The 5 Best National Parks for Instagram Pictures

It seems that your vacation of a lifetime nowadays isn’t complete without a picture posted to Instagram, Twitter or your favorite social media app that day.  Well all the National Parks are beautiful and have great opportunities for that perfect social media picture, but a few stand out from the rest.   Let’s see if you agree with my list.

5)  Glacier National Park:   Number 5 on our list is magnificent Glacier National Park in Montana.   This National Park has stunning glaciers, bright blue lakes, gushing waterfalls, and ample wildlife.  The opportunities for that perfect photograph are nearly endless.

23viewsAmazing view in Glacier National Park

4)   Crater Lake National Park:   Next up on our list is breathtaking Crater Lake National Park in the fine state of Oregon.   The contrasting colors of deep azure water, evergreen trees, and snowcapped volcanic caldera make for amazing photos that you won’t forget.

img_5048Wizard Island in Crater Lake National Park

3)   Arches National Park:   Sitting nicely at number 3 on our list is Utah’s Arches National Park.  The clear blue sky matched up with gravity defying arches and rock formations makes for fabulous photograph opportunities.   Your surely amp up your notifications with pictures from Arches National Park.

2016-iphone-pictures-406Broken Arch in Arches National Park

2)  Dry Tortugas National Park:  Number 2 on our list is the difficult to get to Dry Tortugas National Park.   Only accessible by boat or seaplane, this National Park is located 60 miles west of Key West, Florida.   What makes the photos so amazing here is the brick walls of Fort Jefferson and the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  You’ll get some extra likes when you post a picture from here.

img_3360View out of a Fort Jefferson “window” out onto the beach.

1)   Yellowstone National Park:  America’s first National Park is also first on this list.    The opportunities here for an iconic photo are nearly endless.   The abundant wildlife, the shockingly vibrant colors of the hot springs, and the power of the geysers make this our most photogenic National Park.   Make sure you take plenty of pictures on your next visit to Yellowstone National Park.

2017 iphone pictures 477Microbes and water temperature cause the vibrant colors in Yellowstone’s hot springs.  

*The cover photo is of the Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park.




Ten Reasons to Visit Southern Utah in 2018

Southern Utah is one of the most beautiful places in the world.   Southern Utah is home to five National Parks along with multiple National Monuments and State Parks.   Here are ten reasons to go visit Southern Utah in 2018.

#1:  Arches – Utah has the greatest concentration of arches in the world. It even has a National Park named after Arches.

#2:  Hoodoos – Hoodoos are skinny spires of rock. You can see a bunch of them at Bryce Canyon.

#3:  Canyons – Canyons are beautiful. Canyoneering through them is great fun. The Narrows in Zion National Park is a great one to start with.

#4:  Hiking – There are thousands of miles of trails in southern Utah through the desert, canyons, and mountains. Angels Landing in Zion National Park is recognized as one of the most thrilling in the country.

#5:  Stargazing – The dark skies of southern Utah are perfect for seeing the Milky Way.

#6:  Riding the Rocks – Whether rock crawling in a Jeep or biking on the slick rock around Moab, you can get your adrenaline rush in southern Utah.

#7:  Exploring History — Canyonlands National Park is a great place to see Dinosaur Fossils and Petroglyphs.

#8:  Lake Powell – Boating through the lake to see remote arches and flooded canyons is a ton of fun.

#9:  Orchards – The orchards of Capitol Reef National Park have 3100 trees of dozens of varieties. It’s free to pick and eat as well!

#10:  Backcountry camping – Some parts of Canyonlands National Park and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument are days away from civilization. It’s a great place to get away from civilization.


The Seven Natural Wonders of the Continental United States

Everyone has heard of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, right?   I thought it would be interesting to look at the Seven Natural Wonders of the United States.   Since I haven’t made it to Alaska or Hawaii yet, I will narrow this down to the Seven Natural Wonders of the Continental United States.  Each of these places is magnificent and has been protected by our National Park System

  • Crater Lake – Crater Lake, located in Oregon, is the deepest lake in the United States with a depth of 1949 feet.  When measured by average depth, Crater Lake is the deepest in this hemisphere and 3rd deepest in the world.  Crater Lake was formed when a volcanic caldera filled with water over hundreds of years.  This lake is also known for its extreme water clarity.

Crater Lake (photo credit to guest photographer and friend, Katie)

  • The Everglades –  The Everglades are the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.  Covering 1.5 million acres in southern Florida, this area is also known as a river of grass.  The Everglades used to consist of over 3 million acres before much of the area was drained for farmland in the early 1900’s.   This area is home to alligators, manatees, and the Florida Panther.
  • The Giant Sequoias and Redwoods – These enormous trees in California are the tallest and largest trees in the world.  These two species are closely related.  The Redwoods can reach heights of 375 feet and diameters of 25 feet.  The Giant Sequoias can reach heights of 275 feet and diameters of 30 feet.  These trees truely must be seen to be believed.

Redwood trees in Muir Woods 15 minutes north of San Francisco

  • The Geothermal Features of Yellowstone – Located in northwest Wyoming, Yellowstone is an unearthly place.  The first explorers of the area brought back tales of exploding geysers, colorful pools of hot and poisonous water, and boiling mud that were not believed.  We now know that this area sits upon a super volcano that will one day destroy much of North America when it erupts again.  In the meantime, it is a beautiful and mesmerizing place to visit.

Hot spring in Yellowstone National Park

  • Death Valley – The commonly held image of Death Valley is of a swelteringly hot wasteland.  While it is true summer temps here can top out at 130*F, there is a lot to be amazed at here.  Badwater Basin in the center of the park is a giant salt flat and at 282 feet below sea level is the lowest point in North America.  Telescope Peak rises directly behind Badwater Basin to a height of 11043 feet.  The only population of the rarest fish in the world exists in Death Valley.  There are less than 200 Devil’s Hole Pupfish left.

Badwater Basin in Death Valley

  • The Arches of Utah – The highest concentration of rock arches in the world is in Utah.  Arches National Park has over 2000 arches alone with thousands more spread out across southern Utah.  Landscape Arch spans 290 feet.  Rainbow Bridge boasts a height of 290 feet.  Delicate Arch is arguably the most famous in the world.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park

  • The Grand Canyon – The Grand Canyon is the only member of this list that is also one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.  It is located in northern Arizona and was carved over a millennia by the Colorado River.  The Grand Canyon has a length of 277 miles, width up to 18 miles and a depth of  6093 feet.  To appreciate the Grand Canyon in all of it’s glory you will want to hike or mule down to the Colorado River.

Sunrise at Mather Point in the Grand Canyon


The Ten Best National Park Gateway Towns:

The National Park gateway towns are more than just a place to grab a quick meal or a shower.  Many of them have become full fledged tourist destinations of their own.  Of course, as they become more hip and popular with tourists, they can lose some of the vibe that made them popular in the first place.

Any list like this is subjective of course.  I have visits to several of these gateway towns scheduled in the next 60 days to possibly change my opinion and move up or down the list.  Without further ado:

Honorable Mention) Key West FL:  Key West is the jump off point to Dry Tortugas National Park. This town can get overwhelmed by partying tourists from the cruise ships that stop here.

10) Springdale UT:  Located at the west entrance to Zion National Park, this small town is as beautiful as it is congested.

9) Gatlinburg TN: Gatlinburg is known for having the most pancake houses per capita almost as much as for being the gateway to ultra popular Smoky Mountains National Park.

8) Gardiner MT: Located at the north entrance to Yellowstone NP, near Mammoth Hot Springs.  This small town feels more authentic and less tourist trap. I had some great pizza here once at Yellowstone Pizza Company.

The Roosevelt Arch as you leave Gardiner and enter Yellowstone NP

7) Williams AZ: This iconic Route 66 town is almost an hour to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. That’s a little farther than most on this list, but the Grand Canyon Railway runs daily from here to the Grand Canyon Village.


Williams AZ on a snowy day.

6) Port Angeles WA: This small seaside town is a great base to explore the massive Olympic National Park. Port Angeles also features a ferry to beautiful Victoria BC.

Olympic National Park Visitor Center near Port Angeles

5) Durango CO: This wild west town is the gateway to Mesa Verde National Park. The historic Main Street is a great place to explore.

4) Whitefish MT: Whitefish is the gateway to gorgeous Glacier National Park. Wander Main Street and visit the many coffee shops and enjoy the lively art scene.

3) Moab UT: Moab is not the gateway to one National Park, but two: Arches and Canyonlands. This small desert town on the Colorado River is popular with bikers and off-road jeep enthusiasts.

My son Grant near “Tow-Mater” in Moab

2) Jackson WY: Jackson is ideally located at the southern entrance to Grand Teton National Park. The town square with elk antler arches is a great photo op before dining in one of the many fine dining establishments.

An arch made of elk antlers in Jackson WY

1) Bar Harbor ME: This quintessential New England coastal town is the gateway to Acadia National Park. Combine fresh Maine lobster and the unique low tide trek to neighboring Bar Island for a great time. I love the vibe here.

Beautiful Bar Harbor as seen from Bar Island


A Day in Arches National Park

Arches National Park is not one of those massive National Parks like Yellowstone where it is impossible to do everything in a weeklong trip.   In fact, the majority of Arches NP can be done in a single day if you plan right and pack plenty of water and food.   You are going to want to stay in nearby Moab.   It is a cool town with everything you need and more.


Tower of Babel and Sheep Rock

You will need to get up early and beat the lines into the park (which in summer can get lengthy).   In fact, when we went thru around 6am the gates were just open with no one in the toll booths checking to see our Park Pass.   You should be able to pick up a park map here, otherwise grab one from the boxes outside the Visitors Center.  I would recommend driving straight through to the back of the park and park at the Devils Garden Trailhead.   This is about an 18 mile drive.   Here you can take the 7.2 mile Primitive Trail and see a bunch of arches including famous Landscape Arch, as well as Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Double O Arch, Private Arch, Pine Tree Arch, Tunnel Arch and Skyline Arch.   There are also smaller unnamed arches through this area.   This trail is somewhat primitive (hence the name) after passing Landscape.   It can sometimes be confusing where the trail is so make sure it is daylight when you start this trail.   It will take approximately 3 hours to complete this trail depending on your pace.   This is the longest hike of the day, but definitely one of my favorites.   You can read more about it here:


Landscape Arch

Before leaving this section of the park, there is another quick trail called the Broken Arch Loop.   It will take you by Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch.    If you drive over and park near the Sand Dune Arch you can have a picnic lunch there and then quickly see the two arches on this trail and then return without doing the entire 2 mile loop.


Sand Dune Arch


Broken Arch

From here drive part way back towards the front of the park.   Park and take a quick look at the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint.   This area of narrow canyons requires a permit and/or a ranger guide.   Check it out and then make plans like I did to come back another time to do this section of the park.   It’s a cool overlook so it is worth the quick stop.

Hop back in the car and take the turnout to Wolfe Ranch and Delicate Arch.   The trail to Delicate Arch is 3 miles round trip and is a real fun hike with elevation changes and a ledge with a good drop near the turnaround point.  Once you get to Delicate Arch, plan to spend some time in this area to take pictures.   There is often a line of folks waiting for their turn to get their picture made with Delicate Arch.   Delicate Arch is much bigger than you think and it is astonishing to see how it defies gravity.   Don’t skip this trail as this is in my opinion the most spectacular Arch in the park.


Delicate Arch

Once you get back to your car, drive back up to the front of the park and take the turnoff towards the Windows section of the park.   By this time, you may be getting tired of hiking so you will be glad to see that all the arches in this section are right by the parking lot.   Short loop trails will take you to Cove Arch, Double Arch, Turret Arch, and the famous North and South Window Arches.


North and South Windows Arches

From Windows, head up to the park entrance and park near the Park Avenue Viewpoint.   There is a one mile trail where you can see the Courthouse Towers area up close and personal.    By this time it is probably getting to be late afternoon.   If you have 4 wheel drive, consider spending the rest of the afternoon driving the unpaved road to the Klondike Bluffs area.   There are some short hikes in that area to see Tower Arch and others.   Just going 4 wheeling is probably enough of a reason to take this loop.   If not, head back to town for dinner and to get cleaned up and then head back to the park after dark to see the stars.   There is great stargazing throughout the park and if you happen to be there during a new moon prepare yourself to be amazed at the stars in the night sky.   I hope this itinerary was helpful and you enjoy Arches as much as I did.  rk


Balanced Rock at Night

Sunday Hikes: The Devils Garden Primitive Trail

My favorite hike in Arches National Park is the Devils Garden Primitive Trail.   Last July I hiked this with Josh in the middle of the day.   It was pretty hot and although we had brought water, we probably should have carried more.


Landscape Arch

The trail is at the far end of Arches from the entrance.   This hike is a great way to see a bunch of arches up close and without having to deal with the crowds you see at The Windows or Delicate Arch.   It is a 7.2 mile loop with multiple spurs that starts at the Devils Garden Trailhead.   The first part of the trail is paved and you quickly traverse about a mile and a half to the iconic Landscape Arch.   Most folks turn back there so it gets lonely from here on out.   After climbing up a rock scramble the path becomes not as well marked.   There is a lot of traversing sandstone and climbing on ledges.   We passed Partition Arch and then took the spur to the left and quickly came to Navajo Arch.   This arch was cool because you could go through it and take pictures from either side.  We went back to the main loop and took a picture of an unnamed rock formation that looked to me like a UFO.   I hereby named it UFO Rock and took a picture of the formation for posterity.


Navajo Arch


UFO Rock

We continued down the trail until we came to Double O Arch.   It was very dry and sandy by this point.  Double O was really cool because it was one arch on top of the other, kinda like a figure 8.   After checking it out for a moment, we continued on skipping the spur to Dark Angel due to the water concerns.   We thought we could Dark Angel in the distance but were not sure.


Double O Arch

We then commenced to the most fun part of the hike which was the Primitive Trail portion.   This area was not marked well at all and several times it was just a cairn in the distance that kept us from wandering lost into the scrub and canyons.  However, jumping from sandstone to sandstone or sliding down a slickrock to get to the next one was a highlight of the day.  We did take the spur to see Private Arch and then finished the loop around back to Landscape.   On the way in, we hit took the paved spur to see Pine Tree and Tower Arches.   We were able to complete the 7.2 mile trail in about 2.5 hours so we were moving at a pretty good clip.


Pine Tree Arch (from the backside)

I highly recommend taking time to do this trail when visiting Arches.   It is a rare place in this park to have some solitude and see the backcountry a little bit.   It’s probably better to do the hike in the morning rather than the middle of the day due to the heat and sun in the summertime.


Picture of the Day – Delicate Arch

I took this picture last summer at Arches NP in Utah.   Arches is beautiful and a bucket list destination for sure.   I liked this picture because it shows the Arch from a different perspective than what you usually see in magazines or on the internet.  You can really see the size of the Delicate Arch as well as the huge drop off behind it.