6 Easy National Park Hikes Anyone Can Enjoy!
Our National Parks present us with the richest exposure to the most elements of nature of all our natural reserves. That’s part of what makes them so important and well-loved. The extra-ruggedness of their wild terrain can also yield, however, a sense of intimidation for beginner hikers.
But to avoid a National Park near you because you’re worried your hiking skills just “aren’t there yet” would be a crime against nature! Aside from the sheer density of natural resources to be found in our National Parks, the degree to which the terrain varies is also strikingly high, running the gamut from easy to moderate to advanced and back, several times over.
So, in preparation for National Trails Day (June 1), here are # hikes from # National Parks geared toward the beginner hiker. What better way to celebrate National Trails Day this year than to embark on your first adventure through one our most valuable national treasures?
Saddlebag Lake Hinterlands – Yosemite NP
Roughly 7.5 miles round trip, the trails stretching between Saddlebag and Helen lakes offer up more than one lake per mile, plus a number of ponds. With the high and love elevations only about 400 ft. apart, there are no significant ascents and descents. The elevation, though, tops out over 10,000 ft., so you will notice the thinner air if you try to hurry through the hike. Saddlebag Lake Resort sells fishing licences, supplies, and rents small boats. The resort also provides scenic trips on the lake, plus water-taxi service to the 10,070 ft. lake’s far end. By land or by sea, Saddlebag Lake makes for a fun day trip.
Emerald Pools Trail – Zion NP
One of Zion Canyon’s most-used trails, this very scenic one- to two-hour jaunt tours a shady side canyon featuring a perennial stream with dense vegetation, and four limpid pools reflecting towering canyon walls. Hikers not inclined to undertake the entire loop can follow the mile-long paved trail (wheelchair accessible) to the lower pool and a dripping alcove lush with water-loving flora. This trail does pass by steep dropoffs, and so should be avoided when ice- or snow-covered.
Pothole Point Trail – Canyonlands NP
This interesting, self-guided nature trail is easy enough for novice hikers, but is also fascinating enough to attract the seasoned hiker. Along the short, cairned slickrock trail one will find myriad potholes in the Cedar Mesa Sandstone slickrock. At certain times when conditions are ideal, the water-filled potholes are home to a variety of small, unusual creatures. For a small donation, a guide to the potholes and their occasional residents is available at the trailhead.
Traces Nature Trail – Shenandoah NP
As Shenendoah National Park was being realized, pioneer homes already built within its boundaries were either removed or repositioned, creating a scenario in which the National Park had official residents. The last living park resident called Shenandoah home until 1975. Today, careful observation in many areas of the park will reveal traces (hence the name) of these pioneer settlements — rock walls, building foundations, broken crockery shards, and exotic flowers and bushes that return every spring.
Big Trees Trail – Sequoia NP
This trail — with a negligible elevation grade — provides a fine opportunity to see several giant sequoias across a flower-filled meadow. The trail is paved and wheelchair accessible, and offers visitors a representative taste of the Giant Forest experience. The trail is a 1-mile loop, best explored between May and November.
Mammoth Passage Tour – Mammoth Cave NP
Follow your guide to the Historic Entrance where the cave was first discovered more than 5,000 years ago. Entering the cave, imagine early visitors as they walked through these “Mammoth Passages”. Visit one of the largest rooms in the cave and see remains of an early saltpeter mining operation. The tour takes approx. 1 1/4 hours, and does include numerous staircases (160 steps total).
So, regardless of your level of on-the-trail expertise, make a resolution this National Trails Day, and get out and explore your local National Park! For more on planning your trip, check out these comprehensive guides from Wilderness Press and Menasha Ridge Press.