The National Park System is home to over 85 million acres of awe-inspiring natural beauty spread across all 50 states and territories. With so much to explore, it can be overwhelming for travelers with limited time to experience everything. However, this doesn't mean you can't enjoy the beauty and wonders of the parks with an abbreviated adventure. In fact, some parks make for a great day trip or stopover. Here are the top 6 national parks in the system for an unforgettable quick visit.
1. White Sands National Park – New Mexico
White Sands National Park in New Mexico is a favorite among travelers for its silky-soft white dunes that sweep across the park. Unlike many other parks, there is no one must-see viewpoint, so visitors can explore the area at their own leisure. For those who stick around for a bit longer, the park offers a bonus – the “white sand” is actually translucent gypsum that reflects the ambient color, which means it can appear different shades depending on the colors of sunset and twilight.
2. Indiana Dunes National Park – Indiana
Indiana Dunes National Park offers visitors a quick and easy way to experience Lake Michigan's sandy beaches along with picturesque sand dunes. The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails, including the West Beach Dune Succession Trail, a 1.1-mile loop that's perfect for families with kids and pets. With its location between Michigan City and Gary, Indiana, it also makes for a great day trip from Chicago.
3. Carlsbad Caverns National Park – New Mexico
Carlsbad Caverns National Park provides visitors with a unique underground adventure. Visitors can explore the caves and marvel at the Big Room cavern, which looks like a magical, upside-down cityscape. The entire trail is only 1.25 miles, making it quick, accessible, and a one-of-a-kind national park experience.
4. Hot Springs National Park – Arkansas
Hot Springs National Park is located in central Arkansas and is home to natural hot springs believed to have healing properties. Hike the park's dog and kid-friendly trails and indulge in modern treatments and the first-come-first-served indoor pools at the Quapaw Bathhouse. Visitors can also experience traditional bathing treatments performed in the early 1900s at the oldest continuously operating bathhouse, Buckstaff.
5. Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida
Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote island located 70 miles off the shore of Key West, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico. Accessible only by seaplane or ferry boat, visitors can explore the 19th-century military installation Fort Jefferson and snorkel in the clear turquoise water. With 99% of the park underwater, there's no shortage of unspoiled shoreline to explore.
6. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – The Big Island, Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island offers visitors a chance to see two of the world's most active volcanoes. The main park road leads to overlooks of smoldering Kilauea Volcano and other major park landmarks. For a unique experience, sign up for a guided downhill bicycle tour that ends with a lunch stop beside the Pacific Ocean.