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25 Ways to Enjoy America’s National Parks

Unique activities and adventures at protected parks and wildlife refuges

The $80 annual “America the Beautiful: The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass” includes admission to over 2,000 protected areas.
In 1936, a young Gerald Ford was employed at Yellowstone. Among his duties? Working as an armed guard at the park’s bear-feeding truck. In the nearly 150 years since Yellowstone Park became the world’s first national park, activity options at America’s protected parks and refuges have certainly changed – but there’s definitely no shortage of unique and exciting things to do.

AT NATIONAL PARKS
Bird Banding: At Lassen Volcanic National Park in California, visitors can participate in a yearly capture-and-release program that helps rangers track the health and population growth of migratory birds.

Dive-In Theater: During the summer at Maine’s Acadia National Park, boat tours of Frenchman Bay search for seals, porpoises, and eagles. Crew members dive with an underwater camera, projecting images topside as park rangers narrate the crew’s findings.

Fruit Picking: Visitors typically can’t remove anything from a national park – but a small fee allows guests to consume the bounty from several historic orchards at Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

Geocache Trail: At Florida’s Everglades National Park, a GPS Geocache Trail encourages guests to locate hidden caches, while considering conservation issues faced by park rangers.

Helicopter Tours: Guests of the Four Seasons Resort and Residences in Jackson Hole can take a 3-hour helicopter ride over Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, accompanied by a resort biologist.

Lobstering: During lobster season at Florida’s Biscayne National Park, visitors with a valid fishing license can catch up to six lobsters per day from approved areas.

Low-Light Caving: At Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, brave visitors can explore natural caves guided only by the light of a handheld candle bucket, or use lanterns to navigate the terrain at Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park.

Owl Prowl: On select summer nights, guests at Congaree National Park in South Carolina can participate in an owl prowl, where park rangers help identify the calls of the park’s resident owls.

Questing: Another hunt for hidden locations takes place at Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where questers follow written clues to secret locations over 37 trails.

Sandboarding: Adventure-seekers at Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve can try boarding, skiing, and sledding over wide expanses of sand at designated areas within the park.

Search and Rescue: Every Tuesday at Yosemite National Park, park ranger John Dill shares the inner workings of the park’s emergency response missions, including videos of past rescues.

Stand-Up Paddleboarding: Liquid Adventures delivers participants to the base of Bear Glacier, in Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park, for a paddelboarding experience next to stunning glaciers and icebergs.

Star Train Tours: In a program run by Nevada Northern Railway, a historic train ride in Nevada’s Great Basin National Park takes guests to a remote desert location for an evening of stargazing through high-powered telescopes.

Symphony Orchestra: In August 2014, the Utah Symphony will tour Utah’s red rock country, performing four concerts in outdoor venues near the state’s five national parks.

Wagon Rides: Xanterra Parks & Resorts offers covered wagon adventures through the sagebrush flats of Yellowstone, followed by an Old West dinner cookout and western songs performed by a cowboy.

AT NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES
Archery Lessons: At North Dakota’s Audubon National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), guests can learn the fundamentals of shooting a bow and arrow in a safe environment.

Bats Among Us: During the summer, Cowboy Lake NWR in Washington and McKay Creek NWR in Oregon offer programs that allow visitors to learn about bats as they emerge at dusk.

Bunker Tours: Constructed in 1942 and used for storing war materials, 30 soil-covered ammunition bunkers known as “igloos” can be toured at Assabet River NWR in Massachusetts.

Honey Harvest Festival: Each September, the Maryland State Beekeepers Association celebrates this festival at the state’s Patuxent Research NWR, with arts and crafts, honey tastings, and candle-making demonstrations.

Evening Moth Tour: Author and zoologist Jim Sogaard leads a nighttime tour at Minnesota’s Sherburne NWR that searches for moths and caterpillars while discussing their ecological importance.

Pony Swim: At Chincoteague NWR, visitors can view the famous wild ponies. Every summer, the horses are herded at neighboring Assateague Island, and swim over to Chincoteague Island in the famed pony swim.

Scorpion Hunt: Guests at Nevada’s Moapa Valley NWR search for scorpions using UV black light, and learn how the animals are adapted to the dark.

Snakes Alive: Visitors to Missouri’s Mingo NWR can learn about the 22 species of migratory snakes that can be found in the refuge – the bravest can even handle the snakes if they desire.

Sugar Cane Boil: At Georgia’s Okefenokee NWR, participants can cut their own sugar cane, grind it in a traditional manner, and sample the sweet cane juice. The juice is then boiled down to produce pure cane syrup.

Red Wolf Howls: A program at North Carolina’s Alligator River NWR – the only place in the world where red wolves still exist in the wild – allows guests to listen to the howl of this endangered species.

Ready to explore these wild America attractions? Start planning your vacation here.

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