April 8, 2012 in Features, Travel

With 7 national parks nearby, paradise always within reach

Mike Broadwater Correspondent

Glacier National Park offers free shuttle service to various trail heads thoughout the park. St. Mary Falls is found on the east side of the park, after about a 2-mile hike with views of St. Mary Lake.
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Glacier National Park

Website: www.nps.gov/glac/

Lodging: Lake McDonald Lodge, Many Glacier Hotel, Village Inn at Apgar

Reservations: www.nationalparkreservations.com/glacier

Camping: Most campgrounds are first come, first served; make reservations for the Fish Creek and St. Mary campgrounds via www.recreation.gov/.

Backcountry use: Backcountry permits are required. Permits and trail maps are available at the backcountry office in Apgar Village inside the park from the town of West Glacier.

Yellowstone National Park

Website: www.nps.gov/yell

Lodging: www.YellowstoneNationalParkLodges.com

Camping: Small campgrounds at Mammoth, Slough Creek, Norris, Indian Creek, Tower Falls, Lewis Lake and Pebble Creek are first come, first served. Campgrounds may be full by 11 a.m. Large campgrounds at Canyon, Madison and Grant Village (hard-sided RVs only) can be reserved at: www.yellowstonenationalparklodges.com

Backcountry use: Get permits required for backcountry camping and trail maps at most ranger stations.

Grand Teton National Park

Website: www.nps.gov/grte/

Lodging: Grand Teton Lodging Company – Jackson Lake Lodge, Jenny Lake Lodge, Colter Bay Village, Headwaters Lodge

Reservations: www.gtlc.com/lodging

Camping: Colter Bay, Jenny Lake, Gros Ventre, Headwaters Lodge

Backcountry Use: Permits can be reserved from Jan. 5 to May 25. One-third of the available permits are issued by reservation, two-thirds issued on first-come, first-served basis. There is a $25 reservation fee. Reservations can be made online, by mail or FAX.

Contact: www.tetonclimbing.blogspot.com

Within a day’s drive of Spokane, there are seven national parks – Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades in Washington, Glacier in Montana, Crater Lake in Oregon, and Grand Teton and Yellowstone in Wyoming. Yet many people avoid these treasures of the West, fearful they’ll be overrun with tourists.

Still, tourists or no, the region’s national parks offer myriad opportunities for authentic wilderness encounters. Driving into a park and especially hiking into a remote area provides a more simple time filled with natural sights and sounds to be enjoyed now and remembered forever.

One reason the experience works is because the location is authentic. The land is relatively undisturbed and the animals are living free. Displaced from the frantic pace of ordinary life, one realizes that humans are only a small part of a huge interconnected wilderness system. To the east of us, Glacier, Teton and Yellowstone national parks offer visitors a chance to experience authentic wilderness. Whether it is rugged mountain peaks, waterfalls, or watchable wildlife, a national park provides those who have never experienced nature on its own terms a unique appreciation.

An encounter may result in a lifelong memory, like finding mountain goats on a high cliff or suddenly seeing a grizzly near the road or trail. But other types of encounters are not so dramatic. Hiking to a waterfall and sitting close enough to feel the cold mist and hear the water roaring over the edge can provide a meditative type of experience. Climbing along a steep trail to the summit of a mountain and viewing to the horizon provides a humble realization that we are but a tiny spot in this vast wilderness. A jolt of reality of where we fit into this huge and complicated world is refreshing.

There are so many uplifting experiences when visiting a national park. A climb to the top of a mountain gives a feeling of accomplishment. Even the mild muscle soreness the next day is a good sensation … unless the pre-park training and exercising weren’t intense enough.

Experiencing authentic wilderness takes some preparation. Hiking and climbing to 7,000 to 10,000 feet or higher requires some acclimation to the rarer but cleaner air. Spending a few days taking short hikes and walks at a lower elevation will help before trying to conquer a mountain summit.

Plan ahead if you are going to stay overnight. Whether the preferred accommodations are a park lodge, cabin, campground or wilderness site, reservations provide assurance and peace of mind especially during the peak tourist months. Backpacking trips require a permit, and in some areas there are limited numbers available to ensure that hikers can get a quality wilderness experience. Some campgrounds accept campers on a first-come basis, which means arriving for a late-morning check in. That might require staying outside the park the first night.

A national park experience can include a sense of place. It involves more than the unique character of each park that draws visitors – Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park or Old Faithful at Yellowstone, for instance. Take the time to get away from the crowds. Plan a hike into the less visited, remote areas. In the process of exploring the wonders of a national park you can leave with a new, insightful identity. An authentic wilderness experience can do that.

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