Top 10 National Park Activties

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

Photos

Paddle the Pacific

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.  

 

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Great Art Productions  

Float the Border

Float the Border

The 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

Witold Skrypczak  

Hit the Sandy Slopes

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.

 

 

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Simon Russell  

Cold Storage

Cold Storage

The 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

Peter Haley  

Take in the Lights

Take in the Lights

Minnesota'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

Steve Burns  

Yosemite Gliding

Yosemite Gliding

It 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

Celso Diniz  

The Rafters

The Rafters

If 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

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.

 

 

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Forest Woodward  

Lost in America

Lost in America

It 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 River

Take Me to the River

In 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

  

Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Point Reyes National Seashore, California

Get lost exploring Point Reyes's narrow stretches of sand and over 1,500 protected species of plants and animals. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Golden Gate National Rec Area, California

Golden Gate National Rec Area, California

Go for the majestic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, stay for the people watching. Surfers, dog walkers, fishermen and moms with jogging strollers are all drawn to the beach at former airfield Crissy Field. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park, California

Float down the Merced River when temps soar in the summer and pull off for a picnic at one of the 2 main beaches, Cathedral or Sentinel. 960 1280

  

Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands

Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands

Turquoise 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

Ben Whitney, Wikimedia Commons  

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

It'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

Al_HikesAZ, flickr  

Santa Monica Mountains National Rec Area, California

Santa Monica Mountains National Rec Area, California

Just 10 miles up the coast from Malibu, you'll find surfers, sunbathers and sea caves tucked along the rocky coasts and sandstone cliffs. 960 1280

Doug Dolde, Wikimedia Commons  

Glen Canyon National Rec Area, Utah/Arizona

Glen Canyon National Rec Area, Utah/Arizona

Set among the red rocks, Lake Powell is perfect for water sports and cruising around coves in your boat. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic National Park, Washington

If you're not blown away by the rocky sea stacks at the Point of Arches, at low tide check out the glowing tidal pools full of neon pink anemones and orange sea stars. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

Filled with lighthouses, quaint towns and picturesque beaches, Cape Cod is postcard-ready -- the only thing missing is you. 960 1280

Anne Homyak, flickr  

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, Maine

Home to the tallest US mountain on the Atlantic, the rocky coast of Maine lures people to hike granite peaks, observe the wildlife, bike historic carriage roads or simply relax in the resort town of Bar Harbor. 960 1280

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Assateague Island, Maryland

Assateague Island, Maryland

Assateague Island conjures up images of wild horses, salt marshes and sandy beaches -- and because it's a protected national seashore that's exactly what you'll find. 960 1280

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Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii

Most of Hawaii's national parks protect volcanoes, but Haleakala or "House of the Sun" also features a beach of basalt stones and breathtaking waterfalls. 960 1280

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Redwood National Park, California

Redwood National Park, California

A herd of Roosevelt elk is often seen in the meadow near the Gold Bluffs Beach campground in a 10-mile stretch of northwestern California beach and sand dunes. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Biscayne National Park, Florida

Biscayne National Park, Florida

Biscayne is for serious water lovers since it is made up of only 5% land -- mostly coral reefs and shoreline. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Channel Islands National Park, California

Channel Islands National Park, California

Getting away from it all will take roughly an hour on a catamaran from the Southern California mainland, but then you'll be free to kayak, snorkel or swim to your heart’s content. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island is the largest sea island and home to the ruins of Dungeness Manor, originally constructed in 1803. 960 1280

Jon Dawson, flickr  

Adirondack Park

Adirondack Park

With seemingly bottomless lakes and a diverse mountain landscape, the Adirondack Park covers roughly 6 million acres of New York’s lush countryside. Filled with pristine camping grounds, the state-owned Adirondack Forest Preserve within the park is an ideal location to spot wildlife, from large, dangerous animals such as moose and black bears to smaller species including muskrats and foxes. 960 1280

Chris Murray / Aurora / Getty Images  

Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park

You may technically be in Southern California when you travel to Channel Islands National Park, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Encompassing about 250,000 acres, the park consists of 5 islands, including Anacapa (pictured), and the ocean surrounding them. 960 1280
Coconino National Forest

Coconino National Forest

Covering nearly 2 million acres in northern Arizona, Coconino National Forest is divided into 3 different districts, each with its own attractions, including a group of volcanic summits known as the San Francisco Peaks; the largest natural lake in the state, Mormon Lake; the scenic Mogollon Rim; and the expansive red-rock canyons in Sedona (pictured). 960 1280

Coconino National Forest (AlbertHerring) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake in southern Oregon has azure waters that make up the deepest lake in the country. Surrounded by sheer cliffs, the fifth-oldest national park also boasts some of the United States’ cleanest air, allowing hikers to see clearly into the distance along more than 90 miles of trails. 960 1280
Devils Tower National Monument

Devils Tower National Monument

Deep within the Black Hills of Crook County, WY, lies an impressive geologic laccolith known as Devils Tower National Monument. Protruding from the ground to an astounding 1,200-plus feet above the Belle Fourche River, Devils Tower was formed by igneous rock intruding between the layers of surrounding sedimentary rocks. 960 1280
Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Filled with amazing natural features, from Old Faithful to the Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park is primarily in Wyoming but spreads into parts of Montana and Idaho as well. Established in 1872, America’s first national park also provides incredible picturesque landscapes, including the Lower Falls (pictured). 960 1280

By Brocken Inaglory [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons  

Hurricane Hole

Hurricane Hole

Located on St. John in the US Virgin Islands, Hurricane Hole consists of 3 separate bays — Otter Creek, Water Creek and Princess Bay — and provides pristine blue waters and once-in-a-lifetime snorkeling adventures. 960 1280

TravelingOtter via Flickr Creative Commons SA 2.0, color corrected and cropped  

Arches National Park

Arches National Park

Moab, UT, is home to some of the most glorious rock formations in the US, and the same can be said for nearby Arches National Park. With more than 2,000 natural stone arches, this red-rock wonderland also includes an unbelievable number of hiking trails, spires and monoliths unlike any others you’ll find in the world. 960 1280
Mosquito Bay

Mosquito Bay

Truly a sight to see, Mosquito Bay — located on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques — offers one of the most unusual water experiences you can have. Also known as Bioluminescent Bay, it gets its name from microscopic organisms that reside in the water and generate a phosphorus blue glow when agitated. 960 1280

Puerto Rico Tourism Company  

Mount Hood National Forest

Mount Hood National Forest

One trip to majestic Mount Hood, and it’s easy to see why so many Americans are infatuated with the Pacific Northwest. Known as the crown jewel of the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, the highest point in Oregon, is also considered an active volcano, although it hasn’t erupted in about 150 years. 960 1280

deebrowning / iStock / Getty Images  

Redwood National and State Parks

Redwood National and State Parks

Home to some of the world’s oldest living organisms and the tallest trees on Earth — including Hyperion, which stands close to 380 feet — Redwood National and State Parks welcome an average of more than 400,000 visitors per year. They’re located in Humboldt County along the coast of California. 960 1280
Tonto National Forest

Tonto National Forest

Encompassing nearly 3 million acres of beautiful desert countryside, Tonto National Forest is the fifth-largest forest of its kind in the United States. It’s most impressive feature, the Salt River (pictured), measures almost 200 miles long. It’s the perfect place to go tubing, as it acts as a lazy river for locals trying to escape Arizona’s sweltering summer heat. 960 1280

Sean Foster / Moment / Getty Images  

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Nestled deep within the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country, let alone California. With plenty of scenic overlooks, countless breathtaking waterfalls and stunning, ancient sequoias, Yosemite is paradise for even the most novice of outdoorsmen. 960 1280

AngMoKio (Original text: selfmade photo)) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons  

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