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Fifty-Two (At Least) Ways To Enjoy Your Time In The National Park System This Year


Here we are, the very first day of 2013. Everything is fresh and open to possibilities when it comes to enjoying time in the National Park System. With that in mind, here are 52 suggestions on how to have fun in the parks this year.

1. Following a hurricane or tropical storm, stroll the beaches of Cape Cod, Assateague Island, Fire Island, Cumberland Island, or Canaveral national seashores to look for unusual seashells the storms might have tossed up.

2. Plan to visit Gettysburg National Military Park on either July 1, 2, or 3 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle that played out over those three days in 1863.

3. Go snorkeling in the warm waters of Virgin Islands National Park to watch the colorful fishes that mill about the park's coral reefs.

4. Consider climbing to the top of the Grand Teton in Grand Teton National Park with your teens. (Read The Grand Controversy by Orrin H. Bonney and Lorraine G. Bonney before you go.)

5. Walk a stretch of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. (Read The Undying Past of Shenandoah National Park  by Darwin Lambert.)

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Enjoy the view of the Little Missouri River from the CCC Shelter in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

6. Try to catch a reflection of Mount Rainier in the still waters of Reflection Lakes. (Take along a copy of Hiking The Wonderland Trail: The Guide To Mount Rainier's Premier Trail by Tami Asars. 

7. Hike the Upper Caprock Coulee Trail to the CCC Shelter in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. (Read The Home Ranch by Theodore Roosevelt to understand how this rugged landscape shaped the future president.)

8. Take a "wild" cave tour at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.

9. Hike down to Phantom Ranch in Grand Canyon National Park. (Pack a copy of The Grand Canyon Reader with its rich collection of stories by noted authors.)

10. Take a ranger-led tour and climb into Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado. (Track down a copy of Balcony House, A History of a Cliff Dwelling, by Kathleen Fiero.)

11. Pedal your bike up the park road to the visitors center at Devils Tower National Monument in northeastern Wyoming.

12. Explore Shark Valley in Everglades National Park. (Read Snake In The Grass: An Everglades Invasion by Larry Perez.)

13. Tour Wilderness Battlefield or walk the Wounding of Stonewall Jackson Trail at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia.

14. Climb the Beehive Trail at Acadia National Park in Maine. (Carry a copy of Cairns: Messengers In Stone by David B. Williams.)

15. Spend a night in one of the cabins at Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina and wake early to catch dawn spread over the ocean.

16. Paddle deep into Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota for a multi-day adventure. (Read Paddle North, Canoeing the Boundary Waters-Quetico Wilderness by Greg Breining.)

17. Hike to Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park in Montana. (Read This High, Wild Country, a Celebration of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park by Paul Schullery and Marsha Karle.)

18. Visit Death Valley National Park in August and see if you can stand the temperatures that approach, and might exceed, 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Just be sure to pack lots of water. (Take a copy of Death Valley Photographer's Guide: Where And How To Get The Best Shots by Dan Suzio.)

19. Explore Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin by sea kayak.

20. Hike through the Cactus Forest in Saguaro National Park in Arizona. (Bring along a copy of Common Southwestern Native Plants, An Identification Guide by Jack L. Carter, Martha A. Carter and Donna J. Stevens)

21. Wander with your youngsters through the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park and count all the banana slugs you come across. (Carry a copy of Olympic National Park, A Natural History by Tim McNulty.)

22. Visit Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site in North Dakota, tour the grounds, then close your eyes and imagine how it looked when Lewis and Clark arrived in 1804. (Read Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose)

23. Climb to the top of Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park or go in search of Tharp's Log. (Take along a copy of Challenge of the Big Trees by Lary Dilsaver and William Tweed.)

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Chesler Park, Canyonlands National Park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

24. Make the day-long trek to the summit of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, or hike the Cathedral Lakes Trail. (Thumb through Spectacular Yosemite that features QT Luong's beautiful photographs of the park)

25. Stand in front of, and then near the top, of Devils Postpile in Devils Postpile National Monument.

26. Hike the Primitive Trail through Arches National Park. (Read Desert Solitaire By Edward Abbey.)

27. Explore Chesler Park in Canyonlands National Park or, better yet, visit the Great Gallery

28. Ride the rapids through New River Gorge National River.

29. Reserve a night a LeConte Lodge in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Read Camping and Woodcraft by Horace Kephart.)

30. Watch sunrise, or sunset, from the summit of Haleakala National Park in Hawaii.

31. Hike to Kolob Arch in Zion National Park.

32. Spend three days on the Under-the-Rim Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park. (Prepare with a copy of Shadows of Time, The Geology of Bryce Canyon National Park by Frank Decourten, John Telford, and Hannah Hinchman.)

33. Plan to arrive at Capitol Reef National Park in time for fall harvest.

34. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to watch the lava flow.

35. Walk the hallowed ground of Manassas National Battlefield Park in Virginia.

36. Visit the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to take in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the African American Civil War Memorial, Ford's Theather National Historic Site and the House Where Lincoln Died, and the other sites at the Mall. (Pick up a copy of the World War II Memorial: "Jewel of The Mall" by Stephen R. Brown.)

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At Cape Lookout National Seashore they caution you to take it easy when climbing up the lighthouse stairs. Kurt Repanshek photo.

37. Go fly a kite at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina.

38. Sea kayak the waters of Tomales Bay at Point Reyes National Seashore, or venture out to Elephant Seal Overlook to watch massive elephant seals during their mating season.

39. Join a float trip down either the Yampa or Green rivers through Dinosaur National Monument. (Read Run River, Run by Ann Zwinger or Adios Amigos:: Tales of Sustenance and Purification in the American West by Page Stegner)

40. Visit Katmai National Park and Preserve to watch the brown bears fish for salmon in the Brooks River.

41. Walk the tallgrass prairie of Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas.

42. Walk to the top of the Cape Lookout or Cape Hatteras lighthouses. (Read The Outer Banks by Anthony Bailey)

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Section of AT through Shenandoah National Park. Photo by Bob Mishak.

43. Paddle the rivers in Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri.

44. Go underground at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

45. Take a day-long guided tour into Canyon de Chelly National Monument. (Read Canyon de Chelly, Its People and Rock Art by Campbell Grant.)

46. Admire the artworks at Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in New Hampshire.

47. Take six months off and hike the Appalachian National Scenic Trail from Maine to Georgia, or Georgia to Maine. (Read Becoming Odyssa, Epic Adventures on the Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis.)

48. Spend a day at the beach at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

49. Learn about the fur-trapping days of the 18th century at Grand Portage National Monument in Minnesota.

50. Snorkel or scuba dive in the Research Natural Area of Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida.

51. Take a week to drive either the Blue Ridge Parkway or the Natchez Trace Parkway.

52. Listen to wolves howling in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park. (Read Empire Of Shadows: The Epic Story Of Yellowstone by George Black.)

If those aren't enough ideas, I'm sure Traveler's readers will suggest additional ones.


I wish I could do even a tenth of those things this year.

Don't forget to spend time waiting for a geyser you've never seen before!

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