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

Longfellow House -- Washington’s Headquarters

Longfellow House -- Washington’s Headquarters

For almost 50 years, this mid-Georgian style property was the home of Henry W. Longfellow, the noted American 19th-century poet. It also served as the headquarters of George Washington during the Siege of Boston, from July 1775 to April 1776. Longfellow National Historic Site is full of furnishings, decorative arts, archival materials and beautiful gardens. 960 1280

Nancy Baym, flickr  

Bunker Hill Monument

Bunker Hill Monument

This 221-foot monument marks the site of the first major battle of the American Revolution: On June 17, 1775, American colonists went up against the powerful British army during the famous Bunker Hill battle. 960 1280

Thinkstock  

JFK Birthplace

JFK Birthplace

Visit the birthplace of America's 35th president, John F. Kennedy, in Brookline, MA. This national historic site has been restored to its 1917 appearance, and includes tours of the 9-room house where Kennedy family photographs, furnishings and mementos are on display. 960 1280

Wally Gobetz, flickr  

Saugus Iron Works

Saugus Iron Works

Saugus Iron Works, a 9-acre national park on the banks of the Saugus River, celebrates the birthplace of the American iron and steel industries, with working waterwheels, hot forges, mill, and a 17th-century home and river basin. 960 1280

James Saunders, flickr  

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Salem Maritime, the first American National Historic Site, remembers the early seagoing history of New England with historic buildings, wharves and reconstructed tall ships. 960 1280

Harvey Barrison, flickr  

Hartwell Tavern

Hartwell Tavern

See how Americans lived during the outbreak of the American Revolution by visiting Hartwell Tavern, a restored 18th- century home and tavern located on "Battle Road” in Minute Man National Historical Park. 960 1280

Daderot, Wikimedia Commons  

Spectacle Island

Spectacle Island

For a mix of history and beautiful scenery, Boston Harbor Islands is a must-see when visiting Beantown. Spectacle Island is a popular day trip from the city, offering panoramic views of downtown Boston, as well as sandy beaches and sunset clambakes. 960 1280

Eric Kilby, flickr  

Lowell Park

Lowell Park

In its day Lowell Park was heralded as the "Venice of the United States" due to its extensive technologically advanced canal system. Today, Lowell brings in visitors with its historically replicated trolleys, canal cruises, museums, and concerts and events throughout the year. 960 1280

Elizabeth Thomsen, flickr  

Frederick Law Olmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted

The Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic site is home to “Fairsted,” the world's first full-scale professional office for the practice of landscape design. See the original plans and drawings of Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of American landscape architecture. 960 1280

Daderot, Wikimedia Commons  

New Bedford Whaling Museum

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Learn the history behind the US whaling industry at New Bedford Whaling Museum. Its exhibits include a 37-foot humpback whale skeleton, the largest ship model in the world and a replica of the whaling bark Lagoda. 960 1280

istolethetv, flickr  

Abiel Smith School

Abiel Smith School

Abiel Smith School, a site along the Boston Black Heritage Trail, commemorates the first public school for African-American children. The school was named after a white philanthropist who left money in his will to the city of Boston for the education of African-American children. 960 1280

Tim Pierce, Wikimedia Commons  

Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor

Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor

Tour the river, canal, mill villages and beautiful landscape of the Blackstone River Valley, a quiet stretch of land that runs through Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The area is also known as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution. 960 1280

Doug Kerr, flickr  

Adams National Historic Park, Old House

Adams National Historic Park, Old House

Visit the birthplace homes of presidents John and John Quincy Adams at the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, MA. The Old House, pictured here, was home to 4 generations of the Adams family. 960 1280

Daderot, Wikimedia Commons  

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

It's not likely you'll plan a spur-of-the-moment trip to the Gates of the Arctic National Park: It requires serious planning to venture into this wild Alaskan spot above the Arctic Circle. 960 1280

By National Park Service, Alaska Region (Remote river in Gates of the Arctic) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

The remote park is accessible by bush plane, air taxi and, for the truly hardcore, on foot. Hikers may approach the park from Dalton Highway, but there are multiple river crossings along the way and no trails. 960 1280
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

Once in the park, visitors are rewarded with sweeping valleys and rugged mountains, the tallest rising 8,510 feet at Mount Igikpak at the headwaters of the Noatak River. 960 1280

By National Park Service, Alaska Region (Noatak River) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

Washington state has its share of glaciers with more than 300 mountain glaciers in North Cascades National Park. Get your bearings at any of the park's 6 visitor or service centers where maps and exhibit rooms can help you plan excursions.  960 1280

By Walter Siegmund (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

The Ross Lake National Recreation Area is a popular starting point for the 400 miles of trails that meander through the valleys and cut through the mountains with switchbacks and rocky terrain. 960 1280
North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park

The mountains are dotted with the glaciers as well as more than 127 alpine lakes and cascading waterfalls. The most popular waterfalls can be found at Gorge Falls along State Route 20 in between Newhalem and Diablo and Rainbow Falls in Stehekin Valley. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park is a diverse spot with quiet deserts, caves and dense forests filled with 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines. It's remarkable that this is one of the least-visited national parks, often dismissed as a wasteland. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Go underground at Lehman Caves, an ornate marble cave filled with stalactites, stalagmites and over 300 rare shield formations. 960 1280
Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Stargazers will delight in the view from Great Basin, one of the darkest spots in the country after the sun goes down. You'll want to spend the night so you can marvel at the Milky Way and constellations in the deep night sky, a rare treat as light pollution blocks the view from many cities around the country. 960 1280
Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

The state of Florida gets hordes of visitors each year, but somehow Dry Tortugas plays host to only a small fraction of them. This cluster of 7 islands is just 70 miles west of Key West, but its quiet island pace sets it apart from its nearest neighbors. 960 1280

By Joe Parks from Berkeley, CA (Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

The waters around the islands are filled with coral reefs teeming with interesting marine life that are perfect for a snorkeling trip.  960 1280
Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

Scuba divers explore the Windjammer Wreck, a complete wreck site featuring an impressive sailing ship that sank in 1907. Back on the beach, sea turtles build nests in the sand where they lay their eggs along these protected sandy shores. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Michigan's remote Isle Royale National Park is accessible only by boat or seaplane, so leave your car behind, and set sail from Houghton or Cooper Harbor in Michigan or Grand Portage in Minnesota. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

Once there, get ready for a day of backcountry hiking or navigating the lakes, bays and islands in a kayak or canoe. If you're not an experienced paddler, avoid the frigid water and possible squalls on a guided boat tour. 960 1280
Isle Royale National Park

Isle Royale National Park

To extend your trip, spend the night at the Rock Harbor Lodge, found in the island's northeast corner, with simple rooms and cottages overlooking the lake. 960 1280
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

  

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