The United States’ failure to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus has left many of us at home for months on end. This isolation has made one thing crystal clear: we need one another. We are social creatures and can only flourish together. Not seeing our friends and co-workers and even random strangers has left even the most introverted among us craving greater social connection. The emotional and spiritual impact is hard to overestimate.
Many of us have sought solace in nature. Walks and hikes have been valuable escapes from being stuck in the same place for so long. Getting out in nature may not be a sufficient substitute for the interpersonal connections we desire, but it can keep us grounded and connect us to something bigger than ourselves.
This fall is a great time to get outdoors and experience the astonishing beauty present in our country. If you are feeling isolated or alienated or simply want to escape the monotony of being stuck at home, consider taking advantage of a national treasure: our national parks. Here are some parks from across the country you might consider.
Shenandoah National Park: If you time your trip just right, traveling to this Virginia park can be a great venue to watch the leaves change this fall. Skyline Drive cuts through the heart of the park with plenty of trailheads just off the central road. And if you see a bunch of cars backed up on the road, keep your eyes peeled for a bear in the vicinity, a sight I have seen on a couple of occasions here. Hawksbill Mountain offers a relatively short hike that adults and kids alike can manage, and it leads to one of the highest points and best views of the park. For those looking for a more difficult, adventurous hike, Old Rag Mountain remains a favorite.
Yosemite National Park: My family and I are set to visit Yosemite in a couple of weeks, having secured one of the tickets that is now required to enter the park during the pandemic, which will make social distancing no problem at all. Yosemite remains one of the most iconic national parks, with sights like El Capitan and Half Dome etched into the minds of countless Americans, perhaps from the images captured by the legendary photographer Ansel Adams. Having seen Free Solo, I think I will go ahead and pass on climbing up the face of El Capitan, but with its beautiful lakes and meadows, giant trees, and waterfalls, there will be plenty to fill our itinerary.
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks: Utah is emerging as a travel hotspot for nature lovers during this Instagram Era. My family and I stopped at Arches and Canyonlands in Eastern Utah this summer. Despite the scorching heat, we enjoyed a number of short hikes and spectacular sights. I suspect the fall is an even better time to visit these twin parks. At Arches, not surprisingly, it was the natural arches that stole the show. Climbing up to the base of the higher arch at Double Arch is a great spot that will offer a nice view — just be careful scrambling back down. At Canyonlands, the kids enjoyed the short hike to Mesa Arch, where the brave can look through the arch and see the steep drop-off just on the other side.
Zion National Park: On our cross-country trip, we stopped at Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. One of the highlights of the trip was walking the Narrows — hiking through the river in the narrowest part of Zion Canyon. Wearing shoes was essential to keep from slipping on the rocks (our old tennis shoes did the trick). And we were able to hike through the water without slipping while holding the kids’ hands — and even pulling them across the deepest part. Canyon Overlook trail, near the long tunnel through a mountain, offered a nice view of the park and a hike that people of all ages seemed to enjoy. Staying in Kanab, Utah, we also made the hour-long drive to see Horseshoe Bend in Arizona right at sunset, one of the most awe-inspiring sights I have ever witnessed.
Yellowstone National Park: Instagram is a helpful tool for scouting parks because it offers a good look into what regular people see when they visit the park. And this summer, it showed that Yellowstone, especially some of its iconic spots like the geyser Old Faithful and colorful Grand Prismatic Spring, had plenty of guests. Those visiting in the fall may find it easier to engage in social distancing while seeing some of these popular sights. The Lamar Valley offers fall colors and the possibility of seeing grizzly bears, wolf packs, bald eagles, or herds of bison. Keep an eye on the weather and plan accordingly, however, as it can snow at any point starting in September.