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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Become a Junior Ranger

Become a Junior Ranger

Nearly every national park has a junior ranger program, enabling kids to earn badges or patches for completing various activities. But some parks have additional youth programs, such as the Junior Paleontologist program, which teaches kids about fossils at Badlands National Park in South Dakota and many others. Yellowstone National Park helps kids become Young Scientists by using toolkits to investigate the area around Old Faithful.

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National Park Service   

Take a Helicopter Ride

Take a Helicopter Ride

For a new perspective, try a scenic helicopter ride with your kids, such as the North Canyon Tour with Papillon Helicopters. This 30-minute aerial tour of the Grand Canyon beats elbowing your way in for a good view at Mather Point on the South Rim any day of the week. There’s also Gateway Helicopter Tours, which offers 3-minute rides around the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

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Papillon Helicopters  

Participate in a Triathlon

Participate in a Triathlon

A triathlon may not be top of mind when planning a trip to Everglades National Park in Florida, but families can have fun exploring the park by way of the Tamiami Trail Triathlon. Bike a 15-mile loop, hike 3 miles, and then paddle 3 1/2 miles in a canoe or kayak to finish the challenge. Along the way, complete activities to earn prizes. Some national parks, such as Saguaro National Park in Arizona, also host half-marathons and 5K fun runs.

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National Park Service   

Go Sledding on a Sand Dune

Go Sledding on a Sand Dune

At New Mexico’s White Sands, kids can sled down sand dunes on snow saucers. Bring your own or buy them for $15 each in the gift shop. Get a $5 refund for each sled you return. Or try Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Rent a sled or sand board in nearby Alamosa. The rentals are pretreated with a special sand wax for great sliding, whether you’re sledding or sand-boarding down the dunes.

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National Park Service  

Take a Scenic Train Ride

Take a Scenic Train Ride

See your favorite parks by taking a train ride, such as the one offered at Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. Use the Bike Aboard program, which lets you bike the Towpath Trail in 1 direction and then hop on the train for the return trip. Another option is the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad near Yosemite National Park in California. Enjoy a barbecue dinner before taking a steam train to Lewis Creek Canyon for a sing-along around a campfire.

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iStockphoto.com/PapaBear  

Go Horseback Riding

Go Horseback Riding

Try a horseback ride to experience wilderness trails in an area such as Glacier National Park in Montana. Kids can explore Lake Sherburne and the old mining town of Altyn on a 2-hour Cracker Flats ride, which can be booked through Swan Mountain Outfitters. SK Horses at Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park offers 1- and 2-hour rides that start in Estes Park, and children as young as 4 can ride.

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Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images   

Try a Night Sky Program

Try a Night Sky Program

Several national parks, including Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, offer stargazing programs. Kids will love using high-powered telescopes to see planets and constellations. Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is another great park for stargazing, enabling visitors to see as many as 7,500 stars. Some parks also have dark-sky festivals during the summer, with hikes and hands-on activities.

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Alison Taggert-Barone/National Park Service  

Go on a Cave Tour

Go on a Cave Tour

At Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, the kids-only Trog Tour lets young adventurers don hard hats and headlamps to trek through the caves. Or try Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, whose 90-minute King’s Palace Tour is among the most popular. At dusk, join a ranger program and prepare to watch thousands of bats fly out of the cavern entrance.

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Adam Jones/Visuals Unlimited, Inc./Getty Images  

Enjoy a Tide-Pool Walk

Enjoy a Tide-Pool Walk

At Redwood National Park in California, kids can join a tide-pool walk led by a park ranger. Little ones hunt for sea creatures as the ranger/naturalist teaches them about life in the ocean and sea life to be found at low tide. Olympic National Park in Washington offers tide-pool programs at Kalaloch’s Beach 4 and Mora’s Hole in the Wall.

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Shawn Sheltren/National Park Service  

Go on a Full-Moon Ranger Hike

Go on a Full-Moon Ranger Hike

Several national parks, including Bryce Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park, offer full-moon ranger hikes or walks. These popular nocturnal adventures are a fun way to explore the parks and wildlife while seeking out the best views of the full moon. Yosemite even offers full-moon bike rides, which leave at 8:30 p.m. It’s best to sign up in advance.

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Stockbyte/Getty Images  

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

  

Badlands National Park 1971

Badlands National Park 1971

Our first campsite in a national park was at Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands, South Dakota.  960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Mount Rushmore National Memorial 1971

Mount Rushmore National Memorial 1971

My brother and I met the presidents at Mount Rushmore. 960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Grand Teton National Park 1971

Grand Teton National Park 1971

My brother navigates the Snake River with the help of a friend. 960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Yellowstone National Park 1971

Yellowstone National Park 1971

My family joins the faithful at Old Faithful. 960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Grand Canyon National Park 1971

Grand Canyon National Park 1971

My brother and I experience the Grand Canyon with our dad. 960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Yosemite National Park 1971

Yosemite National Park 1971

We became Junior Rangers at Yosemite. 960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Sequoia National Park 1971

Sequoia National Park 1971

Tiny family or giant tree? 960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Golden Gate Park 1971

Golden Gate Park 1971

We enjoy the playground at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Golden Gate National Recreation Area protects a portion of this area, including an expansive view of the bridge.  960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Big Sur 1971

Big Sur 1971

After traveling across the country and through many national parks, my mother makes it to the Pacific Ocean, a lifelong dream fulfilled. 960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Acadia National Park Circa 1980

Acadia National Park Circa 1980

Acadia National Park became our family's €œsummer home. Here's my baby sister and me at Sargent Mountain. 960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Wedding at Acadia 1996

Wedding at Acadia 1996

Acadia's €œWonderland€ Trail was the perfect setting for my wedding. See more inspiring national park weddings.  960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Junior Rangers 2005

Junior Rangers 2005

My own children became junior rangers, a family tradition. 960 1280

Jennie Baird  

Acadia 2015

Acadia 2015

My 17-year-old daughter pitches our tent at Seawall. 960 1280

  

Acadia August 2015

Acadia August 2015

My parents pose on Acadia’s Ship Harbor Nature Trail. 960 1280

  

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