9 Hip Towns That Are National Park Gateways
From the Seattle hipsters to Asheville’s Southern hospitality, folks living near national parks seem to have it all. Join 'em.
Shaky TownFrom 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
Emerald CityThe 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 JacksonLocated 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 SouthAt 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
Scruffy CitySitting 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
Marfa, Marfa, MarfaA 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 CampWhat 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
Desert CoolConsidered 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-VegasLocated 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
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.
Float the BorderThe 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
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.
Cold StorageThe 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
Take in the LightsMinnesota'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
Yosemite GlidingIt 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
The RaftersIf 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
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.