National Parks Week 2017: 7 national park units a day trip away from Ogden

Friday , April 14, 2017 - 5:00 AM

LEIA LARSEN, Standard-Examiner Staff

Think of national parks, and your mind might wander south to redrock country, home of Utah’s “mighty five.” It might then drift north to Yellowstone and the Tetons. Those parks are impressive, sure, but they’re also a slog if you live in Northern Utah and want a quick escape.

Fortunately, there’s a whole host of national park units just a few hours’ drive away from Ogden. We’ve assembled a list of seven lesser-known (and less crowded) national park sites — one for each day of National Parks Week, which kicks off April 15. 

1. The Mormon Pioneer, California and Pony Express national historic trails

Brush up on your Western history and take a scenic road trip through Northern Utah, retracing the paths worn by pioneers and the Pony Express.

The National Park Service has assembled a guide that takes travelers on an educational auto tour of Utah’s historic trails. It runs through the state, from the Wyoming border to West Wendover, Nevada. The route takes its users to landmarks like a Pony Express station in Echo Canyon, This is the Place Heritage Park and the Big Empty of the Great Basin.

In addition to pointing out historic stops, the tour peppers in useful information about where to park and get gas. 

2. City of Rocks National Preserve

An easy two and a half hour drive north of Ogden will take you to a quiet place with nothing but climbers, pioneer enthusiasts and a bunch of weird, wonderful rock formations. 

Emigrants traveling on the California Trail wrote of the place as a rock city “of tall spires,” then wrote their names on those rocks in wagon axle grease. The granite formations now mostly lure climbers from around the world, since the preserve is chock-full of hundreds of routes, both sport and traditional.

Visitors can take a learn-to-climb class from National Park Service staff, but you don’t have to adore heights to enjoy City of Rocks. The preserve has 22 miles of hiking trails leading to unique formations, pioneer graffiti and scenic overlooks. There are also places to mountain bike, ride horses and camp.

3. Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve 

This one’s for the geology junkies and those who want to feel like they’ve been transported to another planet.

Craters of the Moon undulates and swells with the sometimes smooth, sometimes snaggy black and gray rock of ancient lava flows. Volcanic eruptions formed the park between 2,000 and 15,000 years ago — and the site is still active.

“The time between eruptive periods in the Craters of the Moon Lava Field averages 2,000 years, and it has been more than 2,000 years since the last eruption,” the National Park Service says on its website.

The site offers miles of hiking trails and unique lava tubes to explore. It also adjoins The Craters of the Moon National Wilderness Area for longer backpacking hikes and camping in Echo Crater. 

Craters of the Moon is located in Idaho, about one hour south of Sun Valley and a three and a half hour drive from Ogden. 

4. Timpanogos Cave National Monument

A couple hours of enduring Interstate 15 traffic will take you to the beautiful and impressive Timpanogos Cave in Utah County’s American Fork Canyon. It’s only open from May to September, but it’s a great way to cool off during the summer months since it stays a consistent 45 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Hikes through the cave lead to elaborate limestone rooms full of unique helictites.

The cave can only be explored through guided tours, which usually last 55 minutes. Purchase tickets up to 30 days in advance online or by calling 877-444-6777.

5. Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Take a trip back in time to the Ice Age by exploring this Idaho cache chock-full of ancient animal fossils. The most famous fossils of the Hagerman Fossil Beds are those of the extinct North American horse, but visitors can explore the relics of more than 200 long-gone species, like camels, mastodons and saber-toothed cats. 

The monument has the world's largest, highest-quality deposit of fossils from the late Pliocene period.

The town of Hagerman is located in Idaho, about 45 minutes from Twin Falls and three hours from Ogden.

6. Golden Spike National Historic Site

The meeting of the Union and Central Pacific railroads in 1869 was marked with a golden spike. It also joined a nation and built Ogden’s reputation as “Junction City,” the rollicking rail town. The site lies about an hour from downtown Ogden on a scenic drive north past Brigham City and west beyond Bear River Bay.

The historic site has loads of old railroad artifacts and memorabilia. National Park Service staff and volunteers also re-enact the May 10, 1869, golden spike ceremony every Saturday between May and September, complete with costumes and lovely locomotive replicas. There are also Promontory Auto Tours that offer a glimpse of old trestles and blast areas.

7. Great Basin National Park

The only actual national park to make our list, Great Basin National Park is a bit far for a day jaunt, but it’s worth the trip to explore this uncommon landscape.

Great Basin has prominent mountain peaks, hidden caves, skies of endless stars and forests of primeval trees.

The park was declared an International Dark Sky Park last spring and offers astronomy programs on Saturday nights year-round. When the summer season is in full swing, they’re also held Tuesday and Thursday nights.

In addition to stargazing, the park also offers daily guided tours through the Lehman Caves, hiking trails, auto tours, fishing and equestrian riding.

The park is a four hour drive from Ogden, crossing the border into Nevada on U.S. 50 — America’s “Loneliest Road.” 

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/leiaoutside or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen

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