About the Show

We explore the secret wonders at the most popular park destinations and uncover the best food, the best places to stay, the hidden hot spots, the one of a kind roadside attractions, and the heart-pounding activities that will turn a trip to the park into an unforgettable adventure. From outstanding barbecue on the way to Death Valley, to a remote island in the Keys only the locals know about, to bobsledding on the Olympic course in Lake Placid, National Parks Top 10 is the countdown that uncovers the secret wonders of our national treasures, whether they be hidden in the center of urban jungles or tucked away on the far edges of the American wilderness.

Explore the Great Outdoors

national parks, activities, rock climbing, Yosemite, California
Rock-Climbing: Yosemite National Park

Rock-Climbing: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a climber's paradise with craggy outposts, sustained crack climbs and multiday dome excursions. Since 1969, the Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service has been training newbies and accompanying seasoned climbers on trips in the park's many climbing areas. Full-day classes are available from April through October in Curry Village or Tuolumne Meadows, while specialized programs like Girls on Granite cater to women looking to scramble and scale up the rocks. 960 1280
Snorkeling: Virgin Islands National Park

Snorkeling: Virgin Islands National Park

You'll want flippers, a mask and snorkel to explore the best trail in St. John because it's actually underwater. The snorkeling trail at Trunk Bay is a 225-yard swim lined with signs describing the fish, coral and plants that live in the warm turquoise waters. After exploring the sea, relax on the crescent-shaped beach and appreciate the scenery at one of the country's most idyllic national parks. 960 1280

By User: (WT-shared) Queensland at wts wikivoyage [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Orienteering: Prince William Forest Park

Orienteering: Prince William Forest Park

Set off on a modern-day treasure hunt at Prince William Forest Park. Leave the GPS system at home for an orienteering adventure using just a map and compass to follow clues around one of the park's 30 courses. You can choose to set your own pace, whether it's a slowpoke family stroll while the kids master the compass or a competitive jaunt to race to the final clue. 960 1280

Philip Lee Harvey/Getty Images  

Hiking: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Hiking: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Hikers can set off on a great adventure on foot any time of year in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With more than 800 miles of trails, there are plenty of options including scenic strolls through fields of wildflowers and strenuous climbs to the top of the park's glorious waterfalls. A popular day-hike is a strenuous 8-mile trip to Charles Bunion along the Appalachian Trail. The 3-mile trip to Baskins Creek Falls follows an accessible trail with footbridge crossings to a 25-foot waterfall while the 8-mile roundtrip to Ramsay Cascades is a moderately strenuous trek through old-growth forest. 960 1280

Joel Carillet/Getty Images  

Horseback-Riding: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Horseback-Riding: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Experience the wild badlands on a horseback ride through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The former president galloped through these vast prairies himself in the late 19th century. The park's trail system is open to horses, and some visitors choose to ride in on their own steed. For the rest of us, Peaceful Valley Ranch organizes day-trips all summer long for riders over 7 years old. 960 1280
Rafting: Grand Canyon National Park

Rafting: Grand Canyon National Park

While more than 5 million visitors head to the Grand Canyon every year, many make the mistake of simply peering out over the Rim before climbing back in the car. To truly experience the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, set off on a white-water-rafting adventure on the Colorado River. Float down smooth water on half- or full-day trips, or check out a longer excursion and spend three to 18 days riding the rapids in the shadows of the canyon's towering red walls. 960 1280

Draper White/Getty Images  

Spelunking: Mammoth Cave National Park

Spelunking: Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park is the world's longest known cave system with spacious chambers and twisted labyrinths beneath Kentucky's Green River Valley. Serious spelunkers can descend 300 feet down 670 stairs and narrow passageways and tunnels to explore the underground rooms and hills on the Grand Avenue Tour. It takes over four hours to traverse this 4-mile-long stretch of the cave system. Lantern tours of the caves' passageways at Violet City give guests an idea of what it was like for the early cave explorers in the 1800s. 960 1280

pura vida/Getty Images  

Paddling: Glacier Bay National Park

Paddling: Glacier Bay National Park

Many visitors take in Glacier Bay's snow-capped mountains and towering glaciers from the deck of a cruise ship. For a more intimate tour of the park, glide through the waters in a low-lying kayak.
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Sam Camp/Getty Images  

Sandboarding: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Sandboarding: Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Who says you can't ski in the summer? Rocket down rolling sand dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. You'll need good equipment, such as downhill skis, a snowboard or a flat-bottomed plastic sled, to set off on a wild ride through the sand. The conditions aren't good after rain or when the weather is too dry as the sand may be too soft to pick up some speed. Sandboarding is permitted on any of the unvegetated dunes and is particularly good at the 300-foot slope near the Castle Creek Picnic Area. 960 1280

By Steven J. Weber [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

Wildlife Viewing: Yellowstone National Park

Wildlife Viewing: Yellowstone National Park

Enjoy a wild safari a bit closer to home at Yellowstone National Park, home to more than 60 types of mammals and 318 species of birds. Black bears and grizzlies make their home in forests while coyotes, gray wolves and bobcats frolic in the meadows. Bison, elk and moose roam the grasslands while bighorn sheep meander along the mountainside. Bald eagles soar overhead and trumpeter swans make their nests alongside the park's rivers. Bring a pair of binoculars and a camera, and join a ranger tour to learn more about these fascinating residents. 960 1280
rocky mountain national park, family, outdoors and adventure, colorado, lake
Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Budding naturalists feel right at home at Rocky Mountain National Park where the kids can join in on short, family-friendly hikes around the park. Bring along a magnifying glass to explore the plants, leaves and bugs during a stroll around Bear Lake. 960 1280
Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Pack binoculars to get a close-up of Albert’s squirrels scurrying around the ponderosa pine forests or bighorn sheep spending a summer day at Sheep Lakes. Kids can scramble up rocks along the trail to Gem Lake or search the water under the bridge for beavers along the Beaver Boardwalk. 960 1280

By Frank Schulenburg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

Young adventurers travel deep underground to explore one of the many caves at Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Children must be 4 or older to participate in a basic cave tour of the Big Room. Brave souls over 12 can shimmy and crawl through a maze of narrow entryways and tunnels at Spider Cave. 960 1280
Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns

Check out the resident wildlife outside of the cave during the Bat Flight program, a free summertime special when nearly 400,000 Brazilian free-tail bats fly from Carlsbad Cavern at sunset to search for an insect-filled dinner. 960 1280
Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park caters to 8- to 12-year-olds with daily Junior Ranger programs throughout the park. Rangers keep kids busy with stories, artwork, kid-friendly hikes and scavenger hunts to uncover secrets around the park. 960 1280
Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

The whole gang can enjoy family-friendly activities including the fire and ice cruise around Colter Bay to learn about the park’s ecology, including the glaciers and towering mountains. 960 1280

By Acroterion (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park has laid down the law on the many ways that kids should enjoy themselves in the park, summarized in the Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights. Take note of this decree, and plan for family fun in every corner of the park. Pack the bikes and helmets for a ride along the carriage road system -- flat scenic paths that are made for a 2-wheeler (training wheels optional) or the chubby tires of a jogging stroller. 960 1280

By heipei from Deutschland (Acadia National Park, ME) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park

Head to the shore to enjoy a cool ocean breeze and search for marine life in the shallow tide pools. Set sail on a ranger-narrated cruise including the Dive-In Theater Cruise from May through October where real-time video technology allows passengers to watch scuba divers search the ocean floor for marine life that is then brought onboard for impromptu touch-tank experiences. 960 1280

By Erin McDaniel Erinmcd (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

America’s first national park welcomes visitors to check out the hot springs, steaming geysers and extraordinary wildlife, including grizzlies, bison and elk. With the park spread out over a sprawling 2.2 million acres, it’s impossible to experience all the fun at once. 960 1280

Michael H Spivak/Moment/Getty Images  

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

As a family, decide on the highlights to experience, like the legendary geyser Old Faithful and the wildlife-viewing at Lamar Valley. Families with children over 8 can enjoy a 2-hour horseback ride to the cookout while families with little ones can ride into the sunset aboard a horse-drawn covered wagon. 960 1280

Adam Long Sculpture / iStock / Thinkstock  

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Don’t worry if you’re more of a beach person than a woodsy type: There’s a national park experience waiting for your family at the national seashore at Cape Hatteras. This protected seashore is made up of narrow barrier islands along the beloved Outer Banks. Celebrate the past with a climb up a lighthouse or an evening of pirate tales with a park ranger. 960 1280

By Madhatter987 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Cape Hatteras National Seashore

There are miles of beaches for swimming, shelling, kite-flying or just chilling out and reading a book. Cruise the beach on foot or in an off-road vehicle that allows cars to leave behind the paved roads and drive the sandy shores. 960 1280
Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne welcomes families with the free Family Fun Fest program, a celebration of the park’s wonders with stories, superheroes and cool park activities. The festivities take place on the second Saturday of each month from December to April. But don’t fret if you miss the fest as there are still plenty of opportunities for family-bonding in the park. 960 1280
Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park

Look for some of the park’s cool creatures, including manatees, sea turtles and fish galore, during a snorkeling adventure or kid-friendly ride on a glass-bottom boat. 960 1280

By John Brooks, National Park Service photographer (http://www.nps.gov/bisc/images/20060905140916.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

national park, off the beaten path, outdoors and adventure, virgin islands national park
Virgin Islands National Park

Virgin Islands National Park

Caneel Bay within Virgin Islands National Park is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but it’s what’s under water that makes this park especially special.
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By LennyBaker (Flickr: Caneel Bay, St. John, USVI) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Virgin Islands National Park

Virgin Islands National Park

The Trail of Reefs is a 675-foot snorkeling route marked with signs highlighting the many types of coral, fish, turtles and other animals that call this pristine reef home. 960 1280

By NPS Climate Change Response (Coral Bleaching) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail

Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail

Not all national parks are high and dry. Florida’s Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail takes snorkelers and scuba divers through six shipwrecks and the recently added Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. 960 1280
Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail

Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail

Marine life thrives amid the ribs and coral encrusted structures of wooden and iron ships from the 1800s and early 1900s. Many of the remains lie in shallow water, allowing snorkelers to experience the thrill of wreck diving. 960 1280

By John Brooks, National Park Service photographer (http://www.nps.gov/bisc/images/20060905140916.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado is renowned for the massive cliff dwellings built by Native Americans here in the 1400s. 960 1280

Steve Larese  

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

There’s plenty to see from the canyon edges, but to truly appreciate these ruins, take one of the guided ranger tours that have you climbing wooden ladders and squeezing through boulders high above the canyon floor to enter the ruins. 960 1280

By No machine-readable author provided. Nebular110 assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons  

Devil's Tower National Monument

Devil's Tower National Monument

Devil’s Tower National Monument is still known from Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounter of the Third Kind, but to truly have a close encounter here, climb it. 960 1280

National Park Service  

Devil’s Tower National Monument

Devil’s Tower National Monument

This striking ancient volcano core is known for its scored, hexagonal formations that make perfect routes for rock climbers. 960 1280

By Tinasuzanne (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Visitors to Joshua Tree National Park’s can’t help but find their inner Ansel Adams given the stark beauty here, and special tours are designed to help those wanting to ramp up their photographic chops. 960 1280

Jarek Tuszynski / CC-BY-SA-3.0 & GDFL [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons  

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Fine art, night sky, light painting, smartphone photography and other photography workshops are offered throughout the year, as well as other art, field science and ranger-led hikes and tours. 960 1280

By T.Voekler (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

As its name implies, California’s Death Valley National Park is a pretty brutal place. But during the Pleistocene age that ended some 11,000 years ago, this area was teeming with life. 960 1280

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

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

The Death Valley Paleontology Tour is a strenuous, 7-mile hike that leads to the footprints of camels, mastodons and other creatures that called Death Valley home thousands of years ago. 960 1280

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

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park’s surreal red-rock formations look otherworldly during the day, but during the full moon they take on an extra eerie aura. 960 1280
Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Monthly ranger-led Full Moon Hikes descend trails through the formations that take on anthropomorphic qualities in the moonlight. 960 1280

Steve Larese  

Gauley River National Recreational Area

Gauley River National Recreational Area

Wild, wonderful West Virginia’s Gauley River National Recreational Area protects 25 miles of undammed river loaded with Class IV and V rapids, making it the premiere white-water rafting destination in the eastern United States. 960 1280

By Ken Thomas (KenThomas.us(personal website of photographer)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

Gauley River National Recreational Area

Gauley River National Recreational Area

Rafting here is great all season, but for the six weekends after Labor Day each year, the Gauley takes on the status of being one of the most adrenaline charged and challenging rivers in the world. 960 1280

National Park Service  

San Juan National Historic Site

San Juan National Historic Site

San Juan National Historic Site protects three 16th and 17th century Spanish forts that themselves protected Spain’s holdings in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. 960 1280

National Park Service  

San Juan National Historic Site

San Juan National Historic Site

The massive fortifications, cannons, dungeons and turrets overlooking the azure Caribbean are a sight to behold, but there’s more hidden underground. A network of "secret" defensive tunnels runs below the fortifications of Castillo San Cristobal, and only two 15-person tours are given every weekend to those who sign up first. 960 1280

By AlbertHerring (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons  

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southern New Mexico is best known for its mile-long lighted trail hike 750 feet underground through fantastical formations that look straight out of Lord of the Rings. 960 1280
Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

For spelunkers who would like to truly get off the beaten path, ranger-led tours have them squeezing through claustrophobic crevices into undeveloped caves such as Spider and Slaughter Canyon caves, lit only by their helmet’s headlamps. 960 1280

By National Park Service Digital Image Archives [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  

How Well Do You Know Our National Parks?

Marek Gahura

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