There is no better way to spend the summer than to explore the great outdoors and travel to one of the many US national parks. From the East coast to the West coast, there are plenty of stops and amazing scenery waiting to be explored. Here are 10 US national parks that you can not miss this summer:
Joshua Tree National Park, California
The Mojave and Colorado deserts come together at Joshua Tree National Park. There’s a strange, almost mysterious transition between the two ecosystems. One park is at high elevation and the other at a low elevation. Where the two meet offers a wide variety of plants and wildlife. The real draw is the namesake tree from the Agave family.
If you only have a day in the park, take a vehicle with four-wheel drive and explore the parks surreal geological formations via a two-hour driving tour. You’ll pass whimsical landscapes with curious granite displays, shaped from strong winds and torrential rain, that look straight off the page of a Dr. Seuss book. Don’t miss a stop at Keys View for a breathtaking panorama of the Coachella Valley, the San Andreas Fault, and the high peaks of San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. Take a moment here to practice mindfulness and awareness. Be in the moment and enjoy the desert’s beauty without worrying about Instagramming it. After a day in the desert sun, head to the Oasis Visitor Center and check out the cactus garden to learn more about the park’s incredible rock formations.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic features the most dramatically diverse ecosystems among the national parks, with nearly one million acres of preserved forests, alpine meadows, rivers, glacier-capped peaks and rugged Pacific Coast shoreline. In 1981, the park was named a World Heritage site for its unique and varied population of plants and animals.
The park’s 62-mile coastline is the largest undeveloped wilderness coast in the contiguous United States. Head to the popular Kalaloch’s Beach 4 or Mora’s Hole in the Wall beach at low tide to explore tidepools bursting with color. Spot red, purple, and yellow starfish, vibrant sea urchins, the giant, mint green anemone that opens up its tentacles like flower petals in the water, bright pink algae, and crabs hiding in the seaweed. Just one square foot of these tiny marine worlds is teeming with thousands of sea creatures. Take a ranger-led tour in the summer to learn about the things you might miss on first glance, like barnacles, tubeworms, piddock clams, and snails, or things you can’t see at all, like microscopic organisms that call the tidepools home.
Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Georgia to Maine
Spanning 14 states, this public footpath covers more than 2,100 miles along the Appalachian Mountain ridgelines, from Georgia to Maine. The trail is open year round, but one of the best times to visit is during the fall when foliage is at its peak with vibrant orange, red, and yellow leaves dotting the mountainside.
The Appalachian Trail is one of the most iconic trails in our country. Completing the entire trail, or a “thru-hike,” is on many hikers’ bucket lists, but the total trip can take months to complete. If you don’t have the time for a journey like that, there are several pieces of the trail you can hike over a weekend, like the overnight Mau-Har loop in Virginia, with stunning 40-foot waterfalls and swimming holes to enjoy. And if you just have a day, there are short hikes, like the 2.2 mile Anthony’s Nose in New York. Even short hikes release endorphins to lift your mood all day, long after the hike is over.
Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Our nation’s first national monument, Devils Tower, soars 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River and Wyoming’s plains. The natural wonder, once hot magma, cooled into the rock columns so beloved by climbers today. From the Lakota to the Cheyenne, American Indian tribes have revered the structure for hundreds of years, calling it Mateo Tepee, or Grizzly Bear Lodge. According to legend, the lines on the side of the rock are from bear claws.
Devils Tower is a rite of passage for experienced rock climbers. The huge parallel columns make the rock face one of the finest traditional crack climbing areas in North America. The rock has been scaled since the 1800s with various tools but climbers today rely solely on their physical strength to ascend the 867 feet from the base to summit. Just watch your feet, too. Chipmunks, pack rats, and snakes live at the top. If you’re planning a summer trip, keep in mind the park’s voluntary climb ban in June. The park asks climbers to refrain out of respect for the Plains Indians who consider the rock sacred to this day.
Biscayne National Park, Florida
Less than an hour away from downtown Miami, Biscayne National Park feels worlds away. If you love the boating and snorkel culture of Caribbean islands, you can find the same active adventures here, with crystal-clear waters, colorful fish, and no cruise ship crowds.
Nearly 95 percent of the park is underwater and there’s no better way to see this tropical paradise than up close. Snorkelers and divers can explore the reef that is home to more than 500 species of fish, unique corals, and plants found nowhere else in the country. You might even spot a manatee. The park has one of the only wall dives in the Florida Keys and a shipwreck trail for snorkelers including the Mandalay wreck site. Large sections of the ship, covered in hard corals and sea fans, are easily accessible to snorkelers. After a long day in the sun, relax in one of the old-fashioned rocking chairs at the visitor center. Kayakers and canoers can also access secluded areas too shallow for motorized boats. These private lagoons and channels, lined with mangrove shores, are great for spotting sharks, rays, and upside-down jellies. Paddlers can challenge themselves to cross the bay’s seven-mile expanse to camp at Elliot Key or Boca Chita Key.
Rock Creek Park, Washington DC
One of the first federal parks and urban areas set aside by Congress, Rock Creek is our capital’s hidden gem, with miles of trails, historic sites, a nature center, and the National Park Service’s only planetarium. The park offers an escape from the city, which many past presidents have enjoyed. Theodore Roosevelt loved the area for birdwatching and Ronald Reagan rode horses at the stables.
President John Quincy Adams understood the stress-relieving benefits of walking long before any research was published. He took afternoon walks in Rock Creek Park after grueling days of politics. Unwind like Adams and breathe in the fresh forest air while walking with the gentle ebb and flow of Rock Creek. You might even spot a red fox or southern flying squirrel.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Tucked between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley is one of the youngest national parks, earning its status in 2000. Despite being so close to busy cities, you’ll feel worlds away inside the park, with secluded marshes and rugged trails. But maybe not as off the grid as the larger western parks since Cuyahoga contains performance venues where you can watch Shakespearean plays, musicals, or The Cleveland Orchestra perform at the outdoor Blossom Music Center. And there’s even a train, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, that you can ride through the heart of the park.
Biking is a great way to see the park and get a great workout, burning an average of 300 calories per hour. The Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail is one of the longest and most scenic bike trails in Ohio and a popular choice for avid cyclists. The 85-mile trail passes forests, rolling farmlands, and the winding Cuyahoga River. The trail and connecting paths are perfect for low impact short morning rides, strength-training half days, or a challenging multi-day trek. The trail extends outside the park all the way to Lake Erie, Cleveland. If you’re tired after a long day of biking in the park, spend $3 on a one-way ticket to hop on the scenic railway with your bike for a relaxing ride back to your car.
Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
Hot Springs was protected by Congress in 1832, long before the idea of a national park existed. Today, the park is in and around Hot Springs, Arkansas, and protects 47 hot springs. The springs emerge from a fault on the side of Hot Springs Mountain, right in the city’s downtown area.
Humans have been enjoying hot springs for thousands of years. The medicinal and relaxing benefits of soaking in mineral-rich waters, or hydrotherapy, includes stress-relief, ease of muscle aches and tension, better, deeper sleep, and even a clearer complexion. The hot water opens pores in the skin, releasing toxins built up in the body. Calcium and sodium bicarbonate, found in natural hot springs, increase blood circulation and oxygen flow throughout the body. To discover these health benefits firsthand, visit the Buckstaff Bathhouse on historic Bathhouse Row, the only remaining operational bathhouse within the park boundaries. Experience the same thermal mineral soak people have enjoyed since 1912. After a relaxing spa afternoon, head to the historic Lamar Bathhouse to taste the healing waters.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Beneath the surface of South Central Kentucky lies a world characterized by miles of dark, seemingly endless passageways. The geological processes which formed this world, referred to as Mammoth Cave, began hundreds of millions of years ago and continue today. The park is the world’s longest known cave system, with more than 400 miles explored.
Mammoth Cave National Park has all the tours and activities you need to begin your journey of exploration in and around the world’s longest known cave. Take a ranger-led hike on the Heritage Trail to hear stories of the old Mammoth Cave Estate and how the surface above helped shaped the stories below. Go deeper on a cave tour to learn about the history, culture, and geological science behind the gypsum lined passages, narrow canyons, steep underground hills, large rooms and areas with dripstone formations of the cave system.
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, Texas
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park may be arranged differently than other parks you have visited. This park has four distinct visitor areas, each between 2-3 miles from the previous one, that provide many opportunities to learn about the Spanish and Native American heritages, lives, and legacies in all areas of the park.
According to medical research, your mind and body benefit from taking time out of your daily life to relax and meditate. Move, breathe, and find your center at an outdoor yoga class at one of the park’s four missions. You can experience both the natural beauty and the spiritual importance of this national park while increasing your flexibility, muscle strength, and tone. After yoga, feel connected to the world around you on a walk through the Mission Portals, which link San Antonio’s four historic missions to the San Antonio River. These connections feature historic and artistic interpretations of the story of the missions and highlight their social and cultural importance to the area.
This article originally appeared here.