BY AMY HILL
If you’ve spent the summer hiking through the forests of North Carolina and are looking for some different terrain to explore this fall, take a flight or road trip out west and visit some of the most beautiful national parks the country has to offer. These listed below provide mild temperatures and a myriad of outdoor activities that the entire family will enjoy.
Death Valley National Park
Located about two hours west of the Las Vegas Strip, Death Valley National Park sits below sea level in California and contains numerous hiking trails of varying difficulty, along with campgrounds and plenty of sights to see from your vehicle. With average high temperatures ranging from the 60s to 90s in October through December, this is a great destination for travelers looking to savor the heat for as long as possible. Mornings can be cooler in the park, but the temperature will vary depending on your elevation. Be sure to pack layers of clothing and bring plenty of water, but leave your umbrella at home (it is the desert, after all!).
On your way back to the Las Vegas Strip, swing by the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area if you have time. The Red Rock scenic loop is a quick 13-mile drive but offers beautiful mountain views and numerous trailheads for those who haven’t had their hiking fix for the day.
Canyonlands National Park
Two of my favorite national parks, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, sit side by side in the charming town of Moab, Utah, and are separated by the Colorado River. If I had to choose one to visit (which is nearly impossible), I would vote for Canyonlands. A close runner-up to the Grand Canyon, Grand View Point views, and Mesa Arch at Island in the Sky are stunning and provide great photo opportunities.
(Insert image of Mesa Arch here)
The Needles District of the park is located a whopping 2 hours and 15 minutes away from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, but is well worth the journey (and likely less trafficked). Scenery in this area of the park can make visitors feel like they are walking on Mars. For hiking in the Needles, I highly suggest using the AllTrails app to download trail maps ahead of time, since rock cairns used to mark the trails can be difficult to spot. Getting lost is easy, especially when there are fewer hikers, and this app can be a lifesaver (literally).
(Insert image of The Needles here if you would like)
Big Bend National Park
For those seeking an adventure, embarking on the more isolated trek down to Big Bend National Park in Texas may be just the right getaway. Located right next to the Mexican border, Big Bend provides a diverse range of desert, mountain, and river hikes, including floating trips down the Rio Grande. Like Death Valley, high temperatures in Big Bend during the autumn months are relatively warmer, ranging from the 60s to 80s. If you don’t want to camp, set your home base in either Alpine or Marathon, Texas, and treat yourself to delicious Mexican food after a day of exploring.
Entrance fees to national parks can add up. If you plan on visiting more than one park during your getaway, I suggest purchasing an America the Beautiful pass on the USGS [US Geological Survey] Online Store for access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites. The pass covers entrance fees, as well as some additional fees, and is valid for one year after purchase.
Given the pandemic’s current conditions, be sure to stay up-to-date on phased park openings and operating hours by visiting the U.S. National Park Service website. This will provide you with information on trail closures, campground availability, and safety alerts.
While rainfall during the autumn months is less common in the national parks listed above, as compared to other areas of the United States, high winds or sudden temperature changes can throw a wrench in your plans. Remember to remain flexible and prepare for Mother Nature to make some decisions for you.