Canoeing—Voyageurs National Park from Best NPs for Every Sport

Best NPs for Every Sport

Flickr/JeffPang

Where: Washington

Why: The “American Alps” boast nearly 400 miles of hiking, from the forested valley bottoms to leg-burning, switchbacking climbs up steep passes and ridges to where more than 300 glaciers cling to the frosty spires, peaks and horns of the Cascades. More than 9,000 feet of vertical relief lend the mostly wilderness park a huge variety of ecosystems—from temperate rain forest to alpine—and, in turn, trails to suit almost every taste. More Info

Runner-up: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

For warmer hiking hues, try Bryce Canyon National Park at dawn or dusk, when the sun illuminates its outlandish hoodoos with wild oranges, red, pinks and yellows. More Info

Canoeing—Voyageurs National Park

Flickr/AlphaTangoBravo/AdamBaker

Where: Minnesota

Why: This series of interconnected waterways that flow north into the arctic watershed of Hudson’s Bay together make up a majestic collage of land and water. Today’s canoeists follow in the paddlestrokes of the voyageurs, French trappers who once thrived on the region’s fur trade. Ambitious stargazers can float out into any of the park’s lakes at night for 180º views of the Milky Way and, on occasion, the ghostly dancing of the Northern Lights. More Info

Runner-up: Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Take your pick of the Colorado and Green rivers when you paddle through the serenity of southern Utah’s canyon country. Just be sure not to paddle into Cataract Canyon, or you’ll find yourself in over your head (literally) in churning, Class V rapids. More Info

Backpacking—Rocky Mountain National Park

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Where: Colorado

Why: Here you can take a swing at Rocky Mountain’s “Grand Slam,” a two-day trek across the Mummy Range. The two-day journey crosses 18 miles of alpine tundra, tagging nine 11,500-plus-foot summits along the way. Get an elevation head start at Chapin Creek (10,640 feet), and camp at Lawn Lake to prep for day two. Remember to follow hardened surfaces and trails left by bighorn sheep or fellow summit-baggers, being careful not to crush the fragile tundra plant life. More Info

Runner-up: Olympic National Park, Washington
For a longer stay beneath the open sky, try the two-week, 93-mile Wonderland Trail that loops beneath Mt.Rainier’s summit, taking in conifer forests, alpine ridges, rushing rivers and rolling wildflower meadows. More Info

Climbing—Yosemite National Park

Flickr/Brianz

Where: California

Why: Yosemite Valley’s towering granite cliffs are practically the birthplace of modern rock climbing. And it’s no wonder, given the surplus of inspirational, challenging (most are rated 5.8 or harder) rock lines. Several multi-pitch classics, like the Nose of El Capitan and the Steck Salathé, reach 1,000-plus-feet into the clear Sierra skies. More Info

Runner-Up: Joshua Tree National Park, California

For thrills a little closer to terra firma, boulder-crawlers should visit the monzogranite—that’s a grippy volcanic rock—mecca of the West, which offers more than 8,000 climbing routes. More Info

Cross-Country Skiing—Yellowstone National Park

Flickr/clarque

Where: Wyoming

Why: The world’s first national park is a snow-hushed paradise in winter, particularly in the fall before legions of noisy snowmobiles come barreling through Yellowstone. Just outside of park boundaries, West Yellowstone’s Rendezvous Ski Trails feature more than 20 miles of groomed track. Inside the park, unplowed roads and hundreds of miles of (ungroomed) trails offer backcountry adventurers a rare, crowd-free glimpse of bison, wolves and spectacular geothermal features. More Info

Runner-up: Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (pictured)

Nearby Jackson Hole is popular with downhill skiers, but it’s Grand Teton that offers backcountry skiers a plethora of on- and off-trail cross-country skiing bliss. More Info

Trail Running—Zion National Park

Flickr/schoeband

Where: Utah

Why: Though better known for its canyoneering, Zion is also a treasure trove of steep trail runs. The most famous is the daunting “Zion Traverse,” a 48-mile route that climbs 10,000 feet as it crosses the park from southeast to northwest, threading through wooded terrain, around sand traps and along dizzyingly exposed cliffside scrambles that are sure to set your heart racing. More Info

Runner-up: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

With 255 miles of trail crisscrossing a wonderland of peaks and subalpine valleys, this park is a trail runner’s paradise. Check out the classic Loch Vale and Lumpy Ridge Trails. More Info

Road Biking—Glacier National Park

Flickr/Ryan Grayson

Where: Montana

Why: Going-To-The-Sun Road (pictured) is an apt name for the winding, 50-mile road that switchbacks up the park’s eastern slopes on its way to the 6,646-foot summit of Logan’s Pass, high atop the Continental Divide. It’s a thigh-burning ride, to be sure, but one that’s worth it for the eye-popping views of Rocky Mountain peaks, wildflower meadows and impossibly blue glacial lakes. Oh, and the amazing downhill coast on the other side. More Info

Runner-up: Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Rim Drive, the 33-mile loop around Crater Lake, is a serene road that’s perfect to ride in fall, when the foliage flames in vivid autumn hues. More Info

Hiking—North Cascades National Park

Flickr/JeffPang

Where: Washington

Why: The “American Alps” boast nearly 400 miles of hiking, from the forested valley bottoms to leg-burning, switchbacking climbs up steep passes and ridges to where more than 300 glaciers cling to the frosty spires, peaks and horns of the Cascades. More than 9,000 feet of vertical relief lend the mostly wilderness park a huge variety of ecosystems—from temperate rain forest to alpine—and, in turn, trails to suit almost every taste. More Info

Runner-up: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

For warmer hiking hues, try Bryce Canyon National Park at dawn or dusk, when the sun illuminates its outlandish hoodoos with wild oranges, red, pinks and yellows. More Info

Kayaking—Acadia National Park

Flickr/dgrice

Where: Maine

Why: Maybe the best way to see Mount Desert Island’s rugged, evergreen-studded coast is not on two legs, but from a kayak. Sea kayaking tours led by knowledgeable guides—the frequent and thick fog excludes all but the most experienced kayakers from solo trips—give visitors a chance to enjoy the serene scenery and get close-ups of the area’s rich sea life. More Info

Runner-up: Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Peppered with coves, bays and islands, freshwater Isle Royale is one of the nation’s proudest sea kayaking sites. More Info

Mountaineering—Denali National Park

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Where: Alaska

Why: Denali is home to Mt. McKinley, the continent’s highest mountain. At 20,320 feet, it’s small compared to Asia’s Himalayas (it doesn’t even come close to the 100 highest), but still attracts more than 1,000 climbers a year from across the globe. That’s because its flanks are pounded by fierce, unpredictable weather patterns that sweep in from both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Also, its far northern latitude makes for low barometric pressure, creating the sensation that climbers are even higher than they actually are. More Info

Runner-Up: Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

This snow-covered, 14,411-foot active volcano overlooking Seattle is one of the country’s classic destinations for beginner mountaineers. More Info

Mountain Biking—Mammoth Cave National Park

Flickr/Wooly Matt

Where: Kentucky

Why: This park is best known for its namesake 365-mile-long cave system, but where mountain bikers are concerned, it’s what’s above ground that holds the most thrills. Namely, 80 square miles of rolling forested Kentucky hills crisscrossed by a modest trail system. Originally built illegally, the NPS has agreed to let local bike clubs maintain and expand the trails, promising future development. More Info

Runner-up: Redwood National Park, California

Not far from the birthplace of mountain biking, this park features more than 50 miles of trails winding beneath the world’s tallest canopy. Ride them while marveling at 350-foot-tall ancient coastal redwoods that seem to brush the sky. More Info

Road Running—Grand Teton National Park

Flickr/dave_hensley/JasonBechtel

Where: Wyoming

Why: Rising up the 1,040-foot prominence, Signal Mountain Road is an iconic four-mile series of quad-burning switchbacks. As you ascend, though, they gain magnificent vistas of Jackson Lake and Mt. Moran. From the top, 7,720 feet above sea level, all of Jackson Hole is visible—not to mention the full-breadth of the 40-mile-long Teton Range, a jagged set of horny ridges starkly standing sentinel over the blonde High Plains below. More Info

Runner-up: Acadia National Park, Maine

Cruise up Cadillac Mountain and rise with the morning, as this 1,532-foot peak is one of the first places in the United States the sun’s rays touch at daybreak. More Info

Skiing—Olympic National Park

Flickr/belldesign

Where: Washington

Why: Atop the Olympics, Hurricane Ridge is buried by more than 400 inches of the white stuff annually. That’s perfect for skiers, who ride a single lift (and two rope tows) to its nearly mile-high summit from late December through March to bomb its 10 groomed runs. More adventurous types trek out to the steeps, bowls and glades to find sidecountry powder stashes. Those who look past their tips are treated to a stunning view of the snow-capped Olympics. More Info

Runner-up: Yosemite National Park, California

The first downhill skiing available in California, Yosemite’s Badger Pass also offers 10 groomed runs to adrenaline-thirsty skiers. More Info

Rafting—Grand Canyon National Park

Flickr/kymtyr

Where: Arizona

Why: The full 277 miles through the Grand Canyon can take up to two weeks to complete, though shorter excursions are offered beginning at half-day trips. While most rivers run the international scale of one to six, the Colorado’s unique rapids make it one of only three in the world to operate on a one to ten spectrum. Along the way, be sure to marvel at the exposed strata and arresting vistas that make this one of the world’s seven natural wonders. More Info

Runner-up: Big Bend National Park, Texas

For 118 snaking miles, the portion of the Rio Grande flowing through Big Bend National Park provides rafters with an unforgettable journey straddling the U.S.–Mexico border. More Info

Surfing—Channel Islands National Park

Flickr/i8seattle

Where: California

Why: For the best swells in the NPS, hop a boat to the remote islands of Santa Cruz, Santa Rose and San Miguel, located offshore of Los Angeles but seemingly a world away. Surf the north shore in winter or spring, and the south shore in summer and fall. While you ride the waves, keep an eye out for nesting seabirds, sea lions and seals. More Info

Runner-up: Olympic National Park, Washington

For wave-hungry riders who don’t mind a hike, trek the four miles out to the gorgeous backcountry Shi Shi Beach (pictured), where the secluded break is its own reward. More Info