The best weekend national park trip to take is the one closest to your home. Sure, you could fly to any national park if you have the resources and the time. But, if you are looking for a quick weekend getaway, check out the National Park Service website, NPS.org, to view one of the country’s 423 national parks that might be close to you.
The nps.org site offers a national park breakdown by state. Using their tools, you can choose the state you want to visit and select the park. Not every state in the union has a national park, but most folks have one within driving distance.
When heading out to a national park for the weekend, one thing to think about is did I do enough planning. Knowing about park entrance fees, availability of sleeping accommodations, or reservations that might be necessary to enjoy the park’s activities, then checking out the NPS.org site will be helpful. The NPS.org has a “plan your visit” section with helpful information, including; park pass details, maps of the area, trip ideas, and travel tips.
If you bring the kids along on your trip, nearly every national park has a junior ranger program. Using the park ranger book available at most parks, your little adventurer will stay engaged while visiting all the park’s wonders. Many parks offer group junior ranger events. Check the park’s schedule for location and times.
Below I have listed a few parks that lend themselves to having a wonderful weekend.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park is a wonderland for a weekend outdoor adventure in northwestern Wyoming. Plenty of opportunities for day hikes, wildlife viewing, and camping are available. Along with other activities to suit the needs of all skill levels of adventurers in your group.
Driving through the park is a great way to see wildlife. There are opportunities to see bears (black and brown), moose, elk, deer, and, if you are lucky, maybe even a gray wolf. If you can’t spot the wildlife yourself, just look for others pulled over and have their cameras out. Going slow and having patience is the best way to view it. If all you are doing for the day is driving and sightseeing, you might decide to hit Yellowstone’s south entrance. This drive offers up more scenic delight.
A hike around Jenny Lake is excellent if you want to hike while viewing the scenery. If you’re going into the backcountry, a permit is required. Check-in with the ranger’s station to see what is available.
If you are a biker, the excellent news is biking is welcome on all paved surfaces throughout the park—a great way to experience the area.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Here is an opportunity in the midwest to see some unique geographical deposits that you won’t see anywhere else on the upper plains. Camping, biking, and hiking are all activities that can be done in this area.
With scenic driving routes like Badlands Loop Road, you can take in the sights of the unique rugged terrain and possibly even see some wildlife, such as; bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets. If camping in the area, staying up late to see all the stars in the night sky would be worth it. The lack of light pollution at night allows the stars to shine clear and bright. There are opportunities for backcountry camping if you choose, and seeing the area via bicycle is also an option.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee
Another gorgeous area of the country that is fit for an adventurous weekend, is Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There are plenty of opportunities to drive a scenic highway, bike through an old historic site, and hike trails where you will see plenty of wildlife. A great home base is Cades Cove, there are plenty of campsites to set up your tent or camper. An 11-mile loop opens at specific times just for biking and is great for a slow drive in the evening to view some wildlife.You might see many black bears while on the path with patience and quietness. Many historic sites and hiking trails are close by to venture out and see where homesteaders once built a life.
Planning a short trip can be overwhelming because there are so many things you can do in each park. For a quick trek, pick the activities you want to do most. Our national parks hold a few must-see gems –check ‘em out! Come back another time for an extended stay.