National Parks Guide

 There are 59 national parks in the United States, plus hundreds of additional historic sites, rivers, and recreation areas. These parks are monuments to the natural wonders of the country, often highlighting unique wonders found in the region.

 

FAST FACTS ABOUT NATIONAL PARKS

Currency – $USD

Electricity – 110V – Type A & Type B Standard Plugs

Popular Tourism Seasons – The national parks are popular year-round, each for their own reason. But you can check this guide from Lonely Planet to learn when is the best time to visit a certain park.

Admission – Some of the national parks (such as Great Smoky Mountains and Congaree) are free, while others charge an admission price. You can also obtain an America the Beautiful Pass by visiting this website or your local national park; these passes allow entry into more than 2,000 federal recreation sites for a flat annual fee.

Who Maintains the Parks – While the national parks service relies heavily on thousands of volunteers, they also employee thousands of people to staff and maintain these lands. The National Parks Service is the federal organization tasked with upkeeping these lands for public use.

 

GETTING THERE & GETTING AROUND

Most of the national parks do not have airports, train stations, or public transportation. Some national park sites are located within cities with transportation access, while others like the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are far removed from buses or taxis.

The best way to get to most national parks is to drive. The guides on this page list the nearest airports and train stations for each national park I have visited.

 

SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES

Blue Ridge Parkway One of the most scenic drives in the country, the Blue Ridge Parkway stretches 469 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina. Along this highway you can view the best scenic overlooks in the region, spend your days hiking trails or enjoying a family picnic, visiting the highest point east of the Mississippi River, or just take a long drive along the curving two-lane road.

Appalachian Trail – Not everyone has the time or desire to thru-hike the 2,200-mile long Appalachian Trail. There are plenty of other ways to enjoy the AT such as day hikes from popular destinations or hopping along the trail a section at a time.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park – The most-visited national park in the country is also one of the most diverse for outdoor opportunities. Hiking, horseback riding, camping, backcountry camping, taking a scenic drive, and viewing wildlife are just a few of the possibilities.

 

national-park-map

 

CHOOSE YOUR PARK

Listed below are all the national parks, historic sites, scenic byways, and national trails I have visited, photographed, and written about.

Southeastern United States

Appalachian TrailThe Appalachian Trail is a 2,200-mile long trail along the Appalachian Mountains on the east coast, stretching between Georgia and Maine.

Big South Fork National River and Recreation AreaStretching across eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, the Big South Fork is a wonderful area for hiking, horseback riding, water activities, and camping along the Cumberland Plateau.

Blue Ridge ParkwayThe Parkway is one of the most scenic drives in the Southeastern United States. The Parkway is a two-lane scenic byway stretching 491 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Cherokee, North Carolina.

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site – This small historic site in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, is dedicated to the “forgotten founder” of the country with a small museum house and grounds to explore.

Cherohala Skyway – Stretching across the mountains between Tellico Plains, Tennessee and Robbinsville, North Carolina, the Skyway is a beautiful scenic byway with lots of overlooks, campgrounds, and waterfalls.

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park Just north of Washington, D.C. along the Potomac River, the C&O Canal National Park features lots of hiking/jogging trails and scenic overlooks along the Great Falls, a series of cascades on the river.

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park –  This sprawling national military park just outside Chattanooga, but located in Georgia, tells the story of a large three-day battle during the Civil War. Today people can explore the park by car, bicycle, or on foot.

Congaree National Park – The only national park in South Carolina, Congaree is built around the Congaree River and the unique natural environment of the region. Visitors can enjoy primitive camping, hiking, and kayaking or canoeing.

Cumberland Gap National Historical ParkAt the congruence of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, this national park is part of the original route blazed by Daniel Boone as he guided people toward westward expansion. The park headquarters, visitor center, and entrance is located in Kentucky, while the campground is located in Virginia.

Fort Monroe National Monument – This former fort is located on the Chesapeake Bay in Hampton, Virginia. Visitors can explore inside and around the fort, learn about the local and national history, and enjoy stunning views.

Fort Sumter National Monument – This national monument in South Carolina is comprised of three components: the Fort Sumter National Monument museum in Charleston, Fort Moultrie in Sullivan’s Island, and Fort Sumter, the location of the beginning of the Civil War, in Charleston Harbor.

Great Smoky Mountains National ParkThe most-visited national park in the country, this expansive park is located along the Great Smoky Mountains between Gatlinburg, Tennessee and Cherokee, North Carolina. The park features several campgrounds, miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, scenic overlooks and historic places to explore.

Little River Canyon National Preserve – This small preserve in Alabama is built around the Little River Canyon, a deep gorge that cuts through the relatively flat terrain. Visitors can enjoy an easy drive with scenic overlooks, or embark on one of the many trails.

 

PHOTOGRAPHY MAP

Scroll through the map and click on any marker to view photography from that location.

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BLOG POSTS MAP

Scroll through the map and click on any marker to view travel stories I have written about that location.

 

RECENT POSTS

Here are a few of the most recent blog posts about National Parks. Click here to view all posts about the state.

Yellow Fall Colors in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

My long weekend in Pigeon Forge was over but I wasn’t about to leave Tennessee without a scenic drive first. I zipped through Gatlinburg and hopped on Newfound Gap Road through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. What a beautiful scenic drive it was. In no time at all I was surrounded by vibrant yellow […]

Road Trip: Fall Colors Through Three National Parks in the Southeast

Did you know it’s possible to drive 621 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Townsend, Tennessee without ever leaving a national park property? The Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Parkway, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are connected in a way just begging for the ultimate road trip through the southern Appalachian Mountains. Autumn is one […]

The Elk & Bison Prairie at the Land Between the Lakes

I came around a curve in the one-lane road and spotted a herd of massive American bison right in front of me. I slowed to a gentle crawl as the massive animals parted just in front of my van and casually walked around either side. One of them grunted at me as if to say […]

Stunning Views From Wildcat Rock on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

I almost didn’t pull into the parking lot. I almost didn’t walk up those stairs. I almost didn’t see one of the most stunning overlooks on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. But fortunately I did pull into the parking lot, walk up the short flight of stairs, and spent two hours one morning just admiring […]

An Autumn Day in the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park

On my first morning in Chattanooga I just couldn’t sleep in. I left my hotel before sunrise. The air outside was cool and crisp. In fact it was downright chilly. I wanted to go someplace I could watch the sunrise but I didn’t want to hike far from my car. I really wasn’t sure where […]

Viewing the Elk at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

If you happen to be driving through Cherokee into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park just before sunset chances are good you’ll spot an elk. Or several elk. Sometimes as many as two dozen will leave the dense forest behind in favor of feeding in the large field at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. But before […]