Today is Earth Day and this week is national park week. It is the perfect time to reflect on over 30 years of outdoor travels by chronicling my top five national park adventures. My first national park was the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I was only 11 years old, and I went on a three night hiking trip with my mom, dad, brother, and two of my dad’s friends. This was perhaps the scariest and the most exciting adventure of all my trips.
My last two national park trips have also been fruitful on the adventure front. Last April I visited Big Bend National Park and had a brutal time crossing the Chihuahuan Desert in temperatures reaching triple digits. I had to carry all my water as there are no reliable springs along the route. Last 4th of July I revisited the Great Smoky Mountains and saw four black bears while hiking in the back country.
Five amazing national park adventures
Great Smoky Mountains
As I mentioned in the intro, this hike with my parents when I was just a lad was quite the experience. We got off to a bad start when we came across a swollen mountain river with no bridge spanning across. My parents spent over an hour trying to find a safe crossing. We ended up just going straight across. They took my pack across and helped me and my brother wade across safely.
We had a long hike ahead, and the time spent looking for an adequate crossing delayed us. We ended up getting stuck in the pitch dark with poor flashlights as we approached the Appalachian Trail. To make matters worse, a buck deer kept charging at us down the trail. It ran straight at us twice before stopping when it realized we were not another male deer. We finally made the Appalachian Trail and our shelter was only a half mile away.
I wrote about this experience in more detail here
Everglades National Park
When I was in high school, my mom and dad, and my dog took off for winter break for two weeks in the Everglades. The highlight was canoeing out to Cape Sable, which is the farthest southern tip of mainland Florida. We camped on the beach after a grueling 13 mile paddle through mangrove swamps and alligator infested lakes. In fact, one of the lakes was called Alligator Lake. It was appropriately named as we saw nine swimming in the water peering at us as we paddled by.
When we were camping on the beach, the mosquitoes and the sand fleas were so bad that we escaped into the canoe and paddled out about a half mile into the ocean to catch a breeze. Then a shark fin emerged right next to our canoe and silently dove back underwater. We returned to the mosquitoes and the sand fleas.
Isle Royale National Park
Over 30 years ago, I went on a two week hike with my dad. We hiked from one end of the island to the other and then back. It took us two weeks. This was the longest hike I have ever taken and the longest I have spent at one time outdoors. It was amazing. We met the most incredible people too including this young couple from Lansing named John and Amy who we virtually became attached to at the hip as they were taking virtually the same route.