just focus on the big game animals with these binoculars either. There is plenty of bird watching and other animals to be found in the park, and you can easily pack these binoculars in your daypack or hike shorter distances with them around your neck.
America’s first national park, Yellowstone, still remains its most iconic, and the image of its most popular destination, Old Faithful Geyser, is a sight that most Americans are familiar with, even those who have never witnessed the geyser in person. The park is giant, consisting of 3,468 square miles, and bison, elk, grizzly bear and wolves are some of its most popular residents. The area also has an active volcanic presence, and the geysers and lava rock formations are evidence of the area’s volcanic history. Although mostly situated in Wyoming, portions of the park also cross over into Idaho and Montana. There’s a lot to see, and popular areas like Old Faithful can become crowded in the summer months, so plan to spend several days in the park at least.
With almost 3,500 square miles of park to explore, you’re going to need a good day pack to check out all the different trails, geysers, and lakes in the park. We recommend the Badlands Tactical Serengeti Backpack and a matching Badlands Hydration Pack. Don’t let the tactical title scare you away if you consider yourself just an outdoors enthusiast. The ultralight and strong Aramid/Cordura fabric will ensure this pack lasts trip after trip, and a hydration bladder is always a good idea to bring along on family day hikes along with other water bottles. Even if you don’t plan to use the MOLLE compatible sections, this is a serious day pack to check out.
This park really needs no introduction, but the true majesty of the 1,901 square mile park has to be seen to be believed. The product of ages of wear from the mighty Colorado River and several tributaries, the canyon is over a mile deep in most sections. Situated in northwest Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a major tourist destination in the southwest United States. There are two primary areas that most people visit, the North and South Rim. The South Rim is the more frequented of the two sides of the canyon, and most of the accommodations and roads are located on this side. Those looking for a less civilized view of the canyon can travel over to the North Rim. There are a variety of walking trails on both sides of the rim, but most of the longer trails begin on the North Rim.
There’s plenty of walking to do around the Grand Canyon, but even if you’re just interested in some casual walking tours around the canyon, it’s wise to get decent footwear for the job. Scarpa’s Zen Pro Walking Shoes are perfect for warmer day hikes like the ones you’ll find around the Grand Canyon, and the Cocona fabric lining ensures your feet won’t feel soggy or hot while exploring the arid desert found around the canyon rim. Of course, any substantial hikes should be tackled with boots that offer additional ankle support, but these Zen Pro Walking Shoes will cover short hikes and even some light rock scrambling just fine.
Throughout the year, we’ll touch on some other parks to visit and gear that will go well with each adventure. For now, let us know your favorite parks and gear that has made visiting them better.