Top Ten Parks for Spring

Lupines on a hillside
Lupines on a hillside in Yellowstone National Park

Spring brings a fresh start, a chance to put away layers of clothes and roam free and easy. And there's no better place to find renewal than a national park, our unbeatable natural treasures. Here are ten that are tops for replenishing your get-up-and-go. So venture forth, and dodge the hordes of summer vacationers!

We can never resist Yellowstone, the true American classic. It's wonderful anytime of year, but especially satisfying to experience as it awakens into the warmth and light of spring.

We've chosen the two new kids on the block: Ohio's Cuyahoga Valley and Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Parks. Both of these parks were granted new status in the closing days of the Clinton administration. However, there are no pardons for great facilities and amazing natural features.

Saguaro in Arizona used to be the new kid on the block. While portions of the park have been a national monument since 1933, Saguaro didn't become a national park until 1994. Spring color is a prime reason for visiting the park, along with the the distinctive Sonoran Desert wildlife. California's Sequoia is another national park named after its distinctive plant life — in Sequoia's case, the giant coniferous trees. The foothills portion of the park, which falls below the range of the big trees, is a gentle, under-appreciated area that is especially lovely in spring.

If you like plants, Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee has more species than all of Europe. In spring the mountains change daily. A long interlude here will allow you to experience nature as action-packed theater: maybe not like a Bruce Willis movie, but a far cry from Godot. The subtropical Florida Everglades is another bastion of biodiversity. While it becomes almost unbearably hot and humid in the summer, the warmth and sunlight of the Everglades spring are made to order for comforting the bodies and souls of those of us who call the chilly north home. Big Thicket, in Texas, is another unbearably buggy and humid park in the summer. Spring is the time to appreciate the unusual plant and animal life of this off-the-beaten-path park.

On the West Coast, Washington's Olympic National Park features both a diversity of biota and environments, from the alpine heights of the Olympic Mountains, temperate rain forest and wilderness coastline. In far north Minnesota, Voyageurs is the last of our parks to defrost. Named after continent-traipsing pelt traders of old, Voyageurs is a monument to the exploring spirit.

Exploration is a fitting theme for this time of year. Rise up, and seam-seal your tents.


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