National Parks USA Part 1

On the 14th of July my boyfriend and I got on a 14 h (!!!) flight to San Francisco to embark on one of the longest road trips I've ever done! In the total trip we drove almost 10,000 km!! Starting of at SFO, we picked up the car and headed north towards Portland than Montana for Glacier national park. After some incredible time in Yellowstone we then headed south to Arizona and Utah, exploring the epic landscapes there. We then went to California to see it's plethora of national parks, even nearly reaching the Mexican border! I'll try draw a map of where we actually went hopefully! This post is part 1 - Starting in San Francisco and ending at Glacier National Park.

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We landed into San Francisco - and it was cold! After spending way too many hours at the airport getting through security, we checked into a hotel and then went to the shops to stock up on food, camping equipment etc. We didn't do a lot of sight seeing in San Francisco, as we were going to be spending one more day there at the end of the trip. First impressions; San Fran is expensive of course, but it has a nice vibe and I like the hills :)

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1. Crater Lake National Park

The next day we headed out on the long drive to Crater Lake National Park. It's main feature is a gigantic lake in an extremely old crater - the bottom is so free of sediment that it's one of the clearest bodies of water in the world, (and also in top ten deepest lakes!). The lake was surprisingly huge and the colour of blue was something I hadn't seen before - it was crazy cool and even though it's not on the most popular lists of national parks, I really really liked it. We camped there in one of the campsites (One of the few spots left in summer) and left the next morning for Mt Ranier. 

What to see:

There's a few view points around the park that are easy to access but require 1-2 hr hikes. We just walked around the crater (around a third) on the very easy walking path. There were great views along the way and heaps of points to sit really close to the crater wall. Be careful!

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2. Portland

We drove to Portland the next morning after a quick walk around the crater at around 7:45am. The drive was relatively short, but not very interesting. Once we got to Portland we were starving so we went to some food trucks for some lunch - Portland lived up to its hipster/weirdo/unique reputation but the vibe was relaxed and quite chill. I liked the streets/buildings and the houses reminded me of something I would read about in my young adult novels based in America. In the evening we checked out a brewery, which is something Portland is famous for, and just wandered, finishing off with late Italian for dinner before heading to sleep. Overall, I liked it and I would like to explore the city more if I get to chance to visit again. I didn't notice any major sights/touristy things, but I enjoyed just being in the city and enjoying what the town has to offer.

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3. Mt. Ranier National Park

The next stop was Mt Ranier National Park - we didn't have much time here because we needed to get to Spokane by the evening (on the way to Glacier NP in Montana), so we stopped off and picked one of the shorter hikes to do at Paradise. We were sort of at the cusp of wildflower seasons and they were definitely still in bloom which was really lovely. You don't really see wild flowers of these colours/types in Australia because of the climate, so I really enjoyed the endless fields and fields of wildflower patches everywhere! The hikes were fairly uphill and steep, but worth it for the great weather, great views and you even got to climb over snow in some places, despite it being really warm!

What to see:

Do hikes! there are so many walks and paths for all different experience levels, and they all link with each other at certain points - so just get exploring. Lookout for rivers of melted snow, wildflower fields and make sure to look in all directions cos the views are spectacular from all directions, not just the mountain! Bring food.

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4. Glacier National Park

After a night in Spokane, we headed closer to the Canadian border to see Glacier National park, namely to drive the Going-the-Sun Road, which is a super scenic driving route (along cliffs, through gorgeous mountain passes etc) in the park, ending on the other side to camp that night. We basically just did the 2 h drive and then headed off to set up camp just outside the park at a KOA campsite. 

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I saw the first of many animals of the trip at Glacier NP - including a tiny barking marmot that sounded like an alarm going off! 

What to see

We only did the Going-the-Sun road, but there are HEAPS of turn-outs and stops where you can walk down a short path and see some animals, meadows or even lakes/rivers. So the road is great to just see the park as a whole and take stops whenever you feel like it. Keep an eye on the mountains for glaciers!

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The parks are designed to accommodate lots of people, and facilitate getting in and out easily, especially with a car. Getting around is super simple; especially because the first thing we did was grab a SIM card from AT&T in San Francisco, and a America the Beautiful Annual Pass from REI in Portland. The pass saved us so much money - its $80 US and gives you unlimited access to the national parks (which cost between $15-$35 per vehicle per night!). We ended up visiting over 10 parks so it definitely was a value purchase.