The word GREAT is particularly true when it comes to the western states of the continental United States. The great expanse makes for fun, interesting, and long traverses between destinations. Along the way, though, there are many side trips that can be taken and enjoyed as easily as the great national parks of this country.
Using many of the great national parks as jump-off points, we’ve included some lesser known (lonelier) points of interest that are close enough for day trips. All are overseen by the National Park Service.
– Death Valley CA/NV
A superlative desert of streaming sand dunes, snow-capped mountains, multicolored rock layers, water-fluted canyons, and three million acres of wilderness. Home to the Timbisha Shoshone and to plants and animals unique to the harshest desert. Weather is always a factor here, as the hottest temperature recorded in North America (134°F.) was once recorded at Furnace Creek. It does cool down somewhat in the winter.
Manzanar National Historic Site – between Lone Pine and Independence, CA
In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 110,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps. Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps where Japanese-American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II.
Devils Postpile National Monument – Mammoth Lakes, CA
Established in 1911 by presidential proclamation, Devils Postpile National Monument protects and preserves the Devils Postpile formation, the 101-foot high Rainbow Falls, and pristine mountain scenery. The formation is a rare sight in the geologic world and ranks as one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt. Its columns tower 60 feet high and display an unusual symmetry. Open seasonally.
– Crater Lake, OR
No place else on earth combines a deep, pure lake, so blue in color; sheer surrounding cliffs, almost two thousand feet high; two picturesque islands; and a violent volcanic past. It is a place of immeasurable beauty, and an outstanding outdoor laboratory and classroom.
Oregon Caves National Monument – Cave Junction, OR
Oregon Caves National Monument offers opportunities to explore a marble cave, visit a National Historic Landmark (the Oregon Caves Chateau), hike trails through ancient forests, and earn a Junior Ranger Badge.
Whitman Mission National Historic Site – Walla Walla, WA
The 1847 Whitman “Massacre” horrified Americans and impacted the lives of the peoples of the Columbia Plateau for decades afterwards. Was killing the Whitmans justified legal retribution, an act of revenge, or some combination of both? The circumstances that surround this tragic event resonate with modern issues of cultural interaction and differing perspectives.
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument – Kimberly, OR
A visit to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is like taking a journey into ancient Oregon. Whether you tour the museum at Sheep Rock, hike a trail at the Painted Hills, or picnic at Clarno, Oregon’s exciting past will be revealed.
– Ashford, Enumclaw, Packwood, Wilkeson, WA
Learn about glaciers. Discover life in a rainforest. Hike the Wonderland Trail. Explore subalpine ecology. Watch clouds shroud the mountain and disappear. Visit a rustic historic building. Dream about climbing to the summit. Study geology. Experience a mountain meadow. Listen to a glacier crack. BE INSPIRED!
Fort Vancouver National Historic Site – Vancouver, OR, WA
Nestled snugly today in the Vancouver/Portland metropolitan area and enveloped by its highway, rail, air, and maritime commercial networks, Fort Vancouver is a gem of a park whose story as an economic and cultural center – told, in part, through engaging programs and a world-class archaeology collection – fascinatingly portends that of the modern-day Pacific Northwest.
– ID, MT, WY
Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is America’s first national park. Located in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, it is home to a large variety of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. Preserved within Yellowstone National Park are Old Faithful and a collection of the world’s most extraordinary geysers and hot springs, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
City Of Rocks National Reserve – Almo, ID
This unique geologic area became a landmark in 1843 for California-bound emigrants. They left wagon ruts across the landscape and their signatures in axle grease on Register Rock, Camp Rock, and many others. A few granite pinnacles and monoliths are in excess of sixty stories tall and 2.5 billion years old. The smooth granite faces offer exceptional rock climbing.
Nez Perce National Historical Park – straddles ID,MT,OR,WA
Since time immemorial, the Nimiipuu or Nez Perce have lived among the rivers, canyons and prairies of the inland northwest. Despite the cataclysmic change of the past two centuries, the Nez Perce are still here. Join us in exploring the park’s thirty-eight sites and experiencing the story of a people who are still part of this landscape.
Big Hole National Battlefield – Wisdom, MT
On August 9, 1877, gunshots shattered a chilly dawn on a sleeping camp of Nez Perce. By the time the smoke cleared on August 10, almost 90 Nez Perce were dead along with 31 soldiers and volunteers. Big Hole National Battlefield was created to honor all who were there.
Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site – Deer Lodge, MT
Wide open spaces, the hard-working cowboy, his spirited cow pony, and vast herds of cattle are among the strongest symbols of the American West. Once the headquarters of a 10 million acre cattle empire, Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site is a working cattle ranch that preserves these symbols and commemorates the role of cattlemen in American history.