Summer Travel Wish List: 5 Must-See Parks

With spring in full swing and summer just around the corner, warmer temperatures and longer days make this time of year ideal for getting outdoors. Whether you're a backpacker looking for a long, isolated trail, a hiker in search of stunning waterfall views, or just an outdoor enthusiast looking to explore new places, the options are endless. Though my inventory of places to visit seems to grow every year, these five spots are near the top of my summer destinations wish list for trip planning.

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota, United States

Photo by JCK Photos Photo by JCK Photos

The Details and What to Do: Given Minnesota is the twelfth largest of the fifty United States, I was surprised to learn that Voyageurs is Minnesota's only national park. It's also a relatively young park; according to the National Park Service, Voyageurs wasn't designated a national park until 1975. But when you visit, "you can see and touch rocks half as old as the world."

Aside from the park's unique geology, there are a number of things that make Voyageurs worth visiting in the summer. Voyageurs is home to 30 unique lakes, four of which straddle the border between the United States and Canada. Though it's a five hours drive from Minneapolis-St. Paul, once you're there, water-based recreation opportunities abound. The historic Kettle Falls Hotel is only accessible by boat, as are all 270 campsites within the park. Though getting around by boat is required, it's not the only way to have fun at Voyageurs National Park. There are nine hiking trails available ranging in length from under two miles to nearly 30 miles.

Why it's on the List: I'm captivated by photos I've seen of the park's landscape, and the idea that campsites are only accessibly by boat makes Voyageurs absolutely fascinating to me. Who wouldn't want to wake up in one of these backcountry campsites? Plus, the Travel Channel named Voyageurs best for isolated camping, and that sounds perfect.

Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada

Killarney Park Photo by Helena Jacoba

The Details and What to Do: Though Killarney may not be as well-known as neighboring Algonquin Provincial Park, it still belongs on any hiker or backpacker's to-visit list. Ontario Parks also calls Killarney a "paddling paradise," and based on pictures like these, I can understand why.

Aside from it's rumored beauty, part of what makes Killarney so appealing to me is the fact that it's primarily wilderness and hosts only one true campground. But with over 180 backcountry canoe-in sites and over 30 hike-in sites, Killarney does offer a variety of opportunities to sleep under the stars in Ontario. The park is also home to yurts and car camping sites. But what really draws me to Killarney is the hiking.

Why it's on the List: When I started getting into backpacking in college, a friend mentioned Killarney's famously challenging La Cloche Silhouette Trail, a 100km loop known among as Ontario's best long distance hike. It sounded so isolated, rugged and strenuous that I couldn't help but want to give it a try someday. But it's not the only long-distance route in the park. Killarney's Lake Superior Coastal Trail offers, from what I've read, absolutely stunning views of the lake, cliffs, beaches and more. The backpacking and hiking options are what got me itching to go to Killarney when I first heard about the park nearly ten years ago.

Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina, United States

Pisgah National Forest Photo by Jeff Gunn

The Details and What to Do: Growing up in Ithaca, New York gave me an appreciation for stunning waterfalls at a young age. I hadn't heard of Pisgah National Forest, nor did I have any idea how to pronounce its name, until I saw a picture of Looking Glass Falls. North Carolina isn't the first place I'd look for summer recreation, given my general disdain for heat and humidity, but with so many beautiful streams and waterfalls, Pisgah National Forest is hard to ignore.

On top of the scenery, Pisgah National Forest is home to whitewater rivers, plenty of rock climbing spots, 245 miles of biking trails and 1,600 miles of hiking trails, including some of the highest mountains in the eastern United States. Unless you're tied to a specific recreational activity, and even if you are, it's all but impossible to do everything there is to do in one trip.

Why it's on the List:  See above. All of the above. Especially the part about waterfalls. Also, I think I could spend a month or three in the Pisgah National Forest's 500,000 acres, including three officially designated wilderness areas, and still find plenty to do.

High Peaks Wilderness Area, New York, United States

Adirondack Park Photo by Katie Levy

The Details and What to Do:

The High Peaks Wilderness is part of Adirondack Park, a six million acre tract of land in Upstate New York. With over 100 bodies of water, including well-known Lake Placid, over 230 miles of hiking trails and over 80 lean-tos, the Adirondack region is an outdoor lover's paradise. Though you may not find solitude in the summer, especially on popular High Peaks trails, once you're deep enough into the park, it feels as though you're forever away from anywhere. And if you're up for a hiking challenge, climb the 46 highest Adirondack peaks and you'll join the exclusive ADK 46ers club. The Adirondack Mountain Club maintains a website that serves as a
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Katie Levy
Blogger at Adventure-Inspired
Katie Levy is a self-proclaimed outdoor adventure addict and loves sharing her passion for playing outside with anyone willing to listen. Though currently based in Philadelphia, spending her formative years in upstate New York and two years in Alaska fostered a lifelong passion for the outdoors. After 13 years as a competitive swimmer, she followed that passion on backpacking trips in the Adirondacks, on sub-zero winter hikes in the Chugach Mountains and up Mount Rainier. These days, if she's not out on the trail, you'll find working on her other passion, Adventure-Inspired, or getting her WOD on at CrossFit Love. Team Sierra bloggers receive promotional consideration from Sierra Trading Post.
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