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10 Incredible Bucket List National Park Activities

September 01, 2021

America's 63 national parks boast wild rivers, archeological wonders, wildlife, caves, canyons, seashores, mountains and more. Check out these don't-miss adventures.

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Photo: Gary Hartley

National Parks Offer a Host of Unique Activities

Whether you want a quick getaway or a long vacation, America’s national parks offer sights and adventures for everyone. If you prefer a mild experience, go hiking, picnicking or bird watching. If wild is your style, raft a whitewater river, mush with sled dogs, dive to a sunken ship or rappel into a slot canyon. Our ten picks deserve a place on your bucket list.

Before you go, read each park’s website to verify operating seasons and hours. Some parks or areas may be closed or restricted due to Covid, weather conditions or other issues, and some have age, ability or certification requirements for various activities.

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Photo: Brian Burghart/National Park Service

Try Surfing on a Sand Dune at White Sands National Park

Wear your sunscreen so you don't burn on the sparkling gypsum dunes at New Mexico’s White Sands National Park. At 225 square miles, it's part of the largest gypsum dune field in the world (which is 275 square miles). Slide down the soft, ever-shifting dunes on a sled or waxed snow saucer (available for rent in the park). Just scope out the website first, so you’re prepared for possibilities like frozen dunes in the winter and extreme temperatures. White Sands Missile Range surrounds the park and regularly conducts missile tests. Usually the park is informed of testing 24 hours to two weeks in advance, so areas can be closed for safety. However, unexploded ordnance and other testing debris sometimes falls into the sand. If you see anything unusual, stay away from it and notify park rangers.

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Photo: National Park Service/Ranger Hallie Larsen

Have a Sleepover With Horses at Petrified Forest National Park

Camp with your horses in the Wilderness Area of Petrified Forest National Park, and imagine you've gone through a time portal. Some 200 million years ago, fallen trees in this region of Arizona were covered by volcanic ash and mud and gradually became the colorful, stone-like material we call petrified wood. Take in the incredible scenery when you ride the Wilderness trails — which are not maintained — and explore buttes, mesas, badlands and fossils. You can camp overnight with a free permit, but groups are limited to eight people and four horses. Take plenty of water for yourself and your steed; there’s none available in this part of the park.

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Photo: Ben Herndon/Channel Islands Adventure Company

Kayak Above One of the Deepest Sea Caves on Earth at Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park, made up of five of California's channel islands, is home to one of the deepest sea caves on Earth. Painted Cave, at 100-feet wide and a quarter-mile long, is renowned for its brightly colored lichens and rocks. Snorkel the park's crystal clear waters, paddle a kayak or take a tour with a guide or outfitter like Channel Islands Adventure Company to look for kelp forests, dolphins, whales and more. Some of the world's most beautiful sea caves are said to be found at Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island.

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