As you may already know, visiting every single unit in the National Park Service is on our travel bucket list. Along with some international trips and someday thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, we’ve been working on our goal since 2010, adding parks every single year. While visiting parks, we’ve realized how many amazing events happen every year in the park service. We’ve accumulated quite a list of national park bucket list items, including celebrations, places to hike, and things we want to make sure we see during our visit to the 400+ units in the National Park Service.
Today we’re posting our “Ultimate National Park Bucket List” with over 100 different events, activities, and things you should add to your own #parkchasing bucket list. It’s a month-by-month guide to planning trips and adventures across the national parks.
In this Article
The Ultimate National Park Bucket List
- Set National Park New Year’s Resolutions – Find a quiet spot in your favorite national park to reflect and set goals for the new year. Check out what you crossed off your national park bucket list and then set a goal to make this your best Park Chasing year yet.
- Fight Hibernation – Take a winter hike in a national park and see how many critters besides you are out braving the cold.
- Visit An Above-Average Swamp – Big Cypress National Preserve protects more than 700,000 acres of tropical plants and wildlife. Visit in January when the rest of the world is chilly.
- Be Park Ranger Ready– Have you ever wanted to know what donning the gray and green would feel like? Visit USAJobs or Volunteer.gov to find ways to feed your inner-ranger. Check out all the ways you can volunteer in a national park here: Ways to Volunteer in a National Park.
- Read Common Ground – While they don’t publish it anymore, curl up by the fire with a back-issue of Common Ground, the NPS magazine dedicated to historic and natural preservation. The back issues are all available online and perfect for January evenings.
- Visit a Presidential Birthplace – Plan at trip to one of the birthplaces of a President. Learn about why we protect these historic places and the things that shaped these great Americans.
- Stay in a National Park Lodge – Reservations for many of the best cabins and historic lodges in the park system fill up months in advance. We plan our summer NPS trips early by booking lodge and campground stays in January.
- Visit San Juan NHS – San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico is definitely on our January national park bucket list. When it’s snowy everywhere else in the park service, we’ll be enjoying the history and culture of one of the most unique places in the NPS.
- Promote Every Kid in A Park – Know a 4th grader? Help them get a free pass for themselves and their family so they can start their own national park bucket list.
- Volunteer in a park for MLK Day – Many people celebrate and honor Dr. King’s life by attending a volunteer event. Many national parks have a back-log of volunteer projects, waiting for your help. Consider volunteering on MLK Day or throughout the upcoming year.
- Hear the National Bell Ringing – Each year, Independence National Historical Park honors Dr. King. by ringing the Liberty Bell ring. While you’re there, take a “belfie” and visit the spots where historical figures like Oney Judge and Abraham Lincoln once stood.
- Experience A Haleakalā Sunrise – Drive up to Maui’s historic volcano for the summit area sunrise and a hike above 10,000 feet. After the hike, ride down the mountain on a custom Maui bike tour. Not a morning person? We’ve heard that sunset is pretty spectacular also. Reservations can be made on reservations.gov.
- Grow our NPS Coin Collection – Along 100th anniversary commemorative $5, $1 and half dollar coins, we’re working on a collection of the America the Beautiful quarters and other NPS numismatics memorabilia.
- Experience a Cadillac Mountain Sunrise – Be the first to see the sunrise in the United States during a visit to Acadia National Park this time of year. Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the east coast and where the sun first touches the United States. Find out all the best spots to see a sunrise in a Acadia here: 7 Places to Watch the Sunrise in Acadia National Park.
- Visit Seabird Island – Alcatraz Island may be famous for the inmates of the past, but it’s also home to thousands of colonial nesting seabirds. Take the ferry out to see cormorants, gulls, egrets and more.
- See the Lincoln Memorial – “In this temple, as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” Why not check off the Lincoln Memorial on February 12th, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday?
- Go underground on a Delta 01 mission – Go below ground to the “top secret” mission control site of Launch Control Facility Delta-01 at Minuteman Missile National Historic Site in North Dakota and experience the life of an Air Force Officer during the height of the Cold War.
- Wade in the Cabrillo Tide Pools – Schedule a low-tide walk around the rocky intertidal zone at Cabrillo National Monument in California and search for anemones and octopi in this unique ecosystem.
- Wander “The American Ark” – Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas is known as one of the most biodiverse areas in the world outside of the tropics. It was designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1981 and protects some of the rarest species of plants and animals in the National Park Service.
- Catch a Glimpse of Wild Horses – Assateague Island is one of the few places in the United States to view wild horses in their natural habitat. Relax and enjoy the National Seashore these horses call home.
- Why Cabrillo National Monument is San Diego’s Hidden Gem
- 25 National Parks Like Acadia
- Visit all the National Park Service Sites in North Dakota
- National Parks Near San Diego
- Hike up Half Dome – Applications for the permit lottery open in March to climb Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Register for your chance to hike one of the National Park Service’s most famous hikes.
- Watch Shiloh Fiery Trail – Stop in the visitor’s center at Shiloh National Military Park and watch the award-winning film on the April 1862 Battle of Shiloh. The film won 1st place at the World-fest-Houston International Film Festival in 2013.
- See The Original Nene – Nene was not always an internet sensation. Look for the native Hawaiian goose along roadways in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
- Experience Crater Lake’s Blue Waters– Move silently around the edges of a deep lake, sheer cliffs, and admire the volcanic past of Crater Lake in Crater Lake National Park. The water here has its very own blue color, unlike anything else on Earth.
- Honor First Ladies – Honor the lives and accomplishments of our nation’s First Ladies at First Ladies National Historic Site and the National First Ladies Library in Ohio.
- Camp in Dry Tortugas National Park – Boat or seaplane is the only way to visit historic Fort Jefferson and the remote shores of Dry Tortugas National Park. We’ve been planning a camping trip here for years!
- See a Thomas Moran Painting in Person – Experience the Grand Caynon of Yellowstone through the eyes of Thomas Moran, one of the great American painters and early promoters of the park system.
- Whale Watch at Point Reyes – Leave the hustle of the Bay Area behind to watch the grey whales migrate through Point Reyes National Seashore, then stop by to see the elephant seals returning for the season.
- Answer: “What’s A Hoodoo”? – Find out what a hoodoo is at Bryce Canyon National Park. Here you can walk among the largest collection of them in the world.
- Visit all the National Park Service Sites in Hawaii
- Point Reyes in Pictures
- National Parks Near San Francisco
- Hike the Fiery Furnace – April is one of the most popular months to visit Arches National Park. Sign up for a ranger-led hike of the Fiery Furnace and scramble along the sandstone walls.
- Kayak in the Channel Islands – Kayak, dive or snorkel in kelp forests, sea caves, and some of the best marine landscapes in the world on your trip to Channel Islands National Park in California.
- Celebrate National Park Week – National Park week happens every year in late April. Celebrate free admission to the parks during these dates and special events around the NPS. Find out 7 Things You Need to Know About National Park Week.
- Have a John Muir Birthday Party – April 21st is John Muir’s birthday. Celebrate his birthday with a mountain hike in one of the parks he worked hard to protect.
- Study Migration Maps – Hundreds of species rely on NPS units for migration paths. Check out the nifty online migration maps for the migration patterns of Leatherback turtles, caribou and the Florida Manatee.
- Celebrate Earth Day– April 22 is Earth Day. Roll up your sleeves and show this amazing planet some love today. Get Inspired to volunteer in one of your parks.
- Visit the Old Stone House – Take a break from monuments and museums to visit The Old Stone House, the oldest building in Washington D.C. and a good example of Revolutionary War-era architecture.
- Take A Boat Tour of Glacier Bay – A lifetime of Park Chasing would not be complete without a trip to Glacier Bay National Park to experience the 25 million acres of pristine wilderness, one of the largest protected areas in the world.
- 13 Things You Should Know about John Muir
- Visit all the National Park Sites in Alaska
- The Least Visited National Parks in 2018
- Run the Tamiami Trail Triatholon – Try your hand at the Tamiami Trail Triatholon route in Everglades National Park. Visitors bike the 15 miles, hike 3 miles, and then paddle 3.5 miles each from a different visitor’s center in the park.
- Hold a Truman Tribute – May 8th marks the birth date of our 33rd President, Harry S. Truman. Take the audio walking tour around the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site for a tribute to the People’s President.
- Visit the Gem of the Caribbean – Drop by the 7 acres of waterfront and historic structures at Christiansted National Historic Site. They tell the tale of Danish colonial life in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- See The Last Spike – On May 10, 1869 the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined rails at the site of the Golden Spike National Historic Site, commemorating the completion of the first Transcontinental Railroad and a changing American landscape.
- Watch Grizzly Cubs Just Out of the Den. – Keep your distance, but watch the mountainsides as the grizzly bears return in Denali National Park, Glacier National Park, and across the Northern Rockies.
- Park Chasers Best of Glacier National Park
- Trip Recap: Harry S. Truman National Historic Site & Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
- Attend a Bio Blitz – Find a park near you participating in a BioBlitz. These special days of citizen scientist projects promote learning and biological discovery in the parks.
- Wander the Biscayne Mangroves – Miles of Biscayne National Park is covered in mangrove jungles. Explore these salt water wonders for the famous Florida spiny lobster.
- Remember Minidoka – Remember one of the darkest eras of U.S. history happens within the walls of Idaho’s Minidoka National Historic Site one of the Japanese Forced Relocation Centers used during WWII.
- Feel the Gold Rush Fever – Decide if you would have survived the bitter cold and rough and tumble boomtowns of the Klondike Gold Rush at the National Historic Park in Skagway, AK.
- Hike in Shenandoah – Plug away on a 101 mile section of the Appalachian Trial through Shenandoah National Park. You may find yourself making plans for all 2,185 miles later on.
- Learn about Saint-Gaudens – Visit the home and studios of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of America’s greatest sculptors in New Hampshire’s only National Park Site.
- Hear the Bison Bellows – Spend the afternoon watching the bison heard wandering Wind Cave National Park. The park was started in 1910 to make a home for these grazing giants.
- Paddle Congaree National Park – Drop in your paddles on the Congaree River Blue Trail for 50 miles of pristine river way as you head downstream to Congaree National Park.
- Experience Endless Summer – Travel north to experience some of the longest summer days (up to 22 hours!) in the world at Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve in Alaska.
- Camp on Isle Royale – Travel by ferry to a backpacker’s paradise in the middle of Lake Superior and take your chances of meeting one of Isle Royale National Park‘s resident moose.
- Hit Rock Bottom – Tell all your friends you’ve been to the lowest point in North America – 282 feet below sea level in Death Valley National Park.
- 3 Best Reasons to Visit Isle Royale National Park
- Visit all the National Park Sites in Alaska
- Best Places to See Wildlife in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Hike to The Loch – Leave from the Bear Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park for lunch at the Loch, a perfect alpine lake to spend the afternoon beside, relaxing in the Rocky Mountain air.
- Camp in Many Glacier – One of ParkChasers favorite places to hike in the NPS is the Many Glacier area of Glacier National Park. Quiet trails, big Montana skies and the chance to see Grinnell Glacier up close.
- Participate in World Listening Day – July 18th is World Listening Day. Check out the NPS Science of Sound website for nature’s wild soundscapes.
- Tour Seneca Falls – Commemorate the First Women’s Rights Convention on July 19th and 20th 1848 at Women’s Rights National Historic Park in New York.
- Watch a bear cam – Watch the biggest bears jockey for salmon on the live streaming webcams at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park. Better yet, charter a flight to Katmai and see the bears in person!
- Bike the Dayton Aviation Trail – Pick up your free water bottle when you bike (or hike) to at least six of the twelve sites in the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.
- Take the Jenny Lake Boat Tour – Take the famous shuttle ferry across the crystal clear waters off Jenny Lake in Grand Teton National Park.
- Raft the Kobuk – Often the least visited National Park in the system, a trip to Kobuk Valley is not for the faint of heart. With no roads, no trails, no campgrounds, no gift shops, and a visitor’s center miles away from the park, self-sufficiency and survival is the name of the game.
- Celebrate Hawaii Volcanoes Birthday – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has a birthday each year on August 1st. Celebrate with a fee-free visit to the park and a hike around one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
- Rendezvous at Grand Portage – In July the North West Company Rendezvous Days at Grand Portage National Monument, commemorating the history of the Ojibwe people and when the Canadian fur traders arrived from wintering posts to exchange goods along the shores of Lake Superior.
- Ask about Gifford Pinchot – Ask a park ranger about Gifford Pinchot today. August 11 marks the birthday of this controversial conservation pioneer who played a pivotal role in how we now experience our national parks.
- Peer into the Black Canyon – Experience some of the steepest cliffs in North America when you stare down 2,722 feet into one of Colorado’s gems, the Black Caynon of the Gunnison National Park.
- Watch the Turtle Nest Cam – Wait and watch patiently at home for the baby sea turtles to hatch and scurry to the surf on the Canaveral National Seashore live Turtle Nest webcam.
- Happy Birthday NPS! August 25 marks the founding of the National Park Service. Celebrate with cake and a hike in your favorite national park!
- Hike to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon – Apply for a permit and your chance to hike to the bottom of Grand Canyon National Park. Mule and rafting trips are now booked 13-18 months ahead. Mark your calendar for an unforgettable park vacation.
- See an International Dark Sky – Find out which of your parks are among the last true dark skies and part of the International Dark Sky Association. These special areas like Great Basin National Park have nightly stargazing programs.
- Hike Mt Washburn – Look out over miles of pristine Yellowstone wilderness on a dynamic day hike to the top of Mount Washburn. Visit with the staff member assigned to fire-lookout duty.
- Paint at Weir Farm – Escape to the only national park dedicated to American painting with a visit to Connecticut’s Weir Farm National Historic Site.
- Attend Elk Fest – Wake up early to hear the elk bugling in the valleys of Rocky Mountain National Park. Elk Fest happens every September in nearby Estes Park, drawing thousands of visitors to the park during elk mating season.
- Sleep under the Dakota Stars – Join skywatchers under some of the clearest night skies in the United States at Theodore Roosevelt National Park‘s Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival held every September.
- Commemorate National Public Lands Day – September 24 is National Public Lands Day. Enjoy your national parks on this fee-free entrance day
- See a Slot Canyon in Capitol Reef – Trek to a remote area of the park and sleep among the twisting gorges and slot canyons of Capitol Reef National Park.
- Take the Boat Tour at Pictured Rocks – 40 miles of Lake Superior shoreline is set aside in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Plan your visit to include some of the best open sea kayaking, boating, and hiking in all of Michigan.
- Hike the Kilauea Iki Trail – In 1959 this area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was a lava lake. Descend into the crater through a rainforest and walk among the steam vents and cinder cones.
- Place a Bid at an Art Auction – More than 450 items are available during the Native American arts and crafts auctions held in May and October at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, the oldest operating trading post on the Navajo Nation.
- Become a Fossil Hunter – October 16 is National Fossil Day. Admire the skills of scientists at the Fossil Preparation Lab, a working paleontological laboratory in Badlands National Park.
- Celebrate Teddy Roosevelt’s Birthday – October 27 marks President Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday. Celebrate one of the greatest U.S. presidents in the parks he loved.
- Take a Bat Cave Tour – Take a trip to Carlsbad Caverns National Park to learn about some of the most advanced bat research in the world.
- Learn about the Age of Steel – Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area tracks our industrial roots. Visit many of the famous Americans sites that made Pennsylvania the Steel Making Capitol of the World.
- Try Sand Boarding – Great Sand Dunes National Park is home to the tallest sand dune formations in the United States, and one of the only places you can try your luck at sand boarding and sand sledding.
- Photograph Fall Colors – McKittrick Caynon in Guadalupe Mountains National Park is sometimes called the “most beautiful spot in Texas.” It’s well-known for the bright red, orange, and yellow foliage during late October and early November.
- Try Wild Caving – Experience Jewel Cave National Monument up close and personal on a ranger-led 2/3 mile spelunking tour complete with hard hat.
- Research our Family’s Homestead – Look up your family’s original homestead documents at the site of the first homestead in the United States, Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, Nebraska.
- Fight Invasive Species – Over 6,500 non-native invasive have been documented on park lands. Find out what you can do to prevent the spread during your park visits.
- Celebrate Veteran’s Day – Celebrate our nation’s heroes with a fee-free visit to one of our military commemorative parks today.
- See Utah in Winter – Picture the famous stone arches at Arches National Park covered in a soft blanket of white. See this park in a way that most visitors miss during a winter hike.
- Be a Cliff Dweller – See 2000 years of Mogollon history and culture up-close at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in New Mexico.
- Hang out in an Island Refuge – Visit Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, once protected kapu breakers and defeated warriors from harm and now protects a pristine section of Hawaii coastline.
- Visit the most popular national park. – See what everyone’s excited about with a trip to America’s most visited National Park. Between 8 and 10 million people make a stop in this treasured park every year.
- Walk in an Ice Cave – Watch the winter weather carefully for the chance to see ice caves along the shore of Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
- Dip in The American Spa – Take a break from the cold winter weather in a traditional bath at Buckstaff Baths in Hot Springs National Park. People have been enjoying these soaks since 1912.
- Attend La Fiesta de Tumacacori – Pack your bags on the first weekend of December for the Santa Cruz Valley and Tumacacori National Historical Park for a weekend of food, history, and a piñata breaking you wont want to miss.
- Remember Pearl Harbor – Commemorate the fateful day in American history, with a quiet ride across the bay to the USS Arizona Memorial and the Pearl Harbor National Memorial
- Study the History of Flight – On December 17, 1903 the Wright brothers took flight. Visit the spot where they famously landed at Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina.
- Take a Snowshoe Walk – Mount Rainier National Park is the perfect place to join a ranger for an afternoon snowshoe hike to learn how the park’s plants and wildlife survive the long winter days and heavy snow.
- Birdwatch in Big Bend – Big Bend National Park in Southern Texas is a great place for birds. Go out with a good field guide during the annual Christmas Bird Counts.
- NYE – Close out the NPS year of exploring our parks with family and friends. Just be sure to make plans for next year’s Park Chasing!