Embrace the wide open spaces and social distancing options these U.S. national parks can provide your group.
After months of staying indoors, binge-watching the news and video-chatting with friends, Americans are excited to get back to traveling. But people looking for a summer getaway might find their options to be somewhat limited. Thankfully, the U.S. national parks have reopened their gates to visitors with new health and safety guidelines. America’s national parks are becoming increasingly popular vacation spots, with 327.5 million visits in 2019 alone according to the National Park Service. It’s easy to see why: travelers can visit deserts, lush forests and crystal-clear waters — all without leaving the country. Consider heading to one of these 20 national parks where you can get your group out and active into the outdoors.
ARCHES NATIONAL PARK – UTAH
Red rocks, soaring landforms and endless desert: what’s not to love about Utah’s Arches National Park? One of the Southwest’s most sought-after destinations, Arches is home to more than 2,000 natural stone arches set against the backdrop of the La Sal Mountains. Typically found on visitors’ to-do lists is Delicate Arch, a freestanding formation coming in at 52 feet tall.
BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK – SOUTH DAKOTA
The rigid beauty of South Dakota’s Badlands has brought visitors to the area for decades. With more than 200,000 acres of geologic formations, wildlife and hiking trails, the Badlands is bound to bring a sense of adventure to your trip. Featuring some of the world’s richest fossil beds, the resulting rock formations provide a striking landscape of sloping hills.
YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK – CALIFORNIA
Ancient sequoia trees and towering waterfalls await at Yosemite, one of America’s best-loved National Parks. Located in northern California, Yosemite National Park is home to some of the west’s most striking natural features. Visitors can wander through the Mariposa Grove, which is home to over 500 giant sequoia trees. Additionally, guests to the park can hike through the Yosemite Valley, which features stunning rock formations and waterfalls.
GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK – TEXAS
Located 100 miles east of El Paso lies one of Texas’ most picturesque mountain ranges — the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Visitors can hike through desert flora or climb to the top of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas. Skip out on hotels by camping at one of the park’s secluded campsites and fall asleep under the stars. An added bonus? This is one of the country’s least-visited national parks, making the Guadalupe Mountains an especially friendly place for social distancing.
INDIANA DUNES NATIONAL PARK – INDIANA
With 15 miles of sandy Lake Michigan shorefront, Indiana Dunes is one of the only national parks where the phrase “beach day” comes to mind. Located only an hour from Chicago, the Indiana Dunes National Park offers a range of fun outdoor activities such as birdwatching, geocaching and yes — tanning. The park encourages visitors to wear a mask in public spaces and practice social distancing. But with 15,000 acres of land, you’re bound to find plenty of sand and solitude.
MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK – WASHINGTON
Mount Rainier is an icon of America’s northwest. Consider a visit to Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park and prepare to be wowed by serene meadows, ancient forests and mystical waterfalls. Despite its snow-capped peak, Mount Rainier is an active volcano, resulting in a unique array of ecosystems. Visitors can walk along the Carbon River while exploring the temperate rainforest, or dip their toes in the park’s largest lake at Mowich.
PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK – ARIZONA
When planning a trip to one of Arizona’s national parks, chances are that you think of the Grand Canyon. There’s no denying its beauty, but for an off-the-beaten-path experience, head to the Petrified Forest for a deep-dive into Native American history, geology and more — without the crowds.
Visitors can hike, bike or drive around the park’s main circle to see fossilized logs from the late Triassic period, remnants of the original U.S. Route 66 and historic petroglyphs. Take in the vivid reds and oranges of the Painted Desert and immerse yourself in prehistoric fossils to feel what it’s like to be frozen in time.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK – COLORADO
The Rocky Mountains: a source of inspiration for songwriters and naturalists alike. For centuries, visitors have flocked to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park for a peaceful escape into nature, and the NPS intends to keep it that way. As part of their COVID-19 response, a timed entry permit or camping reservation is required for visitors to access the park. Head west to hike over 300 miles of trails and journey to scenic alpine overlooks.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK – NORTH DAKOTA
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a lesser known park, but it’s just as beautiful. Located in North Dakota, this land was a favorite spot of President Theodore Roosevelt to hunt bison and other game.
Today, the park boasts a variety of hiking trails, campsites and wildlife. The land combines elements of both the Badlands and the Great Plains, creating a scenic landscape of jagged rock formations and grassy canyons.
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – WYOMING
In 1872, Yellowstone was established as America’s first national park. Since then, Yellowstone has earned its reputation as a beloved outdoor oasis for travelers looking to fully immerse themselves in nature.
Watch Old Faithful, the park’s famous geyser, erupt into steam as you walk along bubbling mudpots and hot springs. Take in the dense forestry and scenic mountains via horseback, or walk along the nearly 900 miles of hiking trails. If you’re lucky, you might even get up close and personal with the park’s wildlife — just don’t forget your bear spray.
By Amanda Landwehr