Since the dawn of social distancing the interest in U.S. National Parks has skyrocketed, and thus, they’ve become more crowded than ever before.
U.S. National Parks, National Forests, National Recreation Areas, Or State Parks: Which Is Better?
Our National Parks are usually people’s first choice for which National Lands to visit. Some of the most popular ones (especially in the West) may require pre-booking, and are often booked solid for several months in advance. And while last-minute openings might pop up, you’d be doing yourself a favor by keeping our other National Lands in mind instead. They’re equally as amazing, and are well worth considering as an alternative.
What Are U.S. National Lands?
National Lands include National Parks, National Forests, and National Recreation Areas. They’re all seeing the largest on record, and State Parks across the country aren’t any picnic, either! (see what we did there?)
Are U.S. National Lands Pet-Friendly?
If you’re dog people like we are, we’d like to remind you that our U.S. National Forests, National Recreation Areas and even State Parks are often more pet-friendly than National Parks. We have an article for you explaining some of the differences; National Parks vs. National Forests: Traveling With Dogs. So if you’re planning on traveling with your dogs, these alternative National Lands are absolutely worth considering.
What Are The Best U.S. National Lands To Visit?
There is a wide variety of U.S. National Lands to visit on your road trip, so we’ve created a little “roundup” of the various places that we’ve visited in the past year – most of them, with our pups!
Horseshoe Bend is not only absolutely breathtaking, but visiting is super-easy, dirt cheap, and you’ve basically got free reign to wander wherever you like, for the most part. Located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Page, Arizona, this social media darling has become one of the most recognized and visited places in the states.
Just on the outskirts of Grand Canyon National Park, it’s about 140 miles from both the north and south rims. You’ll find the hike from the parking lot to the overlook (1.5 miles round-trip) to be very easy, with two shade structures along the trail. There is a viewing platform at the overlook, or, like we mentioned, you’re also free to roam. There is no shortage of boulders to perch yourself on and take in the stunning view.
It is best to see Horseshoe Bend in the late morning to early afternoon hours. The position of the sun during this time enhances the already-vibrant colors of the rock layers, and takes it to the next level. It is truly breathtaking. We were so impressed, that we rank Horseshoe Bend right up there with the Grand Canyon on our wow-factor list. Check it out in our vlog: Views For Days | Horseshoe Bend.
Located in North Carolina, DuPont State Recreational Forest is perhaps a lesser-known attraction, but no less beautiful. At over 10,000 acres, this state forest is home to at least six waterfalls. It also has gorgeous mountain views from atop Cedar Rock and Stone Mountain, miles of hiking trails, hidden lakes, and there’s even an awesome wooden-covered bridge. As far as chasing waterfalls, you will not be disappointed. You can easily get to three of them in one shot on a moderate-rated hike. Those are Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls. Bridal Veil, Raven Cliff, Wintergreen, and Tumblestone Falls are all at DuPont as well, and it’s also a popular mountain biking and horseback riding retreat.
Here’s a fun fact: The Hunger Games was filmed at various locations here, including Hooker and Triple Falls! You can read about those here, and if you’d like to check out us and our pups getting in our steps chasing waterfalls, you can watch our vlog from DuPont here!
Sequoia National Forest: Dog Friendly And Majestic
Visiting Sequoia National Forest in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California is an experience we will cherish forever. It was an easy day-trip from our home in Los Angeles, and one that we still can’t believe we hadn’t taken sooner. It’s amazing the things you take for granted when they’re so easily accessible! Nonetheless, we’d always wanted to see these majestic beauties up close. Our dogs were coming on this trip and as we mentioned above, we found out that Sequoia National Forest was a much more pet-friendly choice for us than Sequoia National Park. The only “compromise” we made with that choice was not being able to see the General Sherman. “The General” is the largest known living tree on Earth, and is estimated to be between 2,300-2,700 years old!
We had plenty to be in awe of, though, and the forest did not disappoint. It has over thirty groves of giant sequoias. These trees are magnificent and indescribably massive! Sequoia National Forest has more than 2,500 miles of road, over 800 miles of trails, and plenty of recreational and camping facilities. And there’s no admission fee – just a suggested cash donation to park. At the time we visited, it was a mere $10! You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t pay a visit to the park or the forest, at least once.
Bonus: Hike To Dome Rock After Seeing Sequoias
After your visit to the sequoias, we recommend heading a little farther up the mountain for a moderate mile-and-a-half hike to Dome Rock. Dogs are allowed on this trail and the views from atop the rock are absolutely gorgeous. Do check in advance for any possible road or trail closures due to natural causes. We encountered this ourselves and had a difficult time finding our way to the top, since the trail was unmarked. You can check out our day of exploring Sequoia National Forest and our Dome Rock hiking follies in our vlog, for a look at what you’ll encounter when you visit!
This is just a small handful of the many National Lands our nation has to offer. Hopefully we’ve given you some insight into some you may not have known about or considered. And we’re always looking for our next road trip adventure, so let us know what some of your favorite National Lands to visit are!