Must-Do Activities at 60 National Parks

#60. North Cascades: Hike Desolation Peak

The top of Desolation Peak provides beautiful views of the North Cascades range, which contains one-third of all the glaciers on the mainland United States. The peak offers literature fans an added thrill, as writer Jack Kerouac spent a summer inside the fire tower at the top while serving as a fire lookout.

#57. Isle Royale: Scuba dive shipwrecks

On Lake Superior between Michigan and Minnesota, Isle Royale’s frigid depths preserve the remains of 10 notable shipwrecks ready for exploration by licensed divers. Ranging in depth from 2 to 260 feet, the oldest ship dates back to 1877, when the island was teeming with copper mines.

#55. Dry Tortugas: Explore Fort Jefferson

The Florida Keys offer great opportunities for sun and fun—and a little bit of history at Fort Jefferson, the largest brick building in the Western hemisphere. The fort served as a prison during the Civil War, requiring over 16 million bricks to complete, with many shipped from Maine.

#54. Glacier Bay: Take a boat tour

There are several activities at Glacier Bay, from hiking trails to flightseeing, but taking a boat tour is the most personal way to see all that the park’s 3.3 million acres have to offer. Passengers can see massive ice chunks calve from Margerie Glacier or icebergs exploding to the surface as they break off the base of Johns Hopkins, spotting wildlife from whales and sea lions to grizzly bears and moose along the way

#52. Congaree: Follow the fireflies

For a two- to three-week period between mid-May and mid-June, the night sky in Congaree National Park lights up for the Fireflies Festival. Visitors descend upon Congaree to see the millions of synchronous fireflies illuminate in perfect unison just feet off the ground during mating season.

#51. Denali: Spot the Big Five

The spectacle of North America’s most significant peak, Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), is a close second, but wildlife is the main attraction in the 6 million-acre park. There are 39 species of mammals to check out at Denali, but the Big Five—moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears—are the holy grail.

#48. Black Canyon of the Gunnison: Drive the rims

The South Rim at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers a dozen different spots, including Chasm View, Painted Wall, Pulpit Rock, and Sunset View—a walk right to the edge of the sheer, 2,000-foot walls of the canyon. July is the busiest time at the South Rim, but only a few hour-drive away is the more scenic North Rim.

#46. Virgin Islands: Dive beneath the surface

It’s tough to see Virgin Islands National Park without a pair of swim trunks, as over 40% of the park is underwater. Crystal-clear water and a variety of colorful reefs and wildlife make the seas a prime spot for snorkelers and scuba divers.

#45. Pinnacles: See a California Condor

One of the smallest and youngest national parks, Pinnacles offers a variety of places for birdwatching and hiking. High Peaks is the prime spot to see the pinnacle of birdwatching in the park. Visitors can enjoy the birds year-round.

#44. Carlsbad Caverns: See the Big Room

The largest single cave chamber in North America, the Big Room at Carlsbad Caverns, was once dubbed “The Grand Canyon with a roof” by Will Rogers. Visitors can take an elevator or walk the winding mile-plus Natural Entrance Trail down to the massive limestone enclosure, where multiple trails await.

#41. Redwood: Drive among giants

A scenic drive through Redwood reveals ancient forests, a rugged coastline, upland prairies, and oak woodlands. When not driving, visitors are encouraged to walk through the Redwood forest for half-day and full-day excursions. At the end of the day, backcountry camping gives visitors the full Redwood experience of sleeping under 240-foot trees.

#40. Mammoth Cave: Take a tour

Mammoth Cave is the most extensive known cave system in the world, at over 400 explored miles, and all the history and beauty can be overwhelming without a guide. From simple tours like the Frozen Niagara Tour to the steep inclines and stairs of the Historic Tour, Mammoth has something for the history or adventure buff inside. Mammoth Cave is open year-round, but tours can vary from season to season.

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