Top 10 National Park Activities

Our national park system invites visitors to choose their own adventures in the most beautiful spots in the U.S. Here's our selection for the most exciting and unusual national park activities including sandboarding, spelunking and more.

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Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

It's not likely you'll plan a spur-of-the-moment trip to the Gates of the Arctic National Park: It requires serious planning to venture into this wild Alaskan spot above the Arctic Circle. 960 1280

By National Park Service, Alaska Region (Remote river in Gates of the Arctic) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

The remote park is accessible by bush plane, air taxi and, for the truly hardcore, on foot. Hikers may approach the park from Dalton Highway, but there are multiple river crossings along the way and no trails. 960 1280
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Once in the park, visitors are rewarded with sweeping valleys and rugged mountains, the tallest rising 8,510 feet at Mount Igikpak at the headwaters of the Noatak River. 960 1280

By National Park Service, Alaska Region (Noatak River) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

Washington state has its share of glaciers with more than 300 mountain glaciers in North Cascades National Park. Get your bearings at any of the park's 6 visitor or service centers where maps and exhibit rooms can help you plan excursions.  960 1280

By Walter Siegmund (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

The Ross Lake National Recreation Area is a popular starting point for the 400 miles of trails that meander through the valleys and cut through the mountains with switchbacks and rocky terrain. 960 1280
North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

The mountains are dotted with the glaciers as well as more than 127 alpine lakes and cascading waterfalls. The most popular waterfalls can be found at Gorge Falls along State Route 20 in between Newhalem and Diablo and Rainbow Falls in Stehekin Valley. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park is a diverse spot with quiet deserts, caves and dense forests filled with 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines. It's remarkable that this is one of the least-visited national parks, often dismissed as a wasteland. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Go underground at Lehman Caves, an ornate marble cave filled with stalactites, stalagmites and over 300 rare shield formations. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Stargazers will delight in the view from Great Basin, one of the darkest spots in the country after the sun goes down. You'll want to spend the night so you can marvel at the Milky Way and constellations in the deep night sky, a rare treat as light pollution blocks the view from many cities around the country. 960 1280
Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

The state of Florida gets hordes of visitors each year, but somehow Dry Tortugas plays host to only a small fraction of them. This cluster of 7 islands is just 70 miles west of Key West, but its quiet island pace sets it apart from its nearest neighbors. 960 1280

By Joe Parks from Berkeley, CA (Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

The waters around the islands are filled with coral reefs teeming with interesting marine life that are perfect for a snorkeling trip.  960 1280
Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

Scuba divers explore the Windjammer Wreck, a complete wreck site featuring an impressive sailing ship that sank in 1907. Back on the beach, sea turtles build nests in the sand where they lay their eggs along these protected sandy shores. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Michigan's remote Isle Royale National Park is accessible only by boat or seaplane, so leave your car behind, and set sail from Houghton or Cooper Harbor in Michigan or Grand Portage in Minnesota. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Once there, get ready for a day of backcountry hiking or navigating the lakes, bays and islands in a kayak or canoe. If you're not an experienced paddler, avoid the frigid water and possible squalls on a guided boat tour. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

To extend your trip, spend the night at the Rock Harbor Lodge, found in the island's northeast corner, with simple rooms and cottages overlooking the lake. 960 1280
Backcountry Camping: Glacier National Park

Backcountry Camping: Glacier National Park

Each year, Glacier National Park updates its Backcountry Camping Guide, a necessary accessory for backpackers who plan to spend the night at one of the remote campsites. Primitive campsites have a spot for a tent, pit toilets, as well as an area to prepare and store food. 960 1280
Backcountry Camping: Glacier National Park

Backcountry Camping: Glacier National Park

Serious hikers rave about the looming mountains and alpine lakes that make up Glacier National Park's million-plus acres of natural wonderland. To fully appreciate the park's beauty, load your backpack for a multi-day back-country adventure. 960 1280

Education Images, Getty Images  

Forest Camping: Bryce Canyon National Park

Forest Camping: Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its tall rocky spires known as hoodoos, but its elevation creates 3 unique forest areas. As the park reaches 2,000 feet, there are distinct forest areas with spruce, Ponderosa pines and Pinyon pines. 960 1280

Ethan Miller, Getty Images  

Forest Camping: Bryce Canyon National Park

Forest Camping: Bryce Canyon National Park

There are 2 campgrounds in the park, and the Sunset Campground is located just west of some of the park's best easy-to-moderate hiking trails that begin at Sunset Point. 960 1280

Ethan Miller, Getty Images  

Beach Camping: Assateague Island

Beach Camping: Assateague Island

At Assateague Island you can feel the sand under your feet -- and under your sleeping bag, too -- when you pitch your tent at an ocean-side site on this barrier island. The campsites are just steps from the water where you can spend the day swimming, fishing, collecting shells or just lounging in the sand. 960 1280

The Washington Post, Getty Images  

Beach Camping: Assateague Island

Beach Camping: Assateague Island

Although the park is located in both Maryland and Virginia, camping is only available in Maryland. In addition to the camping basics, bring along firewood, long tent stakes to steady your tent from strong breezes and extra bug spray as the mosquito populations thrive during the warm summer months. 960 1280

Maddie Meyer, The Washington Post, Getty Images  

RV Camping: Yosemite National Park

RV Camping: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a great option for car campers and road-tripping RVers who don't want to leave behind all of the comforts of home. The park has 10 campgrounds with ample space for RVs and trailers. 960 1280

RiverNorthPhotography/Getty Images  

RV Camping: Yosemite National Park

RV Camping: Yosemite National Park

In Yosemite Valley, RVs can unpack and settle in Upper, Lower and North Pines campgrounds and enjoy great views of the towering rock formations and easy access to hiking trails to Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls. 960 1280

Pacific Press, Getty Images  

Isolated Camping: Voyageurs National Park

Isolated Camping: Voyageurs National Park

If you're searching for a remote campground with few neighbors, Voyageurs National Park just might be your spot. However, you will need your own boat to access any of the 200 remote campsites. 960 1280

GeorgeBurba/Getty Images  

Isolated Camping: Voyageurs National Park

Isolated Camping: Voyageurs National Park

Each site is equipped with a food locker, fire ring and picnic table so you can enjoy dinner under the stars. Be sure to double-check your packing list as there are no nearby shops to pick up forgotten essentials at these isolated camping spots. 960 1280

StevenSchremp/Getty Images  

Alaska Railroad's Coastal Classic

Alaska Railroad's Coastal Classic

Hop aboard the Coastal Classic in Anchorage for a scenic four-hour ride to Kenai Fjords National Park. Along the coast you'll pass a stretch of Cook Inlet known as the Turnagain Arm, before greeting the snow-capped Kenai Mountains. 960 1280

By Frank Kovalchek from Anchorage, Alaska, USA (Our Alaska Railroad train to Spencer Glacier) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Alaska Railroad's Coastal Classic

Alaska Railroad's Coastal Classic

After a series of tunnels and a harrowing single-track switch, it's onward through the land of glassy lakes, waterfalls and glaciers to the end of the line in Seward. 960 1280

By Nils Öberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon Railway

Your 65-mile, two-hour journey to the Grand Canyon on this vintage steam train starts in Williams, Ariz. 960 1280

By DXR (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Grand Canyon Railway

Grand Canyon Railway

Coach seats are bench style in Pullman cars from the roaring 1920s, the club car has a mahogany bar, first class enjoys captain-style seats, and a double-decker dome car offers passengers a bird's-eye view. 960 1280

By Drew Jacksich [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Amtrak's Empire Builder

Amtrak's Empire Builder

This giant diesel-engine locomotive begins its journey at Chicago's Union Station and runs west along the original route of the Great Northern Railway to Glacier National Park in Montana. 960 1280

Douglas Rahden [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons  

Amtrak's Empire Builder

Amtrak's Empire Builder

During the next two days, you'll stop at the Glacier Park Lodge & Resort, the  Historic Belton Chalet and the Izaak Walton Inn. 960 1280

By Andrew Balet (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Coast Starlight

Coast Starlight

The Coast Starlight travels the coast between Los Angeles' and Seattle. The first park on the route is the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area with over 153,000 acres of beaches, mountains and a working movie set, Paramount Ranch. Klamath Falls, Ore., is the jumping off point to visit Crater Lake National Park. The train stops at Portland's historic Union Station before ending in Seattle, an hour and 45-minute drive to Mt. Rainier National Park 960 1280
Coast Starlight

Coast Starlight

First-class ticket holders can enjoy the luxurious Parlor Car, and there's also a car designated just for kids. 960 1280

By donielle (Flickr: pacific parlour car) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Alaska Railroad's Denali Star

Alaska Railroad's Denali Star

Your 7 1/2-hour trip to Denali National Park on this refurbished blue-and-yellow train begins in Anchorage. 960 1280

By Nils Öberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Alaska Railroad's Denali Star

Alaska Railroad's Denali Star

Equipped with a dome car, a fine dining car and student tour guides, the Denali Star travels through seven tunnels and over 8 miles of bridges. Other stops include Wasilla, Talkeetna, Nenana and Fairbanks. 960 1280

By Len Turner from Lufkin, TX, USA (Alaska 02-013Uploaded by Arsenikk) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

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