How to Enhance your Hikes at the National Parks (or anywhere!) : Guest Blog Post from The Switchback

We are so excited to be writing for Happy People Hike! After falling in love with their Instagram account, we connected and are now brand ambassadors. My husband, Cole, and I are currently traveling the U.S., doing a lot of hiking along the way. It’s no secret. We love hiking. Currently, we are on a year-long journey to visit all 59 U.S. National Parks, and hiking is our primary sport. While traveling through our first 15 National Parks and hiking about 400 miles, Cole and I have learned a lot. We feel like we have a pretty good grasp on what works and doesn’t when it comes to hiking in the National Parks. Hiking is almost always going to be great, whether it be in the mountains, woods, along a stream, under an arch, or along a beach. However, through the months we have come up with a few things that make hiking even better. 1.Hike a longer trail. Most National Parks are great, and a lot of people have figured that out. Overcrowdedness can quickly put a damper on a hike. We have avoided this by simply taking a longer hike. Most visitors, especially the extremely “touristy” ones, stick around the overlooks and short paved trails. By going the distance, you are sure to leave the masses behind and find solitude. Plus, you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel after accomplishing a long hike. A few favorites:

  • Observation Point Trail // Zion National Park

This 8-miler is a big undertaking, but the views from the top, the highest hikeable point in the park, are worth every step. Plus, while most flock to the shorter adrenaline-pumping Angel’s Landing, this is a less risky alternative with rivaling vistas.

  • Jasper Forest Trail // Petrified Forest National Park

While everyone stops at this overlook along the main park road, almost nobody steps out into the “forest” of petrified wood. The trail, more of a route, is not too long, only about 3.5 miles round trip, but requires a map from the visitor center to navigate. Once you jump through these hoops, you’ll be rewarded with a stroll through millions of tiny bits of petrified wood, almost pebbles, and the chance to see everything up close. 2. Take your time. Nothing is more stressful than trying to navigate a National Park in a hurry. Though Cole and I do tend to fill our days as much as possible (and have been caught hustling on a trail to beat the sunset), we are trying more and more to slow down and dedicate the day to enjoying just a few of the best activities. Longer hikes can be extended into an entire day by packing a lunch, taking pictures, and generally stopping to smell the roses. Several hikes also are set up as guided tours and come with a booklet, which can be either lame or interesting, depending on your perspective. A few favorites:

  • Petroglyph Point Trail // Mesa Verde National Park

This 2.4-mile round trip hike is moderately strenuous, so it’s easy to really slow down and enjoy the scenery. Grab a free booklet that describes the biology, history, and culture of the area, including an interpretation for the petroglyphs you’ll encounter at the end.

  • Devil’s Garden Loop Trail // Arches National Park

Most visitors to Arches stick to overlooks and quick hikes to arches, but sticking it out on this 7.2-mile loop allows hikers to see eight natural arches and avoid crowds. Stroll along the rocky terrain, stop to photograph arches, and pack a lunch and eat it at the approximate halfway point spur to Dark Angel rock. 3. Plan a reward. We hike for ice cream around here. No joke. Hiking with a metaphorical carrot at the end of our stick is much more satisfying. Many National Parks are remote, but most still have opportunities to indulge after a long day of hiking. A few favorites:

  • Homemade fruit pies // Capitol Reef National Park

We couldn’t come and go from Capitol Reef and not try their famous homemade fruit pies. We had hiked the steep 9.2-mile Navajo Knobs Trail and were dying to try the pie a la mode. We raced to the general store before it closed and bought two homemade ice cream cups to accompany our apple pie we had purchased early in the day. Almost made us want to hike another 9.2 miles.

  • Chili Verde // Great Sand Dunes National Park

When our friends advised us that Alamosa, Colorado (near Great Sand Dunes) is famous for its chili verde, that’s all we needed to hear. We planned to stop at a mom-and-pop type place on our way out of the park. With this in the back of our minds, we knocked out a quick 3-mile or so haul up High Dune before chowing down on a delicious Mexican buffet, featuring the iconic chili verde. Any way you hike, it’s hard to go wrong. But a few things, like leaving the crowds behind, taking your time, and planning a treat at the end of the trail, can make treks much more enjoyable.

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