As you plan your family summer vacation, consider one of America’s amazing national parks.
The U.S. features a wonderful array of natural wonders that offer everything from hiking to kayaking and sightseeing to tent and RV camping.
Whether you enjoy outdoor activities or want to take it easy, everyone can find something to love at a national park.
First adventure: This national park feels like landing on the moon.
If you want to feel like you stepped onto another planet, do not miss Badlands National Park. Set on 244,000 acres, Badlands will stun you with its dynamic landscape that includes sharp cliffs, deep gorges, and colorful rock formations. Local wildlife includes bison, pronghorn antelopes, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets who will pop up as you explore.
And for a two-fer, Mount Rushmore rests just a short drive away, so you can get some history with your natural beauty. SoDak remains relatively quiet, so you can enjoy the stunning views at both national parks uninterrupted.
Hot tip: Check out the Black Hills nearby, for an additional adventure.
Next: You do not want to miss the giants this park features.
Sequoia National Park will make you feel tiny, as you gaze upward at the largest trees in the world. You’ll want to see General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, standing 275 feet tall with a base more than 36 feet in diameter. But you can also round out your visit with caves, hiking, and in the right season, even snowshoeing.
Hot tip: Sequoia stays open year-round.
Next: The following park earned itself international fame for good reason.
Measuring approximately 277 river miles in length, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep, this massive chasm will truly take your breath away. The UNESCO World Heritage site does attract millions each year, so come prepared.
If you want a more secluded experience, visit the North Rim for backwoods camping and hardcore hiking.
Hot tip: Book your trip to the Grand Canyon early, to get the best access to amenities.
Next: This park lets you save a little coin, as it’s one of the free parks.
More than 10 million people visit this park each year. Activities include scenic drives to Cades Cove or along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail, as well as hiking, biking, and fishing. Don’t miss a hike to Abrams or Rainbow Falls, or bike the Cades Cove Loop on Wednesday and Saturday mornings when the road closes to traffic.
Hot tip: Avoid Cades Cove on weekends when it often bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Next: Admire two deserts at this park
Nearly 800,000 acres of desert east of the Coachella Valley, Joshua Tree National Park rewards visitors with a full range of peculiar treasures: spiky yuccas, spiny cacti, spindly ocotillos, gangly Joshua trees, and dramatic geological formations, including Jumbo Rocks.
At Cottonwood Visitor Center on the park’s south boundary, it’s a short walk to Cottonwood
Spring, where American Indians collected water and used bedrock mortars to grind seeds.
As you drive up Pinto Basin Road, past the Cholla Cactus Garden, you’ll cross the transition zone between two major desert ecosystems: The lower Colorado Desert merges into the higher Mojave Desert, and cholla cactus and ocotillos give way to Joshua trees.
Hot tip: An even bigger wow can be had at Keys View. To the west, distant San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak—both topping 10,000 feet—scrape the sky. Looking south, you can spy the Salton Sea.
Next: Go underground and stay cool off this summer
Go underground at Carlsbad Caverns, a magical world of mysterious passageways, colossal rock formations, crystal-clear pools of water, and giant subterranean chambers. Explore a whole new world over 700 feet below the ground made up of 117 known caves. Most of the formations—or speleothems—found inside Carlsbad Cavern today were active and growing during the last ice age when instead of having a desert above the cave, there were pine forests.
Hot tip: Since tours sell out quickly, reserve early
The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.