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.

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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

  

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.  

 

960 1280

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.

 

 

960 1280

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.

 

 

960 1280

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

Thinkstock  

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

Thinkstock  

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

Thinkstock  

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  

Historic Luxury in Grand Canyon

Historic Luxury in Grand Canyon

When you first see El Tovar lodge on the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, transcendentalism may occur. You could be metaphysically transported to 1905 when guests arrived by carriage or perhaps just back to your sofa and another rerun of National Lampoon’s “Vacation.” Both things happened here. Named for Spanish explorer and conquistador Pedro de Tovar, the Swiss/rustic chalet was constructed to accommodate tourists traveling on the Santa Fe Railway. The lodge’s steam heat, electricity, comfortable beds and freshly grown vegetables were unique luxuries for the time. El Tovar still strives to carry on finer traditions. Even if the rooms are all taken ($215 -$500), a visit to the lounge is a must. If you’d rather commune with nature, hikers swear by the pet-friendly Mather Campground ($18). 960 1280

  

Sleep Famously in Yosemite

Sleep Famously in Yosemite

Nature lovers, architectural purists and people obsessed with Stanley Kubrick’s film “The Shining” all have the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park on their bucket list – as it should be. Built to woo the wealthy and influential, the Grand Dame of the NPS is a structural wonder and once hosted Queen Elizabeth II, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Clark Gable and Gertrude Stein, to name a few. At least take a seat in the lobby and enjoy the piano player, who is rumored to accommodate the most obscure requests. Depending on the season, rooms can cost upwards of $500 a night.  960 1280

Buyenlarge  

Best Camping in Yosemite

Best Camping in Yosemite

To the south of the Ahwahnee is Bridalveil Creek Campground, one of our favorite destinations for its proximity to the waterfalls and creek. The crowds are also a little lighter than other camping facilities and it has flushing toilets. Hey, it’s the little things. Sites start at $18 a night and the horse-riding set can hitch up Trigger for an additional $30. 960 1280

  

Pay for the View in Glacier

Pay for the View in Glacier

The Many Glacier Hotel is unique for myriad reasons, including its historic one-of-a-kind parkitecture, unparalleled convenience to the national park’s outdoor activities and jaw-dropping views of Swiftcurrent Lake. Additionally, unlike your favorite Hampton Inn, there are no in-room TVs or air conditioning. 

 

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Scott Temme  

Or Get Away in Glacier

Or Get Away in Glacier

The Cracker Campground is a six-mile hike from the Many Glacier Hotel with a 6,000-foot ascent into backcountry. The park requires that requests be submitted online prior to your arrival. Take nothing away and leave nothing behind and you’ll be handsomely rewarded with the experience of a lifetime.

 

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High Life in Death Valley

High Life in Death Valley

Those seeking a high thread count and resort-style amenities should look no further than the four-diamond 66-room Inn at Furnace Creek in Death Valley. It boasts an 18-hole golf course (the world’s lowest if you’re into that sort of thing), an airstrip, tennis courts and a sparkling pool. The cocktail lounge’s expansive windows provide (literally) epic views of the desert and we hear the G&Ts are especially refreshing after a day of 0% humidity. Rooms are from $309 to upwards of $600. 960 1280

Scott Temme  

Or Desert Trailer Park

Or Desert Trailer Park

Attention all glampers: Death Valley van camping is fast becoming the ALT Burning Man with large groups of caravans taking over the RV spots for weekends of desert frolic. Clocking in at roughly 3.4 million acres, that’s plenty of parking space. The bold and the hydrated are rewarded with mysterious sliding rocks, a wacky castle in the middle of nowhere and real ghost towns. Camping at Furnace Creek is $18 a night and four pets per site are permitted. Nearby park concessioner Stovepipe Wells has 14 RV sites with hookups for $33 a night and 190 campsites for $12 a night. There’s also a pool and showers. 960 1280

  

Keys to the Kingdom

Keys to the Kingdom

We’ve taken you to the far west, now let’s turn our attention to the southern extremes. As there are no federally run hotels or sanctioned concessioners at Dry Tortugas National Park, may we suggest Key West’s historic Casa Marina, which opened its storied doors on New Year’s Eve in 1920. Three days later, President Warren G. Harding came to visit and in 22 years the U.S. Navy acquired it and consequently used the facilities as officer's quarters for the duration of World War II. In the 50s, Casa Marina reestablished itself as a luxury hotspot hosting Gregory Peck, Ethel Merman and golden girl Rita Hayworth. The champagne corks have been popping ever since. When you’re ready to rough it, the concierge will gladly arrange everything you need to hop over to the nearby “people’s beach.” 960 1280

Thomas Hart Shelby  

Your Private Archipelago

Your Private Archipelago

Now that you’ve seen the splendor in the grass, may we suggest a splurge on the sand. Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the often-overlooked treasures on the parks roster. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, camping on its sandy shores is a unique and memorable experience. You’ll enjoy world-class snorkeling, bird watching and turtle spotting, or just relaxing in a hammock. Camping fees are only $15 per night and the ferry is $10. Keep in mind that there’s no snack bar, no fresh water source and no bathrooms. In the laid-back spirit that defines Key West, pets are permitted on Garden Key and boaters are welcome to drop anchor and enjoy the island with proper permits, which are free and can be picked up at Garden Key. 960 1280

  

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