Posted by: davepidgeon | June 30, 2009

Calling in the substitutes

Loving America’s national parks is easy. But too often, the wilderness that borders our iconic parkland goes overlooked even though the scenery and wildlife can be just as abundant as those inside Yosemite, Zion and others. Shenandoah National Park in northern Virginia is home to some breathtaking views and fantastic trails, but even wilder is the George Washington National Forest visible to the west – less crowded trails, no entrance fees, charming southern mountain vistas.

The new issue of Backpacker (August 2009) has on page 24 three trails to consider as alternatives to popular national parks.

  1. Fighting for elbow room at Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountain National Park is not unusual, so why not head south to the Nantahala National Forest? Check out the Fires Creek Rim Trail system, which can take you to classic Carolina balds and those purplish blue mountain views. The area’s also a bear sanctuary. Bonus!
  2. The more I think of it, as much as I want to see Zion National Park by foot, the 2-million-acre Dixie National Forest appears to be just as attractive. There’s a relatively new path shared by hikers and mountain bikers called the Virgin River Rim Trail. The high altitude path (flirting with 9,000 feet of elevation) winds around to views of hoodoos, red rock amphitheaters, ancient bristlecone pines and views of Zion.
  3. Backpacking into a national park from outside its borders has a romantic appeal, doesn’t it? Just seems better than driving in and paying $20, although I’m happy to pay the fee since it goes to protecting American wilderness. Yosemite National Park’s remote northern border can be accessed by the Buckeye Trail starting near Bridgeport. It winds past Sierra meadows dotted in wildflowers as it winds toward 11,000-foot granite peaks, which reach for that California heaven. Take the 9-mile trail to access Kerrick Meadow and the rest of northern Yosemite.

More information such as directions and where to grab a bite to eat after the hike can be found here. If you have the hard copy of Backpacker, look into the crease of page 24 and you might see a familiar name.

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