national park guides
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Olympic National Park
By Alina Drufovka
Indigenous History of The So-Called Olympic Peninsula
The beautiful, serene peninsula that houses what is now known as Olympic National Park is the stolen, sacred land of several Indigenous tribes, with rich histories. It’s critical that visitors take time to acknowledge these lands and educate themselves on the tribes who call and have called these places home, past and present. According to the National Park Service, Olympic is the traditional homeland of more Native American groups than any other National Park unit.
(Learn more about the beautiful, rich histories of the Indigenous peoples and tribes who inhabited the Olympic Peninsula here: http://www.windsox.us/VISITOR/tribes.html)
“Eight Olympic Peninsula tribes continue to recognize a relationship to the park based on traditional land use, origin, beliefs, mythology and spiritual beliefs and practices. These tribes are the Lower Elwha Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Skokomish, Quinault, Hoh, Quileute, and Makah. It was the ancestors of these tribes that lived throughout the Olympic Peninsula, but ceded their lands and waters to the U.S. federal government through treaties in 1855 and 1856 and now live on reservations along the shores of the peninsula.” (https://www.nps.gov/olym/learn/historyculture/tribes-of-the-olympic-peninsula.htm)
In real terms, they were forced to sign exploitative treaties to give up their sacred lands and waters to the U.S. federal government in 1855 and 1856. These lands and waters were stolen from them.
Learn more about going beyond land acknowledgements in the Respecting Native Lands section of this BIPOC Guide to Vanlife & The Outdoors.
Allow me to paint a picture of this land – what’s now known as Olympic National Park – for you! This is a truly magical place where snow capped peaks meet the rocky coast, and gigantic trees tower over mossy trails. The Olympic Peninsula is a large arm of land that lies in western (so-called) Washington state, near the city of Seattle, and contains Olympic National Park. You can access the Olympics (what folx also call this peninsula) via driving or taking a ferry from Seattle.
Drive up to Hurricane Ridge for easily accessible 360-degree panoramic views and fields speckled with some of the best wildflowers the Pacific Northwest has to offer (wheelchair friendly!). Head over to Rialto Beach to camp near the iconic Hole in the Wall sea stack and explore seemingly infinite tidepools. Also, be sure not to miss a trip to the Hoh Rain Forest, where you can amble the flat paths of one of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S. The Hoh Rain Forest visitor center also has a really nice quarter-mile, paved & wheelchair accessible trail. There are truly activities here for all ages and abilities! (For more information on accessibility, check out this page on the NPS site)
Summer is the best time to visit and stay for dry weather and gorgeous views, although that is also the height of the tourist season. Lodging is pretty pricey in nearby towns and fills up quickly, but plenty of affordable camping and boondocking sites can be found nearby!
Check out the Essential Apps section of this Guide for some great apps to help you easily find affordable and free parking & camping spots!
My Top Things To Do
- Drive up Hurricane Ridge (short trails around the top, take in the 360-degree views)
- Lillian Ridge Trail (7.8 mile loop trail, moderate traffic, overall fairly difficult)
- Rialto Beach (also car camping here! See below for details)
- Port Angeles City Pier (cool natural sculptures)
- Hoh Rain Forest
- Olympic Discovery Trail (mountain biking)
- Sol Duc Trailhead To Bogachiel Peak (rigorous single day trip or multi-day trip if you can secure permits)
- Mt. Ellinor (trails for hiking)
Places To Camp/Van Camp
- Heart o’ the Hills Campground
- Lake Crescent
- Lake Quinault
- Camp on Rialto Beach (you can borrow a bear canister for free from a visitor center) or simply stay for a beautiful sunset and bonfire. The parking lot on the far left is on a Native reservation and you can car camp here for free! Does fill up quickly on weekends.
- Walmart Sequim (fun fact: Sequim is the Lavender capital of the country!)
- Campendium spots
Other Resources & Tips On Olympic Peninsula
- Amazing wild blackberries can be found all along Port Angeles
- Port Angeles has a great health food store for a small town for those with specific dietary needs
- There are bathrooms at visitor centers
- There’s a good bahn mi and pho spot in Port Angeles
- If time allows, also check out Port Townsend. There’s no good car camping here, but if you can make it, it’s a beautiful coastal town worth exploring even for a day
Yellowstone National Park
By Vanessa Chavarriaga
If you were to ask a random person on the street to name any National Park, chances are high that the most popular answer would be Yellowstone.
It is certainly at the top of the argument for most famous park in the system, being the very first to be established in 1872. Located largely in Wyoming, but spilling over into Idaho and Montana, Yellowstone is the second largest park in the lower 48 states (behind Death Valley) and is most famous for its geothermal activity (geysers and hot springs) and wildlife.
There are at least 27 Indigenous Tribes with rich histories tied to the area now known as Yellowstone. The Tukudeka band of Shoshone are the only peoples considered to have lived permanently in the area, while many other, more nomadic tribes frequented the area including the Blackfeet (Siksika), Crow (Apsaalooke) and Shoshone-Bannock.
Formation of The Park & Indigenous Erasure
During an 1870 “discovery expedition” of so-called Yellowstone, the Washburn party ran into a large group of Crow hunters, found many seasonal camps of the Bannock and Shoshone, and even used their well established trails to get around. However, in their reports the Washburn party stated they found only “ancient remnants of vanished Indians”. In reality, Yellowstone held and continues to hold immeasurable value to Indigenous people.
This blatant erasure fits the narrative of wilderness: a place that is not suitable for humans, a place that is untouched, a place that is ready to be conquered. It’s troubling how often we see public lands as playgrounds for our exploration and exploitation. It’s troubling how often we try to dominate these spaces and control access to them. What troubles me the most is how disconnected we are from the land; how we’ve forgotten to listen.
While I am extremely grateful for the conservation of Yellowstone and other public lands, I’m also aware of the harmful legacy the ideologies of wilderness have left us with. It is important to keep these considerations top of mind whenever we consider public lands and our relationships with them.
Check out the piece “Decolonize National Parks in our Respecting Native Lands section, for a deeper perspective on the history and legacy of the National Park System
Top Things To Do
- Scenic drive through the park – This is one of my favorite things to do because it is very accessible and provides all folks with opportunities to see this amazing place.
- Take your time with the drive, choose the single lane scenic drives when you can, have lunch at Nez Perce picnic area in Hayden Valley.
- One lane scenic drives: Fountain Flat Drive, Kepler Cascades, Blacktail Plateau Drive, Chittenden Loop Drive.
- Go early or late to see more animals, beat the heat, and the crowds.
- Old Faithful – While it is not the largest geyser in the park – that would be Steamboat Geyser – it is the most famous and, as its name suggests, highly predictable with an eruption between every 44 minutes and 2 hours. It is very crowded and there is traffic to go see it, but I think it’s still worth seeing at least once in your life. There are some beautiful geyser basins that you can walk through while waiting for Old Faithful to erupt.
North Rim Drive | Photo by Laila Skalsky via Unsplash
- The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone – Measuring approximately 24 miles long, between 800 and 1,200 ft deep and from .25 to .75 mi wide, The Grand Canyon of The Yellowstone is another famous park attraction. Like Old Faithful it can be very crowded but still worth seeing. My favorite place is Artist’s Point. Worth seeing at sunrise or sunset.
- Wolf watching – The reintroduction of grey wolves to Yellowstone is a fascinating story, and is generally viewed as one of the most important and successful wildlife conservation projects in the world. Getting to see the wolves can require a very early morning and possibly a guide, but some of my favorite memories are watching wolves during a sunrise over Hayden Valley.
Photo by Goutham Ganesh Sivanandam via Unsplash
Top Places To Stay
Gardiner, West Yellowstone, Cody, and Moran are the closest “towns”. There is some dispersed camping on Forest Service roads, especially near the South entrance. On the North entrance there are some beautiful camping spots along the Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley, but it is a further drive.
**Park rangers have pretty much caught onto van lifers and are pretty strict about overnight camping anywhere in the park. I have unfortunately learned this from experience, and had “the knock” happen in many different spots. For this reason I don’t recommend trying to stealth camp in the park.
Other Yellowstone Tips
- Cell service is super spotty! There is a bit of service at campgrounds and visitor centers around Mammoth and Canyon, but I would not count on reliable service anywhere within the park. Make sure you communicate and coordinate clearly before entering the park for the day!
- Do not expect to drive quickly through any section of the park. There is always the possibility of a bison herd jamming up the road for hours, sudden weather changes, and general summer traffic. Block out plenty of time for a slow drive, and enjoy the views!
- Go in the winter. Yellowstone in the winter is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The North entrance (Mammoth) stays open all year round with plowed roads and groomed cross country ski and snowshoe trails. There are also tours that go to Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in the winter, either for the day or an overnight stay at the Snow Lodge at Old Faithful. Some of the best days of my life were spent following wolf tracks on ski trails, or watching otters fish on the snowy banks of the Firehole River.
- Water, laundry, gas, and groceries are easy to find around Canyon and Mammoth.
- Don’t be a hater! Tourists may seem different and easy to make fun of, but everyone belongs outdoors; part of creating this safe space is refraining from teasing or making fun of other people who experience the outdoors differently than you.
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Photo By Road It Up
Forest Road 687 Dispersed Camping
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