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.

Photos

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Not more than 175 miles from the Atlanta metropolitan area, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is by far the most visited national park in the country. 960 1280

Beth Rucker  

A Park for All, and All Seasons

A Park for All, and All Seasons

Most park visitors explore by car on one of the major scenic roads such as Cades Cove Loop or Newfound Gap Road. To beat the crowd, you can avoid busy times of year like July, August and October. 960 1280

Katie Hausauer  

How to Escape the Crowds

How to Escape the Crowds

Fortunately, with 384 miles of mountain road, the Smokies offer plenty of space to escape the crowd. Hiking is also enjoyed all year where the park'€™s old-growth deciduous forests bring a different reward with each season. 960 1280

Kelly Smith Trimble  

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

Stretching approximately 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine, the Appalachian Trail is the premier hiking trail of the Eastern U.S. The trail is so popular that there is an entire subculture of books, memoirs, websites and fan clubs for passionate enthusiasts. The southern terminus of the trail is Springer Mountain approximately two hours north of Atlanta; many thru-hikers choose to start there. 960 1280

Beth Rucker  

Congaree National Park

Congaree National Park

As an important bird sanctuary, visitors to Congaree National Park, one of our nation'€™s newest parks, can stroll boardwalks watching wood duck, wild turkey, barred owls, and whippoorwill amongst cypress trees. 960 1280

Eric Foltz / iStock  

Cherokee National Forest

Cherokee National Forest

Though not technically a national park, Cherokee National Forest is well worth nothing. A truly notable feature of Cherokee National Forest is the Ocoee River, used during the 1996 Summer Olympics; the Ocoee has some of the greatest whitewater rafting and kayaking destinations in the Southeast. 960 1280

Tim Doyle  

Chattahoochee National Recreation Area

Chattahoochee National Recreation Area

This national park north of the city gives access to a 48-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River. Residents of large northern suburbs like Marietta and Roswell can access the recreation area within minutes, while those living downtown or other coordinates along the city’s perimeter can be there in less than an hour. 960 1280

Sebastien Windal / iStock  

The Lowcountry

The Lowcountry

Made up of a stretch of coastline that extends through South Carolina and into Georgia, the Lowcountry is a region bustling with natural as well as cultural beauty. One national park is Fort Sumter outside Charleston, S.C. 960 1280

Will Hollerith  

The Lowcountry

The Lowcountry

Tidal marshes, rivers, estuaries, barrier islands and the Atlantic Ocean make the Lowcountry rich with national forests, wildlife preserves, and cultural heritages sites that provide a bounty of recreation and accommodation options to visitors. One such site is Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia’s largest barrier island and former Carnegie family escape. 960 1280

Will Hollerith  

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park

A new option for Grand Canyon visitors with adequate cell phone service is listening to the free audio tours offered through the National Park Service. On this web application, park rangers give two-minute narrations on topics including the park'€™s unique geology and Native American history. 960 1280

John Mulloy  

Grand View

Grand View

Seen from even its best viewpoints, the unexpected grandeur of the Grand Canyon is so impressive in scale that viewers can see only a fraction of the gorge's 227 miles from any one viewpoint on the plateau 960 1280

John Mulloy  

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

The Island In The Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the combined Green and Colorado Rivers make up the four districts of Canyonlands National Park, which author Edward Abbey described as "€œthe most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth." 960 1280

John Mulloy  

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon NRA is a recreation and conservation area that encompasses 1.25 million acres and offers limitless water recreation and camping opportunities around Lake Powell and lower Cataract Canyon. 960 1280

John Gillanders  

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

The junction between the rugged Colorado Desert and the 3,000 feet higher, wetter and more vegetated Mojave Desert at Joshua Tree National Park makes for a stark and striking contrast. 960 1280

Jamie Abart  

Cholla Gardens

Cholla Gardens

Though from far away the gardens of cholla (pronounce choya) cacti in Joshua Tree appear soft and fuzzy, these distinctive succulents are actually covered by barbed spines that have a reputation for easily detaching and sticking to skin, fur and clothing. 960 1280

Kelly Smith Trimble  

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Eroded and weathered by water, the orange, red and white spires (called hoodoos) of Bryce Canyon will give the most spectacular views during sunrise and sunset. 960 1280

John Mulloy  

Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is about a six-hour drive from Phoenix, but visitors can make it seven if they choose to take the longer route through Las Vegas to roll some dice. 960 1280

Whitney North  

Canyoneering

Canyoneering

Zion is one of the premier national parks for canyoneering. Not for the claustrophobic or faint of heart, this outdoor activity combines hiking, navigation, swimming, caving and sometimes rappelling. 960 1280

Whitney North  

Shaky Town

Shaky Town

From the hippie to the dippy, the flamboyant to the clairvoyant, San Francisco has it all. Between its mild weather and steep streets, its residents spend a lot of time getting a workout. The cosmopolitan city is the gateway town to Yosemite, Point Reyes National Seashore, the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes Alcatraz, China Beach, Ocean Beach and the Presidio on its roster. Whether you’re into opera, jazz or rock-n-roll, we can assure you that there’s a drum circle forming near you. 960 1280

joe daniel price  

Emerald City

Emerald City

The town that gave us Jimi Hendrix, Gypsy Rose Lee, Starbucks and Microsoft is one cool town, literally. In grungy Seattle, temperatures average 58.8°F per year and it rains more than 150 days annually. That makes for some sweet snow at Mount Rainier and plenty of activities in nearby North Cascades National Park and Olympic National Park. Seattle also boasts the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park and the San Juan Island National Historic Park. Throw in a night out at the Comet or the Crocodile and your friends will be green with envy.  960 1280

  

I’m Going to Jackson

I’m Going to Jackson

Located less than 10 minutes from Grand Teton National Park and about an hour and a half from Yellowstone’s entrance, the town of Jackson Hole has been described as Aspen without the flash – a bold statement considering you can toss a snowball and hit a billionaire. They come for the slopes, the seclusion, the beauty and the home brews. Celebrities like Harrison Ford and Sandra Bullock laid downed permanent roots. 960 1280

  

Way Down South

Way Down South

At the southern-most tip of the U.S. you’ll find the laidback town of Key West. Its highest point sits 18 feet above sea level with Cuba about 100 miles away. Locals enjoy year-round fishing, snorkeling, street festivals and rum tastings. Offbeat activities include bike tours in an above-ground cemetery and the Aqua West Drag Show. Locals recommend spending time on Duval Street and the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. Key West is also the anchor city for Dry Tortugas National Park, which is only accessible by boat or seaplane. Go there when you’re ready to dry out, so to speak.  960 1280

Raul Rodriguez  

Scruffy City

Scruffy City

Sitting at the foothills of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Knoxville, Tenn., is like the Little Engine That Could. It keeps chugging and chugging, offering more live music, fun outdoor activities and crazy good restaurants. The "Scruffy City," as locals call it, has a respect for historic architecture and continues to protect and preserve areas such as the vibrant downtown. Gone are the days when orange-and-white college football was its best offering; Knoxville has earned its own stripes and colors.  960 1280

Arpad Benedek  

Marfa, Marfa, Marfa

Marfa, Marfa, Marfa

A lot of people think there’s no reason to go anywhere in Texas except maybe Austin, Dallas, San Antonio … let alone West Texas. We’re here to enlighten you: Go to Marfa. You may recognize this sleepy kitschy dust bowl from “No Country for Old Men” or “There Will Be Blood.” It’s got a unique art scene, a film festival, a groovy resort called El Cosmico and less than 2,300 residents. About an hour and a half north of the Big Bend National Park, one of the most remote and overlooked parks on the NPS roster, Marfa is your stop for one last look at civilization. Or how civilization looked about 30 years ago, depending on one’s perspective.  960 1280

  

Band Camp

Band Camp

What was founded as Camp Collins in 1864, Ft. Collins is home to Colorado State University and a burgeoning brewery scene. The college town has since attracted musicians, artists, hucksters, entrepreneurs and ski bums. All enjoy the town’s proximity to the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park and myriad outdoor activities such as mountain biking, hiking and rock climbing as well as music festivals and farmer’s markets.  960 1280

RiverNorth Photography  

Desert Cool

Desert Cool

Considered the gateway town to Joshua Tree National Park, Palm Springs oozes cool. Frank Sinatra put the sleepy desert town on the map and once shared the grooviest pad with Ava Gardner. Hey, you can even rent it should you have the bones, baby. It’s got great thrift store shopping, film festivals, MCM home tours and detox spas. The only thing you’ll want for is more time.  960 1280

  

Ash-Vegas

Ash-Vegas

Located near the Smoky Mountains and at the Blue Ridge foothills, Asheville, N.C. is one of the hippest towns below the Mason-Dixon. The downtown and River Arts districts, outdoor activities and world-class cuisine attract thousands of new and repeat visitors each year. And of course, we’ll always have the Biltmore.  960 1280

  

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