National Geographic Adventure - Dream It. Plan It. Do It.

National Parks:
50 Top Adventures
Web Favorites


National Parks: Moments to Live For
Five of life's most essential experiences, done perfectly in the parks.
Text by Robert Earle Howells

Cover: Adventure magazine
Subscribe now and save!

1. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California: Create a Family Tradition

In many parks, the friendly ranger in a flat-brimmed hat is becoming an endangered species. Not so in child-friendly Sequoia. By day earnest rangers in full uniform lead nature hikes on which kids count birds, remove invasive plants, and document air quality. At night the park staff gathers young and old around a campfire for shamelessly corny sing-alongs. It's a hopping good time and some of the best camping around. At any of the Cedar Grove campgrounds you'll pitch tents within striking distance of the world's biggest trees. Nearby there's a river to swim in, squirrels not to feed, and black bears likewise—the big guys appear most every evening. (Don't worry, it's safe.)

Vitals: For info on the campgrounds ($18 a night), visit

2. Arches National Park, Utah: Catch the Perfect Sunset

The end of the day at Delicate Arch is something to behold. In the long light of late afternoon, the arch of Entrada sandstone, perched precariously on the edge of a bluff, seems to glow from within. What was pale red in the heat of the afternoon deepens to rich pink and fiery burgundy. Shadows stretch out to the horizon. Time seems to stand still. And even after the sun is gone and the sky slips toward deep purple, the arch continues to glow for longer than seems possible, burning its way into your memory.

Vitals: To reach the arch, take the one-and-a-half-mile (2.4-kilometer) Delicate Arch Trail (not the Delicate Arch Viewpoint) from Wolfe Ranch. For park info, visit

3. Banff National Park, Alberta: Retire to the Wilderness

Comfort in the wilderness is a venerable tradition in Banff, upheld by two unreachable-by-road, way-off-the-grid lodges that stint not a whit on life's little pleasures. Brewster's Shadow Lake Lodge, nine miles (14 kilometers) by foot, skis, or mountain bike, puts you in propane-heated, solar-lit cabins (no generators means blessed quiet) with thick comforters and mountain-meadow views. Skoki Lodge, accessible via a seven-mile (11-kilometer)  trail, dates to 1930 and is classically rustic. Think kerosene lighting, a big fireplace in the six-room main lodge, and a wood-fired sauna. Both lodges serve heaping helpings of fresh food, including pastry-laden afternoon teas, and set out trail-friendly, pack-your-own lunch buffets after breakfast.

Vitals: Brewster's Shadow Lake Lodge has cabins ($175;, while Skoki Lodge ( has rooms ($168) and cabins ($189).

4. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah: Bite into God's Country

Beside the confluence of the Fremont River and Sulphur Creek, amid the red-rock folds of Capitol Reef, lie the remains of the Mormon ghost town of Fruita. And next door is the fruit of Fruita, 2,600 trees in orchards brimming with apples, peaches, pears, cherries, apricots, mulberries, and Potawatomi plums. Sure, go ahead and pick one. This is God's country, after all.

Vitals: For park info, visit

5. Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, United States Virgin Islands: Say "Darn Right, I Do"

Marital bliss is (almost) guaranteed when you start out barefoot in the park—namely, on Trunk Bay Beach in St. John. The strip of powder-fine white sand and turquoise water sees a couple of weddings a night, many of them the escape-the-family, tell-'em-when-we-get-home variety. Knee-deep in 75-degree water is one place you won't get cold feet.

Vitals: For wedding info, visit For park info, visit

PLUS: The Top Five

The Thrill Factor
Five unexpected itineraries that scream action

Trips Through the Ages
Five classic adventures that will never go out of style

Epic Journeys
Five off-the-charts escapes that reach deep into the wild

Moments to Live For
Five of life's most essential experiences, done perfectly in the parks

Cover: Adventure magazine

Pick up the June/July 2006 issue for 50 top adventures in the national parks; how to move to Montana; the best ten-day Brazil vacation; 11 instant weekend escapes; and new watches, cameras, and sunglasses for summer.

Subscribe to Adventure today and save!

E-mail a Friend

Adventure Subscription Offer

Image: Map mapXchange
Free maps to
use with TOPO!

Photo: Kayaker Adventurer's Handbook
How to beach a kayak

Photo: Shoe Outdoor Gear Store
Buy the right gear right now