Exploring the United States was thrust upon me this year when I saw my international travel plans go up in smoke. I never saw myself as a camping-in-the-woods kinda guy, and like many BIPOC never felt the urge to visit remote US towns, thus the majority of parks weren’t on my radar—until now.
This summer, I packed my fresh-out-the-box camping gear and hit the road with an open mind and heart. The plan was to make do with these “alternative” summer plans and tick off five national parks along the way. However, at the end of the road, I learned that the great national parks scattered across the country not only offer world-class natural scenes but are well worth a trip in their own right. Here’s why…
Yellowstone National Park
Super excited to use Moon Yellowstone to Glacier National Park Road Trip, we started with a classic: Yellowstone National Park, one of the most iconic parks in the country. We arrived early to beat the crowds and were welcomed by streams of tourists, from all corners of the United States, lining up to enter. The campsites were at full capacity and booked up months ahead. We wound up securing one of the last spots off-site at Madison Arm Resort Campground.
Our less-than-desirable camping placement couldn’t detract from the awe-inspiring reward of the big and beautiful park itself. From the rainbow-ringed hot springs to the spewing geysers and otherworldly overlooks over the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, it’s easy to see why Yellowstone is the leader of the park pack for international travelers and locals alike.
Grand Teton National Park
The words “unmissable” and “Grand Teton” were dropped in the same sentence by several friends when I mentioned we were doing a road trip through Wyoming, and because it was close to Yellowstone’s South Entrance, we were sold. I’ll admit I didn’t even know the park existed before this summer and in the end, the wildcard on our itinerary ended up being my all-time favorite.
The park’s peaks were spellbinding. The craggy mountains shot out of the earth like jagged shark teeth and nature’s great beasts were everywhere. A mama bear and her three cubs walked up to our tent area like relaxed pigeons. I was relieved by the extra stash of bear spray I bought in my paranoid first-time-camping state a few days prior.
Aside from our wild neighbors, we were pretty happy campers. Having learned our lesson from Yellowstone, we arrived at the crack of sunrise and were rewarded with a great campsite with plenty of legroom and high-quality facilities. We filled our days in typical outdoorsy style: hiking (there are over 200 miles of hiking trails), wildlife watching, munching on trail mix, and catching the views at Jenny Lake—our activity highlight from the entire trip.
Glacier National Park
We headed for the rocky mountains of Montana driving along the windswept Going-to-the-Sun Road, a cinematic 52-mile highway stretch with a dizzying mountain climax of which the famous route is named after. I advise everyone to adopt a ‘life’s about the journey’ approach and not rush this epic drive. I got seriously snap-happy, stopping at every corner to take pictures of the otherworldly overlooks.
After the arid, muted landscapes of Grand Teton meadows, we appreciated the electric blue glass-surface lakes and green mountains on another level. Normally there are 700 miles of trails and road trips to conquer, but the east part of the park was closed to protect the large Indigenous reservation during COVID-19, so our trip was kept to a short and sweet half day trip.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Hiking through the Badlands was a blast from America’s Wild West past. Sweeping prairie scenes, rugged rock formations, and the rhythmic distant beat of bison hooves, wandering through the fields—and roads—without a care in the world (seriously, you will be bison road-blocked at least twice). Theodore Roosevelt National Park is often sidelined for its bigger park siblings, but it’s a true hidden gem that’s great for escaping crowds and indulging in some cowboy nostalgia.
Truth be told, no amount of pre-reading can prepare you for the sublime beauty of America’s national parks. Even I wasn’t prepared for the variety of landscapes and activities waiting for me on my very doorstep, and I’m a stickler for pre-trip research! Right now, I’m already planning my next national park road adventure for next year (there are 62 out there, guys!), and I sincerely hope I see more BIPOC take advantage of their backyard too. It’s an ALL-American rite of passage after all.
Jeff Jenkins is the creator behind ChubbyDiaries.com, an online community for plus-size travelers who are passionate about seeing the world, experiencing new foods, and learning clever hacks along the way. He is also a founding member of the Black Travel Alliance, which aims to support Black content creators around the world and increase their representation in the travel industry, including but not limited to employment, conferences, and media.
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