Welcome to the inaugural post of my new fortnightly series called: Park People. This series will feature topical submissions by outdoor recreation and public lands bloggers in my online networks. The goal of “Park People” is to share enjoyment of our public lands in an effort to get more people to champion and personally experience our public lands.
For the first post in this series, I asked my friends to share their favorite hidden gems in our public lands. Each person showcased shared their favorite hidden gem that is within a couple hours of their home-base. I hope you enjoy this series and please share your favorite hidden gems in the comments section or on social media!
North Cascades National Park
“These days I’m a nomad, but before when I use to live the Pacific Northwest, my go-to hidden gem was North Cascades National Park. Highly underrated, this park saw a mere 28,646 visitors in 2016. When you compare that number to Yellowstone’s visitors or Great Smoky Mountains, it’s hardly anything, but it translates into serene virgin forests and quiet sub-alpine meadows. In the winter, something magical happens: locals come out for weekend snow-play in force. Most go toward neighboring Mt Baker National Forest ski area. What most people don’t know is that state plows North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20) all the way to the closure at milepost 134, giving adventurous souls access to some of the finest snowshoeing trails in Washington state.”
Mount Townsend in Olympic National Forest
“It’s not exactly hidden, but Mount Townsend is a gem about two hours from home base in Olympia. It’s in the far northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, and the trail to the summit is beautiful from bottom to top. You start in a rhododendron and mixed evergreen forest, ascend to sub-alpine fir stands and steep meadows, and end on a long alpine summit ridge with views from Vancouver Island to Mount Rainier and across the Olympics. Of course, you’ll probably be swamped by fast-moving clouds for part of the hike, but that only makes your pictures better! I’ve climbed it twice–so far.”
Great Sand Dunes National Park
“While we know how the sand dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park were formed, the science is explained clearly at the visitor center, it still seems like a mystery. There are majestic, powerful Sangre de Cristo mountains fronted by what looks like a desert landscape out of a movie. The hiking, sightseeing and just the experience leaves you wanting to explore other of the world’s natural treasures.”
Highlands, NC in the Nantahala National Forest
“Highlands, NC. It is situated in the middle of the Nantahala National Forest and has dozens of USFS hikes and recreation areas all around it. A favorite hike there is Whiteside Mountain. I (Grant) spent every summer from age 7 to 17 up there with my grandparents. It’s where I learned to love the mountains.”
Grapevine Mesa Joshua Tree National Natural Landmark
“Arizona’s Joshua Tree Forest, technically known as the Grapevine Mesa Joshua Tree National Natural Landmark, lies southeast of Lake Mead. This little-known area features the most substantial stand of large, old growth joshua trees in the world. There have been ongoing efforts to permanently protect these public lands since the 1930s, but none have proven successful yet. It’s an amazing little forest to explore.”
Taylor Head Provincial Park
“This 8k two-loop trail is one of the best examples of a Nova Scotia Atlantic coastal hike. It wanders into more forested cover, but the ocean is never far away. Sections of beach rock, and craggy coastline dominate the hike. Wildflowers are abundant, in season. It has been my favorite since my first visit, and always my first choice to take a guest who wants to experience the best of Nova Scotia hiking.”
“This is an incredible Arizona day hike. I did the standard approach and had originally planned to just assault the Quien Sabe Peak Ridgeline from the 246 trail up what was designated as a wash on the topo map. However, it looked pretty daunting. I changed plans to continue to go Skunk Creek Trail and intersect with the Quien Sabe Trail on the backside of the ridge. The summit block is a little anti-climactic, but I was very glad to have gained it. After that, it was pretty much all downhill from there and I was down near the Cartwright Ranch in no time. If that was a real ranch, I’d like to work there as a ranch hand. That little valley there is beautiful. So, all in all a GREAT hike. This was a top 5 outdoor experience for me in Arizona. For sure.”
Pinnacles National Park
“When it was still a National Monument, Pinnacles National Park was a true hidden gem within a few hours from my homebase.”
Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia
“The hiking is good and there are plenty of overlooks, viewpoints and waterfalls you can enjoy over the entire day. Plus, the park rests between the small towns of Thomas and Davis, WV, where you will get your mountain town fill of micro-brews and burritos.”
Assateague Island National Seashore
“Tucked away on an Atlantic breaker island are Assateague and its neighbor Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Just a short 3 hour drive from Washington DC, they are sadly often overlooked by nearby coastal boardwalk towns. They are famous for their wild horses that mingle with beach-goers. While viewing the horses from a safe distance is required, the experience makes for great photographs. Visitors can also rent kayaks, SUPs, canoes, and bicycles from the on-island outfitters.”
Want to participate in a future “Park People” post?
The park people featured in this post are people I from my social media networks. I would love to connect with you and feature you in an upcoming post. So be sure to follow me on Twitter and/or Instagram. Once you’ve covered that, don’t be shy! Engage with me by tagging me in your pictures, commenting on my posts, and/or using the #InnerCompassBlog hashtag.