The United States enjoys a National Park system that protects some of the most beautiful landscapes on the planet – and Americans love it. That’s because there are so many different national park activities to enjoy for all ages.
Each year, more than 300 million Americans visit national parks to explore awe-inspiring landscapes. They also discover their American heritage and learn about the importance of conservation.
People that go to these natural parks generally do the usual experiences like hiking, camping, rock climbing, hunting, fishing, kayaking, and more. If you are someone who is looking for something different and a true experience of a lifetime, there are many unique, off-the-beaten-path national park activities that you can do.
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Can’t-Miss National Park Activities for the Experience of a Lifetime
Below are some of the best national park activities that could give you once-in-a-lifetime experiences in the U.S. Travel experts highly recommended that you give these adventures a try.
1. Take an Art Class in Yosemite National Park
If you are interested in the way of the arts outside your local community college, you could consider taking an art class while visiting the Yosemite National Park.
The striking vistas and landscapes of Yosemite are a natural source of never-ending inspiration for a budding artist. Whether you’re into painting or photography, you’ll find your needs accommodated by the national parks activities at Yosemite.
During spring through fall, the Yosemite National Park offers art classes and workshops. And the fee is quite reasonable at only $20 per day. You may bring your own supplies. If you don’t want to pack them along, you can buy them at the Happy Isles Art and Nature Center.
The Happy Isles Art and Nature Center is open every year from April through October. They’ve posted operating hours of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, and they hold art classes Monday through Saturday. While they don’t provide much parking at the center, you can take the shuttle from Half Dome Village.
Adult classes for those 12 and up start on April 1 and run every day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Classes for children ages 4 to 12 are open from April to September. They also offer Open Studio hours every day between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
If you’re completely new to expressing yourself through art, have no fear. They hold beginners classes on the basics. If you’ve never worked in a particular medium, you’ll be delighted to know that they feature classes that focus on watercolors, pastels, acrylics, charcoal, and ink. For the more verbally expressive, they even have an art and poetry combo class.
And if you’ve ever dreamt of setting up an easel outdoors and painting the day away, you’ll find a four-day intensive class for “en plein air” painting. Most of the classes at Yosemite are held outdoors as weather permits.
To make the most of your artistic skills, take advantage of these classes. Register online as soon as you can, since they only have room for 15 students. At the end of the class, you can participate in an optional “art show” to display your new work.
2. Visit Fort Laramie National Historic Site
Originally established as a trading post in 1834, Fort Laramie later became a strategic military fort during the Indian Wars. The Fort Laramie National Historic Site is a great site to immerse yourself in the rich history of the United States.
The nearby town of Cheyenne also offers a host of activities that both fun and educational. History buffs will love the horse-drawn carriage rides and trolley system.
Or check out the works from renowned Native American artists working in clay, leather, and metal.
But most importantly, be sure to check out the Annual Plains Indian Museum Powwow, where artists and performers from the Northern Plains tribes meet to complete. You’ll see dance competitions for a range of categories from traditional to tiny tots. You’ll also be able to buy authentic jewelry, crafts, artwork, and delicious foods.
3. Find the Perfect Stargazing Spot in Death Valley
The Death Valley National Park sounds kind of scary but don’t be fooled. Although it’s the hottest, driest, lowest national park in the country, there’s great biodiversity found in Death Valley.
Best of all, it offers the best national park activities for star-gazers. That’s because it provides the best seats in the house to enjoy our galaxies.
Why it’s so unique
The International Dark-Sky Association rates it as one of the best places to stargaze in the nation. That’s because it’s located far enough from “civilization” to ensure very little light pollution to interfere. Although light from Las Vegas is beginning to impact the area, they still rate it at the highest level for stargazing — “Gold Tier.” Here, you’ll see astronomical bodies that can only be seen in the darkest locations.
If you can book a campsite or trek into the deeper parts of the valley for some backcountry camping, you’ll discover an awe-inspiring experience of gazing at astronomical wonders that are impossible to see anywhere in the world. You may also attend a night sky tour with the park rangers during winter or spring.
Make the most of it
The National Parks Service offers some good advice for the best star-gazing experience:
- Visiting during the new moon means you’ll get a much better view of stars and the constellations.
- Take along a sky almanac so you’ll know what to look for.
- Bring binoculars or a telescope. You can find quite affordable models of good quality.
- Take your time – your eyes will need a minimum of 30 minutes to adjust. Give it time and avoid any artificial light (such as cell phones, car dashboards, etc.) to get the best view.
- If you must have some source of light for safety, use a red light. You can work up something as simple as putting red tape over a flashlight.
- Go for elevation – lower elevation spots might mean that the view is blocked by mountains.
Choose the right place to star-gaze. Some favorite locations are Badwater Basin, the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Dante’s View, and Harmony Borax Works.
4. Drive the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park
Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of those iconic national park activities you’ll remember forever. Located in Glacier National Park in Montana, it’s a memorable course. Some may find drive a bit stressful due to the small road, but you’re in for some jaw-dropping views.
There are multiple sites where you can stop for taking pictures – and believe us, you will. There’s the well-known Weeping Wall where a beautiful waterfall cascades down onto the road. Depending on the time of year, you may even see some snow, even though this drive is only available during the summer.
There are numerous worthy stops while driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and it’s going to take all day to list them all. As far as national park activities in Glacier National Park go, this one is a cant-miss.
Our only advice is to take your time, take in the beauty, and stop as often as you can.
5. Explore the Magical Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park
The Pacific Northwest is like a mecca for getting an experience of a lifetime. One of the most well-known national parks here is the Olympic National Park.
Olympic offers a myriad of national park activities and sights, but many people will definitely recommend that you explore the Hoh Rain Forest. This green wonderland is known for its ferns and mosses that cover everything from trees to surfaces. It will give you an impression that you’re living in a fairy tale, as it gives you that “Hansel and Gretel” feel while traversing the forest.
According to the National Park System, the Hoh Rain Forest is one of the remaining examples of temperate rainforest in the U.S.
Live a Little
These are just some of the best national park activities available for the experience of a lifetime. If we’re going to list them all, it’s probably going to take us forever. Although many of these park adventures are unique, they are fairly accessible and are family friendly.
So what’s your favorite activity to do in our national parks?
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Featured Image: CC0, by NPS / Tim Rains [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons