Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Discover This Scenic Appalachian Region
Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin IslandsTurquoise water and gleaming white beaches at a national park? That's what you'll find if you venture outside of the US. The Virgin Islands National Park is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Trunk Bay. 960 1280
Grand Canyon National Park, ArizonaIt's not easy to get to most Colorado River beaches, but consider a several-day rafting trip the highlight of your trip. Before you dive in you should know the water rarely gets above 60 degrees, but you probably won't mind in 100-degree heat. 960 1280
Best National Park Beaches in America 16 Photos
Paddle the Pacific
Anacapa Island in the Channel Islands National Park, just off the coast of Los Angeles, is home to some of the best kayaking on the West Coast. Rich with marine life and boasting the much-photographed Arch Rock, Anacapa is the perfect day trip or overnighter for the city dweller looking to get into some rough water. It’s a cliff island, so beware of winds, currents and fog.
Float the BorderThe mighty Rio Grande runs through Big Bend National Park in Texas, but it also represents the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Rafting down the river not only takes you through some eye-widening scenery, like 1500-foot deep canyons, but will also toss you back and forth across the border. 960 1280
Hit the Sandy Slopes
Colorado has Aspen, one of the most famous skiing destinations on the planet. It also has Sand Dunes National Park, one of the only sandboarding and sandsledding destinations on the planet. Slalom down the granular slopes like some diabolical combination of Jean-Claude Killy and Lawrence of Arabia. Hit the dunes early in the morning or late in the evening, lest you roast in the 150° midday heat. And don’t forget the lip balm.
Cold StorageThe upper regions of Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park have over 35 square miles of permanent ice and snow, providing a year-round paradise for hearty souls who consider ice camping a pleasure. If you’re going to stay the night on the mountain, securely lock your vittles to keep them from the clutches of foxes and other aggressive winter wildlife. 960 1280
Take in the LightsMinnesota's Voyageurs National Park sits just below the Canadian border and offers campers a ringside seat to the Northern Lights. Voyageurs encompasses 270 campsites only accessible by watercraft, but we recommend the remote Echo Lake Campground for best visibility. Check a variety of weather services to determine your best chance of seeing the Northern Lights. 960 1280
Yosemite GlidingIt may seem crazy, but people have been leaping off Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park for decades. Hang gliding was once sanctioned and overseen by park employees. These days the private Yosemite Hang Gliding Association coordinates it. 960 1280
The RaftersIf a weekend of seething whitewater just doesn’t cut it anymore, try an eight-day Grand Canyon raft trip down the Colorado River. There are a host of operators who will happily guide you down 200 miles of rapids. By the end of it, you’ll have seen Native-American ruins, mile-high cliff walls and countless eagles. 960 1280
Hit the Heights
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park boasts rock formations that will set a climber’s mouth to watering. The 415-square-mile park is a full-service climbing destination, featuring opportunities for scaling rock, wall, ice and snow. Lumpy Ridge and Longs Peak are favorites of local and international climbers. Whether you are an experienced sport climber or a beginning boulderer, be safe and leave no trace of your visit.
Lost in AmericaIt makes sense that America’s largest national park is in Alaska, its largest state. Wrangell-Saint Elias stretches across 13,200,000 acres. You could fit Yellowstone, Everglades, and Death Valley inside it, and still have room for Denali, the third largest park (also in Alaska) at 6,075,030 acres. 960 1280
Take Me to the RiverIn addition to being the most popular hike in Zion National Park, the Narrows has something for every ability level over its 16 miles. The trail follows the Virgin River, which is convenient during the summer months, since you’ll be at least ankle-deep most of the time. If it starts to rain, head for high ground; flash floods are common and have a tendency to drop by without calling first. 960 1280
Extreme Adventures in our National Parks 10 Photos
Visitors to Shenandoah National Park will see for themselves why John Denver crooned so passionately about the winding country roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the tumbling Shenandoah River. The park encompasses a 300-square-mile stretch of the Blue Ridge, which forms the eastern branch of the Appalachians. Surely, the easiest and most scenic way to explore the park is via Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road that slithers through the park along the crest of the mountains. The drive offers perfect views of Piedmont Valley to the east and the Shenandoah River Valley to the west.
The trees blanketing the park's mountains are part of a hardwood, oak-hickory forest, and can be explored via 500-plus miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Twisting through the forested landscape, the trails lead visitors along sun-dappled paths that pass by many of the park's cascading waterfalls. The varying landscape of the mountains have created multiple habitats; from rocky overhangs to bubbling streams, the region supports the lifecycles of thousands of plant and animal species. Hunting and trapping are prohibited in Shenandoah, thus visitors can expect countless sightings of Virginia's white-tailed deer and even the occasional black bear.
Geology lovers will enjoy numerous rock formations in the area, which tell the geological history of the park and are easily viewed from sites such as Mary's Rock Tunnel, Crescent Rock or Franklin Cliff.
Shenandoah National Park is part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, comprising the eastern branch of the Appalachians, a range created through multiple geological episodes over a period of 300 million years. The mountains were formed by the collisions of the tectonic plates of North America, Europe and Africa as masses of rock were pushed as far upward as 155 miles. Erosion by running water, weather, gravity and the freeze-thaw cycle has helped smooth the range.
In addition to the usual hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding and camping opportunities, the park plays host to an exceptional variety of special events including: National Audubon Society Annual Christmas Bird Count, Wildflower Weekend, Appalachian folk dancers, Apple Butter Festival, even basket making and quilting demonstrations. Check out the park's website for more information.
Where to Stay
Nestled in the highest point on Skyline Drive is the charming Skyland Lodge, with 177 units, including cabins and suites. The lodge is located at mile 41.7 along Skyline Drive, and features a craft shop, guided ranger programs, horseback riding and a children's playground.
The unexpected capital of bluegrass music and home to some serious toe-tappin' good times, Floyd, VA, is where to find a now-famous country store, some music-loving locals and the greatest hoedown this side of the Appalachians. All of this down-home fun makes this little town a must-explore stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway.