The Best US National Park for Every Outdoor Activity

The U.S. National Park System is filled with exhilarating adventures

National Park Adventures
National Park Adventures .

Wendy Altschuler

We’re dedicating our May features to the outdoors and adventure. In the past two years, we saw more people get outside, eager for fresh air and new trails. Now, read this month’s features to learn more about rock climbing among Sedona’s famed energy vortexes, the micro-adventures you can incorporate into your everyday life, what to do about number two in the wilderness, and more.

With 63 national parks to choose from, the U.S. is spoiled for choice for stunning vistas and outdoor recreation. Alaska alone has eight national parks, spread out over hundreds of rugged miles, offering travelers vast expanses of unspoiled hard-to-reach nature. Other states make it easy to tick off multiple national parks on an adventure list; Utah, for example, has five national parks that are all relatively close to each other and easy to explore.  

For adventurous travelers, the U.S. national parks are perfect places to dive into the great outdoors. Backpackers will love hiking on the John Muir Trail, the jewel trail of the Sierra Nevada that winds through Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon. Whitewater rafting lovers will find much to explore in the Grand Canyon. Wildlife viewers will be amazed at all of the bison, bears, wolves, moose, and elk in Yellowstone, America’s first designated national park. And anglers will love New River Gorge, America’s most recent national park.

Whether you’re a novice day hiker or an experienced rock climber, a camper, or a cyclist, here are the best U.S. national parks for every outdoor activity. This guide is the perfect starting point for you to make a plan and explore.

01 of 10

Best for Hiking: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Wendy Altschuler

Whether you’re looking for an easy day hike that everyone in your family can tackle or a challenging romp in nature that requires strength and endurance, Yosemite National Park in California has it all. The Bridal Veil Fall Trail, where you can see a 620-foot waterfall, is only a half-mile roundtrip. Spring is the best time to visit this waterfall when it’s at its highest power.

Other easy day hikes worth experiencing include Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, Cook’s Meadow Loop, and Mirror Lake Loop. A longer trail but still relatively flat, Valley Loop Trail can be done in 6.5 miles for the half-loop or 13 miles for the entire loop. For hikers looking for more challenging terrain with elevation gains that will help you find your breath, explore the Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall Trails, Yosemite Falls Trail, Snow Creek Trail, and Four Mile Trail (4.8 miles strenuous miles one way).

Fit hikers looking to attack a trail with quintessential Yosemite views will love the Half Dome Trail, a 14—16 mile strenuous roundtrip hike with 4,800 feet of elevation gain. A permit is required to hike this beast, and you’ll have to start at sunrise or earlier, but the ascent up the dome via two metal cables is unlike any other experience you’ve had in the wilderness.

Address
California, USA
Phone +1 209-372-0200
02 of 10

Best for Fishing: New River Gorge

New River Gorge, West Virginia, USA autumn landscape at the Endless Wall.

Getty / Sean Pavone

West Virginia recently received its very first national park: New River Gorge. From historic sites, diverse flora and fauna, and the impressive New River Gorge Bridge where BASE jumpers celebrate at an annual festival, there’s much to do and see here. It's also an ideal place to go fishing for bass, walleye, muskellunge, crappie, bluegill, carp, or flathead, drawing fishing enthusiasts from all over the state and country.

There are many public access points for anglers here, including Tug Creek Beach, Brooks Falls, Sandstone Falls, Meadow Creek, McCreery, Grandview Sandbar, Mill Creek, and Glade Creek. Your best bet is to pop into the visitor’s center to learn where to fish during each season (spring and fall are the best times of year for fishing). Either way, the best time of day, no matter what season, is to fish in the early morning or late evening when fish are more active.

Note that fishing in the park and preserve requires a West Virginia fishing license. A year or three-day tourist licenses are available at most area sporting goods stores and bait shops.

Address
162 Visitor Center Rd, Lansing, WV 25862, USA
Phone +1 304-574-2115
03 of 10

Best for Camping: Olympic National Park

Camping

Wendy Altschuler

There’s just something about waking up in a national park that sparks joy for all generations. Olympic National Park, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest, has an incredible diversity of ecosystems, spread out over nearly one million acres. Here you can see the stunning Olympic Mountains, wander through old-growth forests, and backpack on trails that meander through rainforests and along the Pacific coastline.

Summer is the most popular time to visit park-operated campgrounds and there are plenty of sites to choose from. A few top favorites are Deer Park Campground, situated at 5,400 feet in elevation; Fairholme Campground, near Lake Crescent, with 88 total sites including space for RVs; Graves Creek Campground, nestled in the Quinault Rain Forest, where you can hear a stream as you sleep; Heart O’ the Hills Campground, in an old-growth forest; Hoh Campground, situated in the temperate rainforest with summer ranger programs perfect for families; Kalaloch Campground, overlooking the Pacific Ocean; the rugged and remote North Fork Campground, and Staircase Campground, near the Skokomish River.

Other camping options include Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort RV Park & Campground, which can be reserved at recreation.gov.

Address
3002 Mt Angeles Rd, Port Angeles, WA 98362, USA
Phone +1 360-565-3130
04 of 10

Best for Rafting: Grand Canyon National Park

White water rafting

NPS/Mark Lellouch

Whether you’re looking for motor or oar-powered adventures, Grand Canyon rafting trips will fit the bill. Start at Lees Ferry and end at Whitmore Wash, 188 miles down the mighty Colorado River, or choose from one of the many other itineraries provided by guided rafting companies. You’ll marvel at waterfalls, native ruins, dramatic multi-hued cliff walls, and various wildlife like eagles, condors, mule deer, and foxes.

Commercial river trips ranging from three days to nearly three weeks can be arranged through Aramark-Wilderness River Adventures, Arizona Raft Adventures, LLC, Arizona River Runners, Inc., O.A.R.S. Grand Canyon, Inc., or several other adventure rafting companies.

Address
Arizona, USA
Phone +1 928-638-7888
Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

Best for Climbing: Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree

Wendy Altschuler

If you’re someone who loves a challenge through rock climbing, bouldering, highlining, or slacklining, you’ll love an adventure in California’s Joshua Tree National Park. Crack, slab, and steep face climbing opportunities abound, perfect for experts or beginners. Choose from over 8,000 different climbing routes, 2,000 boulder challenges, and hundreds of natural gaps.

Guides can be hired to help lead the way—make sure they are permitted and certified to work inside the park. Located in the Mojave Desert, on a high desert plateau, this slice of climber’s heaven has earned its spot as one of the best national parks for climbing.

Address
California, USA
Phone +1 760-367-5500
06 of 10

Best for Biking: Acadia National Park

carriage roads available for bicycling

NPS Photo/Christie Anastasia 

Bike paths, gravel trails, and paved roads provide the setting for some of the best biking in Maine’s Acadia National Park, especially during the fall when you can see bursts of yellows, reds, and oranges.

Here you'll see horses, pedestrians, and other cyclists on 45 miles of carriage roads made of crushed rock. Constructed from 1913 to 1940, these roads were given as a gift from John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his family. Consider biking on Park Loop Road to explore the area’s scenic views, beginning at Hulls Cove Visitors Center. For gravel biking, Western Mountain, Seal Cove, and Lurvey Spring Roads are open to bikers.  

Address
Maine, USA
Phone +1 207-288-3338
07 of 10

Best for Skiing and Snowshoeing: Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Wendy Altschuler

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are the most popular wintertime activities in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Begin your adventure at Taggart Lake Trailhead at the Teton Park Road Gate, and ski or snowshoe to your heart’s content. You’ll have stellar views of the Teton Range as you go from the trailhead to Signal Mountain Lodge. The best part? Vehicles aren’t allowed on the road from November to April.

The Moose-Wilson Road and Phelps Lake are also open to skiers and snowshoers for three miles during the chilly season. The road is closed from the south at the Granite Trailhead and from the north at the Death Canyon Junction. Meander through forest and marsh habitats, dressed up in snow and ice, and thank your lucky stars that you’re adventuring in the great outdoors.

Address
Wyoming, USA
Phone +1 307-739-3300
08 of 10

Best for Canoeing and Kayaking: Glacier National Park

Kayaking in Glacier National Park

Wendy Altschuler

The Great Northern Railway built Many Glacier Lodge in 1915 in an area of Glacier National Park widely considered the “Switzerland of North America.” Situated on the shores of Swiftcurrent Lake, north of the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, this hotel is a National Historic Landmark.

At the hotel's base is the ultimate gateway to kayaking and canoeing adventures with unforgettable views of Many Glacier, surrounded by the craggy peaks of the Lewis Range. Less crowded than Glacier’s Lake McDonald, Swiftcurrent Lake is a top spot for unspoiled nature, access to hiking trails, and the best kayaking and canoeing on glassy ice-cold waters you could hope for.

Address
Montana, USA
Phone +1 406-888-7800
Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Best for Birdwatching: Everglades National Park

A single great white egret standing in the Everglades wetlands at sunrise with a pink hue to the sky and water

Troy Harrison / Getty Images

Over 300 different bird species delight visitors in Florida’s Everglades National Park, home to the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. See cormorants on Anhinga Trail, bald eagles and warblers at Mahogany Hammock, roseate spoonbills at Paurotis Pond, wood storks and Nine Mile Pond, and osprey at Eco Pond.

Ranger-led programs, which can be reserved at the visitor centers, are a great way to experience the park's diverse wildlife.

Address
Florida, USA
Phone +1 305-242-7700
10 of 10

Best for Wildlife Viewing: Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park wildlife viewing

Wendy Altschuler

The world’s first national park, Yellowstone National Park, is home to a wide variety of wildlife. Whether exploring Mammoth Hot Springs, Lamar Valley, or Old Faithful, you’ll see animals roaming about. The largest concentration of wild mammals in the lower 48 states can be found in Yellowstone.

Keep a safe distance and look for bighorn sheep, bison, elk, mountain goats, moose, deer, black bears, coyotes, mountain lions, wolves, and grizzly bears.

Address
United States
Phone +1 307-344-7381
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The Best US National Park for Every Outdoor Activity