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National Parks Offer Unmatched Outdoor Vacation Experience

Posted at 08/20/2020 03:20 PM by Pat O'Connor

national parks colorado

The summer of 2020 has been the season of getting outdoors. If you’re like me, you’ve probably taken a road trip or two, or at the least know someone who has. 

If anything good has come from the pandemic, it’s that people have discovered a newfound appreciation of nature.

When our international travel plans got squashed, plan B was implemented. My three kids and I packed up the SUV and headed to Yellowstone. We weren’t alone.

Many National Parks See Increase in Visits This Summer

According to a recent article in the New York Times, the country’s national parks had become a vacation of choice even before the pandemic isolated Americans in their homes back in March. Last year, the National Park Service logged 327.5 million visitors, the third-largest annual crowd behind those in 2016 and 2017.

While 2020 attendance at Yellowstone National Park fell in the spring and into June, many people started to venture out to the great outdoors by the start of summer. However, some national parks had increased visitation even before summer began. At Cades Cove, a popular section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, weekend visitation in May was 54 percent higher than the same month in 2019 even though the park was closed for some of that time, according to the New York Times article.

Summer vacations that originally included plane rides and hotels transitioned into travel closer to home and/or the use of campers for road trips. A surge of interest in camping, renting and buying RVs, and escaping the confines of home for wide open spaces was at the forefront of many peoples' minds when mapping about possible getaways. 

This summer, state or national parks, national forests and natural areas have risen to the top of go-to areas for many families. With research indicating the COVID-19 virus is less likely to be transmitted outdoors, people have opted for camping vacations that offer greater social distancing and less expense. Now, well into the summer, reports are that national parks are booming. A recent article in the Billings Gazette states that visits to Yellowstone during the month of July were up 2 percent over last year.

Check out the National Parks in Colorado, Neighboring States

Living in the West definitely has its perks when it comes to proximity to national parks. Here in Colorado, we have five of our own, and many outside of the state can be reached within a 12 hour drive. Below is a list of national parks in Colorado and our surrounding states. By clicking on the link, you’ll also find designated national recreation areas, monuments, historic sites and trails.

Colorado

Rocky Mountain

Mesa Verde 

Great Sand Dunes

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Utah

Zion

Bryce Canyon

Arches

Canyonlands

Capitol Reef

Wyoming

Yellowstone

Grand Teton 

Arizona

Grand Canyon 

Petrified Forest

Saguaro

New Mexico

White Sands

Carlsbad

Park Lodges, Campgrounds  Offer Convenient Base of Operations

For people who choose the camping route, it’s advantageous to find sites within the park boundaries as it makes getting around to the points of interest much easier. Same thing with lodging. In most national parks, you can find lodges and cabins that provide the perfect launchpad for your activities. However, keep in mind that this year, some of the accommodations are closed/limited due to social distancing requirements.

Case in point: According to the Yellowstone National Park lodging website, “At this time, a limited number of rooms are open at: Lake Hotel (standard rooms), Canyon Lodge (standard, superior, suites), Old Faithful Snow Lodge (premium rooms), and Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel (premium rooms), and Old Faithful Inn (east wing premium, superior, and suites). In addition, cabins with private bathrooms are open at: Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, Old Faithful Lodge, Old Faithful Snow Lodge, Lake Yellowstone Hotel, Lake Lodge, Canyon Lodge. Please note: The lobby of the Old Faithful Inn will remain closed. Grant Village and Roosevelt Lodge are closed for 2020.”

Also, some of the food service and vendor sites are operating at limited levels. There may be limited seating and staffing so please be patient with the employees. I recommend bringing your own food and coolers into the park in case you experience long lines. There are plenty of picnic areas and waysides to enjoy a hand-packed lunch and snacks.

Don't Rush the Vacation

Finally, slow down and enjoy the journey. We get spoiled living in Colorado and having the mountains just outside our backdoor. But viewing the mountain ranges and unique landscapes of our neighboring states are truly breathtaking. The towering Grand Tetons in Wyoming at daybreak are awe-inspiring. The brilliant pink hoodoos and monumental plateaus of Utah’s Bryce Canyon will fill you with wonder. And the White Sands of New Mexico will make you feel like you’re on a different planet.

Please observe the speed limits in the park and always allow extra time when getting from point A to point B. Whether you get behind a slow moving RV or meandering herd of bison, remember to look out the window and enjoy the view! 

Stop often. Check out the landmarks and wildlife. Take lots of photos and videos. Remember, you’re on vacation! Enjoy the break from your computer and electronic devices. 

Undisturbed dinners with everyone contributing stories and observations, walking around in nature and witnessing God’s creations at their best and even enjoying driving on the open road make profound memories that will not be forgotten. 

Posted by Pat O'Connor

Pat O’Connor has dual citizenship in both Wisconsin and Colorado, having been born and raised in Wisconsin Dells, but later adopted by the Centennial State. A graduate of the University of Colorado (B.S. Journalism, 1980), O’Connor began her career as a sportswriter at the Boulder Daily Camera under the tutelage of the venerable Dan Creedon. Her experience also includes stints in public relations at Aspen Highlands Ski Area, the Colorado Trial Lawyers and the Colorado Division of Wildlife. When she isn’t piecing together sentences, the self-proclaimed “Cheesehead” enjoys hanging out with her three kids and assortment of family pets, running, playing golf, hiking 14ers, horseback riding and skiing. As a mother to two (at one time three) competitive swimmers, her favorite fragrance is eau de chlorine. During football season, she can be found cheering for the Buffs on Saturdays and screaming when the Packers score on Sundays. She loves talking sports and giving recommendations on cheese curds.

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Topics: Things to Do in Denver