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National Parks Hall of Fame: Ranger Rated

No one knows the national parks better than the rangers who patrol them. We polled a bunch of insiders on their favorite national park sights, sounds, and tastes.

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Solitude |

Loop |
Alpine Hike |
Canyon |
Wildlife |
X-Country Adventure |
Wildflowers |
Coastal Hike |
Peak | Park Finder

Best New Park

Congaree, SC

A cross between Everglades and Olympic, this 27,000-acre preserve
(est. 2003) contains the largest remaining old-growth floodplain forest in the country. And rangers provide free, guided canoe tours.

Most Underrated Park

Theodore Roosevelt, ND

“Once people see the wildlife, the breathtaking view of red, tan, yellow, purple, and green hills, and then come back to the visitor center–the look on their faces is priceless,” says Kelly Neumann, a ranger at nearby Mt. Rushmore.

Best Sunset

Eagle Mountain, Joshua Tree, CA

Hike up this mile-high peak (10 strenuous miles round-trip) to watch shimmering pinks and purples rise from the desert like a heat mirage.

Best Milkshake
Huckleberry Shake,
Grand Teton, WY

1. Good huckleberry shakes are rare.

2. This one, at the Pioneer Grill, comes with a fantastic view of the Tetons.

Best Rescue Ranger

Mike Gauthier

Nineteen-year veteran of search-and-rescue at Mt. Rainier (and now a Capitol Hill staffer), Gauthier participated in 300 rescues. One involved 10 climbers who were dangling in midair after an avalanche swept them off of their feet.

Steepest Trail

Angel’s Landing, Zion

“Half of my extended family took a look at the traverse, which involves holding onto large chains bolted into the rock, and promptly sat down,” says Kale Bowling, lead interpretive ranger at Lava Beds.

Best Wildlife Comeback

Wolves in Yellowstone

From an initial release of 23 adults and pups in 1995, the park’s wolf population has grown to 125. Bonus: Elk, coyote, beaver, and red fox populations are all healthier.

Best Campground

Squaw Flat, Canyonlands

Located in the heart of The Needles District’s sandstone formations and adjacent to many trails, this campground’s 26 sites are bare-bones but shaded. Use it as a base for dayhiking to Chesler Park, Druid Arch, and the dark and narrow Joint Trail.

Best Waterpark

Rancheria Falls, Yosemite

On the way to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Rancheria Creek drops through a series of tubs, pools, sluices, and one very fast slide. Bring a closed-cell foam pad for a cushy ride.

Best New Park Policy in Last 20 Years

Mandatory Bear Canisters

Required at Denali since 1992, canisters have reduced Yosemite’s backcountry bear incidents from more than 200 annually to 32 (last year). They’re also used in Grand Teton, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon.

Best Burger

Grand Canyon

Get the grilled one-third pounder at Maswik Lodge Cafeteria.

How to Pack for Backcountry Skiing

Get to know the winter safety gear you need in your pack.