Top National Park Service Site in Each State

We kicked off our travel blog by highlighting our favorite National Park Service site in each of the 50 states.

Alabama

Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

Alaska

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Arizona

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Arkansas

Buffalo National River

California

Lava Beds National Monument

Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Connecticut

Weir Farm National Historic Site

Delaware

First State National Monument

Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park

Georgia

Andersonville National Historic Site

Hawaii

Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Idaho

City of Rocks National Reserve

Illinois

Pullman National Monument

Indiana

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Iowa

Effigy Mounds National Monument

Kansas

Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site

Kentucky

Mammoth Cave National Park

Louisiana

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve

Maine

Appalachian National Scenic Trail 

Maryland

Catoctin Mountain Park

Massachusetts

Lowell National Historical Park

Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Minnesota

Grand Portage National Monument

Mississippi

Vicksburg National Military Park

Missouri

Ozark National Scenic Riverways

Montana

Big Hole National Battlefield

Nebraska

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Nevada

Great Basin National Park

New Hampshire

Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site

New Jersey

Thomas Edison National Historical Park

New Mexico

Bandelier National Monument

New York

Fort Stanwix National Monument

North Carolina

Cape Lookout National Seashore

North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Ohio

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

Oklahoma

Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Oregon

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument 

Pennsylvania

Fort Necessity National Battlefield

Rhode Island

Roger Williams National Memorial

South Carolina

Congaree National Park

South Dakota

Jewel Cave National Monument

Tennessee

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Texas

Big Bend National Park

Utah

Capitol Reef National Park

Vermont

Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park 

Virginia

Fort Monroe National Monument

Washington

Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

West Virginia

New River Gorge National River

Wisconsin

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

…and finally our home state…

Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park

 

Honorable Mention

District of Columbia

Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site

Yellowstone National Park

Overview

The geothermal features here inspired the creation of the world’s first official “National Park” in 1872.   Most of Yellowstone is actually a supervolcano where the magma heats up underground water producing 10,000 hot springs, fumaroles, and mudpots on the surface, as well as 300 geysers.  Incredibly, over 50% of the geysers in the world occur within this one park, which is equally famous for its wildlife diversity, including grizzly bears, bison, gray wolves, and elk.

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Highlights

Old Faithful geyser, Norris Geyser Basin, Mammoth Hot Springs, waterfalls, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The most famous geyser here is Old Faithful, which can shoot water up to 185 feet in the air.  Since the occurrence of several earthquakes it is no longer as consistent as its name suggests, but its eruptions can be accurately predicted every 60 to 110 minutes throughout the day.  Arrive early to get a seat or take the trail up the nearby hill to watch it from above.  Afterwards, hike the boardwalks through colorful Upper Geyser Basin.

Best Trail

A hike into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on Glacial Boulder Trail is one way to find the solitude lacking at the drive-up overlooks (you should still hike to the Brink of Lower Falls with the crowds).  Instead of staying in the packed campgrounds, consider getting a permit to backpack camp in the canyon.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The trail is steep, but paved down to the Brink of Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River for unforgettable view of the canyon, especially on sunny days when a rainbow appears in the spray.

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Peak Season

Summer, but Old Faithful Village can seem busy in the winter with all the snowmobiles during the day.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Very few roads are not paved, but the majority close for seven months in the winter.

Camping

There are many campgrounds in the park, but they fill up quickly the summer (especially at primitive Slough Creek).  The surrounding National Forests offer campgrounds and dispersed sites as well.  We have enjoyed backpacking at designated campsites in the park with a permit, especially in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Looking back at Lower Yellowstone Falls
A rim view of Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River.

 

Dropping down into the canyon
Backpacking into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone on Glacial Boulder Trail.

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Two ravens
Ravens love Yellowstone, just like Raven About The Parks!

 

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Bison in front of Old Faithful Inn in February.

 

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View of Old Faithful erupting from the hill overlook.

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LR YELL
This design we created to celebrate Yellowstone National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – How many of the park’s 4-million annual visitors arrive in June, July, and August?

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WONDON WAS HERE …TWICE …THRICE

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Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Overview

Twenty-one of the 22 islands within this archipelago jutting from northern Wisconsin into Lake Superior are part of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  This region is famous for its lighthouses and concessionaires offer tours to see them if you do not have your own boat.  Kayakers come for the sea caves carved into Sand Island, Devils Island, and the mainland (accessible on foot after the lake freezes in winter).

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Highlights

Islands, lighthouses, boating, camping, sea caves

Must-Do Activity

Even though this is a freshwater lake, Sand Island has sea caves carved into the billion-year-old sandstone cliffs by constant wave action.  Located only 4 miles from shore, the Sand Island sea caves are carved nearly 50 feet into the rock and can be carefully navigated by kayak.

Best Trail

Sand Island was closed at the time of our visit due to black bear activity, but it is one of the few islands that has a hiking trail (Stockton, Basswood, and Outer being others).  Lakeshore Trail on the west side of the Bayfield Peninsula offers a trail on the mainland.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You will need a kayak and a steady hand to take photographs while paddling through the sea caves on the east side of Sand Island.

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Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/apis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None to visit, but there are fees to camp on the islands and for concessionaire boat tours.

Road Conditions

Most roads on the Bayfield Peninsula are paved and the sandy roads through Chequamegon National Forest were passable by all vehicles.

Camping

Many visitors come with their own boat to camp on one of the 18 islands with sites (permit required and reservations recommended).  Car camping is available at Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island (ferry service) and throughout Chequamegon National Forest on Bayfield Peninsula.

The outside of the Apostle Island Visitor's Center
Pick up your camping permits at this historic Visitor Center.
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Sunset on Lake Superior.
The sandy beach at York Island
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Our campsite on York Island.

Tiff taking pictures on Bananas (with Wondon in his baggies)

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Sand Island Lighthouse
They were pretty stunning
Sea caves on Sand Island.

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It looks alien
A view of the sea cave arch from underwater.

Explore More – When was Long Island added as the twenty-first island in the park?

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New River Gorge National River

Overview

Ironically, the New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world at 65-million years.  In the 50 miles from Bluestone Dam to Gauley Bridge it falls 750 feet in elevation, meaning it is full of Class I to V rapids that attract whitewater rafters from around the world.

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Highlights

Bridge, scenic views, hiking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, free campgrounds

Must-Do Activity

Canyon Rim Visitor Center offers information and great views of the New River Gorge Bridge.  From there you can drive down the twisty road to the river.  Most visitors come here for whitewater rafting, so you should consider hiring a guide to take you out.

Best Trail

The Endless Wall Trail makes a 3-mile loop trail that provides great views of the New River Gorge and the bridge, as well as access to some of the park’s 1,600 rock climbing routes.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Completed in 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge is the second longest single-steel span in the world.  Highway 82 passes underneath where it rises 876 feet above the river.

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Peak Season

Summer (fall for whitewater rafting)

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/neri/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, and even many of the NPS campgrounds are free.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads we drove were steep and windy but passable by passenger vehicles, probably not by RVs.

Camping

Gravel roads access 5 free primitive campgrounds and historic ruins like Thurmond Historic District.

Group shot!
Overlook on the Endless Wall Trail.

Scott (in red) along the Endless Wall trail

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Ladders provide a “less peligro” way for non-rock climbers to ascend the Endless Wall.
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Rhododendron bloom
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Some whitewater on the New River.

Morning fog along the New River gorge

Tiff swimming in the New River
There are lots of rapids, except here at Stone Cliff primitive campground.

Explore More – Annually, what day is the bridge closed to allow BASE jumpers and rappelers to play on it?

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Lake Chelan National Recreation Area

Overview

Lake Chelan is fifty-five miles long and 1,486 feet in depth, the third deepest lake in the U.S.  At the north end of the lake (inaccessible by road), Stehekin, Washington has only about 100 year-round residents.  Daily ferries service the community, which is the jumping off point for the mountain trails of Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and North Cascades National Park.

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Highlights

Ferry, Stehekin, Rainbow Falls, backpacking trails

Must-Do Activity

Stehekin is too fun for a brief day trip, so we recommend you book a room or pick up overnight backpacking permits at the Golden West Visitor Center in town.  Then hop on the red jammer-style bus that provides transportation to the trailheads, including the short hike to Rainbow Falls.  Nearby, the old one-room schoolhouse is open to visitors since it was replaced by a more modern building.  Don’t miss the chance to sample the delicious variety of baked goods at Stehekin Pastry Company.  After backpacking the many steep switchbacks, you will need the extra calories.

Best Trail

There are several great loop options, but we enjoyed hooking into the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail then back south over McAlester Pass to Rainbow Creek Trail on a two night backpacking trip.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The beautiful Lake Chelan is known for its clarity and its fjord-like proportions, which you can best enjoy on the ferry ride to Stehekin.

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Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/noca/planyourvisit/stehekin.htm

Fees

No entrance fee, but there are charges for the ferry, bus, and backcountry campsites.

Road Conditions

No roads, so you will be walking or paying to take the red jammer-style bus out of Stehekin.

Camping

Purple Point and Harlequin Campgrounds are off the main road north of Stehekin, but since you have to pack in all of your gear on the ferry you may as well camp at one of the backcountry sites (permit required) along the many trails in the area.

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In good snowmelt years, expect to get sprayed when visiting Rainbow Falls.

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From 1921-1988, all grade levels were taught in this tiny schoolhouse in Stehekin.

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Explore More – How far below sea level is the bottom of Lake Chelan?

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