Now that you’ve explored the national parks in the eastern part of the U.S., welcome to the central part of the country. Within these 15 parks you can find fields of swaying grass, alpine lakes, monstrous mountains and wondrous caves to explore.
Glacier National Park
With a nickname like “Crown of the Continent” you can expect marvelous things. And you are right! Glacier National Park is covered with thick forests, sparkling lakes, alpine meadows and stunning mountains. It is an exceptional destination for those seeking adventure – with over 700 miles of trails through the backcountry and some of the best snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in the area. Not looking to strap on skis or hiking boots, it’s also the perfect wilderness solitude.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
This park which was established in memory of President Roosevelt, preserves the badlands of North Dakota. It is open year round and offers over 100 miles of hiking trails through rolling hills and prairies. Visitors may catch a glimpse of elk, bighorn sheep and bison, which were re-introduced into the park in 1947 and are now kept safe inside the parks’ fences.
Badlands National Park
Located in the southern part of South Dakota, Badlands NP is 244,000 acres of marvelous terrain – buttes, pinnacles, and spires surrounded by a mixed-grass prairie. Home to one of the world’s richest fossil beds, this area was once home to the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat. Today you can find bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs. A great place to hike among swaying grasses and explore unique geological formations.
Wind Cave National Park
An amazing 33,800 acres of sweeping prairie grasses and rolling hillsides spotted with bison welcome visitors to the one of the oldest parks in the country. But just below the surface lies one of the world’s longest caves, Wind Cave which features the rare formation of boxwork caves.
Voyageurs National Park
With 344 square miles of navigable waters, Voyageurs NP is for those interested in boating, canoeing and kayaking adventures. This unique landscape offers intricate aquatic ecosystems interconnected with dense forests. A great place for visitors to explore waterways and sleep under the dark skies of Minnesota.
Hot Springs National Park
Nicknamed “The American Spa”, Hot Springs NP is where visitors go to soothe themselves in thermal waters. Although they are the park’s primary natural resource, these hot springs are managed so that the hot water can be conserved and uncontaminated for public use.
Grand Teton National Park
Located in northwestern Wyoming, Grand Teton NP offers the most stunning mountain ranges rising up to 13,000 feet above wildflower laden meadows and flowing streams. Grand Teton NP is gorgeous in ever season and offers amazing rock climbing in Garnet Canyon and over 200 miles of hiking trails. During the winter months these trails open up to snowshoers and cross-country skiers. Not too far away lies Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, home to some of the best downhill skiing in the world.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone lies only 10 miles north of it’s sister park, Grand Teton, and is home to most of the world’s geysers, such as the infamous Old Faithful. With over 2.2 million preserved acres, this park allows plenty of roaming land for bison, elk, grizzly bears and wolves. Open all year round, Yellowstone provides plenty of adventure in all seasons – snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, hot springs in the winter months and biking, hiking, fishing in the warmer months.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Probably the lesser known of the Colorado parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP is deep, steep and narrow giving it a dark and intimate feel. In the park you will come in contact with some of the steepest cliffs, oldest rocks and rugged spires in all of North America. Visitors can take a scenic drive along the south rim, one of the most popular attractions, or the harder to access, North Rim scenic drive. For the experienced adventurers there is ample amount of climbing and rafting.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Set against the towering Sangre De Cristo Mountains are the tallest sand dunes in North America. Visitors are welcome to climb, sled or crawl any of the 30 square miles of dunes, forging their own path. The tallest dune in the park, Star Dune is a four hour round-trip hike and visitors should start their hike early in the morning. After rolling down the dunes, visitors can cool off in Medano Creek.
Mesa Verda National Park
Travelers wanting to explore the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people will fall in love with Mesa Verda. With 5,000 known archeological sites, 600 of which are cliff dwellings, visitors can take a look back at how Puebloans lived 900 years ago.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Welcome to the top of the world. Rocky National Park is 415 square miles of pure spectacular valleys and mountains with crests reaching over 12,000 feet and over 300 miles of hiking trails and wildlife. If up to the challenge, visitors can climb one of Colorado’s 53 fourteeners, Pikes Peak or simply relax among the wildflowers and enjoy the natural beauty that seems to overflow at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns NP is located in the Guadalupe Mountains with elevations reaching 3,000 to 6,500 feet in elevation. With a rugged and desert landscape above ground, below are 119 limestone caves, most famous of which is the Carlsbad Cavern.
Big Bend National Park
Go to the far west of Texas where the Rio Grande makes a sharp turn and there lies the 800,000 acres of Big Bend NP. With several diverse habitats merging together the park has more types of birds, bats and cacti than any other U.S. park. Explore the park and its natural beauty by hiking, backpacking, biking, or river rafting.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Sometime referred to as the “Island in the Desert”, the Guadalupe Mountains rise more than 5,000 feet above the desert floor. Offering over 80 miles of developed trails, hiking and backpacking are the best way to see the pristine wilderness. Visitors wont’ want to miss out on the Guadalupe Peak Trail, a 8.5 mile journey that leads to the highest peak in all of Texas. Fall is the perfect time to explore this park – with cooler temperatures and colorful foliage.
When or if you find yourself in any of these central states, stop by one or two or three of these national parks and pay tribute to the natural beauty our country has so graciously preserved. Happy travels.
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