Plan a road trip to one of America’s 421 national parks right now when crowds are dwindling, temperatures are mild, and the wildlife is foraging. These prime road trips lack the crowds and still beckon socially distanced adventurers of all ages.
Congaree National Park (Hopkins, South Carolina)
Over 25 miles of hiking trails and 2.4 miles of winding boardwalks provide options for exploring the Congaree Wilderness. Affordable and commutable, now’s the ideal leaf-falling weather for canoeing and kayaking. Floating among slow-moving lakes and forested wetlands, the Congaree is a birdwatcher’s paradise, along with the occasional armadillo or otter.
Park Standout: Vigorous types gravitate to the 11-mile hike along Kingsnake Trail, through some of the remotest parts of the park.
Arches National Park (Grand Country, Utah)
Just north of Moab and bordered by the Colorado River, sit more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches in multiple, baffling hues, including the more famous Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch, to the east. You will see distant backpackers and mountain bikers dot the other-worldly geological formations across the arid desert scenes.
Park Standout: Visit the “Fiery Furnace,” a unique sandstone formation with heart-thumping sunset views.
Acadia National Park (Schoodic Peninsula, Maine)
It’s hard to beat the magnificence of autumn flora and fauna in Maine. Along with diverse landscapes and changeable weather, this park is marked by miles of rocky, craggy beaches and towering granite peaks. Years later, your kids will still remember the vastness of the canyons, encompassing 49,075 acres, and the historical trolley tour around the park. Wake up in time to watch the sun rise against Cadillac Mountain, the tallest peak on the eastern seaboard.
Park Standout: In 1998, The Winter Harbor Lighthouse Station was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Rocky Mountain National Park (Estes Park, Colorado)
There’s almost nothing prettier than the endless golden leaves transforming views at Rocky Mountain National Park. Large-sized wildlife—including moose, elk, black bears, and bighorn sheep—are front and center all season long. One of the most visited summertime parks, now’s the perfect time to poke around 415 square miles in this habitat-protected alpine wonderland.
Park Standout: The best way to experience these wilderness trails at 11,000 feet above sea level is a leisurely horseback ride ‘round the rim.
Olympic National Park (Port Angeles, Washington)
Designated as both a World Heritage Site and an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, the park is 60 miles long yet just a couple miles wide. In part because of the massive annual rainfall (it ranges from 140 to 170 inches), the lush rainforests are dripping with dozens of types of ferns and moss. Don’t miss the subtle turn off the Boulder Creek Trailhead, where you’ll find mineral-rich hot springs waiting to soothe those hike-weary muscles.
Park Standout: The Olympic Peninsula Waterfall Trail is a stunning trek more easily accessed by boat.
Disclaimer: Be safe and travel after you’ve been COVID tested and can safely travel by car and in the outdoors.