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10 Amazing National Park Experiences

  • Man Goes White Water Rafting In The Colorado River In The Grand Canyon, National Parks Experiences
    Draper White/Getty Images

    En español | Want to raise the "wow" factor of your next vacation adventure? Start by planning a trip to a national park. Add one of these excursions to your itinerary, and you’ll have fodder for stories you’ll take home and tell forever.

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  • Woman Paddleboats Through A Mangrove In The Everglades, National Parks Experiences
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    Paddle a Mangrove Maze

    Florida’s Everglades National Park was the first national park set aside largely to protect wildlife. What better way to check it out than to paddle among it? If you aren’t equipped to hitch watercraft to your car’s roof, kayaks and canoes are available to rent in the park. Spend a day cruising around Ten Thousand Islands, where you can explore the labyrinth of water that meanders through mangroves and oyster beds. Bring a waterproof camera because there’s a chance you’ll spot some manatees or dolphins. Birds are abundant in this part of the park — including the endangered peregrine falcon and wood stork — and in the quiet of your boat you might just get an up-close view. Also keep your eyes peeled for Atlantic loggerhead, green and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.

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  • Man With Helmet Light Goes Spelunking In The Black Hills Of South Dakota, National Parks Experiences
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    Spelunk at Wind Cave

    Bison and elk may roam the prairies of South Dakota’s Wind Cave National Park, but hidden underground lies one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. The park gets its name from the wind that blows in and out of the cave entrance as the air pressure systems inside the cave and outside equalize. Take a ranger-led candlelit tour, which covers two-thirds of a mile and lasts two hours. If you’re up for a bigger challenge, put on a hard hat and headlamp for a four-hour introduction to the basics of spelunking (available only in summer; reservations recommended). 

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  • Man Goes White Water Rafting In The Colorado River In The Grand Canyon, National Parks Experiences
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    Run (or Float) the Colorado River

    Rafting the Colorado River à la John Wesley Powell is as exciting a national park experience as you can get. Shooting rapids in the embrace of the canyon’s colorful rock walls — in a motorized or oar-powered raft — hardly compares with looking across at them from Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim. This is no spur-of-the-moment adventure, though. Noncommercial rafters will need to secure a permit as much as a year in advance. Multiday commercial trips book out as much as two years ahead. So make plans, and let your anticipation build. Looking for something memorable but a little more mellow? Smooth-water half-day trips are also available for those who'd like to take in the views without the adrenaline rush.

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  • Hore Trekkers In Bryce Canyon National Park In Utah, National Parks Experiences
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    By Horseback Through Bryce Amphitheater

    Saddle up to explore at Bryce Canyon National Park’s wind- and rain-carved rock formations. The park’s two- and four-hour horse and mule tours take you into Bryce Amphitheater, the most visited region of the park, where you’ll encounter tall, thin rock spires known as hoodoos — some as tall as 10 stories. You can see the hoodoos from overlooks, too, but riding up close puts their size in true perspective. Count yourself lucky if you've booked your ride to come right after a storm. Rainwater makes the rock colors even more vibrant.

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  • Close Up Of An Airplane Over Denali Mountains In Alaska, National Parks Experiences
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    Soar Over Denali

    Now here’s a word that guarantees you’re in for a spectacular time: flightseeing. With 6 million acres of wilderness and North America’s tallest peak, there is too much of Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve to cover on foot. So why not take a ride in a small aircraft to get a bird’s-eye view of this huge, ecologically diverse landscape? Check out the Alaska Range peaks, picturesque glaciers and mountaineers making their way up a summit. Ski planes can land you on glaciers during the spring and summer. Chartered helicopter rides are also allowed in the park.

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  • A Red Bus Makes Its Way Through The Mountain In Glacier National Park In Montana, National Parks Experiences
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    Drive to the Sun

    Plenty of national parks have spectacular scenic roadways, but there’s one that’s simply a must: Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. The 50-mile drive, with visitor centers and campgrounds along the way, was cut out of the Montana mountainsides in the park’s interior, which means there are some sheer drop-offs — but also stunning views of the Rockies and Jackson Glacier along with agile bighorn sheep and mountain goats. The road climbs to 6,646 feet, and while portions remain open all year, the road isn’t typically fully open until late June, when the snow has melted, and it generally remains open until October. Always check the park’s website for weather conditions and periodic road construction. If you aren’t comfortable driving the twisty road but still crave the views, shuttles and tour buses are available. 

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  • Close Up Of A Bird In Tree, National Parks Experiences
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    Birding in Big Bend

    Open desert and a riparian river corridor make for ideal birding conditions in Texas’ Big Bend National Park, home to more bird species (over 450) than any other national park. Many are tropical species stopping over on migratory routes. Perhaps the most sought-after of all is the Colima warbler, which is found exclusively in the Chisos Mountains in the park from April to September. Check any of the park’s visitor centers for a bird checklist. With a little patience, you may have a once-in-a-lifetime rare-bird sighting.

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  • A Female Rock Climber In Joshua Tree National Park In California, National Parks Experiences
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    Climb California Rocks

    With more than 400 climbing formations and 8,000 climbing routes among its rugged mountains of twisted rock and exposed granite monoliths, Joshua Tree National Park is a climber’s mecca. Even if you’ve never chalked up your hands and tried bouldering (no ropes involved), you might get the urge when you’re in this high-low desert wonderland. There are several schools in the area that offer beginners a lesson lasting from just a few hours to all day. And fear not: Rock climbing isn’t all muscle. You’ll learn balance, specific foot and hand moves, knot-tying — and the art of trusting the person on the other end of a rope. 

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  • Hiker Enjoys The Sunrise On Hawaii's Maui Haleakala Crater, National Parks Experiences
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    Volcano Sunrise

    It requires waking up hours before the crack of dawn, but watching the sun come up above the clouds from the summit of Maui’s dormant volcano Haleakala is worth losing a few zzzs. You have some choices. You can make the two-hour drive yourself before dawn (dress warmly and bring a blanket to stargaze before the sun is up). Or you can take a commercial tour that brings you down to the 6,700-foot level, just outside Haleakala National Park,where you’ll pick up a bike and begin the 26-mile ride that includes a famous series of switchbacks and the island’s upcountry Kula district. Ride through the Hawaiian town of Makawao and through the sugar cane and pineapple fields on the lower slopes of Haleakala. Last stop: Paia beach park at sea level. If biking isn’t your thing, ride back down in a van — you’ll still have a wonderful time.

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  • People Enjoy The Hot Springs In Yellowstone National Park In Wyoming, National Parks Experiences
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    Swim in Boiling River

    Care to soak in a natural hot tub in the oldest national park in the U.S.? Yes, please! Boiling River is where a hot spring enters Gardner River at the north end of the park, creating hot-tub-temperature waters that you can swim in. The soaking spot is 3 miles south of Yellowstone National Park’s north entrance in the Mammoth Hot Springs area; you’ll have to park and hike a half mile to get to the water. The best spot for your dip depends on your temperature preference: The water turns from hot to chilly within a few feet. Note that the swimming area is sometimes closed in spring when the river rises.

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  • Swimmers And Tourists Enjoy A Cenote In The Mexican Wilderness, Latin American Natural Wonders
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