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

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

  

Gem Hunter's Paradise

Gem Hunter's Paradise

Covering over 275 square miles, White Sands National Monument is the world’s largest gypsum dune field. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is a paradise for stargazers. The park is so remote that light pollution is among the lowest in the entire US. Here, you can clearly see the Milky Way and a shooting star! Visit photographer Nick Parisse’s website to see more of his photos. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Chisos Mountains

Chisos Mountains

High in the Chisos Mountains, a hiker surveys the land as he decides which trail to take. Big Bend is often referred to as “3 parks in one” because of its size and diverse environments -- mountains, desert and river. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Chihuahuan Desert

Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan Desert, one of the wettest in North America, has dense shrubbery that blankets the Chisos Basin. Here, the sun begins to set behind the mountains as a cold front moves in. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Backcountry Critter

Backcountry Critter

A tarantula makes its way across a backcountry trail in Big Bend National Park, TX. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Pinnacles Trail

Pinnacles Trail

Cacti cover a meadow along the Pinnacles trail in Big Bend National Park. Fall temperatures are mild, and colorful flora is still blooming in the winter. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Rio Grande

Rio Grande

A narrow stretch of the Rio Grande acts as a natural border between the US and Mexico. This view from Santa Elena Canyon, located in the southern region of the park, shows the US on the left and Mexico on the right. The Chisos Mountains are also visible in the distance. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Even on an overcast day, the sun still finds a way to illuminate the mountains. This photo was taken on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

The Big Room

The Big Room

A cluster of stalactites hang from the ceiling of “The Big Room” in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Cozy Home for Bats

Cozy Home for Bats

With a little natural light, this is a view from inside Carlsbad Caverns. In the summer months the caverns are home to thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Stunning Stalagmites

Stunning Stalagmites

Light shines on the cavern floor and ceiling, providing visitors with a view of huge stalagmites that can take thousands of years to form. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Scenic Walkway

Scenic Walkway

Visitors get an amazing view of this scenery along a walkway that turns into the entrance of the deepest part of Carlsbad Caverns -- nearly 750 feet deep. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Mineral Deposits

Mineral Deposits

Massive mineral deposits mushroom up from the floor of the caverns. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Natural Cavern Entrance

Natural Cavern Entrance

The natural entrance to the caverns is a paved switchback trail leading visitors underground to discover numerous geological wonders. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Stargazer's Heaven

Stargazer's Heaven

Even the light from a full moon and a few passing clouds couldn’t diminish the clarity of the stars in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, in Salt Flat, TX. Stargazers should add this park to their must-see list. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of America’s least-visited parks. It’s hard to understand why with unobstructed views like this. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Tejas Trail

Tejas Trail

Visible on the left, the sun lights up the switchbacks along the mountainside on Tejas Trail. The strenuous 10-mile, round-trip hike offers visitors some of the most beautiful views in the park. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Devil's Hall Hike

Devil's Hall Hike

The spectacular hike into “Devil’s Hall” brings visitors around mountains and through a dry river channel. In an effort not to unnecessarily detract from the natural views, rock cairns act as trail markers. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Devil's Hall

Devil's Hall

Here’s a view from “Devil’s Hall” as the path narrows. “Hiker’s Staircase” is visible in the foreground. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Epic Mountain View

Epic Mountain View

This is one of many mountain views visitors will encounter while on a backcountry hike through Guadalupe Mountains National Park. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument offers visitors several recreational activities, including picnicking, hiking, camping, scenic drives and sledding. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Morning at Monument

Morning at Monument

The sun breaks through the clouds on an early morning in White Sands National Monument. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Capoeira on a Dune

Capoeira on a Dune

A well-traversed dune is the perfect place for this traveler to occupy his time and practice the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

National Park Camping

National Park Camping

It’s time to pack up camp and move along as the sun rises. White Sands offers backcountry camping for guests who want to sleep under the stars. Visit Nick Parisse’s website to see more of his photos. 960 1280

Nick Parisse  

Roosevelt Arch

Roosevelt Arch

The Roosevelt Arch is located at the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park in Montana. The arch's cornerstone was laid by Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. 960 1280

Westend61/Getty Images  

Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring

If you're traveling to Yellowstone National Park, don't leave without seeing the Grand Prismatic Spring. 960 1280

Lorcel/iStock/Getty Images  

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

Old Faithful, Yellowstone's famous geyser, can shoot 3,700-8,400 gallons of boiling water at a height of 106-185 feet for 1.5-5 minutes. 960 1280

Adam Long Sculpture / iStock / Thinkstock  

Picturesque Yellowstone

Picturesque Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is full of picturesque mountain views. 960 1280

Michael H Spivak/Moment/Getty Images  

Yellowstone Wildlife

Yellowstone Wildlife

Travelers driving through Yellowstone National Park get to see all types of wildlife, including this bull elk in Lamar Valley. 960 1280

MSMcCarthy Photography/iStock/Getty Images  

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs has been shaped over thousands of years as hot water from the spring cooled and deposited calcium carbonate. Its energy has been attributed to the same system that fuels other Yellowstone geothermal areas. 960 1280

iStock  

West Thumb Geyser Basin

West Thumb Geyser Basin

Visitors to Yellowstone National Park can see the beautiful contrast of colors and textures at West Thumb Geyser Basin. 960 1280

Paola Moschitto-Assenmacher/EyeEm/Getty Images  

Castle Geyser

Castle Geyser

Castle Geyser is located in the Upper Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. The geyser was named because of its large deposits that resemble a castle. 960 1280

Westend61/Getty Images  

Lower Falls

Lower Falls

The sun rises over the Lower falls of the Yellowstone River in Wyoming. 960 1280

JTB Photo/Universal Images Group/Getty Images  

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River, nestled between 2 banks, makes Yellowstone National Park seem serene and peaceful all year long. 960 1280

  

The Hot List

Explore America’s most stunning scenery.
Join the conversation on Social Media!
Stay updated on the latest travel tips and trends.
Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss Travel Channel in your favorite social media feeds.