Out of all the mountains in the continental United States, few have a mystique that approaches the stature of Mount Rainier. And, out of all the mountains in the continental United States, few have the visual impressiveness of Mount Rainier, which among other reasons is why the mountain and its surrounding regions became the United States fifth National Park. At 14, 411 feet Mount Rainier is not the tallest mountain in the continental United States, but it is the tallest peak in the Cascade Range, and is one of the most challenging peaks to climb in the United States. While most of the visitors to Mount Rainier National Park do not climb the mountain in its entirety, many of the trails in the park traverse sections of the mountain, and provide excellent views of the mountain's many glaciers and snowfields.
Without a question, the trek up Half Dome in Yosemite is one of the park’s signature hikes, and one of the park’s most popular hikes. But, for those people who want to climb one of the park’s signature granite peaks - and a dome no less with a fraction of the crowds, and almost none of the red tape (permits), Lembert Dome is the spot to visit. Similarly, for those who a sixteen mile roundtrip hike is unfeasible for due to physical concerns, or because of other limitations, such as small children, Lembert Dome is also the spot to visit. Finally, for those who appreciate a fantastic three hundred and sixty degree view of northeastern Yosemite, just off the Tioga Pass, Lembert Dome is also the spot to visit. Named for Jean Baptiste Lembert, who homesteaded in Tuolomne Meadows in the nineteenth century, the dome today is a great hike in the region, and the park as a whole.
One of the more historic and unknown mountains in Yosemite is Clouds Rest. The mountain’s current name comes from Lafayette H. Bunnell, who was the doctor of the Mariposa Battalion which explored Yosemite Valley and Yosemite in the nineteenth century before it became a National Park. Bunnell (whose name now graces the Bunnell Cascade along the Merced River in Little Yosemite Valley) named the mountain such because when he viewed it after a snowstorm, the clouds appeared to “rest” upon the mountain. At 9,930 feet of elevation, and with a distinctive knife-like arete ridge, Clouds Rest can be viewed easily from Yosemite Valley and various other peaks in the park, particularly as it towers above nearby Tenaya Canyon.
While there are three temperate rainforests inside the boundaries of Olympic National Park (Hoh, Quinault, and Queets), the most popular and well-known is the Hoh Rainforest. In addition to its notoriety, the Hoh Rainforest is also the only one of the three to be named a World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Before it received this type of recognition, however, the Hoh itself was one of the main reasons for establishing Olympic National Park, as the park itself was created to preserve “the finest example of primeval forest…”. Located on the slopes of the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains, the Hoh is also a spot that receives a great deal of precipitation, averaging over fourteen feet of rain per year. All of this rain has encouraged the growth of tall stands of sitka spruces and western hemlocks, and many other plants throughout the forest. While there are many trails that explore the Hoh Rainforest, the easiest and most accessible introduction to the region is the Hall of Mosses trail.
Olympic National Park is one of the National Park system’s crown jewels, and to many people, may be the brightest jewel in the crown. Because of its beauty, in the last ten to fifteen years, the park has seen increased traffic and visitation in many areas. Even though Olympic has gradually become more popular, like the National Park system as a whole, it still has large areas of wilderness in which adventurous travelers can experience silence and solitude. One of these areas is the Staircase region of the park, which is located in the southeast corner of Olympic National Park. The Staircase region was named by Lt. Joseph P. O’Neil during his 1890 expedition to explore the southern Olympic Mountains because of the enormous cedar staircase that he and his men constructed up and over a rock bluff, which was ultimately known as the “Devil’s Staircase”. While the enormous cedar staircase is now gone, what remains is the serene silence of old growth Douglas fir forests. One of the best and most accessible ways to experience the Staircase region is along the Shady Lane trail.
On the Eastern border of California, and near the Western border of Nevada, is an area that is full of mystery, wilderness, and desert solitude. This area is Death Valley National Park. The name alone “Death Valley” transcends time and space, and for hundreds of years has been a beacon to prospectors, explorers, adventurers, and today, casual visitors. While Death Valley is, as its name suggests – a fundamentally hostile environment, with temperatures regularly soaring over 100 degrees from April through October, it is more than a flat wasteland. In reality, Death Valley is one of the most geologically diverse environments on the planet, where the remains of glacial Lake Manly are laid bare, and the effects of active volcanism and erosion are easily visible. Within the confines of Death Valley, one can find tall, uplifted mountains, year-round waterfalls, volcanic craters, sand dunes, eroded canyons, and the lowest spot in North America.
For most people, Washington is the land of trees, mountains, rain, waterfalls, and the Space Needle. While Washington is more than all of these things, it is a state with stunning waterfalls. Like any location, all of the state’s waterfalls have the own unique charm and features, which makes rating them a subjective task at best. However, in my opinion, the one of the best – if not the best waterfalls in the entire state of Washington is Sol Duc Falls, which is easily accessible by a short hike in Olympic National Park. If the “best waterfall of Washington” claim wasn’t enticing enough, the falls are also located in a historic area of the park, the Sol Duc region.