National parks: Classic summer trips through the American West

Where goths camp out; Yellowstone by kayak; Yosemite from a Model T; A treasure off California’s coast

Where goths camp out

In this “rugged economy,” Americans are learning to rough it—literally, said Jane Margolies in The New York Times. This summer, more people are heading to national parks to enjoy the nation’s backyard. Olympic National Park, in western Washington, is one that has seen a significant increase in visitors. Much of its newfound popularity is owed to the Twilight series of teen novels about a romance between a vampire and a high school girl. Set in the Forks, Wash., area, the books that spawned a national phenomenon have drawn many young “‘Twihards’ to wander, wide-eyed, down trails in the misty Hoh Rain Forest under giant trees festooned with moss.” Park rangers have even debated creating a program on bloodsuckers (mosquitoes, flies, and lampreys) to appease the new breed of visitor. Of course, Twilight isn’t the only reason to pitch a tent in one of Olympic’s 16 campgrounds. The park offers three very diverse ecosystems: the Pacific coastline, the Olympic Mountains, and temperate rain forests—the only ones in the entire country. River otters frolic in the streams, blood stars speckle the tide pools, and formerly endangered gray whales spout along the misty shore.


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Yellowstone by kayak

The Thorofare area of Yellowstone is “the most remote and spectacular feature of America’s first national park,” said National Geographic Adventure. It’s here that the Yellowstone River feeds into Yellowstone Lake through a weedy expanse of interwoven canals, “forming an American version of Africa’s Okavango Delta.” Far from the roadways and mini malls of modern civilization, this “chunk of the northern Rockies” is one of the least-populated places in the U.S. Exploring “this wild kingdom requires stealth,” especially since an encounter with its fauna is more likely than a run-in with a fellow camper. Ospreys and bald eagles lurk above in the trees. At Yellowstone Lake, sandhill cranes wade and trumpeter swans float by, as cutthroat trout lurk below. Grizzlies, wolves, elk, and moose ramble the Wyoming woodlands. The best way to see all that Thorofare has to offer is by sea kayak. As you glide into the Yellowstone River just off the lake’s southeast arm, “with the snow-capped Absaroka Range reflected on the glassy surface, the margins between land, sky, and water disappear.”


Yosemite from a Model T

Experience Yosemite as your grandparents might have, said Paul Whitefield in the Los Angeles Times. From behind the wheel of an authentic Model T, you can “move at the leisurely pace of yesteryear” and take in the park’s natural wonders. Just rent a 1916 Model T or a 1929 Model A from local Model T Tours, and embark on a throwback journey through the California scenery. Learning how to operate the antique cars requires some adjustment, but you’ll get the hang of it. Just turn the key, “stomp the starter button on the floor, adjust the spark arrester, mash the left pedal down,” and bring down the throttle lever. Cruise through the 3,000-year-old giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove. Motor along the grasslands with Bridalveil and majestic Yosemite falls behind you, “the Merced River rushing through wooded glens.” Breathe in the fresh air as you forge through streams and bounce along “rutted one-lane dirt roads” and rediscover a slower pace of life. All the “groans and rattles” aside, the Model T still handles the course like a pro.


A treasure off California’s coast

Though within “spitting distance” of the coast of California, Channel Islands National Park seems worlds apart, said Outside. Mere miles from both Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, the five islets that make up this environmental gem harbor remarkable biological diversity. Because of their Mediterranean climate, the islands of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara are home to 2,000 terrestrial plant and animal species—145 of which are found nowhere else in the world. Catch a ferry and cruise past the stunning archipelago, keeping an eye out for dolphins, humpbacks, and, if you’re lucky, blue whales. Make Santa Cruz, “the largest and wildest of the islands,” your final destination. The Nature Conservancy owns 76 percent of the island, helping to preserve its deep canyons, coastal cliffs, expansive beaches, giant sea caves, and crystal-clear tide pools. Set up camp at Scorpion Landing on Santa Cruz’s eastern tip. Take a “tomol”—a large plank canoe—to explore the perimeters of the island. Or pull on your fins and swim to nearby Little Scorpion Cove, a complex of “starfish-rich kelp forests” crowded with sea lions.


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