A month ago, on the eve of a fee free weekend, we recommended five great national parks to visit to take advantage of the Park Service’s generosity. This weekend is the second of three free weekends in all of the U.S.’s national parks, and to celebrate, here are five more great places that you shouldn’t miss.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Experience the beauty of the Rocky Mountains at this amazing park located in north-central Colorado. But if you go, be prepared to deal with altitude, as the area is dominated by peaks that the locals call “14ers” due to the fact that they each rise to an altitude of more than 14,000 feet. Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a wonderful array of wildlife, including big horn sheep, elk, moose, black bear, and more. Visitors will also cross the Continental Divide and have the opportunity to experience two distinct climate zones, with the eastern portion of the park tending to be more arid, while in the west is more lush and humid, with twice the annual rainfall.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho
Here’s a unique park that falls off the radar of many travelers. It is the Craters of the Moon National Monument, which is found in south-central Idaho. Driving through this wilderness is a lot like visiting another planet due to the excessive amount of volcanic activity in centuries past. The landscape is dotted with cinder cones and covered in rough brush that grows atop thick lava flows from eruptions long past. Visitors have the opportunity to climb a dorment volcano and explore lava tubes, before driving the scenic seven mile loop trail that will surprise travelers with its stark beauty.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Who knew that such a beautiful wilderness could be found just 75 miles from the nation’s capital? Visitors to Shenandoah National Park are often very pleasantly surprised by how much it has to offer, which includes thick forests, sparkling waterfalls, and serene lakes set against a sweeping mountaing back drop. The heart of the park is its incredible trail system which offers access to more than 500 miles of backcountry More than a hundred of those trail miles fall on the Appalachian Trail, which helps to make this park a mecca for backpacker’s hoping to trek a portion of that iconic footpath.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
You have to travel all the way to the Canadian border to reach Voyageurs National Park, located in northernmost Minnesota. This park is a paradise for water lover’s, with paddlers and boaters alike exploring the deep northwoods forests on a series of interconnected waterways that link up a chain of lakes. Remote shorelines and islands offer plenty of amazing scenery and you may even spot a wolf, black bear, or white tail dear as you slowly drift through the bright blue, crystal clear waters that remain quite cool even in the dead of summer.
Denali National Park, Alaska
We’ll leave the continental United States behind for our final selection and head north to Alaska, where we find an abundance of great parks, all offering a variety of wilderness experiences. But only one of those parks surrounds the tallest mountain in North America, and that’s Denali National Park, home to the 20,320 foot Mt. McKinley. The park is located deep in the Alaskan interior and offers plenty of spectacular mountain views within its six million acres that are famously crossed by just one road. Most visitors will climb aboard a bus to explore the park which usually has plenty of wildlife on display with girzzly bears, moose, caribou, and a variety of other species in abundance.
Don’t like any of these suggestions? Then go find a park that is more to your liking at NPS.gov. Then plan on heading outside this weekend and take advantage of the parks, sans entry fees.