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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Deer are among the many animals you can spot in Washington's Olympic National Park. 960 1280

  

Owls may also give you a long look in Olympic National Park. 960 1280

  

Bighorn sheep are among the largest animals in Montana's Glacier National Park. 960 1280

  

Watch out! In Florida's Everglades National Park, the crocodiles have big mouths. 960 1280

  

For elk-watching, you can't go wrong at Glacier, Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Park. 960 1280

  

There are many places to see moose. Try Yellowstone, Katmai, King Salmon, Grand Teton, Isle Royale or Denali National Park 960 1280

  

Golden Eagles soar at Olympic National Park. 960 1280

  

Go north to Glacier Bay or Katmai National Park in Alaska for a sea otter fix. 960 1280

  

Grizzly bears and their cubs hang out in Denali, Grand Teton and Glacier National Parks. 960 1280

  

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are the places to go for bison-watching. 960 1280

  

Caribou roam at Katmai and Denali National Parks. 960 1280

  

Crater Lake Lodge reclines along the edge of the caldera in Oregon's Crater Lake National Park. 960 1280

  

A coat of snow surrounds the almost 4,000-foot-deep Crater Lake. 960 1280

Crater Lake Lodge  

The Furnace Creek Inn offers a refuge from the extremes of Death Valley National Park. 960 1280

Furnace Creek Inn  

The harsh but beautiful landscape of Furnace Creek. 960 1280

Furnace Creek Inn  

The view from the lobby of the Furnace Creek Inn. 960 1280

Furnace Creek Inn  

The spacious lobby of the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park. 960 1280

NPS Photo by Jim Peaco  

Guests at the Old Faithful Inn take in the view from the roof. 960 1280

NPS Photo by Jim Peaco  

Old Faithful herself puts on a show every 80 minutes. 960 1280

  

The Ahwahnee Hotel makes a good home base for visitors of Yosemite National Park. 960 1280

Delaware North Companies  

The inviting lounge at the Ahwahnee Hotel. 960 1280

Delaware North Companies  

Photos

I Am a Rock

I Am a Rock

Alcatraz Island lies out in the bay a mile and a half off the San Francisco shoreline. For many years, that was enough to keep prisoners like Al Capone on the rock and tourists off it. More than an infamous lockup, Alcatraz was also the first U.S. fort on the West Coast and the site of a 19-month occupation by Native Americans to reclaim disused federal land. Now you can buy a Property of Alcatraz T-shirt and take a selfie in Machine Gun Kelley’s cell.  960 1280

ROBYN BECK  

Torch of Freedom

Torch of Freedom

Once upon a time, newcomers to America would huddle en masse under the gaze of the great green colossus on Liberty Island before entering the country. Times have changed, but the Statue of Liberty is still a go-to American symbol of freedom and inclusion. Employees of the National Park Service have been caring for the lofty lady of the harbor since 1933.  960 1280

  

Port of Entry

Port of Entry

From 1892 to 1954, some 12 million immigrants set upon a path to citizenship that led them to Ellis Island in New York Harbor. The Great Hall remained largely vacant until 1990 when it was reopened to the public as the country’s largest museum devoted to our history as an immigrant nation.  960 1280

  

Our House

Our House

You don’t have to win 270 Electoral College votes to get into the White House, you just have to ask your Congressman for a pass. Free, self-guided tours of the East Wing run five days a week and include permanent exhibits and a short film. Requests must be submitted at least 21 days in advance and sorry, you can’t use the bowling alley. 960 1280

  

Steel Rainbow Connection

Steel Rainbow Connection

Like a giant staple holding the country together at the Mississippi River, the St. Louis Gateway Arch is the nation’s tallest and most silvery monument and embodies Thomas Jefferson's vision of the westward expansion of the United States. Yes, you can go up in it.  960 1280

  

Kentucky Underground

Kentucky Underground

The Bluegrass State is famous for its coal mines, but Mammoth Cave National Park takes subterranean pride to new depths. Located in the Green River Valley, Mammoth Cave is the world’s largest known cave system, with more than 400 miles of explored chambers and labyrinths. To paraphrase an early guide, it is a grand and gloomy grotto.    960 1280

Zack Frank  

Private Islands

Private Islands

Head 70 miles away from Key West by boat or seaplane and you’ll come upon Dry Tortugas National Park, a 100-square-mile paradise composed of seven small islands and the majestic 19th-century Fort Jefferson. Yes, this tropical paradise belongs to you. Even more majestic are the eerie blue waters and jutting coral reefs that make for ideal snorkeling territory. Above water, you can enjoy the innumerable species of birds that inhabit the park, as well as the turtles for which it is named.   960 1280

Lorraine Boogich  

Take a Bath

Take a Bath

In the middle of Arkansas, the town of Hot Springs, well, sprang up around what is now Hot Springs National Park, an area known for thousands of years as the “Valley of the Vapors” for its medicinal steaming waters. Since 1921, it’s been a national park nicknamed "The American Spa.” Architecture buffs flock to Bathhouse Row to appreciate the collection of ornate, preserved bathhouses.  960 1280

  

Swamp People

Swamp People

Admit it, you’ve always wanted to wear gumboots and race an airboat through the Florida Everglades National Park. Spend your days deep in sawgrass, clocking manatee, dolphin and alligators. Watch in awe as a giant heron struggles to take flight in a mangrove swamp. Or maybe you just want to hang out at the historic Nike Hercules missile base. Whatever you want to do, you can do it in the Everglades.  960 1280

Terry J Alcorn  

Let's Go to the Mall

Let's Go to the Mall

The Great Emancipator sits in contemplation some 19 feet above you. It’s a sight every American should see in their lifetime. The Lincoln Memorial on the western end of the National Mall in Washington is, unsurprisingly, the most visited site in a space rich with monuments, museums and historical points of interest. It has also been the backdrop for historical events, most notably MLK’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. For an added layer of historical context, visit the Memorial at night.  960 1280

ChangCheng  

American Virgin

American Virgin

No one needs an excuse to visit the Virgin Islands, but if one did, one could do worse than the Virgin Islands National Park. Comprising roughly 60% of the island of St. John, plus another 5,650 acres of submerged territory, the park protects and preserves countless species of tropical and migratory birds, fish and other marine and plant life. Who needs a yacht when you’ve got leatherback turtles?    960 1280

  

Independence Hall

Independence Hall

Visit the Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, where George Washington was appointed command in chief of the Continental Army in 1775; the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776; the design of the American Flag was agreed upon in 1776; and the US Constitution was drafted in 1787. 960 1280

techfun, Flickr  

Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell

Take a tour to see the 2,080-pound Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. A group of abolitionists adopted the Bible verse inscription and the Bell as a symbol of their cause to abolish slavery -- the first to call it the “Liberty Bell.” Built in London, England, the Bell was retired -- 2 cracks later -- after the final fatal crack during George Washington’s birthday celebration in 1846. 960 1280

Getty Images  

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

American author Edgar Allan Poe lived in several houses while living in Philadelphia from 1837 to 1844, but this is the only one that remains standing. National Park Rangers provide a 30-45 minute guided tour or you can tour the residence on your own and see the author’s rare books and letters, and discover how Poe influence other authors, including Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King. 960 1280

Midnightdreary, Wikimedia Commons  

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site

National Park Rangers provide a 30-45 minute guided tour of the Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site or you can tour the residence on your own. See the author’s rare books and letters, and discover how Poe influenced other authors, including Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King. 960 1280

RTLibrary, Flickr  

Hopewell Furnace

Hopewell Furnace

Passing through Elverson, PA? Then make a stop at the Hopewell Furnace National Historical Site, a 19th century rural iron plantation, which includes a blast furnace, ironmaster’s house, blacksmith’s shop, company store and several worker’s houses. Ironmaster Mark Bird founded Hopewell Furnace in 1771. A shift in iron-making techniques changed causing the site to halt its operations in 1883. 960 1280

Sdwelch1031, Wikimedia Commons  

Valley Forge

Valley Forge

Travel to Valley Forge, PA. See the military camp of the American Continental Army from 1777 to 1778, during the American Revolutionary War. Explore the Park’s trails Washington Memorial Chapel, National Memorial Arch and Isaac Potts’ house, General George Washington’s Headquarters (pictured) in the winter of 1777. 960 1280

  

Valley Forge Railroad Station

Valley Forge Railroad Station

The Valley Forge Train Station is also part of the National Park Site. The Reading Railroad completed the station in 1911. It was the point of entry into the park for travelers who came by rail through the 1950s, from Philadelphia. The station overlooks the site of Washington’s Headquarters. 960 1280

Doris Rapp, Flickr  

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church in South Philadelphia is the oldest church in Pennsylvania, and among the oldest in the US. The church, built between 1698 and 1700 for Swedish settlers, was initially a Swedish Lutheran Church for almost 150 years before it became part of the Episcopal Church in 1845. 960 1280

B. Krist for GPTMC  

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Gloria Dei Episcopal Church

Nils Collin, a Swedish pastor who served Gloria Dei from 1784 to 1831, was a close friend of Benjamin Franklin. In fact, the remains of an early lightening rod -- visible on the church’s exterior -- are the result of their relationship. Collin remained neutral in the Revolutionary War. Rumor has it that his extensive writings about the King of Sweden are buried under the floor of the church. 960 1280

B. Krist for GPTMCS  

Thaddeus Kosciusko National Memorial

Thaddeus Kosciusko National Memorial

Explore the life of Thaddeus Kosciuszko at this National Park Site. The Polish freedom fighter was instrumental in engineering military structures and forts to hold off British troops during the American Revolution. History buffs can visit his preserved home on 301 Pine Street in Philly to see where he met infamous visitors, including Thomas Jefferson and Chief Little Turtle. 960 1280

Photo by R. Kennedy for GPTMC  

Deshler-Morris House

Deshler-Morris House

The Germantown White House aka the Deshler-Morris House is the oldest official presidential residence. The historic mansion, located in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, was shelter for US President George Washington when the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 struck the city. The following year, President Washington and his family returned to the house for a summer vacation. The house takes its name from the first owner, David Deshler, and the last owner, Elliston P. Morris. 960 1280

Historic Germantown, Flickr  

Historic Luxury in Grand Canyon

Historic Luxury in Grand Canyon

When you first see El Tovar lodge on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, transcendentalism may occur. You could be metaphysically transported to 1905 when guests arrived by carriage or perhaps just back to your sofa and another rerun of National Lampoon’s “Vacation.” Both things happened here. Named for Spanish explorer and conquistador Pedro de Tovar, the Swiss/rustic chalet was constructed to accommodate tourists traveling on the Santa Fe Railway. The lodge’s steam heat, electricity, comfortable beds and freshly grown vegetables were unique luxuries for the time. El Tovar still strives to carry on finer traditions. Even if the rooms are all taken ($215 -$500), a visit to the lounge is a must. If you’d rather commune with nature, hikers swear by the pet-friendly Mather Campground ($18). 960 1280

  

Sleep Famously in Yosemite

Sleep Famously in Yosemite

Nature lovers, architectural purists and people obsessed with Stanley Kubrick’s film “The Shining” all have the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park on their bucket list – as it should be. Built to woo the wealthy and influential, the Grand Dame of the NPS is a structural wonder and once hosted Queen Elizabeth II, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Clark Gable and Gertrude Stein, to name a few. At least take a seat in the lobby and enjoy the piano player, who is rumored to accommodate the most obscure requests. Depending on the season, rooms can cost upwards of $500 a night.  960 1280

Buyenlarge  

Best Camping in Yosemite

Best Camping in Yosemite

To the south of the Ahwahnee is Bridalveil Creek Campground, one of our favorite destinations for its proximity to the waterfalls and creek. The crowds are also a little lighter than other camping facilities and it has flushing toilets. Hey, it’s the little things. Sites start at $18 a night and the horse-riding set can hitch up Trigger for an additional $30. 960 1280

  

Pay for the View in Glacier

Pay for the View in Glacier

The Many Glacier Hotel is unique for myriad reasons, including its historic one-of-a-kind parkitecture, unparalleled convenience to the national park’s outdoor activities and jaw-dropping views of Swiftcurrent Lake. Additionally, unlike your favorite Hampton Inn, there are no in-room TVs or air conditioning. 

 

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Scott Temme  

Or Get Away in Glacier

Or Get Away in Glacier

The Cracker Campground is a six-mile hike from the Many Glacier Hotel with a 6,000-foot ascent into backcountry. The park requires that requests be submitted online prior to your arrival. Take nothing away and leave nothing behind and you’ll be handsomely rewarded with the experience of a lifetime.

 

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High Life in Death Valley

High Life in Death Valley

Those seeking a high thread count and resort-style amenities should look no further than the four-diamond 66-room Inn at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. It boasts an 18-hole golf course (the world’s lowest if you’re into that sort of thing), an airstrip, tennis courts and a sparkling pool. The cocktail lounge’s expansive windows provide (literally) epic views of the desert and we hear the G&Ts are especially refreshing after a day of 0% humidity. Rooms are from $309 to upwards of $600. 960 1280

Scott Temme  

Or Desert Trailer Park

Or Desert Trailer Park

Attention all glampers: Death Valley van camping is fast becoming the ALT Burning Man with large groups of caravans taking over the RV spots for weekends of desert frolic. Clocking in at roughly 3.4 million acres, that’s plenty of parking space. The bold and the hydrated are rewarded with mysterious sliding rocks, a wacky castle in the middle of nowhere and real ghost towns. Camping at Furnace Creek is $18 a night and four pets per site are permitted. Nearby park concessioner Stovepipe Wells has 14 RV sites with hookups for $33 a night and 190 campsites for $12 a night. There’s also a pool and showers. 960 1280

  

Keys to the Kingdom

Keys to the Kingdom

We’ve taken you to the far west, now let’s turn our attention to the southern extremes. As there are no federally run hotels or sanctioned concessioners at Dry Tortugas National Park, may we suggest Key West’s historic Casa Marina, which opened its storied doors on New Year’s Eve in 1920. Three days later, President Warren G. Harding came to visit and in 22 years the U.S. Navy acquired it and consequently used the facilities as officer's quarters for the duration of World War II. In the 50s, Casa Marina reestablished itself as a luxury hotspot hosting Gregory Peck, Ethel Merman and golden girl Rita Hayworth. The champagne corks have been popping ever since. When you’re ready to rough it, the concierge will gladly arrange everything you need to hop over to the nearby “people’s beach.” 960 1280

Thomas Hart Shelby  

Your Private Archipelago

Your Private Archipelago

Now that you’ve seen the splendor in the grass, may we suggest a splurge on the sand. Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the often-overlooked treasures on the parks roster. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, camping on its sandy shores is a unique and memorable experience. You’ll enjoy world-class snorkeling, bird watching and turtle spotting, or just relaxing in a hammock. Camping fees are only $15 per night and the ferry is $10. Keep in mind that there’s no snack bar, no fresh water source and no bathrooms. In the laid-back spirit that defines Key West, pets are permitted on Garden Key and boaters are welcome to drop anchor and enjoy the island with proper permits, which are free and can be picked up at Garden Key. 960 1280

  

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