November Parks and the Outdoors Travel Guide

Monthly Activity Guides

Get the lowdown on when to go where:
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Mesa Verde National Park, CO
Mesa Verde can feel, at times, more like a tourist trap than a park. And because it's an archaeological preserve, hiking is restricted to specific areas, making it feel even more crowded. But in winter, the quietest season, the view from the six-mile Balcony House Loop reveals the ancient Anasazi ruins in all their splendor without the 1,001 other tourists there to spoil the scene. When the powder is good (note that snowfall can be light in southwestern Colorado, so check before strapping on your skinny skis), Mesa Verde is the ideal place to indulge in some ruin-rich, cross-country skiing.

Table Mountain National Park, South Africa
The legend goes something like this: An 18th-century pirate challenged a stranger to a smoking contest. After four days the pirate triumphed, but the sore-losing stranger was the devil in disguise, and he took the pirate with him in a puff of smoke. This cloud of tobacco smoke is said to be the legendary "tablecloth" hanging over Table Mountain, the sandstone splendor presiding over South Africa's Cape Town. The city is one of the few in the world surrounded by national parkland. Table Mountain National Park stretches across the tip of southwestern Africa and encompasses the Cape of Good Hope, another world-renowned landmark that stretches 40 miles from Signal Hill to Cape Point. Remember, November is the start of summer in these parts, so expect warm, dry weather.

Saguaro National Park, AZ
For most of us, the Giant Saguaro cactus is the symbol of the American West. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern city of Tucson. Biking the park is the best way to view native plants and animals, and the spectacular scenery of the Sonoran Desert. The eight-mile paved Cactus Forest Loop Drive in the Rincon Mountain District and the six-mile gravel Bajada Loop Drive in the Tucson Mountain District are two popular routes. While November is the beginning of the busy season in the park, the mild days averaging 65 degrees make it well worth your while.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
If there is ever one part of Patagonia that you must visit, this is it. It's Chile's equivalent of Yellowstone or Yosemite. The park is part of the Paine Massif, where medium-high mountains emerge suddenly from the plains of the Patagonian steppes. The geologic drama is palpable. Beyond these recalcitrant pillars, an intricate series of trails weave past glistening lakes, sprawling glaciers, gushing waterfalls, and a rapidly growing wildlife population. The best—and most popular—time to visit is during the South America late spring, summer, and early fall, which is roughly November through April.

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
With the high-season crowds to this undeniable wonder finally thinning toward the end of October, November is prime time to get more of this amazing landscape to yourself. Backpackers will enjoy some perfect temps, even if things can get a little chilly at nighttime. And even if the more remote North Rim sees some early-season snowstorms, the blankets of snow covering the iconic landscape will only add to the amazing contrast of colors.

Channel Islands National Park, CA
Make your next long Thanksgiving weekend the best ever with this can't-miss plan: Hop a ferry from Ventura to Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the five islands comprising California's Channel Islands National Park. From the drop-off at Prisoner's Harbor, hike a relatively short 3.5-miler through oak- and sage-studded canyons to the new Del Norte backcountry campground. Only open on weekends, decamp on Monday for a rugged 11.5-mile hike along the island's easterly ridgeline before dropping down to Scorpion campground, where potable water and the ferry back to reality await. Keep your eyes peeled for golden eagles, feral pigs, the endangered island fox, sea lions, and migrating gray whales on their way south to Baja.

Gulf Islands National Seashore, MS & FL
Island beaches, sparkling waters, bayous, and historic forts are plentiful in Gulf Islands National Seashore, the nation's largest. Open year-round, the seashore offers camping, fishing, picnicking, boating, birding, swimming, and hiking—the Florida Trail goes through the Florida section. Parts of the seashore are reached by car, while the most spectacular parts are accessible only by boat. Water-taxi service is one option, though many people have their own boats for island hopping. November ends the hurricane season, and the temperatures are pleasant, if a little cool.

Sierra High Route, CA
California's Sierra High Route offers a compelling reason to get the planks out a few weeks early. This 200-mile traverse dissects the wilderness spine of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, Inyo National Forest, and Yosemite National Park, and will introduce both skiers and boarders to some of the most remote and rugged backcountry the West Coast has to offer. With a total elevation gain of some 12,000 feet and a traverse across nine mountain passes, the Sierra High is no pushover and should only be attempted by skilled backcountry skiers or snowboarders in excellent shape.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, UT
This beautiful but unforgiving landscape was the last place in the continental United States to be mapped. Even today, this 1.9-million-acre unspoiled natural area remains a frontier calling to skilled adventurers. The high, rugged, and remote region offers day hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, and camping. Good navigation skills and a GPS are necessary because most of the hiking opportunities are on unmarked routes. Off-highway driving is also a popular activity in the monument. For the less adventurous, park rangers lead naturalist hikes through November.

Sawtooth National Forest, ID
Pick your sunsets carefully, and you may witness the serrated Sawtooth Mountains live up to their name, as they rip storm clouds into shreds of purple, orange, and vermilion. In winter, this is ski country. Sun Valley is world-famous and many serious downhill skiers consider Bald Mountain the country's single best ski mountain. Cross-country skiers can also get in on the action; choose from nine tracks in the Sawtooth National Forest or several commercial sites in the vicinity of Ketchum.


Published: 24 Nov 2009 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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