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Backpacker Magazine – October 2009

Watch It, Hike It: An Episode-by-Episode Guide to The National Parks: America's Best Idea by Ken Burns

Catch these highlights from The National Parks: America's Best Idea, then download maps to hike to them yourself.

by: Kelly Bastone

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Ken Burns
Ken Burns

Episode Four (9/30) "Going Home" (1920-1933)
Road trip! When auto routes surpassed rail as the main travel access to the parks, visitation exploded. In the summer of 1921, Margaret and Edward Gehrke, of Lincoln, Nebraska, (and their Airedale terrier, Barney) drove across the country "collecting" national parks. They covered more than 7,000 miles, visiting 12 parks–including Rocky Mountain, Rainier, Yellowstone, and Glacier.

Hike It
Trek the 12.8 miles to Rocky Mountain National Park's Crystal Lake from Lawn Lake trailhead, off Old Fall River Road (the first road to cross the northern Colorado Rockies), to experience "the freedom, the joy, the ecstasy" of these mountains as the Gehrkes did.

Episode Five (10/1) "Great Nature" (1933-1945)
When NPS scout Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. first visited the Everglades, he proclaimed the scenery "confused and monotonous." Then he witnessed wave upon wave of ibis and herons roosting for the night, which thrilled him like nothing before. Olmsted's superiors surveyed the area from the Goodyear blimp and won Congressional approval for park status, making it the first created specifically to preserve animals and plants.

Paddle It
Drift through mangrove tunnels and see manatee on this 18-mile course from Anglers Park to campsites on North Nest Key.

Episode Six (10/2) "The Morning of Creation" (1946-1980)
Predator eradication programs wiped out wolf populations in the parks–except at Denali, where wildlife biologist Adolph Murie hiked 1,700 miles (in one season), gathering data and observing wolves for up to 33 hours at a stretch. As Murie restricted wolf killings, the sheep population grew, proving his theory that wolves strengthen herds by culling weak members, and convincing the NPS to protect the predatory species for the first time.

Hike It Trek through one of the wolves' last outposts on this four-mile hike along Denali's Savage River.

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