8 National Parks Where You Can Have an Unforgettable Summer Vacation
Scenic beauty, history, recreation, learning, and renewal await at over 400 national parks and monuments in the United States. Since the 1872 creation of Yellowstone National Park, the nation’s first, the parks have become treasured resources, inspiring generations with their varied and unique natural terrain.
National Park Week, from April 20-28, 2019, is a celebration of America’s parks. The week kicks off by waiving all entrance fees on Saturday, April 20 and continues with a different theme each day. Junior Ranger Day encourages young people to earn a badge by participating in activities and explorations. Military and veterans are recognized on April 21, and April 22 is Earth Day, a perfect time to appreciate nature’s gifts in a national park or monument.
Find a national park near you or plan a trip to one you’ve never visited, for a camping vacation, road trip, picnic, stargazing evening, or hiking expedition. We hope our suggestions will encourage you to put a national park visit on your travel itinerary this year.
Olympic National Park and Forest, Washington
Designated as a World Heritage Site, this Pacific Northwest park encompasses several major ecosystems: subalpine, coast, temperate rainforest, and lowland forest. Climbers, hikers, backpackers, and campers love its terrain and diversity. There’s fishing, boating, wildlife viewing, and night sky stargazing.
If camping isn’t your style, consider lodging within the park at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, offering cabins, a restaurant, and hot springs pools, or the historic Lake Crescent Lodge, with guestrooms set among giant fir and hemlock trees on the shores of Lake Crescent. Log Cabin Resort, open from May 17-Oct. 6, 2019, offers a variety of accommodations as well as RV and tent camping sites.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
This park, located in southwest Colorado, protects nearly 5,000 archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, some of the best preserved in the United States. Dating back about 1,400 years, the Ancestral Pueblo people, sometimes referred to as “Anasazi,” built elaborate stone dwellings high on canyon walls. They lived there for about 700 years, evolving from nomads to farmers. Self-guided and ranger-led tours let visitors explore these ancient sites. Evening events include campfire talks and twilight tours for another way to relate to these archaeological treasures.
The Far View Lodge, located inside the park, offers 150 rooms with traditional Western decor, balconies, and spectacular views. Dine at the casual Spruce Tree Terrace Cafe or the Far View Terrace Patio near the Lodge, serving slow-smoked BBQ chicken, ribs, and brisket. The award-winning Mesa Verde Metate Room at the Far View Lodge explores indigenous ingredients and sustainable cuisine in contemporary Southwestern style.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
This national park encompasses 6 million acres of Alaska’s interior wilderness including North America’s tallest peak, Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley. Home to grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou, and Dall sheep, the park’s terrain covers tundra, spruce forest, and glaciers. The park’s one road is 92 miles long and made mostly of sand and gravel. Mountain climbing, skiing, dog sledding, hiking, and bus tours are favorite activities in Denali.
Campgrounds are available within the park, but most lodging is outside the park’s boundaries. Denali Park Village, open May 12-Sept. 20, 2019, is located seven miles south of the national park, along the Nenana River.
Yosemite National Park, California
Known for its waterfalls, ancient giant sequoias, and granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome, Yosemite covers nearly 1,200 square miles of valleys, meadows, and wilderness areas in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Hiking, backpacking, camping, fishing, birdwatching, horseback riding, boating, and rock climbing are favorite activities in addition to simply enjoying the beauty of the park. Yosemite’s many waterfalls attract hikers and photographers, especially in spring and early summer when they are at their fullest.
Bus tours to various points in the park from Yosemite Valley are available year round. Lodging ranges from tent camps to the luxurious Majestic Yosemite Hotel, a National Historic Landmark and AAA Four Diamond property. Formerly called the Ahwahnee, the hotel was built in the 1920’s and recently remodeled.
Everglades National Park, Florida
This 1.5-million-acre wetlands preserve on the southern tip of Florida is made up of coastal mangroves, sawgrass marshes, and pine flatwoods. The park is home to hundreds of animal species including the endangered leatherback turtle, Florida panther, manatee, and American crocodile.
Guests can take free ranger-led tours including the Everglades Exploration at the Shark Valley Visitor Center, the Python Talk at the Flamingo Visitor Center, the Anhinga Amble, and the Everglades Adventure Car Caravan. On the Shark Valley Tram Tour, there’s a chance to see alligators, wading birds, and other wildlife in their natural habitat. Narrated by a park ranger or naturalist, there is an extra cost, and reservations are recommended.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Located in the hilly countryside of south-central Kentucky and part of the Green River Valley, this park has over 400 miles of explored caves and the longest cave in the United States. Hiking, camping, canoeing, fishing, horseback riding, and kayaking are popular activities in addition to exploring the caves. A variety of cave tours ranging from “easy” to “extremely strenuous” are available, allowing visitors to observe the gypsum formations, ancient cave writing, and natural history of the caves. Reservations can be made through the park’s website.
The rustic and comfortable Lodge at Mammoth Cave offers cottages, cabins, and rooms in the main lodge set in the shade of big oak trees. Conveniently located near the park’s entrance and visitor center, the Lodge provides breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the Green River Grill and casual dining at Spelunker’s Cafe and Ice Cream Parlor.
Three developed campgrounds and more than a dozen primitive sites in the back country and along the Green and Nolin Rivers provide a variety of camping experiences. Picnic sites are available at several locations in the park.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Located near the town of Bar Harbor, Acadia covers 47,000 acres of Atlantic coast recreation area marked by woodland, rocky beaches, and granite peaks, including Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the East Coast of the United States.
Hiking trails of various lengths and difficulty levels are available throughout the park, giving visitors glimpses of wildlife that include moose, bears, whales, and seabirds. Birdwatching is popular, with walks designed to observe peregrine falcons, ducks, and other coastal birds. In addition, ranger-guided bicycle tours and boat cruises are offered at additional cost. Be sure to check the park’s website for schedules and reservations.
The park has two campgrounds on Mount Desert Island, one on the Schoodic Peninsula and five lean-to shelters on Isle au Haut. While there is no lodging within the park, there are many accommodations in nearby towns. Picnic areas with fireplaces are available throughout the park.
Jordan Pond House Restaurant, originally built in the 1890s, is known for its traditional afternoon tea with popovers and other light delicacies. Lunch and dinner menus include Maine lobster dishes including lobster rolls, lobster stew, and boiled lobster. Local blueberries are featured in their desserts. The restaurant reopens on May 16, 2019, and reservations are recommended.
Glacier National Park, Montana
The park is a 1,583-square-mile wilderness area in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, with glacier-carved peaks and valleys running to the Canadian border. The park has over 700 miles of hiking trails and diverse wildlife ranging from mountain goats to grizzly bears.
A variety of ranger-led programs include easy walks, all-day hikes, evening talks, photo walks and boat tours. Programs start in mid-June, and schedules are made available about two weeks before the start of each month. Check the park’s website for details and reservations.
Lodging in the park ranges from cozy cabins to historic grand rooms. Swiss chalet-style Lake McDonald Lodge is located ten miles inside the park’s west entrance. Built in 1913, this historic lodge on Lake McDonald’s eastern shore offers a main building, a row of cabins, Snyder Hall, and Cobb House. The Lodge will be open from May 17 until September 25, 2019.
Just outside the park, newly opened Cedar Creek Lodge Hotel and Conference Center is a year-round destination with amenities that include indoor pool, hot tub, fitness center, and complimentary breakfast buffet.
The park offers over a thousand campsites at thirteen different campgrounds, most of which are first-come first-served, but several can be reserved through the park’s website.