National Park Vacation Ideas

National Park Vacations are fun and adventure for the whole family. The U.S. national park system is dedicated to preserving the natural ecosystems. This allows all the animals, birds and plants to thrive with minimal destructive interference from people. There is a tremendous range of activities available to fit every vacation style. Each park offers its own unique attractions.

National Park Vacations can be inexpensive as many do not charge a fee. There are many parks scattered across our great country so there is a good chance that one is located reasonably close to your home.

These guides to national parks vacations are very brief and obviously you will need to do some more research before making your plans. My intention here is to give you a small flavor of each vacation idea to peak your interest.

Pacific Northwest National Park Vacation Ideas

  • North Cascades National Park is in Washington on the border with Canada. It contains tall snow-capped mountains known as the "American Alps".
  • Olympic National Park, due west of Seattle near the coast, is known for its pristine forests, meadows and coastline.
  • Mount Ranier National Park is 95 miles south of Seattle and has a huge volcano as its focus.
  • Crater Lake National Park, in Oregon, boasts towering cliffs that enclose a 21 square mile lake and some of the cleanest air in the country.
  • At Redwood National Park you can see the magnificent giant Redwood trees.
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park has an active volcano that erupted in 1914.

    Pacific Southwest National Park Vacation Ideas

  • Yosemite National Park is know best for the mile-wide, 7 mile long valley at it’s heart, surrounded by wilderness. Hiking and skiing are among it’s most popular activities.
  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, in California, is famed for its huge Sequoia trees and deep wilderness backpacking.
  • Channel Islands National Park is a marine sanctuary made up of five islands off the California coast near Santa Barbara. There is much to see but a bit of planning is required due to the delicate highly protected ecosystem.
  • Haleakala National Park, Hawaii, is a volcano (dormant) by the sea. Drive, bicycle or walk for a national park vacation with an awe-inspiring panorama.
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park houses two active volcanoes. You can see molten lava hissing into the ocean or backpack across dense forest and lava trails.

Rocky Mountains National Park Vacation Ideas

  • Waterton-Glacier National Park sits on the border of Montana and Canada. Waterfalls, glaciers, lakes and gentle plains make this a place to completely relax.
  • Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, with its boiling springs and geysers, reminds us of the volatile possibilities of our natural world. Waterfalls and wildlife grace the rocky landscape.
  • Grand Teton National Park is next door to Yellowstone. Hiking trails wind around lakes and wetlands and lead up into the Teton Range of mountains thrusting up from the valley floor.
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in North Dakota, is home to bison, elk, mule deer and wild horses. The park is small and doesn’t get the attention of the more well known parks so you will have a lot of space to yourself.
  • Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, is mostly open grassland. It’s small size and large populations of wildlife make spotting prairie animals, like bison, easy. Beneath the surface lies Wind Cave with tours that range from 45 minutes up to 4 hours.
  • Badlands National Park. Stark cliffs of rock jut up to form The Wall across the plains of South Dakota. Indian history abounds. Try one of the nature trails to get the real feel of it.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, boasts 350 miles of hiking trails through this mountain tundra landscape. One of the most crowded parks in the system during July and August.

Colorado Plateau National Park Vacation Ideas

  • Arches National Park, Utah, is named for the 950 natural sandstone arches carved out of the landscape over thousands of years.
  • Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, is popular vacation idea for hikers and horseback riders who explore the myriad of rock spires carved by water over the millennia.
  • Capital Reef National Park, Utah. A remote wilderness of domes, cliffs and twisting canyons popular with backpackers.
  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona is a mile deep, 18 miles wide gorge. See it by car, hiking or muleback.
  • Great Basin National Park, Nevada. Wheeler Peak is the second highest peak in Nevada and is topped by a glacier. Home to Lehman Cave and 65 miles of trails.
  • Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado. Well preserved rock dwellings are carved out of the sides of mesa cliffs.
  • Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona, contains 146 square miles of petrified wood and quartz rock.
  • Zion National Park, Utah. Remote terraces, narrow gorges, sheer cliffs, and deep alcoves with ove 100 miles of backcountry trails and 23 miles of paved trails.

Southwest National Park Vacation Ideas

  • Big Bend National Park is on the Texas Mexican border and flanks the Rio Grande River. Most of it is cactus, yuccas, creosote bushes and other desert vegetation. Camping, hiking, river-running, horseback riding, raft trips and nature seminars are only some of the activities available.
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico, contains one of the deepest and largest caverns in the world. It is also one of the most beautiful. Every sunset half a million bats rise up out of the entrance to seek food. For more experienced cavers there are some 70 other caves open for exploration.
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas, nearby to Carlsbad Caverns has 80 miles of hiking trails that take you into the Guadalupe Mountains. Also camping and overnight backpacking is allowed.

Eastern U.S. National Park Vacation Ideas

  • Acadia National Park is in the Maine coast and consists mainly of Mt. Desert Island. It is small but it is one of the most visited of the national parks and summertime produces traffic jams. A few of the things to do here include fishing, camping, swimming, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.
  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Mountains and trees and 500 miles of trails. In the fall go to see the leaves change color. Wild flowers bloom all spring, summer and fall. Fishing, bicycling, backpacking and more.
  • Great Smokey Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee. The park is large and it needs to be because it the nation’s busiest. On your national park vacation drive the scenic highway that runs along the tops of the mountain. It is dotted with Quiet Walkways where you can stop and take a short scenic walk. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails, camping, cross country skiing and tobogganing.
  • Everglades National Park, Florida. The Everglades is a subtropical ecosystem that is struggling to survive. Water diverted to man’s use threatens to kill it. Self guided tours, boat tours and canoeing are great ways to explore. Insect repellent is a must between April and December. Alligators and other wildlife make swimming a bad idea.
  • Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas. This park centers around the mineral-rich hot springs. It is within the city of Hot Springs and the main attraction is the 143 degree F water which is piped into the commercial bathhouses. Thermal baths, massages, hot packs, whirlpools and steam cabinets are offered. Does the water have healing powers?
  • Isle Royal National Park, Michigan. This park is an island in Lake Superior is only for the most hardy vacationer. You will carry in your supplies and bring out your refuse. You will share the trails with moose, wolves and mosquitoes. If you want to get intimate with nature this park fills the bill.
  • Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Beneath the park is the world’s largest cave system. There are five levels and over 300 miles of cave mapped. Tours are offered for 12 of those miles.
  • Voyagers National Park is on the Minnesota Canada border. It is made up of four large lakes connected by narrow waterways. There are 30 lakes altogether and some 900 islands. Canoes and boats are the way to get around and fishing is the dominant activity for this national parks vacations. During the winter, ice fishing, cross country skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing.

Alaska National Park Vacation Ideas

  • Denali National Park is known for it’s wildlife variety and visibility. Caribou, grizzly, loon, golden eagle are likely sights as you travel the 85 mile long park road. Rafting on the Nenana River provides both floating and white-water experiences.
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park, in north Alaska, has backpacking camping, rough hiking, rock and mountain climbing, and all the river activities. The landscape is severe and traveling is done mostly by river.
  • Near to Gates of the Arctic is Kobuk Valley National Park. It sits within the Arctic Circle and you will have the place virtually to yourself. Canoe, kayak or motorboat on the Kobuk River. Hiking is great but rough because there are no trails. There are no facilities within the park either.
  • Glacier Bay National Park is on land that was only revealed within the last 200 years as the glacier that covered it shrank away. Cruise ship, tour boat or kayak are the ways to explore this park. The whole range of winter outdoor activities are available.
  • Katmai National Park vacation contains 15 active volcanoes. You can watch the country’s largest population of brown bears catch fish out of the water. Hike, kayak or canoe or fish.
  • Kenai Fjords National Park is ice and glaciers. You can see Exit Glacier by hiking or tour bus. Boat and plane is the way to get around to camping and hiking the area.

The range of possibilities for national park vacations is endless. From a 1 hour guided tour to weeks of wilderness camping there is something for everyone. A national park vacation could be just the ticket to lift you out of the holiday humdrum.

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