National Parks in the United States attract millions of visitors annually. The natural beauty and mystique at national parks most likely leaves many visitors in awe. But potential visitors will want to research the temperatures in order to be properly dressed if planning a trip to some U.S. National Parks. Some parks may not permit visitors to certain areas, which may be closed when weather may play a factor in safety or accessibility. Exploring the hottest and coldest national parks, which are easily distinguishable, may help when considering a vacation or trip.
Things really heat up at some U.S. National Parks
Death Valley National Park covers more than three million acres of land in California and Nevada. In the 19th century, as Americans expanded their ventures further west, news spread about the natural, magnificent beauty of what is now Death Valley. It was named by gold prospectors who had apparently taken a long turn and endured suffering of extreme thirst, hunger and silence. National Geographic says that when one of the last of the prospectors finally was able to leave the area, he looked down from a mountain into the narrow valley and bid “Goodbye, Death Valley.” The area was inhabited and visited by Native Americans many years before the gold prospectors and Americans expanding westward in search of a new life. Documentation indicates that humans were present at Death Valley at least 9,000 years ago.
Adaptations to the temperatures would have had to be made, particularly on the hottest days. Death Valley is well recognized for its extremely hot temperatures. In fact, Death Valley is known as “the hottest place on Earth.” The record temperature was set on July 1913 at 134 degrees Fahrenheit. But that temperature was reached again, very recently, in October 2012. But Death Valley does not see triple digits only one day a year; from May through October, the temperatures are typically in the triple digits. The Weather Channel explains that during the summer of 1966, temperatures stayed above 120 degrees for 40 straight days. Ground temperatures in Death Valley have reached over 201 degrees. At Furnace Creek, the location of the Death Valley National Park Visitor’s Center, the location is approximately 190 feet below sea level. Some areas plunge even deeper. That partially accounts for some of the heat.
Some individuals may wonder why anyone would want to plan a visit to Death Valley National Park. The striking beauty draws visitors year-round. There are ranger-guided programs during the months when temperatures are more moderate, from October through early spring. Potential visitors should realize, however, that the “more moderate” temperatures for Death Valley is when temperatures “drop below the 100 degree mark.” Some of the campgrounds are closed during the summer because of the high temperatures. There are restaurants, museums, exhibits and other helpful resources to provide information about Death Valley National Park. Additional planning may be obtained by consulting the Death Valley Visitor Guide.
Zion National Park is located in Springdale, Utah. After animals in the area, such as giant sloth and wooly mammoth, were hunted to extinction by the people who lived in Zion almost 12,000 years ago, people had to adapt to the over-hunting and climate change. But even though the people continued to try to adapt, resources continued to die out. This resulted in a farming community who recognized the availability of and benefits of natural resources of the region. Many different populations thrived for a period of time but events and weather-related changes caused each of those groups to leave. Zion was officially declared a U.S. National Park in 1919. Visitors to Zion have increased since its designation as a national park. Today, the beauty of Zion National Park once again thrives and visitors enjoy the natural beauty and rich history, which archaeologists discovered has been used by humans since at least 6000 B.C.
The weather in Zion National Park may be one reason so many groups of people moved on after varying time in the area that is now Zion National Park. Within its sandstone canyons, high cliffs, waterfalls, and other natural beauty is the heat. Visitors who plan to backpack, hike, bicycle or just walk through the Zion National Park to enjoy all that it has to offer will want to plan for the high temperatures, which often rises to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer. Even in springtime, temperatures can reach 90 degrees. However, during the winter, some trails of Zion National Park may close when they are covered with snow and ice.
Summer temperatures at Joshua Tree National Park often reach well over 100 degrees in the daytime. Ground temperatures can reach more than 180 degrees, according to National Geographic. Visitors are welcomed all year round at Joshua Tree, located in California. The west entrance to this national park is at the town of Joshua Tree, while the north entrance is at Twenty Nine Palms, California. More than 1.3 million people visit Joshua Tree each year and National Geographic says visitors are often surprised at “the abrupt transition between the Colorado and Mohave ecosystems.” The Colorado, considered “low desert,” in contrast to the “high desert” of the Mohave, is sparse with little vegetation, save the occasional flowering cactus gardens. The Mohave, on the other hand, is wetter with more vegetation.
Humans inhabited the area of Joshua Tree National Park sometime after the last Ice Age. Different Indians hunted and gathered food in the area, while gold prospectors are known to have later traveled through the area. Visitors may be surprised to learn that the Joshua Tree, which legend has it, was named by the Mormons after the Biblical figure of Joshua, is actually a member of the lily family. The Joshua Trees of the park are actually giant yucca trees. Joshua Tree National Park may be enjoyed year-round.
Be prepared when visiting the coldest U.S. National Parks
While many of the national parks in the United States have relatively comfortable temperatures year-round, there are some national parks known for being the coldest.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the largest national park in the United States, spanning over 13 million acres from the tallest peaks of Mount St. Elias to the ocean, according to the National Park Service. Although open year-round, this national park, located in Alaska, has extremely cold winters. The NPS says that “winter arrives early to interior Alaska and by September 15, available services and resources are few.” In fact, according to the site, every one of the listed resources available to visitors are closed throughout the winter season.
Glaciers cover approximately 25%, about 5,000 square miles of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. As “moisture-laden air masses quickly rise, colliding with the high mountains of the Wrangell and St. Elias, the air cools and the result is deep snowfall on top of the already-existing snow and ice.” As the layers of snow and ice continue to collect, an ice field forms. Ice fields “feed” the glaciers. Hikers should never attempt to climb or cross glaciers alone or without proper equipment. In fact, visitors may want to only visit Wrangell-St. Elias National Park during the extreme winter weather by airplane or helicopter. The natural beauty can be observed and photographed easily from the air, where the temperature in the plane is much higher than the extremely cold temperature of Wrangell-St. Elias.
Fifty-one per cent of Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska is covered by glaciers. While there is an abundance of trees at lower levels, at higher elevations, the extreme weather conditions limits tree growth above the tree line, which is between 750 and 1,000 feet above sea level. Exit Glacier is the only part of Kenai Fjords that can be accessed by road. But even Exit Glacier is usually closed from November to mid-May when snow is present. Winters are very harsh in Kenai Fjord, as the area is “dominated by ice. The coastal backcountry is also closed during winter. In November, 2012, the average temperature at the park was 28.1 degrees. In March, 2013, the average temperature at Kenai Fjords was 30.2 degrees, a very small temperature increase over the four month period. Summer may be the best time to visit Kenai Fjords in order to appreciate all that the glorious features of the park.
Wildlife and humans have flocked to Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming for thousands of years. Long after nomadic Indians left evidence of hunting, fishing and living in the area, “mountain men” exploring the northwest came to hunt and trap for prized beaver, later led to others coming to the area leading surveying expeditions. Eventually settlers came to the area, but endured quite a struggle trying to survive the long, cold winters where raising livestock and planting crops was difficult. Finally, development came to Jackson Hole and in 1926, even John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was impressed with the beautiful scenery and eventually amassed over 35,000 acres with the intention to donate the land to the park. Opposition by residents led to long delays. It was finally declared a national park in 1929.
The National Park Service says that a record cold temperature of -63 degrees was recorded at Grand Teton and that winters are “long, snowy and bitterly cold.” Sub-zero temperatures are the norm throughout the winter. Blizzards are not abnormal. Summers are brief in Grand Teton National Park and most visitor centers are closed from September or October through May or June. Only the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center is open all year round. Visitors will want to plan their trip to see the majestic beauty of Grand Teton National Park when weather permits. Even during the summer, inclement weather may occur as afternoon thunderstorms frequently occur.
There are 59 national parks in the United States which offers rich history, unique geological formations and features, unique and unusual ecosystems, an extremely large number of wildlife and plants and wondrous beauty which some individuals may feel is beyond words. However, some national parks in the United States are also known for their temperature extremes. The hottest and the coldest U.S. National Parks are just as beautiful as the other national parks, but their temperatures calls for more careful planning by those who wish to plan a visit.