Miss visiting national parks? Five virtual activities to satisfy your wanderlust

Illustration of New River Gorge
New River Gorge in West Virginia is the newest neighbor on the national park block.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, would-be travelers, cooped-up adventurers and frustrated wanderlusters. We all miss multistate road trips and plane rides to far-flung countries, but California has urged residents to stay within 120 miles of their homes. Until things change, we should do our part and comply with the guidelines.

So I’m back with another all-virtual Escapes edition — and this time I’m focusing on national parks, the travel destination I miss the most.

I recently read some exciting park news: New River Gorge, in West Virginia, is now the country’s newest national park. I look forward to visiting New River Gorge someday, but until that time I’ll have to do it virtually.


I hope these experiences will help assuage your travel bug too.

🏞️ Discover the ideal national park trip

Some travelers are inspired by the coastline, while others are drawn to the desert. Some love tough hikes, and others like touring historic sites. If you’re daydreaming about which park you’ll visit after stay-at-home guidelines lift, the National Park Service and National Park Foundation have some suggestions for you.

Just take their “Find Your Park” quiz. By answering questions such as, “What are you most interested in learning about?” and “Who’s going with you?,” you’ll receive a personalized list of parks suited to you. Two recommendations I received: Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado and Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Mississippi.

Illustration of the National Park Service logo with a question mark over a topography map
Love national parks but have no idea where to go? Luckily there’s a “Find Your Park” quiz from the National Park Service and National Park Foundation.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

🛶 Kayak in Kenai Fjords National Park

According to Google Maps, Kenai Fjords National Park is roughly a 62-hour drive from Los Angeles — so it’s probably not in the cards for your next weekend road trip.

You can still sample what the park has to offer with a Google Arts and Culture guided tour, led by a park ranger who relocated to Alaska from New York City and fell in love with its beauty. By clicking the icons on the tour, you can climb into a glacier’s crevasse, hear icebergs underwater and watch a humpback whale breach the water’s surface.

You also can watch a glacier recede over the years, a simple yet gutting illustration of the effects of climate change on the park.

A scene from Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska.
(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Michael McRuiz)

🦜 Listen to the birds of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Fewer people are traveling to Hawaii now, but you can still experience birds singing in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with this recording of the “dawn chorus at Kīpuka Kī.”

In the recording, you’ll hear calls from native birds such as apapane, elepaio and amakihi. It’s a relaxing way to start your day, or you can use the recording as a peaceful soundtrack while working.

To learn about each bird’s sound, visit this page and click on the pictures of native Hawaiian birds. Then return to the recording and listen for each bird’s call.

The iiwi, a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper, on Kauai.
The iiwi, a species of Hawaiian honeycreeper, can be heard belting tunes on Hawaii Volcanoes National Park‘s webpage.
(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Jim Denny)

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💧 Get a tour of Crater Lake from a country music star

With its preternatural blue water and craggy cliffs, Crater Lake National Park is a stunning road trip destination for Californians. As we wait for travel restrictions to lift, you can explore this park — home of the deepest lake in the country — with singer-songwriter Dierks Bentley, in partnership with the National Park Service.


This 360-degree tour offers tips for tackling the Scenic Rim Drive, which circles the park, as well as a recommendation for one of the best place to watch the sunrise. You’ll also learn about Wizard Island and other destinations within the park such as Vidae Falls.

Country music star Dierks Bentley photoshopped in front of Crater Lake National Park
Country music star Dierks Bentley takes on a new kind of tour for the National Park Service — a 360-degree experience in Crater Lake National Park.
(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times; Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times;

🤔 Play this tricky national park game

Fancy yourself a national parks expert? Take the National Park Service’s “Where the ‘Park’ Am I?” quiz to test your knowledge.

You’ll be challenged to identify parks based on different 360-degree images. It starts easy — but with National Historic Sites added, you’ll leave this short game having learned something new.

Screengrab from of goat looking close to a camera paired with an illustration of magnifying glass
Can you guess the national park from this close-up? The National Park Service’s new quiz puts parks fans to the ultimate test.
(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; screengrab from

📰 What I’m reading

  • Big news: Airline travelers entering the U.S. will need a negative COVID-19 test under a new Centers for Disease Control rule to take effect Jan. 26, Bloomberg reports.
  • Wondering what air travel has in store for us in 2021? Times contributor and former travel editor Catharine Hamm offers some predictions.
  • Here are eight day trips that fit California’s COVID-19 guidelines, assembled by Times assistant travel editor Mary Forgione and travel writer Christopher Reynolds.
  • If you have a cruise booked this spring, you may have a refund coming your way. Forgione explains how cruise lines are canceling more sailings.
  • Attention, snow seekers: You can still find snow near L.A. Reynolds breaks down where you can go.
With the local ski area sold out, Dorian Ashmore backcountry-snowboards with friends in the San Bernardino Mountains
A snowboarder samples the fresh snow in Big Bear in late December.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)
  • Need destination ideas? Times contributor Alex Pulaski offers some literature-inspired adventures.
  • Indigenous symbols are rising as colonial monuments fall in New Mexico. Kalen Goodluck explains the long-coming reckoning in National Geographic.
  • Here are some tips on how to plan a camping trip for your non-outdoorsy partner, courtesy of Blair Braverman in Outside Online.

📸 Favorite photo

A mountain goat looks at its baby in Glacier National Park.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

“The Other Side” by Jazmine Sullivan tells the story of a person dreaming about moving away in search of a different life. I think many of us have been wishing for an escape too. I hope this song helps you run away for a while.

Have a safe and happy week, everyone 💚

Jazmine Sullivan taps into quarantine blues with the song “The Other Side”
Jazmine Sullivan taps into quarantine blues with the song “The Other Side”
(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Francisco Andreotti / Unsplash)