Getting outside is one of the best things you can do for mind, body and spirit; having time with nature and fresh air. Particularly now, it’s been a difficult year for almost everyone, getting outside is a perfect option for a lovely trip out of town and for some, you won’t have to drive too far!
Kati and I love visiting, exploring and camping many times in the US National Parks.
Did you know there are 421 national parks sites in the US with 62 actual National Parks (the others are National Military Parks, etc.) in the US? National Parks are a perfect choice for a vacation and particularly in COVID times. Not everyone is comfortable flying yet, so driving to a destination is the best way to stay safe while traveling. The good news is there are lots of national parks throughout the United States. We have visiting a few National Parks during this time, and was able to socially distance from everyone.
A helpful tool if you want to find which national parks are close to you, go to nps.gov is a great tool to find park options. It gives an overview of park details, maps, activities, and alerts for current conditions.
Active Alerts Is a useful resource to find parks that are currently open and keep you updated. Also, something fun to do is get the National Park Passport. You can get a stamp at any National Park or National Monument along with a Sticker to include in your Passport. The stamp is free and the sticker costs about $4.
We always have our Passport with us when we are traveling, and the stamps are available at the Visitor’s Center. A great little souvenir and will remind you of the dates when you visited.
You might be thinking there are too many parks to choose from. Luckily, we rounded up a list of some of our favored national parks around the United States along with an update on their COVID rules and regulations. Check out our list and find a national park close to you!
Yosemite National Park
It’s arguably one of the most favored national parks in the country. Yosemite is in the middle of California, closer to Nevada.
Millions flock to California every year for ideal weather and breathtaking scenery and Yosemite doesn’t disappoint. Surrounded by sequoia trees, cliffs and exquisite lakes. You have mountains surrounding you. Yosemite has it all when it comes to topography and landscape. Yosemite National Park is a perfect place to get your outdoor fix while enjoying breathtaking scenery.
You can enjoy hiking, swimming and camping all within the park. Yosemite has to be one of the most beautiful areas to go, but beware. Winter comes early and stays late so check the weather before you go.
They are currently using a reservation system to help minimize spread of COVID but that is expected to end in November.
Big Bend National Park
It’s hard to think of anything other than desert in Texas, but nestled by the Rio Grande River is a beautiful park.
About 120 miles of Big Bend park run alongside the border of Mexico and Texas. It truly makes you feel outside of Texas, it doesn’t have the flat land you find throughout the state, which is why Big Bend is so special. You can find mountains, rivers, forests, springs and desert all in Big Bend. It’s also one of the best places for stargazing since you are so far away from towns or cities. You can have easy hikes or drive through the park.
The park temporarily closed for a few months this year from increased surges of COVID, but it’s open again. It’s perfect for driving around and taking small hikes. You do have to have a reservation for any camping but anyone is able to access the park to drive through.
Smoky Mountain National Park
One of the most desirable national parks to visit on the East coast is definitely The Smoky Mountain National Park, known for its smoky mist that settles on the tops of its mountains.
The Smoky Mountains is a perfect place to get away. Kati and I are building a cabin in the Smoky Mountains and visit this park as often as we can. This national park has ample places to park and take a quick hike, alongside creeks and rivers with impressive mountain ranges. The ideal time to visit would be from the summer into the fall, the fall is when you can catch a glimpse of their beautiful fall foliage. Either way, you might see some black bears in the wilderness.
At the moment, you are able to camp outside of the park. Additionally, there are plenty of spots to stay right outside the park and you can drive in daily.
Thus far, the park has been opened. You can continue to find updates at their site or on nps.gov.
Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park extends along the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia. Although this park doesn’t get as much attention as the others, it’s underrated when it comes to national park options but is perfect if you’re on the East coast.
Skyline Drive is probably the most well known part of the park to “ride the sky.” It’s ideal even if you can only drive through on your way to another state, we highly recommend this route. You might see wildlife such as black bears and deer, plus endless wildflowers. There are several spots along the way for camping but we suggest calling first in case of recent changes.
The park has remained open during the pandemic. What’s great about Shenandoah is you can drive through without making stops. Skyline Drive is one of the most famous and beautiful drives; you can enjoy parts of this park without risking going outside. Whenever Kati and I are visiting family and driving up to Pennsylvania, we try to visit Shenandoah National Park.
Zion National Park
Another top favorite to the list, Zion National Park, which ranks on the 4th most popular national park to visit. If you don’t have Utah on your travel list, you need to add it. Utah is absolutely stunning and worth the trip.
People flock to Zion every year for camping, biking and rock climbing. Zion is arguably best for those who want a real outdoor experience. You can go outside in every park on our list but Zion is particularly known for its hiking. You have lots of canyons to choose from, within ranges of experience and comfort level. It’s a perfect place for long bike rides and you can enjoy the view as you go.
Kati and I have been to Zion many times and have even taken friends. We have hiked Angels Landing and the top down 2 day Narrows hike. We love Zion.
The park is currently open. We recommend checking their website and having alerts in case of changes.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Of course we couldn’t forget about the famous Rocky Mountain National Park! Set in the Rocky Mountain range in Colorado, you can enjoy this park with a mountainous backdrop. You can experience forests, mountains and tundra accompanied with lakes and rivers to hike along. This park is ideal for avid hikers, with 355 miles of trails to trek. Make sure you have your camera, the Rockies are impressive. This is definitely one of our favorite National Parks and Estes, Colorado is one of our favorite towns.
Rocky Mountain National Park has remained open, they do recommend visiting their website since Colorado experienced high surges of COVID earlier in the year. They also have construction going on and parts where camping is currently prohibited.
Denali National Park
This might be a bit of a hike since Denali is located in the middle of Alaska but we had to add it to the list since it’s absolutely stunning.
You’re surrounded by remarkable snow capped mountains, including the largest mountain in North America.
You can experience a diverse terrain of tundra, dense forests and glaciers. What’s extra special about Denali is the abundance of wildlife; you can see a lengthy list of animals in their natural habitat. Grizzly bears, moose, wolves and caribou are some of the many animals to spot within the park. The park itself is huge, making it perfect to take several days and drive through.
We take a small group every year (except 2020) up to Alaska and explore Denali as well as head up to the Arctic to see Polar Bears. We love Denali, but even more so Alaska as a whole. (You can get information on Xpedition Arctic for more information on our small group adventure)
The park did close for a short period but has started re-opening. The website suggests to check for any changes in hours of operations or closures.
Mount Rainier National Park
We couldn’t have a list of national parks without one in the upper West coast of the country, in the beautiful state of Washington. Mount Rainier National Park might not be as well known as others on our list, but it will still take your breath away. Not only can you enjoy the mountains of Washington, but volcanoes!
The mountains and volcanoes are surrounded by valleys, meadows, and waterfalls. With green hills, the snow capped mountains accent the scenery. Within the park you can see the mountain called “Paradise” one of the park’s most favored spots. You have options of cute lodging outside the park but you can go camping.
This park offers beautiful hiking trails that aren’t too strenuous and scenic views around every corner. The best times to visit are in the summer into the fall.
As of right now, the park is currently open and abiding by CDC regulations for COVID. This park is perfect to get outside and have socially distanced adventures.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
Hot Springs Arkansas isn’t usually on everyone’s go-to list but we added it because it’s easy to forget how ‘outdoorsy’ Arkansas is.
Also known as, “the natural state” Arkansas has lots of outdoor activities but it’s also home to a notable national park. You can have a camping experience or enjoy a dip in one of the springs or visit one of the bath houses. This national park is in the middle of the city as an urban outdoor adventure and is perfect to get outside but a quaint city after. You can find a place to stay right outside of the park for easy access.
Kati and I love Arkansas and think it is such an underrated state. The natural beauty. Great state parks to camp in throughout the state. Even diamond hunting. Don’t just go to Hot Springs and forget about all the other activities Arkansas has to offer.
Hot Springs National Park has remained open to the public and is currently open without major regulations.
Big Cypress National Preserve
Covid 19 has given Kati and I time to “re-explore” our own state and one of the places is Big Cypress National Preserve. Most people don’t think of Florida when they think of national parks; usually people only think of beaches.
Big Cypress National Preserve is a great choice if you’re in Florida or thinking of traveling for vacation. This park is located in the Southern region of Florida. It’s a unique preserve with four varied ecosystems, making it a different option from the other parks on our list. You can experience varying wildlife and the 700,000+ acres of swamps and everglades.
You can take some time for camping in remote spots or enjoy kayaking. You can experience everything you love about national parks in this unique location.
Thus far, this national park has remained open and follows CDC guidelines. Make sure to follow up in case there have been notable changes. The park is big with lots of room for social distance.
Our Final Word
We hope we’ve given you an extensive list of options for national parks. Don’t forget to look up regulations before you go in case of changes. We also recommend setting alerts for any changes since COVID cases are constantly changing. It’s nice to remember we have lots of great travel destinations, like these national parks, to explore while flying is limited.
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