The Halfdayer

Your on-mountain guide, curated by Halfdays

Halfdays Guide to National Parks

Part 2

Summer is here, and longer days call for time on the road and in the outdoors. Whether you’re packing up a tent and leaving behind the travel shampoo or piling into an Airbnb with a full supply of face masks – a trip to one of the United States National Parks is a weekend well spent. 

We promised in Part 1 that we’d be back with more inspiration, so below are another 5 parks you could find yourself exploring this summer. Our insider tip? Before you go, check out for up-to-date trail, weather, forest fire, and camp site conditions.

Redwood National Park, California

There’s nothing more magical than a forest, but this place is next level. Towering over the dewey floor of northern California are some of the world’s largest trees…we’re talking 30 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall! 

The Sierra Redwoods (hence the park name) spread over 130,000 acres, making this place a dream for scenic drives, walks, or bike rides. We did some digging for the sites you can’t miss:

  1. Klamath River Overlook: Kick back and enjoy the views from the car or hike ¼ mile down to the lower overlook. This is the best spot for watching gray whales breach, a sight that’s beyond words. 
  1. Drury Scenic Parkway: Hop on a bike and experience the redwoods on two wheels. From October to May, Newton B Drury Scenic Parkway closes the road to motor vehicles for 10 miles of stunning twists and turns. 
  2. Trillium Falls Hike: Stick to your own 2 feet and hike to Trillium Falls from Elk Meadow. Lush greenery, the sounds of a trickling creek, and the scent of pine will be sure to send you straight into tranquility mode. This hike is perfect for anyone, with the falls only ½ mile from the trailhead and an option to do the full loop for a total of 3 miles. Pack a picnic and keep your eye out for elk! If you’re visiting in the fall or winter, expect high winds, so don’t forget your windbreaker in our wind-protection nylon capsule.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Talk about the perfect place for a long weekend. The little town of Estes Park takes you back in time, complete with old-style taffy and candy shops, ice cream parlors, and even a year round Christmas shop. Don’t miss a stop at the infamous Stanley Hotel, home of the classic horror film, The Shining. Ghost tours!? If you dare… 

The charm of the town might tempt you to stay, but what lies beyond Main Street is some of the most picturesque scenery the US has to offer. Head out of town to the gateways of Rocky Mountain National Park. RMNP spans hundreds of miles, but every corner turned will take your breath away. Hike to gorgeous alpine lakes, cruise open roads shared by herds of elk and wildlife, or secure a camping permit and immerse yourself under the stars. 

No matter what time of year you find yourself here, there’s something to be done:

  • Summer: Bear Lake Road Corridor climbs and winds about 9 miles, providing access to hiking trails for all ability levels, camping spots, endless views, and limitless wildlife sightings. Skip the hassle of parking at busy trailheads and hop on the park’s free shuttle bus! Our favorite hike has got to be Emerald Lake, but you really can’t go wrong (unless you’re undecided on what to wear, in which case, read our Guide to Hiking Gear!).
  • (Yes, this is a summer blog, but we can’t leave good things unspoken…) Fall: Time it right, and catch one of the most incredible transformations nature has to offer… Aspen leaves changing colors. Peak season is mid-September to mid-October, but our local friends tell us the absolute best week is the last of September!
  • Winter/Early Spring: With elevations ranging from high to high (we’re talking up to 14,000 feet above sea level), winter weather can stretch far into the year. Luckily, Colorado tends to provide plenty of sunshine even when the ground is blanketed with white. See the sights from cross country skis, or join a ranger-led snowshoe tour! Keep your eyes out for snow bunnies- they sure blend in! 

After a long day of outdoor exploration, stop at Bird and Jim just outside Estes- because a Bear Lake hike calls for a Bear Lake Black Manhattan.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Shifting our focus to the opposite side of the map to the Northern most, Eastern most state of the US: Maine. With a nickname like “the crown jewel of the North Atlantic Coast'' it's not hard to convince us we have to see this. Acadia National Park is anything but boring. 

With rocky oceanside cliffs, sandy beaches, mountains, and forest landscapes, the potential activities are limitless…

  • By land: Cruise crushed gravel trails by bike or splurge and take a horse drawn carriage ride with Wildwood Stables
  • By sea: cool off! Canoe, kayak, motor boat, or swim in the park’s lakes, ponds, and shorelines
  • By moonlight: Stargazing at Acadia might be the best in the world. Take in the night sky while the waves lap against Mount Desert Island or Sand Beach, or head up to Jordan Pond and catch the moon and starlight reflecting off Acadia’s clearest lake. 

With all that to do and more, you’re bound to be captivated by this park- and you’d be far from the first. For over 10,000 years, humans, beginning with the Wabanaki Native American people, have fostered an intimate connection with the land here. Make some time to visit historic lighthouses, fire houses, bridges, memorials, and monuments or stop by Cultural Connections in the Park (every Wednesday of June through September) to get a taste of the park’s history.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The Grand Canyon is simply a must-see. Just a four hour drive from major airports in Nevada or Arizona, it’s in the perfect place for an epic road trip. Spend a night or two under the neon lights of Vegas or Scottsdale, then head for a night under the STAR lights of this breathtaking wonder of the world. 

The most famous activity at Grand Canyon National Park is the Rim-to-Rim hike via North Kaibab Trail to Bright Angel. This hike is no joke, stretching 24 miles one way with a 6,0000 feet descent down to the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon and 4,500 feet ascent back up and out. Should you have interest, be sure to plan far in advance: permits, physical fitness, and well organized gear and food are only the most obvious things you’ll have to be prepared with! But don’t get us wrong- the mesmerizing scenery and accomplishment in itself makes it absolutely worth the time and energy. Summer 2024 anyone?

Of course, there's much more mellow hiking options that offer views just as jaw dropping. From the North Rim, take a quick 30 minute round trip on Bright Angel Point trail or spend a day on Ken Patrick Trail for a more challenging 10 miler. From the South Rim. South Kaibab or Hermit Trails are perfect for self-selected out and back distances with great views or round trips between 6 and 7 miles.

For a different vantage point than the Rims can offer- take a halfday or full day river raft trip! Our best rec is with Glen Canyon Rafting Hospitality in Page, AZ. 

Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

We're rounding out the list of our favorite parks with what might be one of the most unique... if

Mother Nature is a queen, this is the ultimate castle (do you get our sand joke? 😉) . The dunes of Southern Colorado are the largest in North America- and home to endless outdoor activity options:

  • The main attraction: SANDBOARDING! Pack a boogie board or saucer and get in touch with your inner kid. If your calves can handle a scramble to the top, you're in for a grin inducing slip n' slide down.... think sledding, but without the cold.
  • Rent a skimboard and test your balance in the shallow, refreshing splash zones of Medano Creek. Stop by Oasis Store, just a couple miles outside the park for skimboard and sandboard rental options.
  • Try your luck (and test your patience) with fishing in Sand Creek Lake for some catch and release cutthroat trout!
  • Take a short (½ mile) hike to Zapata Falls, where you can wade into the crevices below gorgeous 30 foot falls.
  • Tack on some extra park time in the surrounding Rio Grande National Forest and San Isabel National Forest, where the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, home to eight 14,000 foot peaks, tower over the dunes.

Happy hiking Halfdayers!

Bailey Ness

Bailey Ness is the CEO and Creative Director at Nesscessity, a creative marketing agency based in Denver, Co. When she isn't busy running her business (#bossbabe), she loves to ski, run & brunch.