With the long, cold winter that has kept so many people indoors these last few months, spring is especially welcome this year. What better way to re-energize than to enjoy the beautiful outdoors by exploring our national parks and hitting the hiking trails. These fabulous parks offer the chance to renew and refresh while taking in fresh air and magnificent scenery this spring.
Joshua Tree National Park
Spring is the very best time of the year to visit Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert of California. While you might think a desert would be desolate and bare, here it’s actually filled with bizarrely shaped plants and trees that seem to have a personality of their own as well as massive boulders towering hundreds of feet into the sky. While the exact timing varies from year to year, colorful flowers bloom in the lower elevations a few weeks before spring has officially arrived, while bursts of brilliant color are found dotted across the landscape in higher elevations from March through June. Temperatures are typically idyllic from February through May with highs averaging from 80 to 85 and lows at around 50 degrees.
Getting out on the hiking trails is the best way to get up close and personal with its nearly 800,000 acres of diverse terrain that wind past wildflowers, palm oases, Joshua trees and all types of fascinating plants. One of my favorite trails here leads to Barker Dam. Although it’s an easy 1.3 mile walk, you’ll find spectacular views while hiking through a series of boulders toward the dam. By visiting just after sunrise, you might glimpse desert bighorn sheep and other wildlife who come from a drink. Past the dam, you’ll even come to some well-marked petroglyphs as the trail circles back to the trailhead.
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park on Washington’s west coast offers everything from a breathtaking wilderness coastline to a temperate rain forest and towering mountains. You’ll find numerous hikes to waterfalls, such as Marymere Falls and Sol Duc Falls.
As the park is located just an hour from my home, I’ve found that with early spring runoff, these falls are especially impressive as they tumble down mountains through a canopy of moss-covered forest. By taking the Ozette loop which winds through the forest on a wooden boardwalk to the coast, you can even search for one of the estimated 18,000 whales that pass through the waters of the Pacific from late March through May. Along the way, look for the Makah petroglyphs etched into Wedding Rocks, a cluster of boulders along the shore.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Many of the first hikes of the season begin at Great Smoky Mountains National Park located along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. This park is home to over 1,600 types of wildflowers, more than any other park on the entire continent. In the spring, hiking trails are surrounded with beautiful blooming wildflowers including orchids, violets, iris and trilliums.
Just one of the great hikes that can be taken to see the mosaic of colorful flowers is the Chestnut Top Trail with violets, yellow trillium, bloodroot and hepatica blooming in early March. Later in the season you’ll find fire pink, bishop’s cap, white trillium and more. No matter which trail you choose to hike, you’re sure to be rewarded with amazing views and plenty of magnificent flowers.
K.C. Dermody is a freelance writer and the author of the “Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland.” She has traveled to nearly all 50 states and many countries worldwide and has a passion for imparting what she has learned from her experiences to others.
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