56 National Park Activities (feat. Lassen Volcanic)
To this day when I think of a National Park, I think of the stereotypical towering, snow-capped mountains with a waterfall flowing off the cliff and bubbling in a stream through collar of pine trees and emptying into a crystal clear lake with a moose slurping it up. Even after eight months of hopping from deserts to rainforests to beaches to caves and beyond, my stereotype lingers like a fart in our sleeping bag. I think it’s because parks in the Rockies were the first ones I ever visited with my family.
During our visit to Lassen I realized I have a similar stereotype for the types of activities you can do at a park. Namely, hiking, hiking and more hiking. Of course we have branched out well beyond that during our visits (maximum adventure is the goal, after all). But there are certain categories of activities for which I’ve had limited exposure and experience. Growing up in St. Louis, we got an annual average of 17.7 inches of snow. This was about enough to justify a $15 Walmart sled and stuffing your socks in bread bags to make waterproof shoes. In contrast, Lassen gets 400-500 inches of snow each winter! No wonder they have to figure out something to do outside from November to June.
We enjoyed getting a small taste of the winter recreation activities available at Lassen (1-10). But then I started wondering, if we forget about all these winter sports, what other new experiences are waiting in the National Parks? So I looked at all the park websites and found a whopping 56 unique National Park activities listed in their “Things To Do” categories. We’ve only made a dent in the list (we’ve done the ones in blue); there’s so much you can do when you #FindYourPark!
- Snowshoeing – Lots of parks offer free snowshoe ranger walks. We’ve gone at Lassen, Yosemite and Crater Lake.
- Cross-country skiing
- Downhill skiing
- Snow camping / Snow shelter building – We opted to take out everything and put our twin air mattress in the car to sleep at Lassen.
- Sledding & Tubing
- “Snowplay” – We saw a sign in King’s Canyon actually said, “No snowplay. -The Grinch”. Ok, maybe that last part was less than true.
- Hiking – We actually did find some bare ground in the lower Manzanita Lake region.
- Bird Watching
All National Parks:
- Kayaking and Canoeing – Our inflatable kayak is a game-changer. Got onto the water at Everglades, Yosemite, Biscayne, Congaree, Channel Islands and Big Bend.
- Fishing – Fly fishing in Black Canyon of the Gunnison thanks to Wetfly Tenkara backcountry rod! Hoping improve on my record 0 catches soon.
- Biking – There’s actually not much mountain biking allowed in National Parks, so we dumped our bikes after Leg 1.
- Wildlife Viewing
- Auto Touring
- Rock Climbing
- Bouldering – Joshua Tree has world class bouldering and climbing
- Tidepooling – You can find some crazy critters when the tide goes out. Like at Acadia!
- Whale Watching – Saw some gray whales off the Island Packers ferry to Channel Islands.
- Horse Riding
- Caving – Mammoth Cave, Great Basin and Carlsbad Caverns so far.
- Guided Tours
- Ranger Programs
- Leaf Peeping – Best fall colors I’ve ever seen was at Acadia.
- Snorkeling – Best snorkeling I’ve ever done was at U.S. Virgin Islands National Park. Dry Tortugas was a close second.
- Scuba Diving
- Stargazing – Night skies at Big Bend and Great Basin and so many others were like nothing I’d ever seen. Tons of parks even have astronomy programs and festivals.
- Wildflower Viewing
- Camping – Uh, yeah! We do this every night!
- Four-wheeling – One wish we have for this trip is that we could access the many 4-wheel only roads and park sections, especially in the mountains.
- Become a Junior Ranger
- Museum Visiting – Many bigger parks have museums: Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, Hawai’i Volcanoes, etc. And that’s not even counting the great Visitor Center exhibits we always hit up.
- Sand Sledding
- Bushwhacking – I think two of eight Alaska parks have actual trails. For the rest…
- Go to the movies – Every National Park has an introductory movie. We never miss it!
- Slough Slogging – As dirty as it sounds – you’re trapsing through knee-high water and muck in the cypress domes of Everglades. Loved it!
- Trail Running
- River Rafting
- Pine Nut Gathering – I laughed out loud when I saw this, but apparently it’s a thing at Great Basin!
- Laying out – I don’t know what this is, but Elizabeth enjoyed it at
- Soaking – Ironically, we couldn’t afford the historic bathhouse soaks in Hot Springs, but at the next park in Big Bend we relaxed in a natural hot spring on the side of the Rio Grande and watched the stars come out.
- Ice Climbing
- Flight Seeing – Just made our reservations for bush planes to 4 Alaska parks.
- Dog Sledding
- Ice fishing
- Bear Watching – Can’t wait for the famous salmon feeding frenzy at Katmai!
Well, you certainly have plenty to choose from. So what are your favorite National Park activities?
See more in our Lassen Volcanic video.