Looking for a new adventure on a budget? Let’s stay in the United States and tour some of the treasures our beautiful country has to offer. One of the cheapest and most fascinating ways to discover the U.S. is to explore National Parks. The National Park system does incredible work protecting the most important American sites and presenting them to the public in a wide array of meaningful experiences. Described below are a few parks whose purposes range from natural preserves to historical events and literature.
If traveling with children, don’t forget to ask for the Junior Ranger Booklet, which will surely enhance the young traveler’s visit. Check back at the Visitor Center at the end of the day for your reward!
Our National Parks are incredible resources to learn about the nature and history of the United States. Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon are obviously on everyone’s bucket lists. Yet, there are many lesser-known gems worth a visit. Whatever your passion, many locations will sparkle interest and enthusiasm.
To fully appreciate the parks, one should camp there. Gazing at the stars through giant redwoods, waking up with deer grazing around the tents, chatting around a campfire while grilling smores, and observing the sunrise over sandstone arches are priceless. They are also experiences unique to the United States. Of course, it will be less comfortable than spending the night in a hotel, and the accommodations are limited, but you will certainly have fun memories to bring home.
If you plan to camp at a national park located near a big city, make reservations as early as possible, even if you plan a trip in the wintertime. Indeed, we had trouble finding available campsites during Christmas vacation at Joshua Tree National Park and at Pinnacles National Monument during MLK weekend.
Do you want to climb one or two volcanoes? Head to Lassen National Park, a magnificent park nestled in the aspen and pine forests in Northern California. The hike to the top of Lassen Peak, an active volcano in the Cascade Range, is long and strenuous, yet absolutely worth the effort. From up here, the entire park is visible; forests, lava beds, and the park’s other craters. To the North, Mount Shasta looks majestic, covered in a blanket of snow.
Cinder Cone, on the other side of the park, looks completely different. Although this volcano is only 700 feet high, its ascent is difficult because of the loose tiny pebbles of lava rock, crumbling under the feet. Once at the top, the reward is astounding. In addition to the reddish-grey double rim crater, breathtaking views over the colorful Painted Dunes and the Fantastic Lava Beds welcome the climbers. Various shades of blue, green, red, gray, and brown clash against each other in a festival of colors. From afar, the dunes and the cinder cone appear soft because of erosion and the landscape is undeniably cold and unwelcoming. Only a few plants are able to grow in these mineral hills. Yet life abounds all around; the forest surrounds the volcano and it protects bears, California red foxes, deer, and many other species.
A visit to Lassen isn’t complete without a hike to the Sulphur Works at Bumpass Hell. A beautiful trail winding through a rocky landscape leads to an odoriferous geothermal basin. Splattering springs, fumaroles hissing from sulphur vents, and boiling mud pots surround visitors. Here, the Earth’s powerful energy overwhelms the senses; the basin is smelly, noisy, and colorful. Don’t expect Yellowstone of course, but Bumpass Hell is nonetheless remarkable.
The landscapes at Indiana Dunes, on the shore of Lake Michigan, might not be as impressive as the Lassen volcanoes but they are diverse and nevertheless engaging; dunes, wetlands, forests, and prairies await your visit. Numerous trails lead visitors through solitary marshes, passing by sunny clearings. Everywhere wildflowers abound. Hidden in the high grasses, frogs croak and sing, small birds chirp overhead, and waterfowl fish and swim in the ponds. Bird watching is especially spectacular during spring and fall migration.
Most of the trails are short and rated easy to moderate. Climbing dunes is, of course, more strenuous but enjoying a sunset over Lake Michigan from the top of a dune is an unforgettable sight.
Are you able to travel to Philadelphia by train? You probably won’t need your car there since many sites are located in the historic downtown. During our stay, my family and I booked a room near the university campus and used public transportation every day. Uber came to our rescue once, and only because we decided against waiting for the bus under pouring rain.
Discover Philadelphia, Capital of the United States. Many of the historical attractions are part of the National Park system. Most notably, Independence National Historical Park contains important sites relating to the creation of the United States. Go back in time by walking through the old cobbled streets, following in the footsteps of our forefathers, from Independence Hall to Benjamin Franklin’s house and workshop.
Sample lunch or dinner at the City Tavern, which serves traditional 18th-century dishes, deliciously paired with the “Ales of the Revolution”. Be sure to leave room for dessert! You might not walk off all the calories while visiting Independence Park, but this gastronomical stop surely makes the experience more satisfying!
Better than the Presidential Mansion ruins located in Independence Park, the Germantown White House transports visitors back to George Washington’s time. Park rangers use compelling stories about George, Martha, and their grandchildren to help visitors grasp the way of life at the end of the 18th century. We also learned about the slaves who worked for the family. Indeed, the intertwined stories, pertaining to famous revolutionary episodes or to basic household concerns, really grab the attention and imagination.
I have been fascinated by Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories for decades and I couldn’t go to Philadelphia without visiting his home. Poe only lived in this brick house for a few months, and unfortunately, there aren’t any mementos from his stay. While the old house is mostly intact, it is now surrounded by modern buildings and warehouses. It is mostly empty of furniture and is a showcase dedicated to Poe’s works. Setting the stage, a raven statue greets the visitors outside. Down a decrepit staircase, the dark basement is the perfect setting for The Black Cat.
Nearby the Poe house is also the burial place of the poet, which is open to the public and free. It’s a beautiful cemetery nestled in Baltimore.
The National Park Agency administers many sites all over the country. When planning a road trip, or visiting a specific city, look into the list of nearby parks and monuments. Don’t hesitate to take a detour – you will seldom if ever, be disappointed. Everywhere, passionate park rangers share their knowledge tirelessly. With a bit of advanced planning, exploring National Parks is truly a rewarding experience for everyone.
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