Scott Kranz
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Five National Parks You Must Experience in 2016

It's been said that the United States' national parks are "American's Best idea." I would have to agree, would you? As I plan my travel for any given year, I am always looking back on the year past, reflecting on my favorite trips. In 2015, I was lucky enough to visit a number of our beautiful national parks. Here is a list of my five favorites for you to add to your own list.

Mount Rainier National Park

At 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the highest peak in Washington State and the most prominent and glaciated mountain in the lower 48. Millions of people visit Mount Rainier National Park each year and stare up at the massive volcanic structure of rock, snow, and ice.  The view never gets old, truly.

Taking in Mount Rainier from a backcountry tarn at sunset.

Taking in Mount Rainier from a backcountry tarn at sunset.

If you wish to leave the tourist spots and experience Rainier in the truest sense, consider the more serious undertaking of climbing to its 14,410 summit. Even before my move from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest in 2013, I wanted to climb Mount Rainier. After immersing myself in snow camping, mountaineering, and alpine climbing, I finally decided to act on this dream. I teamed up with a good friend, a seasoned climber and former mountain rescuer, and we decided to try an early-season summit as an unguided two-person rope team. With much effort and determination, we made the summit and were treated to an indescribable feeling of elation.

The sun rising above the horizon, as seen from the top of Disappointment Cleaver, during our early May 2015 ascent of Mount Rainier.

The sun rising above the horizon, as seen from the top of Disappointment Cleaver, during our early May 2015 ascent of Mount Rainier.

Glacier National Park

John Muir called it “the best care-killing scenery on the continent,” and it’s true: Glacier National Park boasts landscapes that will stop you in your tracks and leave you in awe. When the opportunity to explore Glacier arose last year, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I rounded up a few friends, packed my gear and made the nine hour road trip from Seattle to experience the magic myself.

Do yourself a favor and put Glacier on your must-travel list for 2016. Drive the Going to the Sun Road and take in some of the biggest mountains in the lower 48. 

The crystal clear waters of Saint Mary Lake, a sight you can experience off of the Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park.

The crystal clear waters of Saint Mary Lake, a sight you can experience off of the Going to the Sun Road, Glacier National Park.

 

Zion National Park 

Zion National Park is one park that stands out among the rest. With its unique rock formations, terrain, and landscapes, there is no other place quite like it. I made the trip to Zion last autumn, which is prime time for a visit: there are fewer crowds, the sun is less intense, and if you’re lucky, the fall colors are beautiful yellows, oranges, and reds.

Experiencing a beautiful combination of soft light, fall foliage, and a close wildlife encounter along the Zion canyon floor.

Experiencing a beautiful combination of soft light, fall foliage, and a close wildlife encounter along the Zion canyon floor.

Zion National Park is arguably the canyoneering capital of the world. Jioning several close friends, we decided to tackle some of Zion’s most beautiful technical canyons, including the popular “Subway” canyon from the “top down,” a full-day of canyoneering requiring rappelling, swimming, climbing, and route finding. Few of my outdoors experiences in 2015 stand out more than my trip through the Subway in Zion.

The Subway's main attraction, a unique section of the canyon where the wall round outward to create a tubular oval. Circular emerald pools of rushing water line the floor.

The Subway's main attraction, a unique section of the canyon where the wall round outward to create a tubular oval. Circular emerald pools of rushing water line the floor.

Yosemite National Park

We have all seen photographs of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Valley. But there’s only one way to experience Yosemite: in the flesh and with your own eyes. Standing next to Yosemite’s granite monoliths, the valley walls appear impossibly tall, rocketing up toward the sky in a way that leaves your mind spinning.

By fall 2015, Yosemite had been on my bucket list for several years – far too long. In the spur of the moment, I decided that I was going to make the trip once and for all. And I’m so thankful I did. Take the trip to Yosemite, one of this country's greatest parks, and see it for yourself.

The beautiful turmoil of clouds and light above Yosemite Valley.

The beautiful turmoil of clouds and light above Yosemite Valley.

North Cascades National Park

The North Cascades, coined by many as the “American Alps,” are some of the most wild and rugged mountains in the contiguous United States. Most people experience the North Cascades by driving the North Cascades Highway – Washington State Route 20 – a scenic byway offering stunning vistas. But the most spectacular views of the North Cascades require hiking or backpacking to higher elevations. Ascending through old-growth forests, beautiful lush meadows, and steep scree fields, you will be rewarded with views of some of the most spectacular alpine landscapes one can experience.

A backcountry campsite to remember, high up in the North Cascades.

A backcountry campsite to remember, high up in the North Cascades.

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Our national parks: truly our best idea. Although I've listed only five above, there are so many more. Are there any national parks not listed above that you'd recommend? Please share any of your favorites below in the comments. Cheers! -Scott