8 Best National Parks for Adventuring

October 5, 2023

Merriam-Webster defines an adventure as “an exciting or remarkable experience.” And it’s easy to imagine that if the dictionary included illustrations, adventure’s would be of a National Park. Naturally, these protected playgrounds provide the perfect backdrops for an array of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, kayaking and climbing. There are even seven national parks where you can scuba dive and at least three where you can try the thrilling sport of dogsledding. In these dramatic destinations it’s choose-your-own-adventure, 365 days/year. Not sure where to begin? Whether you’re a card-carrying adrenaline junkie or someone who just likes to get their heart rate up twice a year, here are eight of the best national parks for adventuring.

Looking for a National Park Adventure? Try These 8 National Parks for Adventuring

1. Denali National Park & Preserve

Most people know Denali National Park & Preserve boasts the tallest mountain in North America. However, few are aware that this 2.14 million-acre national park is also home to several teams of “canine rangers.” They even include a 9/11 Search and Rescue Litter named in honor of the dogs who helped rescue victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks. In the summer, you can visit the kennels to meet the dogs and watch daily sled dog demonstrations put on by park rangers. If you personally want to embrace your inner musher while visiting, you’ll either need to pack your own pups or book a guided tour with an outfitter like Denali Dog Sled Expeditions.

Nearest KOA
Fairbanks / Chena River KOA Journey

Loggerhead Key Lighthouse, located in Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys, is one of the most isolated lighthouses in the United States.

2. Dry Tortugas National Park

More than 99% of Dry Tortugas National Park is underwater, so it makes sense that the best way to see it is by trading your flip flops for fins. You can always snorkel along the coral reefs in the shallows. But if you want to swim next to larger marine life like eagle rays and nurse sharks or explore the wreck of the Windjammer, a three-masted iron-hulled sailing ship dating back to 1875, diving is your best bet. Note: you can’t bring compressed canisters on the ferry or seaplane, so if you’re diving, charter your own boat or go with a diving company such as Finz Diving Center based out of Key West.

Nearest KOA
Sugarloaf Key / Key West KOA Holiday

sunrise from the summit of Haleakala volcano on the tropical island of Maui, Hawaii

3. Haleakalā National Park

There are few places in the world where you can hike on an active volcano, and Haleakalā National Park on the island of Maui is one of them. (Don’t worry: it hasn’t erupted for about 500 years, and scientists don’t anticipate it going off anytime soon.) In fact, you can even hike to the crater of the volcano, and there are more than 30 miles of hiking trails in the summit area alone. If you plan on hiking at altitude (the volcano tops out at 10,023 feet), remember that even though this is Hawaii, the higher you go, the lower the temperature. It can even get below freezing up there!

Nearest KOA
There are no KOAs in Hawaii (yet), but the park offers three different options for camping.

Sunset view of rolling waves of sand dunes at base of Mt Herard in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

4. Great Sand Dunes National Park

For adrenaline junkies, no trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado is complete without sandboarding or sand sledding down some of the tallest dunes in North America. Walking back up the 500-foot-tall dunes (there’s no chairlift) is also a killer workout if you just want to break a sweat. While you can’t rent boards or sleds within the park, there are plenty of retailers outside the park where you can rent gear specifically designed for speeding down sand. Just remember to go early or late as you’ll want to avoid midday’s extreme heat.

Nearest KOA
Alamosa / Great Sand Dunes National Park KOA Journey

Beautiful Landscape of Grand Canyon from Desert View Point with the Colorado River visible during dusk.

5. Grand Canyon National Park

Sure, the Brady Bunch had a blast (well, except for Alice who was stuck on a stubborn donkey) riding mules down into the Grand Canyon. But if you really want to get a rush in Grand Canyon National Park, consider rafting the world famous Colorado River. It runs through 11 national parks, but some of its most scenic stretches are in Arizona. Whether you’re craving colossal Class X rapids (the park’s rating system goes from I-X) that will get you soaking wet, or an entry level whitewater experience that doesn’t require being a paddling pro, you can find it here.

Nearest KOAs
Grand Canyon / Williams KOA Journey
Williams / Exit 167 / Circle Pines KOA Holiday

A fearless hiker is standing on an overhanging rock enjoying the view towards famous Half Dome at Glacier Point overlook in beautiful evening twilight, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

6. Yosemite National Park

If you turn on Netflix, and go to the documentaries section, chances are you’ll find at least one film about the thriving rock climbing scene in Yosemite National Park. Some of the world’s most iconic rock formations, including El Capitan and Half Dome, are found here. That said, you don’t have to tackle an extremely technical route alone to get a feel for the hands-on sport. The Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service offers lessons for beginners and guided group climbs.

Nearest KOA
Coleville / Walker KOA Holiday

View from Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah.

7. Zion National Park

Also called canyoning, canyoneering is a crazy cool mashup of rock climbing, rappelling, swimming and hiking. In fact, the hardest part of this sport might be deciding what to wear! One of the best places to try canyoneering in the U.S. is Zion National Park which is rich in slot canyons just waiting to be explored. Note: you’ll need a wilderness permit for some of the most popular canyoneering spots, and there are several rules and regulations to be aware of before you go. If you don’t have the gear or experience, you can also always try canyoneering with an outfitter like Zion Adventures.

Nearest KOA
St. George / Hurricane KOA Journey

Bright green Grinnell Lake sits at the bottom of small mountain valley in Glacier National Park.

8. Glacier National Park

If you’re a serious cyclist, you probably have Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road on your biking bucket list. This 50-mile stretch of pavement is easily one of the most Insta-worthy mountain passes in the world. Every year – after the plows clear away the winter and spring snow, and before Going-to-the-Sun is open to vehicular traffic – cyclists have the run of the road. Bring your own bike, or borrow wheels from outfitters in West Glacier or Apgar Village. And yes: e-bikes are allowed. You’ll definitely appreciate that extra kick when you’re climbing. And coming down? Bring a layer. It can get quite chilly, especially if you’re sweaty.

Nearest KOAs
West Glacier KOA Resort
Whitefish / Kalispell North KOA Holiday
St. Mary / East Glacier KOA Holiday

KOA Author Katie JacksonKatie Jackson is a writer and media specialist based in Montana’s Big Sky Country. Living and working everywhere from New York to Nicaragua, Katie is no stranger to adventure. When she’s not traveling the world (or writing about it!) she’s busy chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus. Follow Katie’s travels on Instagram @katietalkstravel.


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