A quick photo tour of three great national parks: Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Smoky Mountains, and Rocky Mountain National Parks

Last week I took a break from the weekly “here’s how the virus has messed up our lives” beat, going instead with a short photo gallery of some of my favorite images from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

I like that idea again for this week. This time, I want to go with a few national parks I happen to like a bunch. So here goes…

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

I’ve only been here once, but it was memorable. Situated in west-central Colorado, it emcompasses a deep gorge cut by the Gunnison River, one of the deepest canyons in the country.

The Gunnison River, with the steep walls of the Black Canyon rising high above.

Most of the park’s river-level campgrounds and trails are easy enough, but if you’re up for a scramble you can get some amazing vistas. And, if you’re so inclined, some good fishing.

You might catch fish here if you’re not too distracted by the scenery.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A couple visits to the Smokies of eastern Tennessee gave me a deep appreciation for the rugged, wooded beauty of this classic American landscape. I love how the elevation changes create such a wide variety of ecosystems. At one moment, you’re in a warm, humid broadleaf forest. Hike up a ways and it’s the sweet smell of pines, which always makes me think of the Rockies. But the Appalachians are not the Rockies — they’re their own thing, and it’s awesome.

A sweeping view of the Smokies.

Most views here are seen from outcrops and not from summits. Take time to stop for a few minutes to soak it in.

Thick woods and great trails on the Alum Cave Bluff Trail.

The trails can wind along for a ways, but each mile is filled with memorable scenes.

Alum Cave Bluff. Whoa.

Some rest stops offer scenes that exemplify the diverse and lush nature of the Appalachians, a mountain range said to be one of the greatest examples of biodiversity in the world.

Low clouds and fog give the appearance of smoke, which is how the Smokies got their name.

Drive through the park and several pullouts will give you incredible vistas.

Atop the observation tower on Clingman’s Dome, the highest peak in Tennessee.

Clingman’s Dome, Tennessee’s highest mountain, has an observation tower which gives you a rare summit view in the Smokies. It’s worth a look.

Rocky Mountain National Park

This is the national park I’ve visited the most, and each time I come away in awe. The Rockies are a grand range, and the park has some of the most amazing alpine scenes that can be found anywhere. From thick evergreen forests to rocky alpine landscapes, any view is a hard-earned treat. It’s worth the effort to hike this park’s trails, however high they take you.

Sunrise on the Longs Peak Trail.

There is nothing quite like watching the sun rise high in the Rockies, especially when you’re treated to a cloud inversion.

Longs Peak shrouded in clouds.

The star of the park is Longs Peak, the highest mountain in the park and one of the most dramatic and rugged pinnacles in the entire state. You can see the mountain from Denver, but it’s a whole different experience to see it up close.

The Keyhole on Longs Peak.

If you’re up for some work, climbing Longs Peak is a great way to see the mountain and challenge yourself in a whole new way.

Longs Peak looming over Chasm Lake.

Even if you don’t want to climb the mountain, the scenery around Longs Peak is worth taking in.

So there you go. I confess, I’m not one of those people who has been to a ton of national parks. But the ones I’ve been to are something to see.

Bob Doucette