Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild Host Peter Gros has experienced the beauty of nature all over the world. But some of his favorite spots are right here in the United States — America’s national parks.
National park favorites
“My family and I have visited many national parks such as Zion, Bryce Canyon, Yosemite and Sequoia. I recommend them all. Whether we had rafted a Class 4 river, climbed a steep trail to a lofty mountain peak, or hiked to a 300-foot waterfall and enjoyed the deafening roar in the beauty of the forest, the best times were almost always spent telling stories around the campfire at the end of those long challenging days,” Gros said.
Two of his absolute favorite national parks are Sequoia National Park and Joshua Tree National Park, both in California.
Sequoia National Park
“Sequoia is one of my favorite national parks with its massive sequoia trees, the largest in the world, some of which are over 3,000 years old. These incredible trees have survived disease, drought and forest fires.”
Joshua Tree National Park
“In the winter and early spring Joshua Tree National Park, which most people tend to think of as a dry desert land, comes into bloom. It’s a rare dichotomous form of beauty to see the parched desert ecosystem surrounded by all the blooming flora of the Joshua trees and other cactus.”
With 63 parks in the U.S., there are still a couple on Peter’s bucket list.
“I have yet to visit Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park and am particularly interested in hiking it during the fall foliage. Acadia National Park in Maine is another visit I’m looking forward to in the future,” Gros said.
All the national parks each bring their own beautiful scenery and unique wildlife. When visiting parks, keep in mind that you may have to wait for nature to reveal itself, something Peter experienced when visiting Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
“After hiking in the brush through the forest in pouring rain for six miles, we set up our scopes and cameras hiding them near the shore of a remote lake. Our guide instructed us to keep an eye on the den just across the lake. We were anticipating with quiet excitement for a wolf to bring out her pups for us to capture on film. After laying silently in the mud and rain for several hours, finally we saw some movement at the entrance to the den. What came out next was not what we anticipated. Instead of a wolf, a lone fox appeared. Apparently, he had moved into the den and the wolf and her pups had moved out. It was a long quiet disappointed slog back to the river’s edge to wait for our float plane that was scheduled to pick us up at dusk,” Gros said.
Interested in experiencing the wonders of nature at a national park? Check out Peter’s tips for visiting.
Tips from Peter for visiting a national park
Best time of year to visit
For most of our national parks, the best time of year to visit is before Memorial Day and after Labor Day (outside of the heavy tourist season). Keep in mind our southern national parks are also busier in the winter months.
Visiting parks with children
It’s important at an early age to expose children to the beauty of the natural world.
The earlier they get started spending time in the great outdoors the sooner it may become an important part of their lives. Our young people are required to spend more and more time staring at screens. Physical time spent outdoors in our parks may bring a balance to their lives, and one they can continue as adults.
Make your visit easier by:
- Starting with short hikes to get children acclimated.
- Checking the park’s website for a map of accessible trails, restroom locations, concession stands and picnic areas.
- Seeing if the park has a Junior Ranger program — a special way for kids to experience parks and earn a commemorative badge.
- Talking with park rangers at visitor centers to learn about the park’s wildlife and history.
- USA National Parks, the Complete Guide to All 63 Parks by Becky Lomax
- Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 63 National Parks by Michael Joseph Oswald
- Plus, check out guidebooks on-site at each national park.
How to choose binoculars and scopes to see wildlife
There’s a huge variety of binoculars to choose from ranging from $50-$1,000. For many national parks, Peter recommends binoculars with an 8×10 magnification. There’s also a variety of smaller lighter waterproof versions for children ranging from $20-$100, which are all fairly indestructible.
Spotting scopes for viewing wildlife also come in a wide price range. I find 20-60 x 65 magnification is plenty adequate.
How to prevent wildlife encounters
- Keep your distance from all wildlife — usually a minimum of 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators such as bears and wolves.
- Enjoy them through your binoculars.
- In bear country, be noisy or attach small bells to your backpacks to prevent startling bears. If you encounter a bear keep talking softly, pick up small children and walk away slowly, never run. Never allow yourself to be between a mother bear and her cubs. (Learn about bears in the wild by watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild’s “Bear Cub Rescue.”)
- Visit the National Park Service website and follow their wildlife safety guidelines.
For more insights from Peter, check out his top three places to hike in the U.S. and tips for experiencing nature.