If you live in the United States what if you didn’t renew your passport for a year and instead traveled only within the lower 48 states? Yep even Hawaii and Alaska are out! OR if you live outside the United States what if you came to visit our beautiful country and you decided to not spend anytime in New York, LA, Chicago, San Fran, New Orleans, Las Vegas, or Miami? What would you do? What would you see?
I actually think you would have the adventure of a lifetime. You see I am on a quest to visit all 60 of the United States National Parks. (Along with thousands of other people.) I have been to 43 as of writing this blog for Conquest Maps and I must say it’s opened me up to explore and seek out more adventure in all my travels around the world and get more pins on my map than I could ever imagine!
The National Parks in America are a true gem and something that people simply don’t take advantage of enough; especially those that live within the confines of the lower 48 of the United States. These adventure destinations are so close to so many Americans and yet we still continually ignore them and don’t seek them out for trips.
All 60 of the National Parks have incredible beauty. I have picked out 11 unique and what I would consider iconic adventures from the 43 parks I have been to in hopes that you will find yourself a grand adventure. I also excluded some of the more well known parks like Yosemite, Glacier, Yellowstone, and the Smoky Mountains to give you a glimpse of how much adventure awaits not just in a few of these parks but in all of them! Without further ado here’s my list...in no particular order!
1. Hike to the first sunrise in the US every morning (Acadia National Park)
Mount Desert Island in Maine is a special and beautiful place. You can wander along the pristine beaches, hike the mountains, or ride your bike on the carriage roads of Acadia National Park for days. The highest point in the park is Cadillac Mountain. Skip the drive to the top of this mountain (you are able to do so) and instead hike from the trailhead with your headlamp pre dawn and arrive to the summit in time for sunrise. You and whoever is with you will be the first to see the sun in the lower 48 of the United States for that day.
2. White Water Raft the Colorado River (Grand Canyon National Park)
The Colorado River sliced and formed what we know now as the mesmerizing Grand Canyon. Did you know only 1% of folks who visit this park go to the bottom and only 2% go 15 feet “below the rim.” A hiking and rafting trip through the Colorado River is a bucket list trip for any lover of adventures and the outdoors. I used Grand Canyon WhiteWater when I went and we hiked from the Bright Angel Trailhead to the bottom of the canyon to catch our raft; which I highly recommend! There’s no feeling like waking up inside of the Grand Canyon next to the rushing Colorado River.
3. Explore and Spelunk the largest known cave system in the world (Mammoth Cave National Park)
Located in central Kentucky lies a cave system spanning hundreds of miles and the opportunity for you to explore hundreds of feet below the earth. Mammoth Cave National Park gives you the chance to see the world underground. Ranger led tours are available for an hour up to high level spelunking tours that will literally have you crawling on your hands and knees. (Previous spelunking experience required!) I believe you will leave breathless and in awe of one of the more amazing physical creations in the world.
4. Sit in the quietest place in America (Olympic National Park)
Olympic National Park contains gorgeous beaches, a tundra esque region with snow capped mountains, and a deep and extraordinary rainforest. Located just a few hours from Seattle this park is really three or four parks in one inside the state of Washington. A scientist has concluded that the quietest place in the country is located in the Hoh Rainforest. It is called the One Square Inch of Silence.
5. Admire the longest free standing arch in the world (Arches National Park)
Arches National Park in Utah has the largest concentration of free standing arches in the world; including one that is featured on the Utah license plate. While Delicate Arch (the license plate arch) is a must see the best hike in the park actually is where the park road dead ends at the Devils Garden Loop. You will get to see Landscape Arch which is the longest free standing arch in the world on the loop hike; pieces have broken off and it’s predicted that in the coming decades or century it will all fall off and will be but a wonderful memory of nature. Visit while it is still standing!
6. Walk amongst the oldest living organism on the planet (Great Basin National Park)
Great Basin National Park in Nevada is in the middle of nowhere. You will drive at least fifty miles on the “Loneliest Highway in America” and pass nothing but land on the way to this park; but don’t let that be a reason to not visit! Caves, glaciers, wildlife, alpine lakes, and the oldest living organisms in the world await you at this park. What are those? The Bristlecone Pine Trees which are over 4,000 years of age! An easy loop trail leads you right up and next to the trees.
7. Climb to the top of Texas (Guadalupe Mountains National Park)
There’s not just barbeque and football in the state of Texas. Just two hours from El Paso lies Guadalupe Peak inside Guadalupe Mountains National Park. The summit hike is over eight miles round trip and you will gain over 2,500 feet in elevation. However it’s all worth it because at the top you will be standing on the Top of Texas and have a panoramic view of one of the biggest states in the country. And a well earned water break and rest!
8. Stroll to the edge of the clearest and deepest lake in America (Crater Lake National Park)
A half day drive from the cities of Portland or Bend in Oregon a park lays host to an erupted volcano that receives so much snowfall every year it is now the deepest lake in the United States. Camp out or stay at the lodge, eat some huckleberry ice cream, climb mountains, and most importantly take a walk down to the edge and perhaps a boat ride across and on the clearest and deepest lake in America. Crater Lake. You won’t be disappointed unless you despise crystal clear blue water.
9. Tour an old fort that was a Civil War Prison in the middle of the Ocean (Dry Tortugas National Park)
70 Miles of Key West lies the Tortuga islands. Including Fort Jefferson, a fort built during the 1800’s in which a shot was never fired. The remnants of this fort have been turned into Dry Tortugas National Park and a boat ride from Key West on the Yankee Freedom gives you the chance to tour the fort, snorkel around the moat on the island, and even spend the night for some of the best stargazing in the world.
10. Adventure through a river inside of a canyon (Zion National Park)
The Narrows is one of the most iconic day hikes in the entire world. Bring your hiking poles and waterproof shoes and get ready to hike up and into Zion Canyon to the mouth of the Virgin River. This is one of the most unique, and dangerous, hikes I have ever done. I was spellbound the entire time and I can’t wait to do it again. Always check flash flood levels before you go and bring your sense of adventure and a GoPro!
11. Meditate at the hottest, lowest, and driest place on Earth. (Death Valley National Park)
Badwater Basin in Death Valley National is 282.2 feet below sea level. You can venture out for several miles on this white salt basin and listen to the crunch of the salt crystals below you. Last time I was there (I am a yogi) I just couldn’t resist plopping down for a ten minute meditation. I would describe Badwater Basin as feeling like you have been transported to another planet. Go in the spring, fall, or winter if possible as Death Valley has recorded temperatures up to 140 degrees fahrenheit. Marking it not only the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere but also the hottest on record. Located just two hours from the Las Vegas airport you have no reasonto miss a visit to Death Valley!
I love travelling internationally make no mistake about it. But I adore the beauty of my own country and the adventures that can be had with a domestic flight or several hour drive. We are lucky to have such beauty in the US and I believe we should take more time to explore it, fight to preserve it for future generations and the wildlife and land that is protected inside of it, and to share why others should give a trip to a National Park a try!
Those were my 11 reasons. I hope at least one of them can give you the inspiration for a trip of your own and get you a few pins inserted into your Conquest Maps in the process. Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice” and these protected National Parks in the United States are no exception to that powerful quote!
The next time you are planning an adventure skip the big cities and get lost in nature; the National Parks aren’t the only place to do that but certainly an excellent option!