All over the United States, there are national parks filled with trails, wildlife, and plenty of natural wonders waiting to be explored. Even better: plenty of them can be thoroughly enjoyed over the course of a two-day weekend.
From the lush green landscapes of the Smoky Mountains to the desert environment of Arches National Park, odds are, there’s a park that’s close to you (or just a car, train, or plane ride away) that can make for an epic quick getaway.
If you’re thinking about a weekend getaway in the great outdoors, consider one of these eight national parks, which are the best for an in-and-out style vacation. And for even more travel ideas, don’t miss The 10 Best Weekend Trips You Need to Take This Year.
A weekend getaway to Joshua Tree National Park—which is best if you’re coming from the western U.S., like California, Nevada, or Arizona—can include everything from birding and horseback riding to camping and stargazing. While the park is known for its interesting-looking trees, called Joshua trees, it’s also known for its rocky landscape that beckons rock climbers into the park.
With over 300 miles of hiking trails and 8,000 established rock climbing routes, there’s something for everyone who enjoys the great outdoors. Just be sure to take a break in the middle of the day so you can stay up late to enjoy the nightly spectacles in the sky from the Milky Way galaxy. The park’s nearly complete darkness allows you to see millions of stars and planets throughout the year.
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With over six million acres of land to its name, Denali National Park has plenty to explore during the weekend. The park is known for its abundance of wildlife, like bears, moose, and even tiny porcupines. While guests in the park should never get up close to the wildlife, the best way to see a lot of it is with a wilderness tour that takes you into the deeper sections.
Those who want to enjoy a more cuddly animal can watch the daily sled dog displays at the park’s kennel. Here, you’ll see Alaskan huskies up close and even pet them before a demonstration to learn about how the dogs are helping people all around Denali National Park.
Weekend trips are easiest from Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.
Everglades National Park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the entire country, making it a unique destination worth a weekend visit. The national park is home to many endangered species, like the gentle manatee and sly Florida panther. Because of the abundance of waterways, canoeing and kayaking are popular with visitors. If you’re looking for a larger boat to hit the water on, consider a guided tour, during which experts can share the history of the park and help you spot animals along the shoreline.
Weekend trips are easy from Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country. While a little planning is key to getting into the park on busy days, once you’re in for the weekend, you really don’t need to leave. The park allows camping along the South Rim and North Rim, and those who want to venture past the edge of the canyon into the depths can take a mule ride (though some limitations do apply and spots fill up months in advance).
Weekend getaways are the most convenient from Arizona, California, and Utah.
One of the coolest national parks in the country is Arches National Park in Utah. The park features more than 2,000 natural rock arches that dot the rugged desert landscape. Camping at the park can be done at Devils Garden Campground from the beginning of March until the end of October. The area offers a tranquil location to lay your head at night and spectacular views to wake up to each morning. Tours via bike, car, and horse are all available on a daily basis and allow you to see different sections of the park.
Utah, Colorado, and Nevada are all within a weekend getaway distance to the park.
With ten different camping locations and plenty to offer in the way of activities, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great weekend escape for families or friends traveling together. Trails offer picnic stops where you can munch on a snack or eat lunch near waterfalls. Those who love to fish can do so within the park as long as you have a fishing license for the states of North Carolina or Tennessee. (Fun fact: You can keep up to five of the fish that you catch and be able to cook them for dinner at night.)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is ideal for those living in South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.
With four million visitors per year, Acadia National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country. Some of those visitors choose to camp while others stay at quaint inns nearby. Those looking to see as much as they can should explore the more than 150 miles of hiking trails. The park’s tide pools are a great way to experience the area’s unique ecosystem and spot creatures like starfish and snails.
Acadia National Park is convenient to those living in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
Key West is known for its crystal clear waters and abundant sea life, and that’s even more apparent at Dry Tortugas National Park, which is about 70 miles west of the southernmost city in the country. While the park is only accessible by boat or seaplane, it makes for a great weekend getaway for those who enjoy camping in remote areas. As you enjoy the park, consider snorkeling or boating to get up close to wildlife like sea turtles. On land, explore historic Fort Jefferson, which is one of the largest 19th-century forts in the country.
Dry Tortugas National Park is easily accessible to those living in Florida or Georgia.