“There is a delight in the hardy life of the open. There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm,” wrote Teddy Roosevelt famously. He was speaking to the pressing need for land conservation.
Between outings with John Muir, camping trips to Yellowstone National Park, and even some regular presidential duties, Roosevelt spent some of his time while at the helm of the United States during the late 1800s designating five new national parks, 18 national monuments, 51 federal bird sanctuaries, four national game refuges, and roughly 100 million acres of national forest.
Teddy’s gift to the world is this legacy of public land conservation. Almost 150 years later, any one of us can still throw some camping gear in our car, hop a short plane ride, or even take a bus to an expanse of public land that has never been subdivided, developed, or parceled.
In a world that undoubtedly is subdivided, these open spaces have the ability to save us from ourselves.
Glacier National Park
Presenting jagged mountains, snow-capped peaks, and crystal-blue lakes, IRL. Glacier National Park, located in northern Montana, Idaho, and southern Canada, was designated in 1910. However, archaeological evidence suggests human activity in the area dates back 10,000 years, with most recent Native American residencies by the Blackfeet, Salish, and Kootenai Tribes.
Today, the park is known for its incredible views, wildlife, and of course, glaciers. Unfortunately, time may be running out for the latter. Drive, camp, fish, boat…a good time to visit Glacier is spring or fall.
Denali National Park and Preserve
To those of you who envision snow and eternal darkness: the beauty of Alaska is varied, colorful, and very real. Within its six million acres, everything in Denali seems exaggerated: the size of the mountains, the depth of the lakes, the taste of the berries, the extent of the sunlight hours in early summer.
Relative inaccessibility is what makes Denali and the rest of Alaska so desirable. Car travel is restricted within the park — which means wildlife is less desensitized to human activity than elsewhere — and hardcore mountaineers and dog sledders continually challenge each other within the park boundaries and surrounding areas. Visit in summer for endless light.
Arches National Park
There’s something similarly spiritual and other-worldly about the red rock of the Southwest, which Arches National Park boasts in spades. Nothing makes you feel quite so small as a deep blue desert sky stretched across red rock, sand, and hardy, scrub-like desert plants — save for the gravity-defying sandstone figurines of Arches National Park.
Visit Arches in early spring in a pair of hiking shoes, or trade them out for some climbing gear. Rock climbing is accepted — nay, encouraged — in this part of the country. Visit as early as possible in the spring, before it gets hot.
Yosemite National Park
What is it about this place? It’s green, yet the cool-toned granite formations rise nearly to the clouds. The redwood Sequoias are world-famous for their size and unique color. It feels almost esoteric.
Aside from its long history of use by Native American tribes, the park was designated as a protected public land in 1890, a victory of efforts credited to John Muir and his attempt to prevent continued exploitation.
Recreation in Yosemite focuses around touring, hiking, and wildlife observation, while boasting a host of vendors eager to facilitate more sporting adventures along the lines of climbing, fishing, biking, horseback riding, and more. Visit year-round.
Acadia National Park
There’s beauty in the Eastern United States, too — in abundance. The first Eastern National Park, Acadia, was designated exactly 100 years ago in 1916. Located on Maine’s Atlantic coast, this park is all about the ocean. Its history is East-Coast length — that is to say, dating back thousands of years until it was discovered in the early 1600s by a French explorer, Samuel De Champlain.
Plan a tour, hop a boat, ride a bike, or enjoy the amenities of Bar Harbor — but summer is the time to go.
Big Bend National Park
Oh, Tejas. The paired-down splendor of Big Bend’s rock formations, stubby plants, and dramatic sunsets brings to mind old Westerns; but its portrayal in American literature is unfortunately too limited by the 150-year-old knowledge of the park available to English speakers to capture the area’s true complexity. Predominantly Native Americans — and later, Spanish looking for gold — are the most acquainted with the Big Bend, historically speaking. But today, the park serves as 118 miles of the US-Mexico border.
Visit in spring; wear hiking shoes and light colors.
Everglades National Park
Swamps, crocodiles, and…subtropical wilderness? The predominate reputation extending from Everglades National Park doesn’t do its complex ecosystem justice. Its intricate network of ponds, sloughs, and marshes is symptomatic of a large sheet of slow-moving water, one whose fertility was systematically taken advantage of for agricultural purposes until 1947, when it was designated a protected land.
Birding is a huge draw to the Everglades, as is the opportunity for a plethora of typical recreational pastimes such as a boating, hiking, and camping. Visit during the dry period, roughly December through April.