America’s National Parks are a treasure. A Ken Burns documentary called them “America’s Best Idea.” While there are currently 62 of the “big” National Parks (think Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon), the National Park Service is filled with National Forests, National Battlefields, National Historic Landmarks, and more. Some places focus more on natural beauty, while others truly celebrate the history of our great country.
While not every state is home to one of the official national parks, each state in the union has at least one site that is run by the National Park system that you should put on your list. And often, the smaller spots are less heavily visited, so you really get a chance to learn and explore something knew.
If you’ve got kids, don’t forget to ask about the Junior Ranger program. Kids can do worksheets and learn about the parks to keep them engaged, and they’ll be rewarded with a fancy badge (and sometimes a patch!). So while COVID-19 might be keeping many of us close to home and socially distancing from people, once it is safe to hit the road again to travel, put these spectacular spots on your must-see list. For now, some of the parks are closed due to COVID restrictions, or have limited hours, so make sure to call ahead.
Russell Cave National Monument
This hole in the ground has some major historical importance. Here you’ll get to see how prehistoric man lived 10,000 years ago in this cave shelter. This spot is quite off the beaten path in Bridgeport, AL, but totally worth the visit. Make sure you ask the park rangers to demo some of the prehistoric weaponry, it’s really neat.
Denali National Park
The Land of the Midnight Sun is home to eight National Parks and a total of 17 sites run by the National Park Service. You can’t go wrong with any of them, as they are all filled with some of the most pristine natural beauty anywhere in the world. But Denali is home to North America’s tallest peak (the mountain previously also known as Mt. McKinley), and has six million acres of wild land to discover.
Grand Canyon National Park
Close to six million people visit this unbelievable destination every year for a reason. Covering 277 miles of land, this expansive park is home to the stunning canyon and rock formations like you’ve never seen before. Hike, camp, or take a river rafting trip during your stay.
Hot Springs National Park
Located in the town of Hot Springs this park has natural beauty, to be sure, but is on the map as a former tourist destination for its famed bathhouses. These buildings took advantage of the thermal springs, and were built above them. You can’t hop in a spring, but you can book a visit to one of two of the spas that are still operational today.
Yosemite National Park
Like Alaska, California has a lot of National Parks to choose from, and you can’t go wrong with a trip to Alcatraz, Death Valley, or Joshua Tree. And the Golden Gate National Recreation Area was the most visited spot in the National Park Service in 2019. But if you are looking for a big old national park experience, head to Yosemite. There are waterfalls around practically every corner and mountains that will take your breath away, and ancient Sequoia trees that practically glow in the sunshine.
Mesa Verde National Park
This park houses almost 5,000 archeological sites, including the famed cliff dwellings of the ancestral Pueblo people who lived here from 600 to 1300 CE.
Weir Farm National Historic Site
At the Wilton home of impressionist artist J. Alden Weir , you’ll see some of his art, but you can also explore the 60 acres of woods and fields that inspired his work.
First State National Historical Park
This park is actually seven different locations, scattered around the state of Delaware, including the picture Fort Christina in Wilmington where the Swedes originally landed and established their colony, but you can also visit the Green in Dover where Delaware became the “First State.”
Dry Tortugas National Park
The Everglades are enormous and cover much of the Southern part of Florida and should definitely be on your list, but if you are looking for a completely unique and cool National Park experience, this one is it. In order to get to Fort Jefferson, you have to take a ferry (that runs once a day) from Key West, or find a seaplane, and head hours out into the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Once at the fort you can explore the grounds and snorkel along the crystal clear coral reef and see everything from sharks to sea turtles.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park
Explore many Atlanta sites of importance to this powerful leader of the modern civil rights movement, from the Baptist church where he lead with his father to his birth home.
Normally you’d run far away from an active volcano, but here you can sometimes see the lava slowly flow like a river into the ocean. When the lava isn’t flowing, you can still see the amazing craters and unusual terrain that they’ve left in their wake.
Craters of the Moon National Monument
It’s not hard to see why this park got its name. Lava flow left behind some truly bizarre landscaping details that actually look more like the surface of the moon than Earth.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Explore the Springfield home of President Abraham Lincoln, where he spent 17 years of his life raising his family.
Indiana Dunes National Park
Formerly a National Lakeshore, this 15 mile stretch along Lake Michigan got an upgrade in 2019 to National Park. There are many ways to get to the lake, but the wooden staircases that safely traverse the dunes are the most fun (and exhausting).
Effigy Mounds National Monument
This scenic preserved space highlights the Effigy Mounds created by American Indian tribes into animal shapes.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
While land that looked like this pictured used to cover 170 million miles of America, very little of it still exists today. This preserve in the Kansas Flint Hills helps keep what remains in its natural state.
Mammoth isn’t an exaggeration about its size, this is the world’s longest known cave system. It’s one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and feels completely otherworldly when you are inside. Guided tours are given regularly, but take one of the lantern ones in the evening if you can for an even more surreal experience.
Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve
Made up of six different locations across Southern Louisiana, you can see nature at the Barataria Preserve or the Wetlands Acadian Cultural Center, learn about history at the Chalmette Battlefield or learn more about the Acadian (Cajun) settlers at the Acadian Cultural Center.
Acadia National Park
Maine’s rocky coastline puts on a show in Bar Harbor at this national park. Greet the sunrise from on top of Cadillac Mountain, walk along the stone-filled beaches, listen to the ocean at Thunder Hole or spend a day hiking one of the 158 miles of trails.
Antietam National Battlefield
In this tragic spot, 23,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in the span of one awful day during the midst of the Civil War. Bring tissues.
Boston National Historical Park
This park covers a lot of ground and history, so make your plan by visiting the visitor center at Faneuil Hall where park rangers will guide you to American Revolution sites like Paul Revere’s home, the Freedom Trail and Bunker Hill.
Isle Royale National Park
If you are looking to get away from it all, this Northern Michigan park is an island inside Lake Superior and will give you all the quiet nature you can ask for. You’ll need a ferry, seaplane, or your own boat to get here.
Voyageurs National Park
If you are into kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, or camping, head to to Northern Minnesota for this park (most easily accessible by boat), which is nestled along the border of Canada.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Spreading out over Florida and Mississippi, the National Park Service protects historic resources along the Gulf of Mexico’s barrier island, like Horn Island pictured here. To keep the land and wildlife safe, much of this land is only accessible on foot or by boat.
Gateway Arch National Park
This St. Louis landmark welcomes visitors to the Western half of the U.S. and officially got upgraded from the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial in 2018. While this park is small, its a must visit. Take the tram to the top of the arch for unbelievable views, unless you are claustrophobic, in which case you might want to enjoy this park from the ground.
Glacier National Park
If you are into the outdoors even a little bit, this park should be on your must visit list. Covering 700 miles, this park has mountains, lakes, forests, and spectacular views.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
A lot of Nebraska is filled with farmland, but this open space makes it the perfect place for wild animals to roam. Find out why paleontologists love this fossil filled spot.
Death Valley National Park
It’s weird to call this park one of the coolest as its known for its record breaking hot temperatures in the summer. The Furnace Creek Visitor Center is in California, but the park itself spans the border of California and Nevada.
Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
While this state does share part of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail that goes from the Georgia to Maine, this estate is New Hampshire’s only solo National Park site. It was the home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a sculptor known for his bronze work.
Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park
A small park with a big payoff. These spectacular falls, which are 77 feet high, were used to help create mills and industrialize the city. Visit in the spring to see them at their most impressive.
Sit at the mouth of this cave at dusk and you’ll see thousands of bats emerge heading off to find dinner. Once inside the caves, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to an alien planet with stalagmites and stalactites taking every form imaginable.
Statue of Liberty National Monument
New York has more than 30 National Park sites, and they are all impressive in their own ways, but none is more iconic than the Statue of Liberty who greets visitors in New York harbor. You’ll have to take a ferry to get up close, and buy tickets well in advance if you want to climb up to the crown, but it’s worth it. Make sure to pair it with a trip to Ellis Island.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
It’s hard to visualize the distance the Orville and Wilbur traveled during their first attempts at flight, until you stand on this hill in Kill Devil Hills and see the markers for where they landed. Learn more about how they got air travel off the ground at this national memorial in the Outer Banks.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
President Theodore Roosevelt was a notable supporter of the National Park system and spent a lot of time in the Dakota territories as a young man. This experience changed him, and this park filled with wide open spaces and bison, is named in his honor.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Not too far from Cleveland, you’ll find this scenic park filled with beautiful hiking, waterfalls, and some really spectacular bird and wildlife watching.
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site
This is the spot of the tragic battle between George Custer and Cheyenne village Peace Chief Black Kettle. While this awful battle is part of a darker time of American history, its important to learn about these events and pay our respects to the fallen.
Crater Lake National Park
Nature can be kinda wild, and that’s on display here. A volcano erupted almost 8,000 years ago and then caved in on itself, creating this beautiful, deep lake that is filled by rain and snow. Its sparkling color is magnificent in the sun.
Independence National Historical Hall
Much of Philadelphia is covered with cool historic sites from the time of the American Revolution, but a trip to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were signed is a must.
Roger Williams National Memorial
You’ll learn something at almost every National Park. Spend two minutes with a park ranger, and they’ll give you some fascinating facts. Here you might learn about someone you didn’t study in history class, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island who was kicked out of Massachusetts because he wanted religious freedom for all.
Congaree National Park
This swampy and marshy landscape is filled with hardwood trees that grow alongside cypress trees (keep an eye out for the cypress knees jutting out of the ground). You’ll walk on a raised walkway through this diverse and largely untouched forest.
Badlands National Park
Obviously if you are in South Dakota you are probably going to go see Mount Rushmore, and you should. It is an amazing landmark. But while you are in the state you should also make time to visit Badlands. This expansive park has rock formations that make you feel like you are in the Grand Canyon, alongside some amazingly colorful hills, desert vibes, and beautiful prairie land. A daylong drive through this park will make you feel like you’ve seen four parks in one.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This mountain range spans the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina and is the most popular national park, meaning you can expect crowds. But you can also expect stunning views and these smoky sunsets!
Big Bend National Park
You know that song “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” where they sing about the stars at night being big and bright? This is what they meant. If you camp or stay at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, you’ll be treated to some of the most amazing night skies imaginable. During the day you can hike or explore the Rio Grande.
Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon… Utah has a bounty of beautiful parks to explore with some of the most stunning hiking around. You can also explore on a four-wheeler, by horse or by boat, since there are plenty of rivers coursing through the park.
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park
Vermont is filled with outstanding outdoor space, and its only national park is just one spot where you can see their amazing forestry.
Shenandoah National Park
This park is great even if you aren’t into getting out and hiking. The spectacular 105-mile-long Skyline Drive has scenic viewpoints frequently where you can get out of your vehicle and be in for a visual treat. Plus, you are very likely to see bears in your travels (just keep your distance and stay in your car).
Mount Rainier National Park
Not only is this spectacular mountain one of the tallest in the country, but it’s also an active volcano. Visit in the summer to see the vast variety of wildflowers and in the winter to try your hand at snowshoeing.
Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park
There’s a quaint little village where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet. Stand at The Point and you’ll be able to see Maryland and Virginia, and you’ll see plenty of thru-hikers from the Appalachian trail.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
If you thought exploring watery caves was just for tropical vacations, think again. This Northern Wisconsin park covers 21 islands in Lake Superior and is filled with all kinds of caves, including ice caves in the winter.
Yellowstone National Park
Let’s go out with a bang. This was the first official National Park, established on March 1, 1872, and is filled with gorgeous scenery and wildlife, of course, but also some wild hydrothermal activity. From the legendary Old Faithful geyser, to the beautiful but toxic and deadly Grand Prismatic Spring.
Source: Read Full Article