Bucket List April 18, 2022
13 Rugged National Parks Across America That Are Worthy Of A Little Adventure
Our National Park System encompasses 423 national park sites in the United States. They span across more than 84 million acres, with parks in each of the 50 states and extending into the outlying territories. Within this expansive system, there are 63 sites that include “National Park” as part of their proper name, including well-known places like Acadia, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Grand Canyon. And although these 63 places generally take the spotlight on America’s
National Parks stage, there are countess other parks rife with opportunities for epic exploration. The following are 13 rugged and resplendent national parks across America that all deserve a spot on your bucket list.
Kenai Fjords National Park - Alaska
For many, Alaska is a bucket-list adventure; and there are so many different places to explore here, each offering wholly wondrous, life-affirming experiences. One area of The Last Frontier sure to leave you speechless is
Kenai Fjords National Park
. This national park features 669,984 acres on the Kenai Peninsula that's home to some of the most incredible wonders on Earth. The crowning jewels of this national park are the incredible glaciers from the Harding Icefield, from whence approximately 40 glaciers originated. Exit Glacier is one of the most stunning glaciers in this national park, and it's one of the few areas in that's accessible year-round. How you choose to experience Kenai Fjords -- on foot, kayak, or a scenic drive -- is up to you, but know this: spending even a little amount of time exploring this national park will be an experience you will never, ever forget.
Mount Rainier National Park - Washington
The beauty of the Pacific Northwest is on full display at Mount Rainier National Park, one of several superlative national parks in Washington. Spring is an especially fine time to visit
, as its wildflowers bloom into an eye-catching ROYGBIV of color. Spanning 369 square miles, our favorite way to experience Mount Rainier National Park is the 147-mile loop that encircles it. Along the way, opportunities to stop and explore abound, and it's a veritable choose-your-own-adventure. Want to go waterfall chasing? Visit Skookum Falls, a dramatic two-tiered waterfall that drops down the mountain into a river. Looking for a straight-from-a-fairy-tale trek? The Grove of the Patriarchs Trail is positively magical. For those in need of a place for quiet contemplation, Reflection Lake is one of the most picture-perfect (and photographed) places in the park, and it's immensely beautiful. While Washington is home to numerous bucket-list-worthy national parks, there really is nowhere quite as quietly lovely as Mount Rainier.
Crater Lake National Park - Oregon
No place on the planet compares to
, the largest, cleanest, bluest body of water in the U.S. At 1,949 feet deep, it’s the deepest lake in the United States; a pristine pool of deep azure. The lake’s history is as deep as its waters, tracing back over 7,700 years to when a powerful eruption collapsed an ancient volcano, forming what we know of today as Crater Lake, Oregon’s first national park. It's one of the most accessible parks in the country, too, designed to be experienced from a car. The lake is circumnavigated by the 33-mile Rim Drive, the highest paved road in Oregon, and the full loop is usually open from June through October. But hiking adventures abound here, too, and it's a wonderful way to explore the magnificent landscape of Crater Lake National Park -- all 183,224 acres. For those who prefer a more
experience, boat tours take visitors around the perimeter of the lake, allowing for up-close views of Wizard Island, Phantom Ship, and other notable formations. No matter how you choose to experience Crater Lake, it's a place sure to provoke a sense of pure
; that is, the feeling of “being at one” with the universe. How marvelous.
Sequoia National Park - California
You'll stand among real-life giants at
Sequoia National Park
, and be humbled in the most grounding, soul-filling way. There's a lot of diversity in the 631 square miles that comprise this national park, from looming mountains (including Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the Lower 48), rugged foothills, deep canyons, caverns, and, of course, some of the world's largest trees. The highlight of the park is Sequoia National Forest, a 1.1 million acre forest with 34 distinct groves. Giant Forest is the largest of them, with Redwood Mountain Grove and Atwell and East Fork Grove not far behind it. The park is even home to the largest known living single-stem tree on Earth, nicknamed General Sherman, that's estimated to be about
2,700 years old
. It was named after the American Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, and standing in its shadows is truly an experience unlike any other. John Muir, the beloved Father of National Parks, remarked that the sequoia groves are "not like places, they are like haunts;" and indeed, when you explore this magical forest, you will feel surrounded by
Grand Teton National Park - Wyoming
Every year, millions of adventurers flock to Wyoming to visit Yellowstone National Park, an immensely wondrous place that's well-worth the attention it receives. But there's another national park in Wyoming that's every bit as extraordinary as its gushing-geyser sibling, and that's
Grand Teton National Park
. This Wyoming wonder is 310,000 acres of mountains and valleys dotted with beautiful alpine lakes that sit in the foothills, in the canyons, and on the valley floors. It's populated with some of the most wondrous wildlife in the country: elk and moose, bears and bison. Grand Teton's scenic beauty has long caught the eye of artists and photographers; Oxbow Bend was made famous by the photographer Ansel Adams, who captured its pristine beauty on film. Today, photographers line up at sunset to recreate their own interpretation of the scene. Another photo-worthy spot is Jenny Lake, a crystal-clear body of water lined with colorful pebbles and surrounded by astounding peaks. Really, the beauty is everywhere in Grand Teton, and no matter how you choose to experience it, you'll undoubtedly be enlightened and inspired by this stunning national park.
Arches National Park - Utah
The American West is home to some of the most iconic national parks in the country; within this region,
Arches National Park
stands out in the most sublime of ways. Located in eastern Utah, near the Utah and Colorado border, you'll find the small town of Moab and Arches National Park. This national park is filled with red stone called slickrock that was formed by wind erosion that left nothing but smooth, polished outcroppings. The park itself is packed with incredible trails and plenty of wildlife, but these natural spans and hoodoos really define it. There are more than 2,000 natural stone arches throughout this national park, and many of them date back more than 65 million years! Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Arches, and it's the best way to see the sand and stone structures up close. Trails range in difficulty and length, with something for everyone; a handful of trails are less than one mile, in fact, and many are wheelchair accessible. Just be warned: nothing in your life thus far will have prepared you for the surreal landscapes you'll encounter when you visit Arches National Park. Wonder and awe await in the Utah desert.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park - New Mexico
in New Mexico might just be the single most beautiful place in the entire country. Located 20 miles outside of the city of Carlsbad, this extraordinary national park is a limestone cave that was once part of an underwater reef in an inland sea. Put in perspective, the body of water that formed the cavern was on the earth 250 to 280 million years ago. Today, visitors can explore this otherworldly expanse on two trails: The Big Room and Natural Entrance. We're partial to the former; it's the largest single cave chamber in the United States and features stunning formations such as the fabled Sword of Damocles. The featured formations in Carlsbad Cavern National Park are unique, enormous, gorgeous, and inspiring. It truly is one destination you do not want to miss.
Big Bend National Park - Texas
The high drama of the Lone Star State is on full display at
Big Bend National Park
, which stretches across 800,000 extraordinary acres. It's home to the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the U.S. and the entire Chisos Mountain Range - the only mountain range in the country to be fully encompassed within a national park. The first time you happen upon Big Bend, it will absolutely take your breath away: the Chisos Basin sits at an elevation of 5,400 feet and is ringed by mountain peaks; the tallest is Emory Peak, which rises to 7,835 feet above sea level. It's almost a desert mirage, these green-tinged peaks and expansive copper canyons. Epic formations abound throughout Big Bend, from Balanced Rock to Santa Elena Canyon, and there are myriad trails and campsites all throughout the park. You'll most definitely want to say after nightfall; when the moon rises over this Texas expanse, an infinite sky of stars and constellations appears simultaneously within reach and worlds away. Some of the best stargazing in the entire world can be enjoyed at Big Bend; it has been designated as an International Dark-Sky Park and is considered the fourth-best stargazing destination on Earth by the International Dark-Sky Association.
Voyageurs National Park - Minnesota
One of the
least-visited national parks in the country
, Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park is not to be missed. You'll find this gem way up at the tip-top of northern Minnesota, a stone's throw from the Canadian border, in a beautiful no-man's land that puts it stubbornly under the radar. Accessing Voyageurs National Park does require a bit of effort; you'll need to bring (or rent) a boat to explore it. But a bit of planning is worth what awaits: 655 miles of unaltered shoreline surrounded by dense, untouched forest and massive lakes, all interconnected by water channels that wind and weave through the area. If you're on the lookout for peace and quiet, and the feeling of being a real-life, modern-day explorer, you'll find it here.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore - Michigan
Up in the remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan,
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
is like something out of a fantasy. The area is managed by the National Park Service and became the first of the nation’s four National Lakeshores in 1996. Pictured Rocks gets its name from the uniquely colorful sandstone cliffs - some of which tower over 200 feet - along 15 miles of Lake Superior's coastline. The park, as a whole, stretches for 42 miles along the shore, but the cliffs are definitely the star of the show. The unique colors come from various minerals that have stained the sandstone a rainbow of colors, making for a sight unlike any other. Whether you choose to kayak through these sea cliffs and caves in the summer or snowshoe along the snowy shores in the winter, this is a wild and wondrous place you'll never forget.
Everglades National Park - Florida
Everglades National Park
is only a one-hour drive from Miami, but it’s quite literally a world away from this bustling metropolis. The park encompasses 1.5 million acres of tropical and subtropical habitats with one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Within the Everglades, there are five unique habitats, 750 different varieties of native plants, over 300 types of birds, and hundreds of animal species -- 60 of which are endangered. In order to protect and preserve this pristine region, Congress established the Everglades as a National Park in 1934. The park has since been designated as an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a World Heritage Site. Everglades National Park is a real-life Garden of Eden — a perfect oasis that offers an authentic, up-close experience with nature that’s simply unparalleled.
Shenandoah National Park - Virginia
Great Smoky Mountains National Park tends to take the spotlight in its little corner of the country, but nearby, Virginia's
Shenandoah National Park
offers equally epic mountain, canyon, and forest scenery -- and so much more. This scenic expanse of the Southern Appalachians in Virginia is 200,000 acres of pastoral perfection. Photographers love Shenandoah National Park for its picture-perfect panoramas, but this national park is so much more than just a quick photo stop. With stunning and radiant scenery, Shenandoah National Park offers some of the very best outdoor recreation opportunities in the country: stellar hiking trails (including access to the world-famous Appalachian Trail), extraordinary camping, an abundance of wildlife, and, yes, some of the most jaw-dropping views in the country. Shenandoah is a true national treasure; a place that belongs on everyone’s bucket list.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park - Hawai’i
The Hawaiian Islands are filled with jaw-dropping vistas left and right. But the
is on a whole other level... or planet. Powerful, colorful, and filled with bucket-list adventures of all varieties, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park has been ranked as one of the world's most stunning national parks, and it's not difficult to see why. Located on the Big Island, the national park is comprised of 335,259 acres from the summit of Maunaloa to the ocean. There are 150 miles of hiking trails throughout this impressive park, leading through some of the most jaw-dropping, otherworldly landscapes on the planet. The park is also home to two active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, and this dynamic duo regularly puts on a show for visitors. Another, less fiery, feature to explore is the Thurston Lava Tube, a 500-year-old lava tube that was carved out by lava exceeding temperatures of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Adventures abound at this world-renowned park, which puts visitors in touch with just how powerful Mother Nature truly is.
Here in the U.S., it’s easy to take for granted how special our National Parks Service really is. This organization not only preserves and protects some of our country’s greatest treasures; it makes these incredible places accessible for visitors today and tomorrow. So the next time you’re in the mood for a bucket-list-worthy adventure, look no further than these incredible national parks.