2016 marks the National Parks 100th birthday. For the past century, the parks have opened their doors and offered visitors a peek into the vast American wilderness. From the snow capped Rocky Mountains to Maine’s rocky trails, America hosts a few of the world’s most beautiful and most adventurous places.

Why not visit a National Park this summer. Pack your vehicle, prepare your kids. These parks will inspire you to continue exploring America’s coastlines, canyons, and everything in between.

  1. Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Situated in picturesque Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of America’s most visited and most beloved parks. The park features of 300 miles of open trails, ranging from beginning level to advanced. The park welcomes rock climbers and backcountry campers in the summer and cross country skiers in the winter.

Highway to the Sky: Take a drive or bike to the top of Trail Ridge Road to see an expansive view you won’t forget.

 

  1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains, TN

If you haven’t explored the rolling mountains of Tennessee, you’re missing out! The Smokies feature dozens of day-hike trails featuring rocky canyons, secret waterfalls, and stunning fall foliage. Best of all, this park is free all year round.

Can’t miss: Plan ahead and book LeConte Lodge. You’ll spend the day hiking 8 miles to the secluded camp accessible only by foot or donkey. Once you reach your destination, you’ll be treated to a hot shower, a candle lit meal, and a clean, sleeping cot. While these accommodations may be too rugged for most, you won’t want to miss the spectacular sunrise the following morning. After a hearty breakfast, you’ll pack your gear and return by foot.

 

  1. Great Sand Dunes National Park

Grand Sand Dunes National Park

If you’re looking for a sandy escape, why not check out this hidden gem of a park? 500 feet sand dunes beckon climbers to attempt to scale the tallest dunes in North America. Those who make it to the top will experience a thrill of a lifetime: running down the dune’s peaks to the bottom. The lightweight thrill will leave you breathless and begging for another climb. While there are no marked trails, travelers are best to climb early before the sun’s hot rays heat the dune’s sand. This is hike you’ll want to do barefoot!

Good to know: There are few hotels around the park. The best way to explore the area is to camp, but beware: the campground does not offer showers! Best to spend one night in the park before exploring the rest of Colorado’s landscape.

 

  1. Grand Canyon National Park

Who could resist America’s most famous gorge? Originally opened in 1919, the park welcomes more than 4.5 million visitors each year. The park invites a wide variety of visitors including onlookers, hikers, river trekkers, mule-riders, and fisherman.

View from around Lodge on North

Can’t Miss Hike: Rim to Rim hike. If you’re in reasonable shape or have the time to train, I highly recomend this day-long hike. You’ll experience all sides of the canyon while exploring hidden waterfalls and rocky enclaves. If you book early, you can plan your trip with luxurious accommodations before and after your trek.

Grand_Canyon_in_fog

  1. Yellowstone National Park

One of the great mysteries of the world, the redwood tree towers above the rest of its species and invites us into the ancient world’s past. Last on the list, visiting the Redwoods should be on all adventure lovers’ bucket lists. With more than 200 miles of trails weaving in between these tall giants, you’re sure to find a hike that’s right for your group.

Be Aware: During the summer months, California is often plagued by wildfires. It’s important to check the area’s lists of warnings for road closures and dangerous conditions.

Go out and explore. Send me your travel finds!