Cooling off in the Merced River in Yosemite National Park | Lindsey Shea/Tiny Atlas/Kintzing 

Sure, it's all subjective. But at the edge of a space-defying canyon or next to a cathedral of rock, wild beauty feels like hard truth: Undeniable, universal, and out there, waiting for us all. 

Yosemite National Park

The Classic Yosemite Valley 

Hikers can stand in the heart of Yosemite looking up at Half Dome’s sheer face as they embark on a stroll along Mirror Lake Trail. The path winds through towering trees and massive cliff walls with Tenaya Creek’s clear waters a refreshing rush. Just don’t expect reflective depths from Mirror Lake. It’s called Mirror Meadow, too, due to late summer grasses that take over the water, Mt. Watson rising as its dramatic backdrop. Following this outdoor grandeur, the Valley’s Ansel Adams Gallery shows art inspired by the setting. It houses a few of the photographer’s key works, with their genius study of light and shadow. 

The Alterna-Classic Clouds Rest Trail

Tioga Pass vaults to 10,000 feet at the park’s eastern portal, with its rocky vistas and lush meadows. Let everyone else climb Half Dome, and take the 14.5-round trip of Clouds Rest Trail instead. You’ll be with a smaller group and see arguably better vantage points—thrillingly steep drops from the summit and sweeping panoramic views that include Half Dome, Tenaya Lake, Mt. Hoffman, North Dome and parts of Cathedral Rocks and El Captain. 

The Hidden Gem The Remote North 

The park’s vast northern half opens up, a place for quieter, wilder beauty. Drive to Cherry Lake Dam and take the trailhead east about four miles to Lake Eleanor, Yosemite’s largest natural lake with a dam built in 1918. Eagles soar and deer amble as hikers make their way to fish for rainbow or brown trout from the banks. Those with moxie pack in a canoe or kayak to experience the lake’s shimmer from its midst. 

RV campgrounds

Ten campgrounds accommodate RVs in the park, but you’ll need reservations. RVs of 40 feet and trailers up to 35 feet can use only 8 sites in Yosemite Valley. Shorter rigs have more options. Note: There are some date-specific vehicle reservation rules in place this year for any drive into the park, so best to keep an eye on those.


Taking in the grandeur of Yosemite Valley | Brian Chorski/Kintzing

Grand Canyon National Park

The Classic South Rim Exploration

The South Rim marks the spot for many first-timers who make the pilgrimage to gasp at the great chasm. Acclimate (as best you can) to the canyon’s abrupt depths along the Rim Trail. Then, when you’re ready to descend, the Bright Angel Trail—well-maintained, well-traveled and lively with a myriad of languages from all around the world—offers probably the most popular path into the grandeur. One of the great parts of Bright Angel is the communal experience: the passing, unspoken looks between strangers that says, “Can you believe we’re doing this right now?” Afterwards, a climb up Desert View Watchtower rewards with a view of light transforming the canyon’s many colors. 

The Alterna-Classic North Rim Hike

Only 10 percent of park visitors see the higher and wilder north side of the canyon, making for less bustle and more quiet contemplation. Study the layers of color along with echoes from the depths at Dutton Point. Or, meander Cape Final Trail through ponderosa pines and purple spears of blooming lupines as canyon views begin to peak through the forest. Widforss Trail gives a sense of the beauty that caught the eye of the trail’s namesake, Gunnar Widforss, a Stockholm-born bohemian and pioneer painter.

The Hidden Gem Wupatki National Monument

It’s less than an hour south of Grand Canyon and about 30 minutes north of Flagstaff, but it feels like a time-travel to ancient lands. For Indigenous peoples, this place indeed holds the stories of ancestors in its glowing red rock. Namesake Wupatki Pueblo, inhabited between the early 1100s and mid-1200s, rises with a three-story tower and eight rooms in expert architecture atop a sandstone pedestal. Did its founders build here for the view? The Painted Desert horizons and rising San Francisco Peaks seem to whisper a yes.

RV campground Trailer Village RV Park

The only in-park RV campground sits among high-desert landscapes, just one mile from the South Rim. High-season visitors (May to October) should make reservations a year in advance. 

For more cultural and natural wonders of Northern Arizona, get Wildsam's Grand Canyon field guide.




the Hidden Gem Lower Pine Creek Falls

Within Zion’s red-rock crevices, an unmarked trail leads to what feels like a secret falls—a quiet bit of beauty in an often bustling park. You won’t find the trail on a park map, but the path will be obvious when you spot it about half a mile north of the visitor center along Zion Mt. Carmel Highway. Follow the short hike (less than a mile round trip) with a careful scramble over river rocks. Listen for the rush of falls. And find the opening to a 15-footer with a natural slide at its base for splashing into cooling pools. 

For more secrets of the red-rock landscape, get Wildsam's field guide to Zion National Park.

Hiking the canyons of Zion National Park | Brian Chorski/Kintzing

Olympic National Park

The Classic The Hoh Rainforest and Hall of Mosses 

Mysterious and lush, the Hoh Rainforest holds some of the world’s quietest places—sound absorbed in neon shades of moss and damp woods. Ferns sprout their tendrils like a psychedelic shag carpet, octopus-limbed maples seemed plucked from a fairytale. The Hall of Mosses Trail is your entry point to this wonderland, a short loop with big, mystical attitude. The Hoh River Trail, a longer expedition, takes the adventurous all the way to Mount Olympus. 

Wildsam's field guide to Olympic National Park is coming soon. To be among the first to get it, sign up for our newsletter.




Never forget that we have 10 national seashores—basically, ocean vistas that could be national parks, but for various quirks of conversation policy. The Cape will always hold a special place in our hearts, with its wild Atlantic beaches, dune shacks, and meandering trails. Nickerson State Park, close to the protected Seashore boundaries, is the place to pull up.

Wildsam's field guide to Cape Cod explores these beloved shores and isles.