The National Parks that Should Be On Everyone’s Summer Travel Bucket List This Year

It’s almost that time of year again!  Something about summer seems to reignite the spark of adventure in us all, and our country offers us a bounty of natural wonder to explore. From spotting baby sea turtles at Dry Tortugas to climbing the alpines at Olympic, nothing shows the diversity of nature and wildlife in America like her national parks...and these outdoor safe havens deserve a spot on your list of places to visit ASAP!  Which one will you visit first?


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Grand Teton National Park

  • Location: Northwest Wyoming

  • Total Area: 484.4mi²

  • Established: February 26th, 1929

  • Wildlife to Watch for: Moose, yellow-bellied marmots, golden eagles

  • Top 3 Things to Do:

    • See the wildflowers bloom

    • Hike a trail used by American Indians and fur trappers in the 1800s

    • Try boating or windsurfing in the Snake River with the unbelievable backdrop of the Teton mountain Range.


Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

  • Location: Northern Wisconsin

  • Total Area: 108.4mi²

  • Established: September 26, 1970

  • Wildlife to Watch for: Black bears, whitetail deer, lake trout

  • Top 3 Things to Do:

    • Scuba dive in Lake Superior to see shipwrecks and astoundingly unique rock formations

    • Kayak through the Meyers Beach Sea Caves

    • Visit one of the 6 lighthouses that dot the coastlines of the islands


Lake Clark National Park and Preserve

  • Location: Southern Alaska

  • Total Area: 6,296.9mi²

  • Established: Dec. 2, 1980

  • Wildlife to watch for: Caribou, bald eagle, beluga whale

  • Top 3 Things to Do:

    • Canoe on the iconic gemstone-colored lake

    • Learn about brown bears and take part in a viewing expedition

    • Take a day hike on one of the handful of available trail routes, showcasing a variety of landscape from tundra to shoreside


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Acadia National Park

  • Location: Coastal Maine

  • Total Area: 76.6mi²

  • Established: July 8, 1916

  • Wildlife to watch for: Peregrine falcons, snowshoe hares, black bears

  • Top 3 Things to Do:

    • Snap a pic on the famed Bubble Rock

    • Wade in the crystal waters of Sand Beach, or go tidepooling when the tide is low to discover the incredible diversity of life that can be contained in just one little seaside pool

    • Visit the stunning Thuya Gardens to see some of the most unique fauna you may have ever seen


Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

  • Location: South-Central Colorado

  • Total Area: 132.4mi²

  • Established: Sept. 24th, 2004

  • Wildlife to Watch for: Beavers, Pika, Hummingbirds

  • Top 3 Things to Do:

    • Take a splash in Medano Creek, an affectionately dubbed “oasis” of water than runs through the dunes only during a handful of months

    • See stars like you’ve never seen them from atop one of the dunes

    • Turn on your adventurous side and take a 4WD ride down Medano Pass Primitive Road


Olympic National Park

  • Location: Northeastern Washington

  • Total Area: 1,442mi²

  • Established: June 29 1938

  • Wildlife to watch for: mountain beavers, sea otters, banana slugs (endangered)

  • Top 3 Things to Do:

    • Climb the alpine rock formations (if you’re in need of guidance, you can refer to the Climber’s Guide to the Olympic Mountains for best practices recommendations!)

    • Set up an easel and paint what you see like one of the 25 artists who descend upon Olympic for the Plein Air Art Competition every August

    • Try your hand at fishing in the Queets, Salmon, Metheny and Sams Rivers


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Zion National Park

  • Location: Southwestern Utah

  • Total Area: 229.1mi²

  • Established: Nov. 19, 1919

  • Wildlife to Watch for: Yellow warbler, plateau lizards, wild turkeys

  • Top 3 Things to Do:

    • Take a group hike down the streams of “The Narrows,” or the narrowest part of the entire Zion Canyon

    • Watch the sun set on Zion’s cliffs

    • Visit the ghost town of Grafton, where the buildings have stood empty since the early 1900s


Dry Tortugas -

Dry Tortugas National Park

  • Location: Gulf of Mexico, West of the Florida Keys

  • Total Area: 101mi²

  • Established: Oct 26,1992

  • Wildlife to watch for: 30 species of coral, noddies and frigatebirds, and 5 species of sea turtle: loggerhead, green, leatherback, Kemp’s ridley, and hawksbill

  • Top 3 Things to Do:

    • Dive to the Windjammer, an enormous three-masted ship that wrecked on Loggerhead reef at the turn of the century

    • Try Geocaching, an outdoor treasure-hunting game you can play in real-time as you discover local touchpoints

    • Take a guided tour of Fort Jefferson, and watch a living history demonstration of times gone by


Carlsbad Caverns

  • Location: Southeast New Mexico, about 1.5 hours south of Roswell

  • Total Area: 73.1mi²

  • Established: May 14, 1930

  • Wildlife to watch for: geckos, bats, 300+ bird species

  • Top 3 Things to Do:

    • Join a ranger for the Bat Flight Program, and learn from an expert all about these creepy but amazing creatures prior to a group flight

    • Test your bravery on a candlelit tour of the Left Hand Tunnel

    • Join a Star Party, where you can gain access to a pristine telescope view of the night sky while hearing all about local folklore and astronomy


Crater Lake

  • Location: Southeast-Central Oregon

  • Total Area: 286.3mi²

  • Established: May 22, 1902

  • Wildlife to watch for: mountain lions, wolverines, northern river otters

  • Top 3 Things to Do:

    • Visit Watchman Peak for one of the most perfect panoramas of the Crate you’ll ever get

    • Snap a photo of the Phantom Ship rock formation at Sun Notch Trail

    • Put your brave face on and go for a dip in the lake; most people can only stay in due to its chilly temperatures for a few minutes!


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Isle Royale

  • Location: Northern island chain in Lake Superior, Michigan territory

  • Total Area: 893mi²

  • Established: April 3, 1940

  • Wildlife to watch for: Gray wolves, snowshoe hare, moose

  • Top 3 Things to Do:

    • Take a seaplane ride over the wilderness to the island; you can fly to either Rock Harbor or Windigo, and the views you’ll catch are incomparable

    • Take a guided tour of Passage Island lighthouse and learn about the ‘Light Keeper Hero’ and Wreck of the Monarch (This is our country’s northernmost lighthouse!)

    • Catch one of the infamous lake trouts by fishing the island’s inland lakes; you don’t need a permit to fish here like you do for Michigan coastlines!


And there are so many more just like all these! While some parks are known for how beautiful they are during certain seasons, these caught our eye for summer. While you may be totally unsure which one you’ll want to visit first, one thing’s for sure...our National Parks provide us with an escape to nature’s wonders to appreciate just how astoundingly beautiful our country is. Visit the U.S. National Park Service’s website to see even more parks to check out this year!

Katie Hogge