Spring Break in the National Parks
Spring Break is nearly upon us. No plan yet? No problem! We’ve got a list of five US National Parks (and one bonus tip) where you can catch a few rays in (relatively) warmer climates.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee
What you’ll find here: The Great Smoky Mountains, according to the National Park Service, is, “the most biodiverse park in the National Park system…featuring over 19,000 documented species” and up to 80,000-100,000 species that haven’t been documented yet.
What you can’t miss: Often referred to as Wildflower National State Park, the Great Smoky Mountains offer over 1,500 different types of flowering plants.
Know before you go: April 24-28, 2018 is the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage. The annual event offers professionally-guided walks to explore all that the Park has to offer. You can register online for this event starting March 1.
Airport to fly into: While you could fly into Nashville (a three-hour trip to the Park) or Charlotte (a two-and-a-half-hour drive), the 10-hour road trip is a relatively easy one!
One thing you should definitely pack: A good daypack. Between hiking, participating in a wildflower walk and searching for wildlife and historic buildings such as the charming Caldwell House, you'll fit a lot in a day. Be sure to pack your favorite GoMacro or Clif Bars and plenty of water in your HydraFlask.
Average temperature in March: Highs of 56F and lows of 29F
Yosemite National Park, California
What you’ll find here: Loads of freshly-bloomed wildflowers, world-renowned rock formation El Capitan (“El Cap”) – the 3,000-foot rock Alex Honnold famously free climbed in June, Half Dome and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, where you’ll find trees more than 3,000 years old
What you can’t miss: The warmer Spring air begins to thaw out all that’s been frozen, creating peak waterfall season in March, April and May. Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America and the sixth largest in the world at 2,424 feet tall.
Know before you go: Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road remain closed for the season, often through April due to lingering snow. Focus your plans in the Yosemite Valley and Wawona areas.
Airport to fly into: SFO. Yosemite is approximately a three-hour drive from San Francisco.
One thing you should definitely pack: Walking sticks. With so much to explore, a set of sticks will help absorb some of the impact from its varying terrain.
Average temperature in March: Highs of 58F during the day, lows of 33F at night
Arches National Park, Utah
What you’ll find here: Over 2,000 breathtaking natural stone arches
What you can’t miss: The poster child of Arches is “Delicate Arch” or perhaps “Windows,” but there are literally thousands of unique and beautiful formations. Explore!
Know before you go: March marks the beginning of busy season for Arches due to its beautiful, mild climate. Be prepared to get your day started early to ensure you can find parking at the trailhead of your choice.
Airport to fly into: Salt Lake City is a 3.5-hour drive from Arches. That said, flights in and out of Denver are often easier to come by. Your drive from Denver would be a beautiful 5.5-hour road trip through ski towns like Copper and Vail to name a few.
One thing you should definitely pack: Your camera. This Park is an outdoors-lover’s dream! You don’t have to be an expert photographer to take home some beautiful artwork (literally any shot of Fiery Furnace is sure to please!) to hang when you get back to Milwaukee. Or get super creative and bring your GoPro along so you don't miss a thing!
Average temperature in March: Highs of 61F, lows of 34F
Zion National Park, Utah
What you’ll find here: Miles and miles of beautiful red sandstone, slot canyons and a wide array of plants and animals.
What you can’t miss: You really can’t go wrong hiking here, but the Canyon Overlook Trail provides some unparalleled views of Zion Canyon without a long hike (it’s just a mile round trip). If you want that killer view with a bit more hiking involved, try Angel’s Landing.
Know before you go: Spring is considered Zion’s “off-season,” but keep in mind it’s the sixth most-visited National Park in the US, so crowds are inevitable. That doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to find some peace and serenity, just plan accordingly and be sure to research how to achieve exactly what you’re looking for.
Airport to fly into: Las Vegas is just about a 2.5-hour drive to Zion. Between low cost flights and a pretty solid daily schedule to and from General Mitchell Airport, it’ll be easy to find a flight that works with your preferred schedule.
One thing you should definitely pack: Gore-Tex boots. There are several opportunities to hike through some standing water, but to keep comfortable and safe, you’ll want to have the protection of boots that have a Gore-Tex component to them.
Average temperature in March: Highs of 56F during the day and lows of 30F at night.
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
What you’ll find here: According to the National Park Service, the country’s largest cacti, which stands over 45ft tall. The Friends of Saguaro National Park cites that saguaros that tall can weigh an impressive seven tons or more. Appropriately named, there are hundreds of thousands of saguaros throughout the park.
What you can’t miss: Ancient rock art, called petroglyphs, seen throughout the park and thought to be created by prehistoric Hohokam, who lived in the region.
Know before you go: There are campsites only available in the park’s East District – Rincon Mountain District. All campsites are backcountry wilderness sites meaning you have to hike in (vs. driving in to your site) with all of your supplies, including water (as there isn’t running water available).
Airport to fly into: Though Tuscon has an airport, there aren’t direct flights from Milwaukee. We recommend flying into Phoenix Sky Harbor and renting a car for the two-hour drive south. There’s of course plenty of glorious hiking in Phoenix, too!
One thing you should definitely pack: Hiking boots. With over 150 miles of trails to explore in moderate heat, you’ll want reliable and breathable footwear to ensure that your journey is an enjoyable experience.
Average temperature in March: Highs of 76F during the day, lows of 46F at night
Ready to adventure out? Hike on into Yellow Wood for more tips on where to go in the National Parks and gear that will get you through it comfortably. See you soon and happy trails!
Wait! If you don’t have the opportunity to get out of town for Spring Break this year, we’ve got a rec for you right in our backyard: The Ice Age Trail, which, according to the Ice Age Trail Alliance, “follows the last outline of the most recent glacier.”
What you’ll find here: Adventure awaits on our region’s gem. There are 1,000 miles of trail to explore and one of only eleven National Scenic Trails.
What you can’t miss: If you’re staying close to home, check out Parnell Tower, a 60-foot observation tower nestled in the Kettle Moraine State Forest. You’ll indulge in breathtaking panoramic views extending about 25 miles. Know before you go: Depending on which segment you opt to hike, there may be State Park entrance fees. Plan ahead by checking out the Ice Age Trail Alliance for info and recommended day hikes.
One thing you should definitely bring along: Perhaps our favorite part of staying close to home? You’re welcome to bring your pup along for your adventure along the Ice Age Trail.
Average temperature in March: Highs of 42F, lows of 29F