59 Unique Experiences You Can Have in the National Parks

Whitewater rafting in Cataract Canyon, Canyonlands National Park

What’s the best way to celebrate summer? Visiting a national park, of course! And it’s especially true in this, the National Park Service’s Centennial year.

There are million fun things to do once you get to the park, but if you’re looking to do something a little different than the usual hiking and camping, we’ve found some really cool and unique experiences you can have no matter where decide to go:

  • Acadia National Park, Maine: Take a horse-drawn carriage drive from Wildwood Stables along the park’s historic carriage roads.
  • American Samoa National Park, American Samoa: Walk the beaches of the park’s Ofu unit and stop for a picnic, sunbathing, and a snorkeling plunge into the Pacific surf.
  • Arches National Park, Utah: Go on a photo safari to the park’s beautiful rock formations, guided by tips and “magic hour” information provided by the National Park Service.
  • Badlands National Park, South Dakota: Learn about millions of years of evolution on a ¼-mile walk on the park’s Fossil Exhibit Trail.
  • Big Bend National Park, Texas: Soak amid the ruins of a historic bathhouse and relax in the 105-degree, mineral-rich waters of Langford Hot Springs.
  • Biscayne National Park, Florida: Follow an underwater Maritime Heritage Trail leading to six shipwrecks and the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse.
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado: Climb a 2,000 foot wall over the Gunnison River.
  • Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: Take a night hike amid the hoodoos under the full moon — no flashlights or headlamps allowed!
  • Canyonlands National Park, Utah: Challenge the legendary rapids of the Confluence and Cataract Canyon.
  • Capitol Reef National Park, Utah: Pick apples, peaches, cherries, pears and apricots at the historic Fruita Orchards.
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico: Come to the cave entrance at dawn or dusk to see thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats take flight.
  • Channel Islands National Park, California: Boat alongside dolphins and whales among these islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif.
  • Congaree National Park, South Carolina: Paddle a kayak among old-growth bald cypress and towering tupelo trees to find hidden fishing areas.
  • Crater Lake National Park, Oregon: Take a boat tour to Wizard Island and climb to the top of this volcanic crater within a crater on the deep blue lake.

    Wizard Island in Crater Lake (Photo:dweekly/CC by 2.0)
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio: Ride the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad to get around this unique urban/rural park.
  • Death Valley National Park, California and Nevada: Talk alien life and space exploration at MarsFest, or take a stargazing walk on moonless nights in one of the darkest places in North America.
  • Denali National Park, Alaska: Meet the park’s patrolling sled dogs and learn the skills you need to be a musher.
  • Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida: Camp overnight in the shadow of Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, and fish for your dinner!
  • Everglades National Park, Florida: Paddle a water trail and sleep in a “chickee,” one of the park’s backcountry elevated camping platforms.
  • Gates of the Arctic National Park, Alaska: Get dropped off by a float plane at a remote Alaskan lake for a true backcountry adventure that will test your survival skills.
  • Glacier National Park, Montana: Navigate the fabled, 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road into the heart of the mountains.
  • Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska: Go whale watching and see glaciers “calving” into the sea.
  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: Hike the canyon from South Rim to North Rim (or vice-versa) — a challenging but unforgettable 25-mile journey.
  • Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming: Ride the Continental Divide Snowmobile Trail, one of the top-rated snowmobiling destinations in the U.S.
  • Great Basin National Park, Nevada: Gather pine nuts in the fall and take home up to 25 pounds of these tasty treats.
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado: Ride a sand sled down the slopes of the tallest sand dunes in North America.

    Sand sledding the Great Sand Dunes (Photo: NPS)
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee: Take a morning bike ride on the 11-mile Cades Cove scenic loop road  to explore a lush mountain valley dotted with 19th-century homesites.
  • Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas: Climb to the top of Guadalupe Peak, the “Top of Texas” and the state’s highest point.
  • Haleakala National Park, Hawaii: Hike thru a towering bamboo forest to reach Waimoku Falls on the Pipiwai Trail.
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii: Arrive before dawn to greet the day beside the glowing, smoking caldera atop the Kilauea volcano.
  • Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas: Take a healing dip in a historic bathhouse fed by natural spring water.
  • Isle Royale National Park, Michigan: Scuba dive to see a remarkable collection of Great Lakes shipwrecks, including the passenger steamer Algoma and the 532-foot bulk freighter Chester Congdon.
  • Joshua Tree National Park, California: Take an 18-mile, four-wheel-drive trip that explores the park’s unique geology and passes through spectacular scenery.
  • Katmai National Park, Alaska: Watch bears fish for salmon — or cast a line yourself — at Brooks Camp.
  • Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska: Trek across the Harding Icefield, birthplace of the park’s 40-plus glaciers.
  • Kings Canyon National Park, California: Plunge deep into the canyon and enjoy the views from beautiful Zumwalt Meadows.
  • Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska: Witness the migration of Alaska’s largest caribou herd, half a million strong.
  • Lake Clark National Park, Alaska: Take a float-plane trip to Upper Twin Lake to visit the historic cabin built by Dick Proenneke and hike, fish, and camp near this monument to Alaska’s rugged, can-do spirit.
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park, California: Hike to the top of a still-smoldering volcano and visit geothermal sites with named like Bumpass Hell and the Devil’s Kitchen.
  • Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky: Take an off-the-beaten-path “Wild Cave Tour” or explore the historic underground Violet City by lantern light.
  • Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: Climb a 32-foot ladder, through a 12-foot tunnel and up a 60-foot rock face while exploring the Balcony House cliff dwelling.

    Climbing to Balcony House at Mesa Verde (Photo: Ken Lund/CC by SA 2.0)
  • Mount Rainier National Park, Washington: Literally walk around a mountain on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which encircles Mount Rainier.
  • North Cascades National Park, Washington: No road? No problem: Walk, paddle or fly to the historic town of Stehekin on Lake Chelen.
  • Olympic National Park, Washington: Explore coastal tidal pools in search of starfish, anemones, sponges, urchins, and other inhabitants of these transient and fragile ecosystems.
  • Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona: Walk along a long-abandoned section of historic Route 66.
  • Redwood National Park, California: Watch migrating grey whales swim by from the lofty Klamath River Overlook.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado: Gallup through scenic Moraine Park on a guided horseback tour.
  • Saguaro National Park, Arizona: Mingle with fire and trail crews while camping at Manning Campground and exploring the wilderness of the park’s Rincon Mountain District.
  • Sequoia National Park, California: Visit the General Sherman Tree, a 274-foot giant sequoia — the biggest tree on earth.
  • Shenandoah National Park, Virginia: “Leaf peep” the valley’s spectacular fall foliage on a trip down 109-mile-long Skyline Drive.
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota: Take a hike through a prairie dog town burrowed through an old ranch site.
  • Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands: Sleep on a Caribbean beach for as little as $37 per night.
  • Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota: Visit the terraced Ellsworth Rock Gardens, a masterpiece of natural landscape architecture that took two decades to complete.
  • Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota: Tour the caves by candlelight, just like the earliest explorers did.
  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska: Explore the once-thriving Kennecott copper mines, now a sprawling ghost town next to the Kennecott Glacier.

    The Kennecott Copper Mines, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (Photo by Sewtex/CC by 2.5)
  • Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming: Take a dip in the Boiling River where it meets the Gardiner River — the mix of hot and cold water makes this one of the few swimmable spots in the park.
  • Yosemite National Park, California: Channel your inner Ansel Adams by taking an art class amid the beauty of “Nature’s Temple.”
  • Zion National Park, Utah: Explore beyond the paved path with a walk/wade into the aptly named Zion Narrows.


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