Is your U.S. national park trip ruined? Here are 7 alternatives

The Crazy Horse Memorial, seen here in 2007, is a work in progress less than 20 miles from Mount Rushmore. The mountain sculpture honoring a Lakota warrior features a face nearly 90 feet high.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

We’re sorry, world. As you know, countless travelers from around the globe got shafted this week when U.S. elected officials, unable to compromise on a budget, closed down more than 400 national park system sites (and much of the federal government).

But just because our intransigent officials have locked you out of Yellowstone and Yosemite — and left legions of Americans without needed income or services — that doesn’t mean you have to sit in your hostel in your black socks and sandals, cursing your luck and our leaders.

Here are seven alternative destinations — deeply American places, within a day’s drive of one or more national parks. Most of these places are beautiful and have roots older than Congress or the presidency. All are instructive. You’ll remember them. And on the way there, you’ll still have time to debate what’s gone wrong in Washington.


Locked out of Yosemite? Drive 27 miles south on California 41 to the Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold, which is one among some 470 Native American casinos nationwide that take advantage of federal laws allowing tribal sovereignty. No shutdown problems there. (America: Come for the wide open spaces, stay for the loose slots.) Or keep on the road and drive another 185 miles southwest to the ersatz European splendor and spectacular views at Hearst Castle — which is a state park, so it’s still open. Then head about 60 miles up Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur, which is full of state beaches and campgrounds.

Why is Big Sur not a national park? Good question.

Locked out of the Grand Canyon? Or Arches and Bryce and Canyonlands and Zion national parks in southern Utah? Look to the state border. Monument Valley — home to some of the most emblematic scenery in the West — is a tribal park run by the Navajo, right on the Utah-Arizona border. The valley is about180 driving miles northeast of Grand Canyon Village, about 150 driving miles south of Canyonlands National Park. Many Navajo live without plumbing or electricity, but still their leaders manage to keep the park open.

Locked out of Mount Rushmore? It’s just 16 miles west and south to the epic (yet unfinished) Crazy Horse Memorial, a rock-carving project of even greater scale that celebrates a Lakota warrior. Also handy: handsome downtown Rapid City, whose street corners feature sculptures of American patriotic figures; and Custer State Park, which is full of needle-shaped rock formations, roaming bison and mountain lakes .