As an avid fan of exploration, I have accumulated numerous travel books and bucket lists of locations I would like to see someday. The world is full of so many different landscapes and beautiful places, it is hard to know where to start. With Covid-19 affecting international travel in recent years, my explorations have been focused around all the beauty here in the United States. One foolproof method of seeing some of the most beautiful places in the country is to visit national parks. To date, I have visited 29 of them, each one full of unique beauty. From enormous trees in Redwoods, Kings Canyon and Sequoia, to epic mountain views in Glacier and Mt. Rainier, to the unique geysers in Yellowstone, to beautiful desert hoodoos in Bryce Canyon, the variety of sites is astounding. And for those like me that live in Grand Junction, several are only a day trip away. Colorado is home to four parks: Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes, Mesa Verde, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Utah is home to the “Mighty 5” parks: Canyonlands, Arches, Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef. All 9 of these parks can easily be visited by GJ residents over a weekend (or perhaps a three-day weekend) and there are still more that are easily visited in Arizona, Nevada and Wyoming. Each park is loaded with hikes, scenic drives and viewpoints, wildlife, and endless photo opportunities.
Some of my favorite hikes that are all roughly 5 hours from Grand Junction are:
1. The Narrows, Zion National Park. This gorgeous slot canyon hike requires walking through water for the majority of it which feels amazing in the summer heat! The high canyon walls carved by years of water are a lovely experience.
2. Fairyland Loop, Bryce National Park. Walking for miles through funky hoodoos feels like being on another planet! This trail is one of many in the park with amazing views that curve and dip down into the hoodoos as well as wind back up above them for multiple perspectives.
3. Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park. For a quintessential RMNP experience, this hike passes several lakes with high peaks in the background. It can get somewhat crowded but for good reason: The park is nestled in the mountains right by the town of Estes Park which is a great place to stop and grab some food.
So, pick a park. Pick a hike. And go explore some of the country’s most beautiful places!