Summer is the ideal time to plan a sightseeing trip. With increasing gas prices and a tighter family budget, it is important to pack as much fun into a family vacation as possible without breaking the bank. You might be surprised to learn that an RV trip to a National park is an affordable option and a great way to see the amazing natural resources America is proud to preserve.
A National park is a section of land owned by the government. National parks protect the region and ecosystems from most development and make these parks available for recreational use. There is an amazing variety of National parks stretched across America. North to South, from Arcadia National Park in Maine through the Everglades National Park at Florida’s southernmost tip, East to west from the Great Smokey Mountains to the Channel Islands, there is sure to be an adventure waiting to be discovered.
Arcadia National Park
- Arcadia National Park is home to Cadillac Mountain, which is the first spot to see sunrise in the U.S. at certain times of the year.
- Native Americans known as “People of the Dawnland” or Wabanaki have lived within the Arcadia Park area of Maine for at least 12 thousand years.
- Arcadia Park’s 45 miles of historic carriage roads feature 17 stone bridges all with their own unique characteristics. Enjoy seeing as many as you can while traveling the Arcadia’s beautiful carriage roads on bike or enjoying a guided tour in a horse drawn carriage.
- Enjoy a ranger-led tour to the west side of Mount Dessert Island to see the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.
Arches National Park
- There are over two thousand red sandstone arches within the park ranging in size from three feet to the impressive 290-foot span of the Landscape Arch.
- The Windows section of the park has a concentration of arches and formations easily seen from the road or a short walk. Formations of interest here include the Balanced Rock, Cove of Caves, Doubled Arch, and the Garden of Eden.
- Unstable salt deposits are responsible for the bucking and shifting of the upper sandstone layers. This shifting forms the ravines and irregular ridges seen throughout the park.
- The Fiery Furnace is an area with a series of ridges where many people have become lost. For safety reasons this area is now only explored as part of a ranger-guided group.
Big Bend National Park
- Due to its remote location, Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited National Parks in the U.S.
- Big Bend offers the advantage of three parks in one with opportunities to explore river, mountain, and desert environments.
- Several of the more than 175 species of butterflies documented in Big Bend park are only found within the park and west Texas.
- The middle of Rio Grande is an international border between Texas and Mexico. Getting onto land on the Mexican bank is illegal and can result in jail time.
- Originally, livestock moved in and out of the mountains along what is now the High Chinos hiking trails.
Biscayne National Park
- Biscayne Bay accounts for ninety-five percent of this park being water.
- The Maritime Heritage Trail, known as the Shipwreck Trail, is the only underwater trail in the nation.
- Beginning in May 2011, range-guided snorkel tours will be available to selected sites along the trail.
- The mangrove trees within Biscayne National Park are a protected eco-system that supports a vast variety of wildlife and plants.
- Glass bottom boat tours and snorkeling offer a close up look at coral reefs. Coral is a living creature and an ever-changing part of Biscayne Bay.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Black Canyon offers a challenging climb to only the most experienced rock climbers.
- Located within the park, the Painted Wall is the highest cliff in Colorado. At 2250 feet, the Painted wall is one thousand feet taller than the Empire State building.
- At one point, the Black Canyon narrows to only 40 feet across the river.
- The rapids in the Gunnison River are extremely dangerous within Black Canyon. Even the most experienced kayakers attempt the rapids here at their own risks.
- The total length of the Black Canyon is 53 miles with only 14 miles located within the National Park. The rest of the canyon extends into the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area and the Curecanti National Recreation Area.
Bryce Canyon National Park
- Bryce Canyon is a giant series of amphitheaters carved out by nature on the eastern side of Paunsaugunt Plateau.
- Wind, ice, water and time worked to form colorful structures called hoodoos in the colorful red, orange, and white rock of the lake and riverbed.
- Populations of approximately two hundred Utah prairie dogs now make their home in Bryce Canyon National Park. The Utah prairie dog has a range restricted to only the southwestern quarter of Utah and is on the endangered species list.
- A rare wildflower first discovered at Inspiration Point, the Bryce Canyon Paintbrush is native only to southwestern Utah.
Canyonlands National Park
- The Green and Colorado Rivers divide Canyonlands National Park into three districts.
- The Island in the Sky mesa offers panoramic views of one hundred miles or more in all directions.
- Newspaper Rock in the Needles district of the park is a two hundred square foot rock covered in ancient Indian rock carvings known as petroglyphs. The full meaning of the carvings remains unknown.
- Horseshoe Canyon at the far end of Bryce Canyon is the site of the Great Gallery. An ancient panel measuring two hundred feet long by fifteen feet wide that contains twenty life-size figures drawn during the Desert Archaic culture nearly ten thousand years ago.
Capitol Reef National Park
- A series of rock formations resembling buildings in the nation’s capital gives the park the first part of its name. Reef is a term early settlers used to describe an insurmountable barrier or mountain pass.
- The Waterpocket Fold is a huge wrinkle in the earth that has allowed the elements to expose the colorful layers of sandstone, lime and other rock.
- Waterpockets are basins formed by water erosion in exposed sandstone layers.
- Capitol Reef National Park has historic orchids containing over two thousand fruit and nut tree. Visitors can pick fruit and nuts in season for a small fee.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- The largest chamber in Carlsbad Cavern is the Big Room, also known as the Hall of Giants.
- In addition to Carlsbad Cavern, there are at least one hundred smaller caves located within the park.
- Slaughter Canyon Cave and Spider Cave are open to the public for ranger-guided tours only.
- The limestone composes so much of Carlsbad Cavern it even holds fossilized plants and animals from a time when this southeastern area of New Mexico was a coastline.
- Carlsbad Cavern is home to as many as one million Mexican Freetail bats from May through October when they migrate to winter quarters in south Mexico. Thousands of visitors gather to watch the massive swarms of bats exit the cave each evening.
Channel Islands National Park
- Access to Channel Islands National Park is accessible only by boat trip or commercial flights in small aircrafts.
- Less than 250 thousand visitors per year visit this group of islands. The control of low impact visitation protects the fragile balance of island ecosystems.
- Channel Islands National Park includes five islands of the California Channel Islands.
- The only reptile found on Santa Cruz Island is the endangered island night lizard. Once they establish a territory, they remain within a three-meter area their entire life.
- The Anacapa Lighthouse, which went into operation in 1932, was the last lighthouse built off the west coast.
Congaree National Park
- Congaree is the world’s largest area of old-growth floodplain forest remaining anywhere.
- In 2003, Congaree Swamp National Monument became South Carolina’s only national park.
- One of the best ways to explore the park is by taking advantage of free ranger-guided canoe tours on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Hikers can take advantage of 20 miles of hiking trails or a 2.5-mile boardwalk loop.
- Natural lakes within Congaree National Park used to be bends in the Congaree River. These natural-formed lakes are called Oxbows.
Crater Lake National Park
- Established in May 1902, Crater Lake is the sixth-oldest U.S. National Park.
- Crater Lake has no streams in or out of it. The lake empties through evaporation and water seeping below the surface. Melting snow and rains are the only way the lake has of refilling yet it remains the third deepest lake in the world.
- Crater Lake gets an average snowfall per year of over 44 feet!
- Native American legends tell of the formation of Crater Lake after a battle between two chiefs destroyed Mt. Mazama. In legend, Skell of the Above World destroyed Mt. Mazama home of Llao of the Below World.
- Crater Lake is not accessible by vehicle. Visitors must hike in from the Rim.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- First known as Virginia Kendall Park, the area later gained some protection as Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area in 1974 before becoming the only National Park in Ohio in 2000.
- Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath trail is the major trail connecting places of interest within the park and intersecting the towpath.
- In early September thousands of Monarch butterflies feed in Cuyahoga Valley before continuing their migration to forest in Mexico two thousand miles away.
- Native Americans called the primary waterway within the park Cuyahoga meaning crooked river.
Denali National Park and Preserve
- Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, is 20,320 feet high making it the highest mountain in North America.
- Denali National Park covers over six million acres in the interior of Alaska
- Both black bears and grizzlies inhabit Denali though most bears seen along the roadways are grizzlies.
- In the summer of 2005, a park ranger discovered a fossilized footprint of a dinosaur identified as Cretaceous Theropod in Denali National Park.
Dry Tortugas National Park
- Sea life, coral reefs, and legends of sunken treasures draw 80 thousand visitors a year to Dry Tortugas National Park.
- Though construction of Fort Jefferson took place over 30 years, construction was never completely finished.
- There are no natural sources of fresh water available on the Dry Tortugas islands.
- Tortugas is a name meaning turtles dating back to 1513 when Ponce de León caught 160 sea turtles there. Dry is reference to the lack of fresh water on the islands.
Everglades National Park
- Everglades National Park protects a fragile ecosystem within the southernmost section of the everglades.
- The National Park Service within the Everglades has identified nine interdependent and distinct ecosystems.
- One million visitors a year make their way to the Everglades to visit the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S.
- The Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the West Indian manatee are a few of the many endangered species protected within Everglades National Park.
- Within the everglades, orchids grow on host trees.
Glacier National Park
- In 1901, George Bird Grinnell described the area now known as Glacier National park as the ‘Crown of the Continent.’
- Due to the vast wilderness and beauty found in Glacier National Park, numerous Hollywood movies are filmed here.
- The Blackfeet tribe gave the ecosystem within Glacier National Park a name meaning ‘Backbone of the World.’
- Over seven hundred miles of trails within National Glacier Park make it easy to take a hike.
- Glacier National Park and its sister park, Waterton Lakes National Park (Canada) form the International Peace Park.
Grand Canyon National Park
- The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the oldest National Parks in the U.S.
- Most of the five million visitors a year stop along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to view the gorge and surrounding sites.
- Human artifacts from the Paleo-Indian period nearly 12 thousand years ago have been found in the Grand Canyon.
- The Desert View Watchtower offers breath taking views of the painted desert as well as the North Rim of the canyon over ten miles away.
Grand Teton National Park
- While members of the Hayden exposition claimed to have reached the summit of Teton in1872, the first documented summit is credited to John Shive, William Owen, Franklin Spalding, and Frank Petersen in 1898.
- Today guides follow over 90 routes to the summit.
- A large fault capable of earthquakes of 7.5 magnitudes on the Richter scale lies at the base of the Teton Range.
- These earthquakes are responsible for forming the Teton Range.
- Uinta ground squirrels found in Grand Teton Park are sometimes mistaken for prairie dogs. These animals hibernate up to eight months of the year leaving their burrows in April and returning below ground in July.
Great Basin National Park
- The Great Basin region lies between the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Mountains.
- Bristlecone pine trees found at Wheeler Peak are five thousand years old.
- Ranger-guided tours of Lehman Caves provides the opportunity to see the beauty of this marble cave decorated with stalagmites, stalactites, and more than three hundred rare formations.
- Rocky Mountain big horn sheep make their home in South Snake Range.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve
- Believed to be 12 thousand years old, the dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park are the tallest sand dunes in North America.
- Soil and sand are blown from the Rio Grande and deposited at the edge of the valley. The dunes continue to grow and change daily.
- There are no designated trails for hikers in the thirty square mile dune field. Feel free to explore!
- Hikers have a choice of trail throughout the park that will lead them through grasslands to mountain terrain.
- American Indian tribes peeled bark from Ponderosa pine for food and medicine. There are still one hundred of these trees standing in the Great Dunes Park.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- With 850 miles of unpaved road and trails throughout the park, it is no surprise that hiking is the main attraction.
- Seventy miles of the Appalachian Trail runs through Great Smokey Mountain National Park.
- Unlike most National Parks, there is no entrance fee to the Great Smokey Mountains.
- Mount Le Conte is one of the most popular destinations for hikers.
- Mount Le Conte Lodge, near the summit, is the only private lodge within the park and is only accessible on by hiking in on the trail.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Many of the trails in Guadalupe are open to horseback riding if you bring your own horse and supplies.
- The Pinery Trail is a short hike to the ruins of Butterfield Overland Mail stage station.
- Bird watches can look to spot forty species of birds that nest in the McKittrick Canyon.
- Three species of horned lizards make their home in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. They are the Mountain Short-horned Lizard, Texas Horned Lizard, and the Roundtail Horned Lizard.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
- Established in 1916 as Hawaii National Park, the name changed in 2000 to reflect the Hawaiian spelling.
- K?lauea and Mauna Loa are the world’s two most massive volcanoes.
- K?lauea is traditionally considered home to the Pele. In 1790, a group of warriors, women, and children offering gifts to the goddess who died in a volcanic eruption. Their footprints are still visible in the lava.
- While K?lauea has been in almost continual eruption since Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984.
- The two types of Hawaiian lava, Pahoehoe and a`a differ only on the surface. Chemically alike Pahoehoe is smoother where a`a is rough and jagged.
Hot Springs National Park
- Hot Springs National Park is the only national park located in an urban area.
- Portions of the national park encompass parts of downtown Hot Springs, Arkansas.
- Therapeutic Spring baths have been used to treat arthritis and other conditions for hundreds of years.
- Hot Springs is the oldest of the national parks and the smallest.
Isle Royale National Park
- Isle Royale is the only place where Moose and wolves coexist without bears.
- Michigan contains fourteen different wilderness areas, of which
- Isle Royale National Park is the largest of fourteen different wilderness areas in Michigan.
- A glacier receding about 10 thousand years ago formed Lake Superior and left Isle Royal separated from the mainland.
Joshua Tree National Park
- The prominent numbers of Joshua trees give this park its name.
- Joshua Tree National Park covers slightly more area than the state of Rhode Island.
- The San Andreas Fault follows the southern side of Joshua Tree Park and is seen from Keys View.
- The Sonoran and Mojave deserts meet in Joshua Tree National Park with vegetation and scenes commonly found in both.
Katmai National Park and Preserve
- Though Katmai was declared a national monument in 1918 to preserve the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, those smokes are now gone leaving an ash field.
- There remain fourteen active volcanoes in the park, the most recent being Fourpeaked Volcano after being dormant for at least 10 thousand years.
- Brook Falls is a popular spot for visitors and brown bears during salmon season.
- Katmai must be accessed via air taxi or boat.
Kenai Fjords National Park
- Kenai Fjords National Park is one of three National Parks in Alaska that can be reached by car.
- Fjords are narrow inlets bordered by steep sides or cliffs that are created by the passage of glaciers.
- There are thirty-eight glaciers in Harding Icefield located within Kenai Fjords National Park.
- It takes the four hundred to eight hundred annual inches of snow on Harding Icefield thirty to fifty years to compress into glacial ice.
Kings Canyon National Park
- Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park are run jointly by the National Park service.
- General Grant Grove is home to giant Sequoia trees that continue into Sequoia National Park.
- The General Grant tree is 1,650 years old and the second largest tree in the world.
- The park’s namesake Kings Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the U.S. formed by glaciers thousands of years ago.
Kobuk Valley National Park
- Kobuk Valley is the least visited of all U.S. National parks. In 2007, there were only 847 visitors.
- Kobuk is 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle and along the caribou migration routes.
- Onion Portage is a historic landmark where people gathered on the Kobuk River to harvest caribou during the yearly migrations. Native Alaskan residents continue coming to this spot on the river each Fall and harvest caribou where ancestors stood 9000 years ago.
- Strange but true-Even though the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are located 40 miles above the Arctic Circle, it is not unusual for summer temperatures there to soar to 100 degrees!
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
- Lake Clark National Park is home to two active volcanoes. (Redoubt and Iliamna)
- The Dena’ina Athabascan people and their ancestors inhabited the Lake Clark region. They still follow many of the traditional ways for preserving meats and salmon.
- Prehistoric and historic Dena’ina Athabascan houses are preserved within the park.
- Though snowmobiles are commonly used to travel around Lake Clark, as recently as the 1960s dog sleds were the usual transportation in the winter.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Cinder Cone National Monument and Lassen Peak National Monument were designated in 1907and became the Lassen Volcanic National Park in 1916.
- Hydrothermal features of burping mud, boiling water pools, and steaming ground caused by underground lava heating water beneath the surface indicated active volcanoes.
- Bumpass Hell is the largest area of thermal activity in the park. The area can be observed after hiking to a boardwalk observation area.
- Snow algae looks like a red tinged on top of snow at the park. Researchers are investigating the possibility that this unusual alga may have cancer-fighting potential.
Mammoth Cave National Park
- There have been no Wooly Mammoth fossils found in this region. The name is descriptive of the mammoth size of the existing cave.
- Mammoth Caves extensive 390 miles of passageways makes it the longest cave system in the world.
- In addition to the cave, the park has over seventy miles of backcountry trails open to hikers, biking and horseback.
- River enthusiasts will enjoy over thirty miles of river fun on the Green and Nolin rivers.
Mesa Verde National Park
- Mesa Verde means green table in the Spanish language.
- The park preserves the ancient homes of cliff-dwelling people once known by the Navajo name, Anasazi, translated ‘ancient ones’.
- Kivas are ceremonial rooms used for healing and religious purposes.
- Some Pueblo people today are descendants of the Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans) that once made their homes in the cliffs of Mesa Verde.
Mount Rainier National Park
- Native Americans called the mountain Tahoma or Tacobet. Captain George Vancouver renamed it in 1792 after Rear Admiral Peter Rainier of the British Navy.
- From alpine meadows filled with wildflowers to icy glaciers and challenging mountain trails this park has it all.
- Mount Rainer National Park is 97 percent wilderness.
- Paradise is the most popular spot for visitors to the park. The Welcome Center is here along with breathtaking views of the mountains.
North Cascades National Park
- Located in the northern portion of the Cascade Range, the park is part of the North Cascades National Park Service Complex that includes the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.
- Mountains on the west side collect more snow than can melt every year leading to glacier formations.
- Five Research Natural Areas are located within North Cascades National Park.
- Four hundred miles of trails provide breath-taking access to the Stephen Mather Wilderness that accounts for 93% of the park.
Olympic National Park
- Olympic National Park includes four regions. The eastern region includes Pacific coastline with the other three sections include alpine areas, the temperate rainforest, and drier forests to the east.
- The Ozette Coastal Loop is an easy elevated boardwalk trail offers beautiful views of the beach and coastal forest.
- Limited trails within the park are wheelchair accessible but be aware that most of the interior of the park is wilderness.
- The Elwha River restoration project in Olympic National Park will take three to four years and is the second largest restoration project within the National Park System.
Petrified Forest National Park
- Within the park, at least nine various species of fossilized trees have been identified.
- The petrified wood within the park is composes almost entirely of quartz.
- In addition to the petrified trees, there have also been over 200 fossils of other plants and animals discovered in the area.
- Some of the petroglyphs (ancient stone carvings) within the park served as early calendars tracking seasons or events.
Redwood National Park
- In 1850, the Redwood Forest covered two million acres.
- When the Redwood National Park was created in 1968, close to 90% of old growth redwoods had been cut down.
- One redwood tree has the ability to produce 10 million seeds.
- Some redwoods live to be 2 thousand years old.
Rocky Mountain National Park
- Many visitors come to observe the large wildlife population that includes elk, big horn sheep, mule deer, and moose.
- Some four hundred prehistoric and six hundred historic archeological sites are located within Rocky Mountain National Park.
- The Continental Divide natural divides the park into east and west sections.
- The Ute and Arapaho Indians originally used the Ute Trail, within the Rocky Mountains, as a way through the mountains.
Saguaro National Park
- Saguaro is a large prickly cactus that is native to the region.
- The park service takes a census of the Saguaro cactus each year.
- There are 1.6 million saguaro cacti growing in the Sonoran desert.
- The endangered Lesser Long-nosed bat lives in the region during migration and the park is also home to the Mexican Spotted owl that is on the threatened species list.
Sequoia National Park
- Eighty four percent of Sequoia National Park and adjacent Kings Canyon National Park is designated wilderness accessible by foot or horseback.
- There are no roads crossing the Sierra Nevada within Sequoia National Park.
- The park has 240 known caves and potentially numerous others.
- Since 2003 there have been at least 17 new caves discovered.
Shenandoah National Park
- Skyline drive is a 105-mile scenic route the runs the entire length of the Shenandoah National Park.
- With over two million visitors each year, the Skyline Drive has been designated a National Scenic Byway.
- Some over the oldest exposed rock in the park date back more than one billion years.
- Shenandoah National Park is home to nine major waterfalls.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park honors President Roosevelt’s conservation efforts.
- President Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch is one of three units within the park.
- Approximately four hundred buffalo make their home in the park. At two thousand pounds, an average male bull is easily the largest mammal in North America.
- Golden eagles make their nests in cliffs along the Badlands and remain in the park year round.
Virgin Islands National Park
- Virgin Islands National Park includes nearly sixty percent of the island of St. John in the United States Virgin Islands as well as a small section of neighboring St. Thomas Island.
- Most visitors to the park come to enjoy the sandy beaches, coral reefs, scuba diving, and snorkeling.
- The area known as Trunk Bay within Virgin Islands National Park is consistently voted among the top ten beaches worldwide.
- The underwater snorkel trail at Trunk Bay is beginner friendly for anyone wanting to explore the beauty of snorkeling.
Voyageurs National Park
- Voyageurs were French-Canadian fur traders who first traveled and traded in the area.
- Ranger-guided tours of the park in a 26-foot North Canoe are available during summer months.
- In winter months, the surface of the parks lake freeze up to two feet thick.
- The four main lakes within the park are Namakan Lake, Sand Point Lake, and Rainy Lake that straddles the border between Canada and the U.S., and Kabetogama Lake.
Wind Cave National Park
- The Lakota People were the first to speak of what is now called Wind Cave. They considered it a sacred site.
- Atmospheric pressure changes are responsible for the unique wind flow. If pressure is higher outside, wind enters the cave. With higher pressure inside the cave, wind rushes out.
- Rare cave formations known as boxwork and frostwork are found inside Wind Cave.
- Wind Cave is also home to a herd of free-roaming American Bison.
Yosemite National Park
- Though Yosemite Valley is only a small one percent of the total park, most visitors never venture further than this section.
- Yosemite Falls is the highest falls in North America and the sixth highest falls in the entire world.
- Yosemite Falls gets most of its water from snow melts and is often dry by the end of the summer.
- Seven Native American tribes are descended from people who once lived in the Yosemite area.
Zion National Park
- Tarantulas are easily among the biggest spiders in the southeast and they make their home in Zion National Park. Since they are nocturnal sighting one of these hairy creatures is rare.
- Kolob Arch, the largest freestanding arch in Zion National Park and one of the largest in the world is only accessible by hiking into the backcountry.
- The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel was created to provide a direct route to the Bryce and Grand Canyons from Zion National Park. At the time of its construction, it was the longest tunnel of this kind in the U.S.
- The park’s long geological history is revealed in the large expanses of bare rock found within rock towers, sandstone canyons and mesas.