Feeling inspired by all the #mountainiscalling pictures on Instagram, but not really a hiker? Worry not! There are plenty of things to do in national parks that don’t involve trekking through forests and up mountains. Here are 10 ways to enjoy any of our national parks!
1. Watch the sunset
This is a secret, so I am only sharing it with you. From what I have seen, most people will leave the park after 5 pm. This is a mistake (unless you gotta go eat dinner), because the parks really come alive at night, especially the skies. Grab a camping chair or sit in your car and enjoy watching the sun set behind the mountains. What better way to end the day at one of our national parks?
2. Join FREE ranger-guided snowshoe walks
Think winter is a bad time to visit a national park? Not at all! There are still plenty of national park activities to take part in, including snowshoe walks. Offered only in the winter season, these free ranger-guided snowshoe adventures take you to snow-covered trails that are not commonly accessible. Beginners are highly encouraged to participate!
3. Participate in art & photography classes
Many national parks offer art and photography classes. Parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite bring in professional artists to teach you to examine and express nature through lens and brushes. If you are artsy and fartsy like me, (well, more on the fartsy side,) you will love these. While art classes are not offered everywhere due to parks’ budgets, if you get the chance to participate in one, please do!
4. Watch the night sky
Have you ever seen a milky way floating with billions of stars? This is the night sky at national parks, and they are among the few places on the planet where light pollution is limited. Watching the night sky does require some commitment, though. In the winter season, peak night sky viewing starts after 9 pm (you get to see the night sky earlier, but holy chicken it will be cold outside). In the summer season, viewing is best after 11 pm (it is much warmer, but holy chicken your sleep schedule will be messed up). Whether enduring the cold or staying up late, it’s definitely worth it. The moment you look up at the milky way, you will get addicted. (In that way, it’s just like the chocolate bar!)
5. Bike around a little
If mountain biking is your cup of tea, then keep doing you, my dudes! That’s not for me, though. I prefer biking that is a bit less intense. Imagine this: you’re riding a bright yellow bike with a cute basket attached to the front on the road to see Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park. Pretty picturesque huh? This kind of laid-back biking is a fast, scenic way to discover the parks. You can bring your own bike and ride around the parks and campground, but some parks also offer bike rental nearby.
6. Camping at campgrounds
Camping does require extra gear, but it can be an incredible way to enjoy a national park. If you are a beginner camper, here is a quick camping checklist for your first camping trip to help you get started. From my experience, something about the quiet and dark nights makes going to sleep so much easier. Of course, the other great parts of camping are waking up to the sound of birds chirping, the smell of campfire lingering in the air, and the yummy breakfast waiting to be cooked!
7. Spot wildlife
I don’t mean just your traditional bird-watching (though of course that applies as well in national parks). Most of the time, you don’t need to sit around all day and wait for wildlife to appear–they kinda just show up because the parks are their homes. The wildlife you see will depend on which park you are visiting. Try and spot the famous bison at Yellowstone National Park, elks at Olympic National Park, bald eagles at Voyageurs National Park, mountain goats at Badlands National Park… etc. P.S. Please use your eyes to look, but don’t use your hands to touch or feed any of the wildlife at national parks, even the squirrels and deer.
8. Enjoy various FREE rangers’ programs
From taking guided hikes to discovering native plants, from park history to fireside story time, rangers programs are among the best national park activities no matter where you are. These programs not only give visitors a deeper understanding of the parks, but they also educate future generations on how to protect and love our parks. Whenever you get the chance to visit a park with family or by yourself, stop by the ranger station and check out what programs are on. The experiences will enhance your visit.
9. Take a short nature walk
Even if hiking is not your thing, you can still find plenty of short and flat trails to walk around and enjoy the scenery. Stop by the ranger stations before you go for the current season’s suggested routes.
10. Take a hike!
I know, you might not be a hiker–but don’t let the towering mountains scare you, especially at the parks on the west coast. Every single park has challenging and easy hikes, and you don’t have to be a serious hiker to enjoy many of them. Make your choices based on your physical capability, and hike a little higher in our national parks.
Which is your favorite of these national park activities?
Thanks for visiting our parks!