With their valleys, rock faces, and snowcapped mountains, fall paints the perfect backdrop for exploring America’s 63 National Parks.
Just imagine yourself pitching a tent beneath a newly yellow aspen tree in the Rockies, cooking your trout you caught fly fishing in the Virgin River over a fire in Zion, or taking a drive beneath the red maple trees in Acadia.
We’re gonna show you how accessible national parks are no matter which corner of the country you call home. (Congrats if you live in California, you’ve got more than any state!) Pack the cooler, sleeping bags, and bug spray… adventure awaits!
First stop, Maine.
Northeast – Acadia National Park
Acadia is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi River and was brought into the National Park System on February 26th, 1919, the same day as the Grand Canyon. Translated in French as, “heaven on earth”, this smaller, more intimate park was established on land gifted from some of the most wealthy U.S. citizens, like George Door and John D. Rockefeller Jr. They felt it was important to have a national park in the east, close to large, populated cities, to create an opportunity for folks to flee the city and reconnect with nature.
Acadia offers plenty of activities to keep the kiddos busy while you go have adventures of your own, like hiking the Ocean Path Trail, enjoying a picnic at Eagle Lake, and getting splashed at Thunder Hole, an inlet that has been known to shoot water almost 40 feet into the sky! (Prepare to get drenched!) Take advantage of the ocean with water-based activities like tide pooling, swimming, and boating.
Don’t miss your opportunity to cruise on a bike or horse-drawn carriage across the more than 57 miles of carriage roads and bridges throughout the park. Each bridge is unique to frame around waterfalls, mighty trees, all constructed out of local granite. With all that running around, you’ll have done more than enough to deserve a sunset and lobster dinner. Treat yourself- You’re on vacation.
Upcoming Events for Acadia
South- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
As America’s most visited park, with more than 9 million visitors a year, Great Smoky Mountains National Park doesn’t fail to deliver oohs and ahhs.
This picture-perfect park is located in Tennessee and spills slightly into North Carolina. It’s home to one of the largest collections of log buildings in America, and more than 90 historic buildings like churches, barns, and grist mills. The mountains formed roughly 200-300 million years ago, and are among the oldest mountains in the world.
If you’re a sucker for a good waterfall, there’s a map for that! With plenty to choose from, all you need to do is pick your hiking comfort level.
If you can plan your trip sometime between the end of May and the beginning of June, you’ll have the chance to see the synchronous fireflies. What makes them special? Their ability to synchronize their lighting patterns. People travel from all over the world to witness this symphony of light.
A must-see is Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the state. When the weather cooperates, you can see almost 100 miles of rolling mountains on either side of you! Don’t forget, the Appalachian Trail goes through Tennessee.
Check it out after you master some kid-friendly hiking trails, and then head back to pitch a tent. Can’t beat smores in the Smokies!
Midwest – Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Preservation president, Theodore Roosevelt, got his roots in North Dakota on a bison hunt. It left such an impact on him, that after a 15-day hunting trip, he bought cattle and settled on a ranch in the area now called Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The rugged park is home to some of those wild bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs.
You can even visit Roosevelt’s ranch, where you can see a few of his personal effects like his small, brown desk and personalized luggage made of wicker and duck skin.
Gas up the car and cruise the 36-mile Scenic Loop for some jaw-dropping, rugged mountains views of the Badlands. Don’t let the name “Badlands” discredit itself. The beauty is real, it’s wide, and yours for exploring. In fact, take advantage of the educational opportunities for youngsters while you’re there.
There are so many aspects to Theodore Roosevelt National Park that are best explored on foot. Sign us up for the Medicine Look Root and Door Trails!
Note to the children: We know nature is fun and exciting, but if your brother or sister dares to touch a cactus, DON’T. No one wins when they poke a cactus.
While the photos will always remain, don’t forget to check back in on the serrated mountains via the Painted Canyon webcam.
Upcoming Events for Theodore Roosevelt
Rockies – Zion
When you see photos of the Utah utopia, known as Zion National Park, it’s easy to see why it’s one in a million. The natural combination of Emerald Pools and the red rock formations will have you saying to yourself, “This has to be fake.” No. It’s very real, we assure you.
A hikers haven, Zion has some of the most strenuous, bucket-listed trails, like Angels Landing, (hold on to the chains!) to short and sweet ones like The Watchman. Once you get off the trails, create some new ones by heading to the Virgin River to fish, or see the trails from the sky in a helicopter ride if you feel like flying high.
If you can pull yourself away from exploring, give Bryce Canyon some quality time too. If you can’t make it to the park’s most famous view of the Temples and Towers of the Virgin, Zion rangers have a webcam set up for you to check out.
Go biking, rock climbing, or try the upstream river hike in The Narrows. The prominent peaks are calling. Grab your family, gear, extra socks, and answer. You’ve got selfies to take of mountain views and with that rainbow trout, you caught for dinner!
West – Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
It’s impossible to stand next to a sequoia tree and not question how small you truly. Snap and few photos, but then really let it sink in that you are walking in the land of the giants. You can’t see these trees anywhere else on earth. Don’t even think about heading home without saluting General Sherman!
Jump on the Cedar Grove or Grant Grove Area trails to see some lush meadows and wildlife. Roaring River Falls is easily accessible, but you’ll have to work to get to Mist Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the park.
After you’ve gotten your fill of gargantuan trees and waterfalls above, check out Crystal Cave if you aren’t claustrophobic and want to get up close and personal with some stalagmites and stalactites.
Elevations change in the park from green to white in a snap. Map your route to plan for snow, and if you’re a snow bunny, hop this way.
Upcoming Events for Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
- Never approach park wildlife, especially black bears. Here’s what to do should you meet one.
- If you’re hiking with children, make sure to pack plenty of water, snacks, and extra socks.
- Pack flashlights, bug spray, and sunscreen.
- Layers are your friend.
- Always check the weather.
- Never go off the trail. (Ticks, chiggers, and snakes are not friends you’d like to have!)
- Never take anything out of the woods with you, except pictures of course.
Adventure calls! Which direction will you choose? Let’s share national park stories and more tips for all our wanderlust-hungry folks out there in the comments below.
Roam the Two Lanes with our favorite bison tee. Printed on soft heather gray tee and made in the USA. SHOP NOW!
16 thoughts on “5 National Parks Not to Miss This Summer”
Mike, you really need to come to Washington State. The Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, an ocean a sound, a temperate rain forest, a petrified forest, a palouse, and desert. We have everything someone would want.
So much beauty in this world, thanks for reminding us of the important things in life, the things worth preserving, looking after and enjoying!!!
Road trip !!!!
Just returned from a 17 day, 6400 mile road trip. Webster NY to Webster NY.
First stop, Antique Archaeology in La Claire. GREAT STOP !!!
Then, Badlands, Yellowstone, Cedar Breaks, Zion, Hoover Dam, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Sedona, Petrified Forest, Home.
What a fabulous county we live in. I’m glad and proud to be a U.S. citizen !!!!!
I went to Zion, Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon on one trip. Bryce was my favorite… it’s beautiful with all the sandstone formations…. It was magnificent !
I have to agree with Linda Mike. Bryce Canyon is one of the prettiest sights in the world! There are a couple of really special spots there where the jagged peaks look just like a thousand castles pointing at the stars!
Absolutely beautiful. Been to Zion and Sequoia, Yosemiti – would like to
see the rest.
MIKE …. I WAS VERY SURPRISED THAT YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK WAS NOT ON YOUR LIST OF 5 . I LIVE IN A SMALL RURAL TOWN ON THE WAY TO YOSEMITE AND I FEEL BLESSED TO LIVE SO CLOSE TO SUCH AN INCREDIBLE NATURAL WONDER. THE FALLS, FLORA AND FAUNA, ROCK STRUCTURES THAT HAVE BEEN THERE FOR CENTURIES, FEELING OF FREEDOM, HOW WELL ORGANIZED THE PARK IS AND MAINTAINED. EVERYTHING ABOUT YOSEMITE IS AWE INSPIRING AND A “MUST SEE” ON EVERYONE’S BUCKET LIST
It was really difficult to only pick five, Allison. We could go on and on about national parks. Say “hello!” to Yosemite for us!
You need to consider coming to North Central Minnesota… Beautiful in the summer with all the Lady Slippers blooming…
I thought I would tell you and your readers about a special program the National Park Service offers seniors. Seniors 62 and older can purchase a LIFETIME pass, which when I bought it, cost $10.00. This pass gets holder and occupants of the same vehicle in parks for FREE. It can be bought the next time you visit a park right there at the entrance. This might be the absolute best deal our Federal Government EVER offered! I think you may possibly find out more and maybe even buy it on their website.
Happy trails everyone!
What an excellent tip, Joe! Thanks for looking out for everyone like that.
We’ve been to a lot of National Parks Mike & Frank, and would definitely recommend Washington State to see those gigantic trees. Worth the trip! Iowa has a beautiful land, but those trees are something to see, and on the way take a look at the Glacier National Park. That was definitely our favorite trip.
We went on a 3 week camping trip in September 2014. Went to New Mexico, Arizona, Grand Canyon and then up to Utah which we thought was one of the most beautiful states we’ve every been in. Stayed a few days in Kanab, Utah near Zion and Bryce Canyon Parks. We went through Best Friends Sanctuary which is fabulous. I support it and wanted to see where my money goes. They have 1500 rescued and homeless animals and it is all in the canyon near the 2 parks. Well worth touring. Our favorite of the parks in Utah was The Arches. Utah is just filled with wonderful colors. Of course being from Iowa, we don’t have any National Parks here but you have to admit that Iowa has a lot of beautiful lush areas. I’ve had other people from out of state comment that as they crossed the state on I-80 that they marveled at the healthy farm fields and pastures. I guess we don’t realize until someone else calls our attention to it. We’re planning a trip this summer to Washington state to visit friends and plan to go to Glacier Park. We’ve been out there before and gone to Yellowstone and Black Hills but always missed Glacier so that is in the plans this year.
“Each bridge is unique to frame around waterfalls, mighty trees, all constructed out of local granite”
I don’t agree: https://www.jackgrahamphoto.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/insights-winter-2013.pdf
I am always sick and tired of Wisconsin always being left out of things like this. Wisconsin has a great national park too, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. The park has great stuff to see, things that you can’t see anywhere else. Granted I have never been there myself yet even at my age, but I hope just once I do, even over any other national park there is in the United States. Yes it is a national park, even though it doesn’t say so in its name. Please mention this park next time.
The Apostle Islands are incredible! Do you prefer to explore them in the summer or winter?