15 SUPERLATIVES: Leg 2 Recap Continued
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Anyway, on to a little more fun. While we pack for the next part of our adventure, we’re still reflecting on the best (and not-so-hot) parts of our second leg.
Read about which parks we visited on Leg 2, from mid-October to mid-December, here.
We’re seeing a lot on our journey. A LOT. And so we think it’s helpful to you (and to us) to stop and qualify these activities once in awhile. We don’t always compare entire parks, because they are honestly so diverse it would be impossible, but we do like to rank the individual activities.
Here’s a list of a few superlatives from the second leg of our year-long adventure:
- Most rewarding hike: Precipice Trail // Acadia National Park. Let’s just cut to the chase. Our trip involves a ton of hiking, with a huge range of difficulty. The most rewarding hike we completed was called the Precipice Trail in Acadia National Park. This is a strenuous (but short at around 2 miles) hike that involves non-technical climbing up iron ladder rungs on a sheer exposed cliffside with a killer view. We completed it in late October, when fall colors were at their peak. Highly recommend daring to take this classic Acadia adventure!
- Best overall view: Ram’s Head Trail // Virgin Islands National Park. We saw so many views, including white beaches, rolling Appalachian Mountain scenes, towering waterfalls, and yellow leaf-covered trails, but my favorite was the view from Ram’s Head Trail in Virgin Islands National Park. The trail is 2.4 miles round trip, and ends with a 360-degree view of the St. John coast.
- Best campsite location: Flamingo Campground // Everglades National Park. Besides being the only National Park Service shower we encountered this leg, Flamingo Campground ($20/night) in Everglades also gave us a beautiful, spacious, green location to set up our tent. If they could have somehow eliminated the swarms of mosquitoes we encountered that night, they’d be flawless.
- Most overrated “must-do” hike: Abrams Falls Trail // Great Smoky Mountains National Park After being hyped up by almost everyone we talked to about Great Smoky Mountains, we were very underwhelmed when we reached Abrams Falls in Great Smoky Mountains. At 5.4 miles, the hike was pleasant, not too strenuous, and the waterfall was nice, but we didn’t see the complete wow-factor appeal of this hike, which is supposedly crowded elbow-to-elbow on nice weekends. As an alternative, we’d recommend Ramsey Falls nearby.
- Park we’ll most likely visit again: Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Cuyahoga Valley is not a huge park, but it packs a big punch: it features the famous Towpath Trail, several giant waterfalls, great day hiking, interesting historical sites, and dozens of community programs. We visited in the fall, so we also had the experience of the pumpkin sales and corn maze. We would love to visit again soon!
- Best National Park Service site that isn’t a “park”: Big Cypress National Preserve // Southern Florida. If you plan a trip to the Everglades, spending time in nearby Big Cypress National Preserve is a must. The park includes a visitor center, several trails, and most importantly, amazing ranger programs. These were some of the best programs we have experienced on the entire trip. We joined a 2-hour “Swamp Walk,” which is the only way I agreed to walk through alligator-infested thigh-deep waters (and it was actually really interesting!), and a 4-hour canoe trip. Both were completely free, but needed to be booked in advance.
- Best Visitor Center: Big Meadows Visitor Center // Shenandoah National Park. In terms of exhibits, park video, helpfulness and supportiveness of rangers, and cleanliness, (but mostly exhibits) this visitor center took home the (only something really big park nerds would think about) prize.
- Food splurges that were least worth it: Popovers and Lobster Rolls / Acadia National Park. We adored Acadia, but not because of the food they brag about. Wanting the whole tourist experience, we bought popovers from the restaurant at Jordan’s Pond and lobster rolls from a cute bar in Bar Harbor. Overrated. Overpriced. C’mon, Maine!
- Proudest budgeting moment: Flying cheap and packing light // Virgin Islands. Flying for cheap on Spirit Airlines is inevitable, but they’ll try to make money off you by charging extra for bags, even carry-ons. We avoided that extra charge by packing for ten days in the Virgin Islands in just two personal-item-sized backpacks. It was way easier than we thought, and I didn’t even have to wear all my clothes at once.
- Best touristy moment: Smoothies at Robert Is Here Fruit Stand // Everglades National Park. The ads in Southern Florida brochures might seem cheesy, but the fresh fruit smoothies (mine was papaya key lime, and I’m still drooling over it) stopped our judginess dead in its tracks. We generally pride ourselves in our aversion to tourist traps like this, but don’t go to southern Florida and not try one of these smoothies. Please.
- Most taxing activity: Wild Cave Tour // Mammoth Cave National Park. They do not exaggerate when they describe this $55 guided tour as “extremely strenuous.” While squeezing through holes, army crawling through chilly water, and inching across canyon drops, I found a lot of clarity during this tour: I do not like this. I do not like this. I’ll never do this again. Cole enjoyed it 🙂
- Best wildlife spotting: Maho Bay // Virgin Islands National Park. There aren’t many places in the U.S. where you can swim with sea turtles not as part of some hoaky tourist trap. Or so we thought, before we rented $5 snorkel gear and spent about 5 minutes in the water at Maho Bay in U.S. Virgin Islands. We swam with about a dozen sea turtles, several giant sting rays, parrot fish, and hundreds of other species of beautiful colorful fish.
- Least enjoyable moment: Insane tire trouble // Southern Florida. Three tire holes in two different tires in three days. Enough said?
- Best sunset: Chokoloskee Island Park // Everglades National Park. If we had an award for Best-Value Campground, this would win two superlatives. At only $22 for a campsite, we were treated to two nights of showers, a community room with puzzles, HBO, and a full-sized kitchen, coffee, very nice employees, and oh yeah. The best sunsets everrrrr. See what I mean?:
- Most random roadside find: Fancy-@ss McDonalds // Freeport, Maine. On our way from the L.L.Bean Headquarters Campus, we spotted this weirdly sophisticated McDonalds, complete with a fireplace, table centerpieces, and real wooden chairs.
- Best moment of pure joy: Dry Tortugas National Park. Heaven. On. Earth.
With everywhere we have been, this list could go on and on. We never want to stop reflecting on our experiences at each park.
The lesson from these silly superlatives? Every park is so diverse. Every experience at every park is so diverse.
We try to learn from the good things and the annoying things. We hope you can learn a bit from them, too.