There are a lucky few who get to spend their weekends adventuring. Far too many people, by contrast, find a million little reasons not to get outdoors and experience the world around them.
This year, don’t let your million little excuses stop you from taking part in and witnessing some of the most magnificent, splendid, and breathtaking places on Earth.
Dive head-first into adventure with a trip to one of these incredible National Parks, and do it up right. No quick half-day trips, no walk-and-talks with the office, no settling for anything less than a full-blown National Park adventure that you and your family will never forget.
1. Yosemite, California
Ten minutes in Yosemite will yield you a lifetime’s worth of awe-inspiring beauty and wonder, but don’t let that stop you from really exploring all that this huge national park has to offer.
At 2,424 feet, Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America and the sixth largest one in the world. Find your way to the Sierra Nevada mountain range and take in one of the most beloved waterfalls anywhere in the world.
It doesn’t get more picturesque than Tuolumne Meadows, a Bob Ross-style painting come to life. This is the place to camp, hike, and explore among a tremendous variety of tree and plant species, and all set against a backdrop of majestic mountains and the Tuolumne River.
Cathedral Peak, part of the Cathedral Mountain Range that runs through Yosemite, is a must-not-miss sight. This granite peak soars 10,911 feet into the air, and deserves a visit.
Don’t miss out on the rafting, fishing, camping, rock climbing, and endless hiking opportunities that Yosemite has to offer.
2. Olympic, Washington
Rainforest, mountains, pristine coastlines – there is nothing Olympic doesn’t have to offer visitors. Animal lovers would be remiss to skip Olympic’s furry offerings either. Elk roam the parks, sea lions and seals spot the coastlines, and this is the place to spot America’s pride and joy, the American bald eagle.
Sol Duc Falls is one of the most resplendent waterfalls in the United States, so it should be no surprise that so many photographers scramble to catch perfect shots of it year after year. Hiking to the falls is an easy trip loaded with some of the most fairy-tale like scenery you have ever encountered. See for yourself just how magical it really is!
When you’re done hiking the falls, take a relaxing stroll on Kalaloch Beach at the southern end of the park. Kalaloch Beach is a marine life sanctuary, and you can spend an entire day on the beach animal watching and experiencing the lapping waves from the Pacific.
You have your choice of two rainforests at Olympic – the Quinault and the Hoh. These wet, green, flourishing spots are home to some of the oldest trees in the world, including big Sitka, the 1,000-year old spruce that is 191 feet tall.
3. Saguaro, Arizona
If you have not experienced the grandeur of the majestic Saguaro cactus, it is high-time you pack a bag and head off to explore this national park treasure. Guardians of the Sonoran Desert, Saguaros are the ambassadors of the sprawling desert before them. Reaching over 50 feet in height and living as long as 200 years, the Saguaro is the pride and joy of Saguaro National Park and the Southwest.
The National Park was created around Saguaro Forest, protecting the acres of twisted and prickly trees that call this land their home. Before you think that Saguaro National Park is just a couple of interesting cacti and nothing more, think again.
The Saguaro National Forest is teeming with life, including black bears, white-tailed deer, packs of javelina, and countless varieties of migrating and permanent birds from spotted owls to quail to woodpeckers.
If you are a flower lover, you need to see and explore Saguaro National Forest when it is brimming with wildflowers including marigolds, Mexican gold poppies, and the gorgeous white flower blossoms of the Saguaro cactus that open only at night and last just a few hours.
4. Smoky Mountains, North Carolina & Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains are the most visited national park in the U.S. for a reason. There is nothing quite like the endless hidden corners, surprise gems, and winding hiking trails of the Smoky Mountains - and that's just a small part of the 522,000 acres that make up the park.
The striking mountain vistas are reason enough to go for a long, extended weekend at Smoky, but while you’re there, don’t miss out on experiencing the countless outdoor activities available in the parks.
Fancy yourself a fisherman or fisherwoman? Interested in getting your pulse racing with some whitewater rafting, kayaking, or canoeing? Grab your gear and dive on into all the water that the Smoky Mountains have to offer.
Not only can you hike, drive, and off-road ride through the Smoky Mountains, but you can also take a train through all that expansive wilderness! When you hop off the train, you have the great outdoors at your fingertips, where you can chase some waterfalls, explore the history and culture of the native Cherokee people, and even go mining for gems. When you’re done doing as much as you can at the end of the day, get a good night’s rest in your sleeping bag and wake up in the morning to another day of adventures.
There are thousands of things that there are to see and do in our favorite National Parks, but the only way that you’ll ever discover what you’ve been missing is to grab your backpack and see them for yourself.