National Parks Adventures to Go On Before You Die
Many visitors to America's national parks do the same things: they go geyser-watching in Yellowstone, peer over the rim of a Grand Canyon overlook, cruise the waters of Glacier Bay, stroll through the arches at Arches, or hike Half Dome at Yosemite. And of course all of those activities should be on every traveler's bucket list. But there are also more rarefied experiences to be had, ones that allow a visitor to dive deeper into the unique character and beauty of the parks.
Head to Maine's Acadia at the right time of the year to be the first person in the continental United States to see the sun rise. Or head to Cape Alava in Washington's Olympic National Park to stand on the westernmost point in the lower 48. Don't just peer over the rim of the Grand Canyon—hike down to the floor to truly appreciate how monumental it is. Head to Denali at the right time of year for the rare experience of seeing the majestic peak unshrouded by clouds. View the mighty California condor, now back from the brink of extinction, at Pinnacles, America's newest national park. Go backcountry skiing at Grand Teton. Stay in a hotel that overlooks a smoldering caldera at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. All seven of these experiences pack in adventure and awe. Start planning for them now.
Look up from inside the Grand Canyon
The most dramatic views of the Big Ditch, as locals call it, are not from the overlooks. They’re from the canyon floor, a mile down, where you can fully appreciate just how big it is while taking in its seemingly endless side canyons and interior mesas. Hike or ride a mule along the South Kaibab Trail to the bottom, where you can camp by the Colorado River or stay at Phantom Ranch, a group of 1920s cabins in a stand of cottonwoods. grandcanyonlodges.com; doubles from $142. —Ryan Krogh
Visit Denali on a clear day
In summer, clouds cloak North America’s highest peak about 85 percent of the time. When skies are blue, the mountain is a wonder to behold, a colossus of rock and ice that rises more than three miles above alpine meadows. To increase your odds of glimpsing it, book your travel in early September, when visibility is typically at its best, and plan to stay for at least a few days. Book lodging and guided park tours through Alaska Wildland Adventures at alaskawildland.com. —Sarah L. Stewart
See nature at work at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Kilauea Volcano, which has been continuously erupting for more than 30 years, is one of the few places in the world where you can watch magma bubble up from the earth’s crust. View the smoldering caldera from the 11-mile drive around its crater rim; on a wilderness hike; or from the large picture windows of Volcano House, one of Hawaii’s most iconic hotels. hawaiivolcanohouse.com; doubles from $285. —Ryan Krogh
Head as far west as you can get in Olympic National Park
You have to drive through the Makah Indian Reservation to reach Cape Alava in Olympic National Park, the westernmost point of the continental United States. There, the Ozette Loop trail winds through ancient forests and along the coastline, with views of the ocean as far as the eye can see. On a rocky outcrop along Sand Point, jutting out into the bay, visitors can watch gray whales migrate along the coast. For hiking trails and tips, visit wta.org.
Ski Grand Teton
Most visitors come to Wyoming’s great mountain in the summer to go climbing, but it is even more stunning under a blanket of snow. This is one of the best places in the U.S. for backcountry skiing, with varied terrain and a tranquil experience that is nothing like a resort. The most popular route follows a ridge called 25 Short (that’s how many feet below 10,000 it is) with dramatic mountain views. Book tours with Exum Mountain Guides at exumguides.com. —Ryan Krogh
Watch a sunrise in Acadia
Autumn is a beautiful time to visit Maine, when its coastal forests explode with the colors of fall. However, those that visit Acadia between October and March are in for another surprise: being among the first in the United States to see the sun rise. At 1,532 feet, Cadillac Mountain is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard, where you have unobstructed views of Bar Harbor’s sailboats and lobstermen heading out to take in their daily catch. During colder months, the first rays of sunlight hit Cadillac before anywhere else in the country. $25 entry fee per person May–October, valid for seven days. —Ryan Krogh
Go bird-watching at Pinnacles
More than 160 species, from woodpeckers to roadrunners, fly above the volcanic cliffs and canyons of our newest national park, an hour and a half south of San Jose, California. But the most thrilling sighting is the rare California condor, which, at nearly 10 feet, has the largest wingspan of any North American bird. Thanks to conservation efforts, roughly 30 now live at Pinnacles. For viewing tips, visit condorspotter.com. —Sarah L. Stewart