The Outdoorsy US Bucket List By State For Families (A-M)
When beautiful landscapes come to mind, where is it that your mind wanders? Perhaps the Grand Canyon of Arizona, or the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, Victoria Falls in Zambia, or Iguazu Falls in Brazil. No matter what part of the world you turn to, you are sure to find gorgeous natural beauty at all corners. The US is no exception to this, with plenty of destinations that should be added to your outdoorsy US bucket list!
While this list is far from all inclusive, explore some of the best outdoorsy US bucket list destinations in each US state as recommended by experienced travel bloggers from around the world.
Alabama: Gulf Shores
Recommended by Sarah from Sarah in the Suburbs
Gulf Shores is a hidden gem on the southernmost coast of Alabama. Too often it is skipped over in favor of flashy Florida beaches, but one visit to this coastal Alabama town will change your mind.
Gulf Shores is home to Gulf State Park and a plethora of outdoor activities to go along with it. From fishing to stand up paddleboarding to dolphin cruises, there is a little something for everyone in the family. One stand out company, Coastal Kayak Excursions, encourages you to get up close and personal with nature while exploring the calmer waters of the bay. Additionally, there are opportunities to hike, bike, and explore all throughout Gulf State Park.
Accommodations at Gulf State Park include cabins, cottages, a lodge, and campgrounds. The park has over 496 RV sites, 11 primitive camping sites, and 3 brand new “glamping” sites. The RV sites have access to modern bathhouses and provide full hookups with water, sewer, electricity, picnic table, and pedestal grill.
Summer is one of the best times to visit because of the fantastic weather and the amount of activities available. However, consider a visit during “shoulder season,” which is the season beginning late September and running through early November. School is back in session, summer travels are ending, and the holiday season is not yet in full swing.
Alaska: Denali National Park
Recommended by Agnes from the Van Escape
Exploring Denali National Park in Alaska with kids is a fantastic, lifetime adventure. But it’s worth preparing for because Denali is a vast wilderness. Denali, the highest mountain in North America, towering over the vast landscape and abundant wildlife of Denali National Park, is a perfect place for an outdoor holiday. Since the season is short, you should book your stay from June to August. Winter begins in mid-September.
It is important to note that access to Denali National Park is via Denali Park Road, which is 92 miles long. However, private vehicles can only drive up to mile 15 of the road. The rest of the park can be accessed via the park shuttle bus or one of the Denali National Park tours. The best option for visiting a park with kids is a guided tour bus.
It is a full-day tour with many stops for short walks, photos, and wildlife viewing. The local guides know a lot about the park, the animals that inhabit it, and their habits. What’s more, they pass this knowledge on to the tourists in a great and understandable way. Children will not be bored. They will be thrilled.
On the way, it is possible to see bears, moose, and caribou. The trip lasts all day, and since there are no amenities or grocery stores in the park, it is a good idea to pack a supply of drinks and snacks. A great idea that will leave a fantastic impression on kids is to take a flight over Denali. The best selection of trips at the best prices you can find in Talkeetna.
Another way to explore the park is to stay at one of the six campgrounds. The McKinley Bar Trail in the Wonder Lake area is exciting. But these campgrounds are primitive, with no electricity, running water, or showers. There is no cell phone reception in most parts of the park. So, these sites are only for experienced campers.
There are no National Park Service hotels in Denali National Park. The perfect option for families is the Denali Backcountry Lodge in the remote wilderness of Denali. There are also more affordable campgrounds with amenities and cabins in Healy (Denali RV Park & Motel) and Talkeetna (Talkeetna Camper Park) outside the park.
Recommended by Candice from CS Ginger
Sedona, Arizona is one of the prettiest places in the state of Arizona. It is a great place to visit whether you are looking for outdoor adventures, a relaxing day at the spa, or fun-family activities. Sedona is full of several beautiful natural landmarks made of the beautiful red rock Sedona is famous for.
Spring and fall are the best times to visit Sedona. In the fall, the Arizona temperatures have cooled down, making it a great time for hiking and spending time outdoors. Temperatures range from the high 70s into the 80s. In November, you will find the best accommodation deals. Spring is a great time to see the wildflowers and enjoy the temperatures before it heats up over the summer.
Hiking is one of the most popular things to do in Sedona. Cathedral Rock, Devil’s Bridge, and the Birthing Cave in Sedona are some of the most popular trails in the area. If you are visiting with kids, be sure to check out Bell Rock.
The entire Sedona area is beautiful making it a great place for a scenic drive. The Red Rock Scenic Byway is a short drive but will take you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the area. The drive is eight miles long and starts along Highway 179.
A great place for shopping in Sedona is at the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. There are about 50 different boutiques and craft shops selling beautiful pieces of artwork, jewelry, and clothing.
Another unique thing to do in Sedona is to visit the cliff dwelling sites. These sites were inhabited from 1,100 to 1,400 AD. At the sites, you will find remains of ancient buildings and petroglyphs. The heritage sites in the area are the Palatki Heritage Site and Honanki Heritage Site.
There are lots of hotels and private rentals in the Sedona area. If you are visiting in an RV, you will have lots of campgrounds and RV parks to choose from.
Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is full of natural beauty and has a long history as a healing and spa destination. A visit to the park will have you enjoying not just the soaking tubs in the historical bathhouses, but also the miles of scenic hiking trails!
One of the top things to do in Hot Springs National Park is to visit the 8 historical bathhouses along Bathhouse Row. You can spend some time soaking in the natural hot spring water at the Buckstaff Bathhouse or Quapaw Bathhouse. Another fun way to experience the springs is by tasting them! There are several thermal spring fountains and two cold water springs in the park to enjoy.
There are two outdoor areas where you can enjoy the springs-The Display Spring behind the Maurice Bathhouse and the Hot Water Cascade. Other than visiting the bathhouses, you can enjoy hiking through the park with 26 miles of trails, bird watching, biking, fishing, ride to the top of the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, enjoy scenic views of the park along the West and North Mountains drive, or shop at the Bathhouse Row Emporium.
If visiting with kids, you can participate in the junior ranger program or take a guided ranger tour through the park to learn about the history and geology of Hot Springs National Park. The best time to visit Hot Springs National Park is late summer/early fall. The weather will still be warm, but slightly milder, making for a great experience both exploring the park and soaking in the baths.
For accommodations in Hot Springs National Park, Gulpha Gorge Campground has 40 sites along the Gulpha Creek. If you prefer not to camp, check out Hotel Hale along Bathhouse Row. With their soaking tubs in each room and proximity to the major attractions of Hot Springs National Park, it is bound to be a delightful experience!
California: Yosemite National Park
Recommended by Rasika from Bae Area and Beyond
There’s a reason why Yosemite National Park is on everyone’s bucket list: it’s pure magic! Not only is Yosemite home to some of the tallest waterfalls and largest sequoia trees, but there are also countless hiking trails that lead you through all kinds of scenic views.
The top 3 best things to do in Yosemite, especially when visiting with kids are: Lower Yosemite Falls, Tunnel View and Glacier Point. All of these attractions provide amazing but unique views with easy hiking trails. The Lower Yosemite Falls view is a close up view to look up to see the fierce rush of the falls. The Tunnel View features a beautiful panoramic landscape of El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls and more! The Glacier Point view provides an aerial view of the Yosemite Valley and beyond that is truly breathtaking!
Yosemite is beautiful in every season but if you’d love to see the Yosemite Falls in its highest flow, visit the park during spring. It’s best to stay in the park or as close to the park as possible. Stay at Cloud’s Rest Cabin in Foresta, a 10-minute drive till Big Oak Flat Road that leads to Yosemite Valley. Cloud’s Rest Cabin is a big 1-bedroom cabin with Yosemite paintings and photographs and cabin-themed accessories. And when you walk out to the front porch, you’ll see El Capitan, Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest, of course!
Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park
Recommended by Paula from Her Wanderful World
Colorado is home to some of the most breathtaking views in America. With endless views of the Rocky Mountains and 300 days of sunshine, Colorado has so much natural beauty that many people visit every single season.
One of the best family-friendly places to visit in Colorado is Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). It is open year-round, but the best time to visit is April-May and September-October. The weather is perfect during the day and becomes cooler at night. The trails in the Rockies will be dry for hiking and backpacking and visitors will see wildlife such as elk and moose meandering about. June-August is also a great time to visit the Rockies, but this is a high season for tourists, so there will be more people on the trials.
One of the best trails for families with small children is Bear Lake Loop. It is located right off the parking lot of the trailhead and is a very easy trail that, as the name states, loops around Bear Lake. Another great trail for families is the Alberta Falls Trail with the trailhead located opposite the Bear Lake Loop. This moderate trail takes hikers up to the falls with ample seating on the rocks to snack or eat a packed lunch.
After exploring RMNP, enjoy some downtime strolling in Estes Park. Purchase mountain souvenirs in the boutiques lining the streets or grab some delicious local ice cream. To get all that Estes Park has to offer, families can enjoy a stay at the famous Stanley Hotel and receive historical tours of the location, including a spirited evening tour with a knowledgeable guide.
With so much to see and do, make sure to pack accordingly when visiting. Always carry water while in Colorado and make sure to acclimate to the high altitude before attempting hiking.
Connecticut: Lake Quonnipaug & Guilford
Lake Quonnipaug and the surrounding area of Guilford is a great nature escape and should be included in any outdoorsy US bucket list. Here you will find plenty of hiking options of varying lengths and difficulty and opportunities for water sports.
Lake Quonnipaug is in a scenic section just a short distance off the coast of Connecticut surrounded by lush forest scenery. Along the shoreline of Lake Quonnipaug you can find sandy beaches for swimming, sunbathing, and sandcastle building. If you are looking for a little more adventure, hit the water with a kayak or paddle boat rental.
In Guildford you can gain access to the New England National Scenic Trail Gateway if you are looking to do some hiking. The scenic trail goes for more than 215 miles from Guilford to Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley at the New Hampshire Border.
Other nearby hiking trails can be found in the Timberland Preserve. The Timberlands is an extensive forest area near Guildford that has plentiful hiking trail options of varying difficulty, ranging from less than half a mile to almost 3 miles in length. Other activities to enjoy in the Timberlands include biking, horseback riding, and fishing.
The Guildford Salt Meadow Sanctuary is another top option for outdoor adventure. The Anne Conover Nature Education Trail, an easy 1-mile-long loop trail, takes you around the wetlands. You can also access the waterway with kayaks or canoes.
Aside from the natural beauty of Lake Quonnipaug and Guilford, you can find many historical and well-preserved homes and buildings. The Guilford Historic Town Center district contains 600 preserved buildings, with some of the most notable being the Henry Whitfield House, the Hyland House, and the Dudley Far, which are all open for tours.
The best time to visit Guildford is the summer months from June through August for warmer weather. The fall months are also a great time to visit as the natural beauty of Guildford will be complimented by the fall colors.
Delaware: Trap Pond State Park
Trap Pond State Park is a 3,600-acre wetland park that is littered with bald cypress trees, wildflowers, and wildlife, making for a great destination to add to any outdoorsy US bucket list! Some of the best activities to experience in Trap Pond State Park include hiking, water sports, and wildlife viewing.
Throughout the park you will find plenty of hiking trails that are easy in difficulty on flat surfaces. The trails range in length from 0.3 miles to just over 3 miles. You can enjoy hiking, horseback riding, and biking along the trails.
Aside from hiking, you can enjoy water sport rentals, including kayaks, canoes, rowboats, and pedal boats. You will find plenty of picnic tables overlooking the pond for a relaxing lunch after exploring the park.
When visiting Trap Pond State Park, you will also find plenty of nearby nature preserves and parks to explore. An hour from Trap Pond is Cape Henlopen State Park. This oceanfront park offers opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and windsurfing.
Nearby Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is another top location to visit for an outdoorsy trip in Delaware. At the refuge you can view the area from an observation platform, drive along 4 scenic roads in the area, enjoy six miles of hiking trails, canoeing, hunting, and educational opportunities to learn about the history of the area and the wildlife that calls the refuge home.
For accommodations, you can find traditional camping sites within the park, yurts for rent, and waterside cabins within Trap Pond State Park. The best time of year to visit Trap Pond State Park and the surrounding area is late summer and the fall months. You will find warm, but milder temperatures than the peak summer months that will make your trip enjoyable. The fall months will also delight you will a colorful array as the leaves begin to change.
Florida: Everglades National Park
Recommended by Lori from Naples Florida Travel Guide
Families looking for their next big adventure to check off their outdoorsy US bucket list should be sure to include the Florida Everglades, one of the last remaining wilderness places in the US. This pristine environment has a variety of rare wildlife and plants, and plenty of things to see and do.
There are only two seasons in southern Florida, wet and dry. To see abundant wildlife, consider the wet season for a variety of reasons. Sure, it’s humid and can be buggy, but this is when migratory birds by the thousands make their appearance to nest. Alligators, manatees, and animals that depend on water can be more easily spotted during this time of year.
During the wet season is also the best time to go kayaking or take a guided airboat ride. The best Everglades airboat tours are on smaller airboats that seat 6-8 people plus the captain and can take you to places fewer boats can access.
Hiking is a great activity regardless of age, and there are plenty of easy hikes along boardwalk trails that keep you above the water and wind through cypress and hardwood forests. A visit to the Shark Alley Visitor Center is also a must, to hike or enjoy a tram ride along the 15-mile-long flat trail that ends at the high observation tower and an amazing panoramic view over the Glades.
Most people don’t associate camping with the Everglades, but Everglades National Park offers a variety of camping accommodations from cozy eco pods and rustic cabins to traditional camp sites, beach camping, and even remote chickee hut camping on elevated platforms over the water. The Flamingo campground is a favorite in the National Park.
Georgia: Providence Canyon
Providence Canyon State Park is a 1,003-acre state park that is often referred to as the “Little Grand Canyon.” Unlike other canyons and gorges that are carved out by water/ice over several years, Providence Canyon resulted from exploitive farming practices. Destruction of topsoil led to gullies that developed into the canyon that is seen today.
Hiking the Canyon Loop Trail is one of the best ways to get stunning views of Providence Canyon. The 2.5-mile trail takes you around the rim of the canyon and down through the canyon. Aside from the Canyon Loop Trail you can find 7 miles of backcountry trails for more hiking opportunities.
The Canyon Floor can be reached down a half mile trail off the Canyon Loop Trail. Once the floor is reached you will see nine labeled canyons. All of them are worth visiting, but if short on time, canyons 4 and 5 are the most scenic. The canyon floors will often time contain at least small amounts of water, so be sure to come prepared!
Opportunities for wildlife viewing are plentiful in the park, with frequent sightings including racoons, deer, armadillos, wild turkeys, rabbits, and red foxes. Providence Canyon is also a prime location for bird watching.
For accommodations, you can find 3 pioneer campsites and 6 backcountry campsites within Providence Canyon State Park. At nearby Florence Marina State Park you can find more camping sites, cottages, and efficiency units.
The best time to visit Providence Canyon is the fall months. The summer months can get very hot, but the falls months offer milder temperatures perfect for hiking. The fall months also offer the opportunity for fall foliage viewing when the Oak and Maple trees begin to change.
Hawaii: Haleakala National Park
Recommended by Nikki of She Saves She Travels
One of the most outdoorsy states in the USA is Hawaii, although that might surprise some! From lush rainforests to dry deserts and of course, amazing beaches, anyone who loves the outdoors will feel right at home in Hawaii.
A must-see in Hawaii is Haleakala National Park in Maui. It’s a unique park within the US National Park system and balances ancient Hawaiian culture with modern natural phenomenon. It’s one of the best things to do in Maui on a budget, too.
The landscape in the park is incredible. Rich, colorful terrain make way for spectacular views of the island and ocean. Hiking is available at the Haleakala summit, from .3 miles to full-day hikes. Or venture into the remote Kipahulu District for stunning waterfalls and bamboo forests.
But the most popular way to experience Haleakala National Park is to watch the sunrise above the clouds. At over 10,000 feet in elevation, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience! You’ll need to make reservations in advance and dress warmly. Around sunrise the temperatures are often below freezing!
The best time of year to visit Maui is during off-season. Avoiding summer and the peak of winter will mean less crowds and better pricing. While there’s not a whole lot of accommodations right near the park, most of the island is within a short drive to the entrance of the park. The nearest area with plenty of accommodations is Wailea. Staying near Polo or Makena Beach will provide views of the beach and the mountains at the same time.
Idaho: Thousand Springs State Park
Recommended by Emilie from Love Life Abroad
While in Idaho, especially when visiting the Twin Falls region, a stop at the Thousand Springs State Park is a must for all outdoorsy families. Nestled in the heart of the Magic Valley, Thousand Springs State Park is separated into 5 unique units, each having something special to do: Niagara Springs Unit, Ritter Island Unit, Malad Gorge Unit, Billingsley Creek Unit, and Box Canyon Unit.
It’s a great state park to visit with kids because it is filled with waterfalls, short easy hikes and water access. At Niagara Springs Unit, you can have a picnic overlooking the falls. At Ritter Island Unit, you’ll be able to launch your paddleboard or kayak and paddle around the island and admire the Lemon Falls. On the island, there are a few remaining historical buildings to look at.
At Malad Gorge Unit, the family can all stretch their legs with a short hike across the bridge and along the canyon rim. All units are close in distance, so it’s possible to visit them all within a few days on a beautiful road trip.
The best time to visit Thousand Springs State Park would be in the spring or the summer to enjoy the water activities. Though the weather may be better in the summer, the waterfalls flows are more impressive early in the season.
There are many family-friendly options for lodging near the Thousand Springs State Park, from camping to hotels. For a complete experience of Ritter Island, an overnight stay at one of the state site’s converted historical houses is a great idea. Otherwise, the Billingsley Creek Lodge is another great pick. The small family cabins are perfectly located by the river.
Illinois: Shawnee National Forest
Recommended by Ladona from Walking the Parks
Southern Illinois is a nature wonderland. At the heart is the Shawnee National Forest, which covers 289,000 acres between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. You’ll discover oak-hickory forests, flourishing marshes, and lush canyons. Enjoy over 400 miles of hiking trails or take your family backcountry on horseback with a dozen authorized outfitters available.
Garden of the Gods is the most photographed recreational area in the Shawnee National Forest with astounding rock formations and scenic valley views. The nearby campground is open year-round and centrally located to anchor your visit.
Dozens of Illinois State Parks border the Shawnee National Forest. A favorite, Giant City State Park, boasts a gorgeous old lodge and easy family-friendly hikes. Or check out Cave-in-Rock State Park nestled into the high rock bluffs along the Ohio River. Kids will love exploring the large open cave that comes with tales of river pirates and bootleggers.
Up for a family biking adventure? Check out Tunnel Hill State Trail, a 45-mile biking and hiking trail on an old railroad bed. About 1/2 of the trail passes through undisturbed areas of the Shawnee National Forest where you can see wildlife, including deer and turkeys.
Wrap up your Southern Illinois adventure on the family friendly Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. The rolling hills are perfect for orchards and vineyards where you can enjoy treats on large family and pet-friendly lawns.
Shawnee National Forest has a wide range of camping possibilities, from primitive backpacking to modern campgrounds. Several of the surrounding Illinois State Parks have fantastic historic lodges and cabins in addition to campgrounds. Fall is the most popular time to visit due to the incredible colors on the ridges. However, the Shawnee National Forest is perfect for enjoyment all year round.
Indiana: McCormick’s Creek State Park
At over 1,900 acres, McCormick’s Creek State Park is abundant in outdoor and nature activities perfect for families looking for a perfect outdoorsy US bucket list destination. Top sights in McCormick’s Creek State Park include the limestone canyon, creek, and waterfalls.
When visiting McCormick’s Creek State Park, hiking is a must do activity to experience all the nature that the park has to offer. The Park is home to over ten miles of hiking trails, including the Wolf Cave Trail, Falls Canyon Trail, and McCormick Creek Trail. Trails range in difficulty from easy to moderate, making it a great area to visit with kids.
Other activities to enjoy in McCormick State Park include horseback riding, fishing, exploring the nature center, exploring the Wolf Cave, waterfall viewing, crossing the stone arch bridge, bird watching, and picnicking.
For accommodations, check out the McCormick’s Creek State Park campgrounds. The campgrounds have a variety of options available, from modern electric campsites, primitive campsites, cabins, or the Canyon Inn. The best time to visit McCormick’s Creek State Park are the summer months for the warmest temperatures and October for fall foliage viewing.
Iowa: Maquoketa Caves State Park
Maquoketa Caves State Park is perhaps one of the most unique state parks in Iowa and with more caves than any other state park, it is the perfect destination for exploring and climbing. Maquoketa Caves State Park’s caves are limestone formations of varying sizes and shapes.
The main hiking trail through the park connects the park’s many caves, overlooks, and bluff formations. Visitors to the park are permitted to explore the caves. Because of the varying sizes, some caves, like Dancehall Cave, can be walked through while others will require you to get down and crawl through.
While hiking the trail you will find many natural landmarks besides the caves, including the Natural Bridge that stands over Raccoon Creek and the popular Balanced Rock. To learn more about the history and geology of the caves visit the interpretive center.
The best time to visit Maquoketa Caves State Park is between the months of April and October. The spring months will bring colorful wildflowers, while the fall months will bring a colorful mix of red, orange, and yellow. You can still visit the park in the winter months, but the caves will be closed due to bat hibernation. If you want to stay overnight, or for a few days, you will find campgrounds in the park with 29 camp sites.
Oakley is a small town in Kansas with picturesque rock formations, hiking, ancient ruins, and lots of outdoor adventure awaiting! Monument Rocks are an icon of Oakley, with some towering as high as 50ft. into the sky. The formations, composed of Niobrara Chalk, are the result of erosion of a seabed during the Cretaceous Period.
When you visit the rocks, be sure to keep an eye open for fossils and shells stuck in the rocks. (Note: Monument Rocks are located on private property, but the owners open it up for visitors during daylight hours. Be sure to be respectful and follow any rules/signs).
Smoke Valley Ranch is a go to in Oakley for hiking. Smoke Valley Ranch is a working cattle/bison ranch, but there is public access to hiking trails on the property. You can choose from the shorter 1-mile-long trail or opt for the 5-mile hiking trail and horseback riding trail. Along the way you will be surrounded by prairie and chalk bluff views.
Lake Scott State Park is set within a canyon a short distance outside of Oakley in Scott City. The 100-acre lake is surrounded by natural springs, wooded canyons, and bluffs. Within the park you will also find the remains of a Native American pueblo, El Cuartelejo. Other outdoor activities you can find in Lake Scott State Park include boating, swimming, hiking, hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, and camping.
Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park located just outside of Oakley is another unique spot to visit and is similar to Monument Rocks. The formations in this park are made of the same Niobrara Chalk carved during the Cretaceous Period. There are many overlook areas for viewing of the badlands from above.
If traveling in an RV, check out High Plains Camping, an RV park. For tent sites, you can stay at Lake Scott State Park. The best time to visit Oakley is early summer when you will find warm temperatures for outdoor adventure, but will avoid the hottest time of the year in July.
Kentucky: Mammoth Caves
Recommended by Gabby Abbott from Journey to the Destination
One of the best outdoor destinations in the state of Kentucky is Mammoth Cave National Park. Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the world, spanning more than 400 miles. While 400 miles of the cave have been explored, there is no end in sight. The cave is still being explored today, with new sections found all the time.
Mammoth Cave is the perfect place to visit for families, outdoor enthusiasts, or anyone that loves adventure. Mammoth Cave is a great place to visit any time of year because the inside of the cave stays around 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to bring a light jacket when visiting the national park, even when visiting in summer.
One of the best things to do at Mammoth Cave National Park is going on cave tours. The national park offers history and geology tours. These tours are great for families because they only last a couple of hours, and they don’t cover too much distance.
While underground exploring is the most common thing to do at Mammoth Cave, above-ground hiking is also fun for families. Mammoth Cave has many hiking trails that are easy for small kids. There are picnic tables along the way, so stopping to have a picnic is a great way to spend the day.
Mammoth Cave National Park is in the middle of nowhere, so it’s a good idea to go camping at Mammoth Cave. While there are many great campgrounds, the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Campground is perfect for families. They have a beach to go swimming in, a giant jump pad, and a mini-golf course. Kids will never get bored at Jellystone!
Louisiana: Atchafalaya National Heritage Area
The largest freshwater swamp in the country, the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, in Louisiana is one of the best nature escapes in the state and should be included on any outdoorsy US bucket list. The Atchafalaya National Heritage Area stretches across 14 parishes in Southern Louisiana along the Atchafalya River.
A trip to the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area offers both land and water activities, from biking, birdwatching, and camping, to kayaking, fishing, and canoeing. One of the best ways to explore the area is with a wetland boat and swamp tour. You can hop aboard an airboat for a swamp tour, join a guided canoe tour, or enjoy an aluminum boat tour.
The Cajun Coast, the gateway to the Atchafalaya Basin, is one of the top places to begin a single or multiday kayaking or canoeing trip. You could also choose to enjoy a scenic drive along the Bayou Teche Scenic Byway, visit the Southwest Reef Lighthouse, attend a festival (depending on when you are visiting), and of course try some authentic Cajun cuisine.
Not only is it an outdoor paradise, but it is also known as one of the most diverse locations in the states, being home to the Cajun culture along with a diverse population of European, African, Caribbean, and Native-American cultures. To experience the diverse culture of the area, follow the African American Heritage Trail, attend one of the many festivals and celebrations, or visit the many historical sites in the region, along with some of the oldest communities in the country.
The best way to experience the Atchafalaya National Heritage Area is by camping. You can find many campgrounds throughout the area in the Bayou Teche Corridor region, Costal Zone area, and the upper Atchafalaya Area. For a truly unique experience, rent a houseboat on the Cajun Coast.
The best time to visit the area is in the fall or spring. Both seasons will have milder temperatures, with Spring being one of the best times for wildlife and natural fauna viewing, while Fall is the best time to view the bald Cypress Trees turning different shades of brown and orange.
Maine: Acadia National Park
Recommended by Michelle from The Wandering Queen
One of the best places to visit in Maine is Acadia National Park. It is the only national park in the state, and it truly is a beautiful gem. The vibes, the food, and the outdoorsy atmosphere make this place an excellent area for families.
It is best to visit Acadia either in the Summer or Fall. The Fall is extra special because of the colorful orange and red trees. If you do go to Acadia, the best place to stay is at a campground called Blackwoods Campground. If you are looking for a hotel, there are many places to stay in the cute town of Bar Harbor.
Some of the best activities in the park include hiking. The most popular hikes are The Precipice Trail, The Beehive Trail, and The South Bubble Mountain. All are gorgeous, stunning areas but be careful with some of the trails because you do have to do a bit of climbing.
You can also experience Cadillac Mountain for sunrise, and it is the most popular activity to do in the park. It has one of the first sunrise views in the continental USA from October through March, and you need a permit to experience this. You can also drive The Park Loop Road, and there are so many cool spots to stop at in this area, like Sand Beach Thunder Hole, Otter Point, Jordan Pond, and Cadillac Mountain.
Maryland: Assateague National Seashore
Recommended by Erin Gifford of Maryland Hikes
On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Assateague Island National Seashore is a fantastic outdoor destination for families. Kids will go ga-ga for the brown and white ponies that freely roam the national seashore. They amble across sand dunes, hiking trails, tidal marshes and campgrounds, even parking lots. The ponies are undisputedly the main attraction of this idyllic national seashore.
Hike three easy coastal trails, including the .8-mile Life of the Dunes Trail. This trail shares the story of the 15-mile Baltimore Boulevard that was destroyed by a catastrophic nor’easter in 1962. Thankfully, this major road was not rebuilt. Nature re-claimed the land and today Maryland is home to one of the most beautiful national seashores in the country.
You’ll also want to make time for the .5-mile Life of the Forest Trail and the .5-mile Life of the Marsh Trail. Bring your bikes or rent one from Assateague Outfitters for a scenic pedal around the island. Assateague Outfitters also rents kayaks and canoes for a paddle just off the shore.
The drive-in and walk-in campgrounds are wildly popular, especially those on the sandy dunes. Miles of pristine shores are celebrated by beachgoers, too. Beach lifeguards are on-duty every day from mid-June to early-September. Summer can be buggy, so keep this in mind. Bring insect repellant and plenty of sunblock.
Massachusettes: The Berkshires
The Berkshires of Massachusetts in Western Massachusetts should be included on any outdoorsy US bucket list! There are many outdoor adventures to be had in the Berkshires, including hiking, water sports, horseback riding, adventure courses, whitewater rafting, swimming, skiing, and snow shoeing.
If you are an avid hiker, opt to visit the highest point in the state, Mount Greylock. There are plenty of hiking trails that will take you to the 3,491 ft. summit. If you and your family would prefer to the reach the summit a different way you can take the scenic drive up by car or bike. At the top you can go even higher and climb the 93 ft. Veterans War Memorial Tower.
Another hiking option is the Ashuwillticook Branch Rail Trail, a 13-mile flat trail perfect for walking, biking, or rollerblading. Head to Natural Bridge State Park in North Adams and see the park’s centerpiece, the natural marble geological formation.
October Mountain is another option, with a combination of more difficult and easier, flat trails to enjoy. At October Mountain State Forest, you can enjoy canoeing, kayaking, fishing, mountain biking, and in the wintertime cross country skiing.
One of the best times to visit the Berkshires is the fall months. During the fall you will find milder temperatures, which make for a more enjoyable hiking experience, along with the stunning fall foliage that will start to peep through.
The best way to truly experience the wonder of the Berkshires is by camping. Scattered throughout the mountain range you will find plenty of campgrounds offering primitive and more modern style campsites and cabins, from privately run campgrounds to state parks.
Michigan: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Recommended by Samantha from PA on Pause
The state of Michigan is full of outdoor spaces to explore, but one that adults and kids alike are sure to enjoy is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Visit between the months of May and September for the best weather, but be prepared for bigger crowds in June, July, and August. It’s a popular spot along the shores of Lake Michigan!
Take the kids to conquer the popular “Dune Climb” by trekking straight up the sand mound and out towards the waters. They’ll surely love this gigantic sandbox. There are plenty of spots to have a day in the sand by the water. Bring your bicycles or rent some locally to ride along a stretch of the 22-mile Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, a mostly paved bike path extending nearly the length of the lakeshore.
In the summer months, rent tubes and take a leisurely float trip down the Platte River. Tubes and other watercraft such as kayaks and canoes, can be rented at Riverside Canoe Trips, right along M-22. Their trips can be short 1-hour floats or make a day of it and float to the beach.
The nearby Platte River Campground within the park is a great place to stay for your visit, and offers a wide variety of camping options, from large RV sites with electrical hookups for more comfort, to walk-in tent camping sites for a little more adventure. There are nearly 200 sites to choose from, and there’s even a short hike to a beautiful beach right from the campground.
Minnesota: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness
Recommended by Ada from Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
If you want to immerse your family in outdoor adventure, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) in northeastern Minnesota is the perfect destination. This million-acre tract of boreal forest and countless lakes provides a perfect introduction to canoe camping.
What’s canoe camping? It’s where you paddle from lake to lake, haul all of your gear over portages, and camp in backcountry-style campsites. If it all seems a little daunting, you can work with a local outfitter to figure out a route and get set up with everything from canoes and paddles to food and cookstoves for your BWCAW adventure.
For a first-time Boundary Waters visit, try a one or two-night overnight canoe camping trip in late July or August. Although that’s Boundary Waters high season, it’s the most forgiving time to visit this remote wilderness. Due to limited camping permits, you’ll want to start planning a trip for this time of year in late winter. On your trip, enjoy swimming and fishing, bond over evening board games and chats around the campfire, and learn valuable lessons in navigation and perseverance as you travel on your route.
A Boundary Waters trip has inherent challenges and requires a certain level of physical fitness and general comfort in a wilderness setting. If you don’t feel ready for an overnight Boundary Waters camping trip just yet, you can test the waters by renting a cabin on the edge of the Boundary Waters in the Ely or Gunflint Trail areas. From there, day trip into the Boundary Waters for a paddle, hike, or fishing adventure.
Mississippi: Gulf Islands National Seashore
Gulf Islands National Seashore is a 160-mile-long seashore along the Gulf of Mexico at the Southern end of the Mississippi and extending to Florida. The Mississippi portion of the seashore is much more remote with plenty of options for getting up close and personal with nature.
The Gulf Islands National Seashore Davis Bayou Area in Ocean Springs is a great place to make your base for exploring the area. Here you can spend your days fishing, hiking, biking, and birdwatching. The Davis Bayou area has three easy trail options: Nature’s Way Trail, the Davis Bayou Trail, and the Civilian Conservation Corps Spur for those who want to enjoy a peaceful hike.
Four barrier islands are scattered just off the coast along the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi, including Cat Island, Horn Island, Petit Bois Island, and Ship Island. Of the islands, Ship Island is the easiest to reach. A ferry leaving from Gulfport Yacht Harbor in Jones Park will take you on a one-hour trip to the secluded barrier island off the coast of Mississippi.
Once on the island you can enjoy swimming and sunbathing on the island’s pristine beaches, shelling, hiking, kite-flying, snorkeling, enjoy a tour of the historic Civil War-era Fort Massachusetts, and a walk along the boardwalk while watching out for wildlife. The other islands of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi can be reached by private boat or through tour companies.
To make your nature escape to the Gulf Islands National Seashore complete, plan to stay at the Davis Bayou Campgrounds. The campground features 52 camping and RV sites. The best time of year to visit the Gulf Islands National Seashore is Spring or Fall, when you will find pleasant weather. The summer months will be the warmest but are also some of the rainiest.
Missouri: Arcadia Valley
Arcadia Valley, located just 80 miles outside of St. Louis, is one of the most beautiful and nature filled destinations in Missouri. Arcadia Valley has no shortage of outdoor activities, from hiking, swimming, and camping to historical remains and mines to explore.
While here, head to the highest point in the state of Missouri at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park for stunning views of the valley and the St. Francois Mountains! You can enjoy hiking, waterfall viewing, bird watching, and camping. For avid hikers, the Ozark Trail will take you 13 miles to nearby Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, where you can soak in the many popular swimming areas in the park.
Next, head over to Elephant Rocks State Park, where you will find gigantic boulders extending up to 25 ft. tall. At the park there is a staircase taking you up onto the boulders where you can enjoy stunning views.
The Royal Gorge is a picturesque destination in Arcadia Valley that will take you along a 2.5-mile-long trail overlooking the gorge or you can stop at the popular overlook area along highway 21. The Marble Creek Recreational Area is great for a relaxing day, picnic, viewing the remains of a grist mill and dam, and swimming.
For accommodations, head to the Taum Sauk Mountain State Park campgrounds or the Marble Creek Recreational Area for primitive campsites, modern campsites, and RV sites. The best time of year to visit Arcadia Valley is during the fall months. You will find milder temperatures complimented by stunning fall foliage.
Montana: Glacier National Park
Recommended by Jessica from Uprooted Traveler
Regardless of your age, Glacier National Park, located in Montana, is one of the most exciting places in the United States. There’s plenty of magnificent sights throughout the park to keep the whole family entertained, from soaring mountainscapes, all kinds of animal friends (from marmots to grizzly bears), and plenty of gorgeous plant life to explore- and even some, like huckleberries, that you can taste!
Many of the park’s most beloved attractions can be explored when driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, an architectural marvel of a road that’s carved into the side of the Rocky Mountains, winding past vibrantly-colored lakes, massive glaciers, and cascading waterfalls.
For some family-friendly stops, hit up the Avalanche Lake trail, a 4.5-mile out-and-back, suitable for even brand-new hikers, to a pastel blue lake sitting at the foot of a towering mountain. After climbing up to the lake on a hot day, there’s nothing better than soaking your feet in the lake’s glacier-fed waters. For more advanced hikers, try the Hidden Lake Overlook trail- while you’ll have to climb up more elevation along this trek, the extra effort is worth it, given that this is a great place to see mountain goats.
The best time to visit the park is in summer, when, for a chill family activity, you can break out the floaties and spend the day lazing around the waters of Lake McDonald. Even if you don’t visit during a hot time, the banks of the lake is still a wonderful place to relax, soaking in the views of some of the park’s most glorious peaks and learning how to skip the lake’s Skittle-colored rocks.
After a busy day in the park, head back to camp at the Many Glaciers Campground, where, if you’re lucky, you might even spot a bear or a moose while you’re sitting around the campfire!
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