10 Bucket-List Adventures in the U.S. National Parks

It's been 100 years of grand adventures with the NPS, and we're not done making memories yet.

Paddling past giant glaciers, sand boarding down towering dunes and driving a sled-dog team through Alaskan wilderness are only a sampling of the outings you can experience in the national parks.

Instead of loading the car down with weeks' worth of luggage for a drive from park to park (although there are some stellar drives in the national parks that we recommend), try these national park adventures that will provide experiences and memories for years to come. It's all part of our celebration of the National Park Service's centennial, Aug. 25, 2016.

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
(©supkenai_choratio3/Flickr, Creative Commons)

SUP at Kenai Fjords National Park

Sure, you could paddle a kayak or take a boat tour, but for a little more adventure, try stand-up paddleboarding in Kenai Fjords National Park. You'll be delivered gorgeous views of towering glaciers (Bear Glacier, near Seward, is a popular and accessible destination). On this adventure, you're likely to take in views of wildlife like mountain goats and cresting humpback whales on your way to the saltwater lagoon at the mouth of the glacier.

Sand boarding, Great Sand Dunes National Park
(Courtesy National Park Service)

Sandboarding at Great Sand Dunes National Park

Climb up these giant sand dunes in Colorado that seem to jut out of an otherwise mountainous and serene landscape. The slopes stretch as far as the eye can see and sometimes descend steeper than 45 degrees. Plan for the heat; during the heat of summer, the temperature of the sand can sometimes climb to a scorching 150 degrees. 

Biscayne National Park, Florida
(Courtesy National Park Service)

Spearfishing in Biscayne National Park

Boat out far past the Florida coast into the bright blue waters of Biscayne National Park. Though fishing permits are required for most fish, spearfishing for the invasive lion fish species is allowed all year round. You can also dive deep to admire the coral beauty and find fat lobsters tucked in among the reefs. 

canyoneering in Arches National Park
(©Neal Herbert/National Park Service)

Canyoneering at Arches National Park

Hiking around deep canyons is one thing, but rappelling down into the depths and then out again is canyoneering. The appeal of this high-adventure activity is getting up-close-and-personal with places that the rest of the public can't access: think deep canyons, sculpted walls and even hidden arches.

Windcave National Park
(©Mark Ohms/National Park Service)

Candlelight Cave Tours at Windcave National Park

While atop the prairie, admire the antelope and buffalo at Wind Cave National Park before you duck down underground for this low-light tour. Scramble more than two-thirds of a mile through the dark, sometimes slippery, cave with only candlelight to guide you.

Dog sledding, Denali National Park
(©Jacob W. Frank/National Park Service)

Mushing in Denali National Park

Race through Denali National Park on sled runners as a team of dogs pulls your sled through thick snow. While you won’t encounter roads or other people, a dog-sledding adventure in the deep Denali backcountry offers sights of moose, caribou, wild foxes and other creatures. It's also a great excuse for trying to get a stellar view of the Aurora Borealis.

White Rim Road, Canyonlands National Park
(©Greg Willis/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Mountain Biking Touring in Canyonlands National Park

Unload your mountain bikes at  White Rim Road and careen down the 100-mile trail that, at times, has sheer drops to one side that are miles down the side of cliffs. Enjoy tight switchbacks, undulating rises in the terrain and scorching desert views along the way. This isn't single-track mountain biking, but the road is rugged and demanding.

whitewater rafting, Glacier National Park
(©Dave Hensley/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Whitewater Rafting in Glacier National Park

Bob along the boundary Glacier National Park through the Class II and III rapids of the Middle Fork and the North Fork of the Flathead River—a river with an official "Wild and Scenic" designation. These aren't white-knuckle experiences; it's more about soaking up the beauty of this national park.

Fly Fishing, Smoky Mountains National Park
(©John Coley/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Fly Fishing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Sure, you could drive over Newfound Gap or hike one of the trails, but for a different way to enjoy one of the largest and most popular national parks, cast your line in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park's streams and rivers are known for rainbow and brown trout in addition to smallmouth bass; plus the fishing scenery is almost impossible to beat. 

Snowmobile riding, Yellowstone National Park
(©Yellowstone Gate/Flickr, Creative Commons)

Snowmobiling in Yellowstone National Park

Head up north during the winter and join a cold-weather expedition through Yellowstone, zipping over miles of snowmobile trails and staying in stalwart lodges. It's just the right winter recipe for the rough-and-tumble adventure who still appreciates a decent dose of luxurious comfort.