Discover America's ultimate parks
SHHH: Hike about 3 miles in on the Hoh River Trail at Olympic National Park to discover the "quietest place in the country." (Photo: jupiterimages)
Glacier National Park, Montana
The Must-Do: If the dire projections are correct, Glacier National Park will be bereft of glaciers by 2030. So get going. High above the milky waters of Grinnell Lake, Grinnell Glacier is the most stunning in the park. It's accessible via a boat trip across Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lakes, then a 3.8-mile hike.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Lake Clark National Park, Alaska
The Must-Do: Handcrafted homesteaders' cabins are as Alaskan as the governor's mooseburgers, and one of the best is Dick Proenneke's on Upper Twin Lake. Make a pilgrimage to see where the local legend lived alone for 30 years.
Yosemite National Park, California
The Must-Do: Hit Vernal Fall, 1.5 miles up the Mist Trail. The 317-foot plume refracts concentric rainbows, and if you hike above it you'll reach Emerald Pool then Silver Apron, where the Merced River flows off a granite dome.
Olympic National Park, Washington
The Must-Do: About 3.2 miles in on the Hoh River Trail, within Olympic's temperate rain forest, is the supposed "quietest place in the country." Hike in, stand among the trees — some 60 feet around — and decide for yourself.
Death Valley National Park, California
The Must-Do: Death Valley is mysterious enough by day. By night, it's otherworldly. Two hours after sundown, walk 30 minutes into the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes outside Stovepipe Wells. If there's a moon, it's a klieg light. If not, the stars alone are enough to walk by. Get up as high as you can. Then just sit and admire the silver sea.
Ultimate Wildlife Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho
The Must-Do: Not to talk anyone out of jostling for a look at Old Faithful, but the 3.2-mile hike up Mount Washburn (10,243 feet) gives you all of Yellowstone — views of forests, geyser basins, subalpine meadows, and the sprawling Hayden Valley — in the company of about 5,000 fewer people.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, North Carolina
The Must-Do: The 5.5 miles to Mount Cammerer Lookout from Cosby Campground take in old-growth forests and one of the park's best views, ridgelines north into Tennessee.
Redwood National Park, California
The Must-Do: Walk the one-mile loop through the fantasy world of Fern Canyon. Its sheer 40-foot walls are blanketed top to bottom in swaying, glistening ferns.