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75 Ideas For A National Park Summer Bucket List (2024)

If you’re anything like us, the mere mention of national parks gets your adventure senses tingling.

We practically live on the trails, in the woods, and beside the mountain streams. It’s our happy place, and we’re on a first-name basis with more park rangers than we are with our neighbors (no offense to Dave from next door).

This isn’t just a pastime; it’s a passion. And we’ve turned countless miles under our boots into an art form of exploring the great outdoors.

So we thought it would be fun to create the ultimate summer bucket list for fellow national park goers, to get you out and exploring this summer.

Let’s make this summer unforgettable!

Summer Bucket List

We’re about to unveil our bucket list that’s as versatile as a Swiss Army knife. These aren’t just any old items; they’re the kind you can tick off in more parks than there are squirrels at your last picnic, making sure you get a taste of adventure no matter where your compass points this summer.

the colorful grand canyon national park as seen from the south rim
© Depositphotos

1. Conquer the top of a scenic overlook and pretend you’re shouting your orders to the valleys below.

2. Drag yourself out of bed to catch a sunrise from a mountaintop; it’s almost as uplifting as your morning coffee… almost.

3. Stumble into an underground cave system and hope you don’t turn into a mythical creature’s next meal.

4. Splash around in a natural swimming hole because, honestly, real swimmers don’t need chlorine.

5. Backpack through dense forests and get that authentic “I might be lost” thrill.

6. Follow around a ranger for a nature walk like you’re a nature documentary host in training.

7. Snooze under the stars and wake up to nature’s version of a stiff neck.

8. Canoe on a lake so serene you’ll forget you don’t actually own a yacht.

9. Try geocaching and realize it’s the only treasure hunt where X doesn’t mark the spot.

10. Traipse beside a creek or stream for a bit, because who doesn’t love the soggy shoe aesthetic?

11. Hike to a remote backcountry cabin or building and ponder the thrill of solitude…or the plot of every horror movie.

12. Climb a sand dune and pretend you’re in a less glamorous version of “Lawrence of Arabia.”

13. Spot a rare species of plant or animal and fight the need to ask it for a selfie.

14. Bike on a forest trail and accept that mud splashes are your new fashion accessory.

15. Bird watch like you’re on a secret spy mission, but the targets wear feathers.

a road leads to a mountain with snow still atop it in jasper national park
© Discover Parks & Wildlife
  • Discover More: Looking for some national park inspo and got a thing for the East Coast? Brace yourself for an epic list that’ll have you rethinking your life choices—because clearly, you’ve been vacationing all wrong.

16. Explore sea or lake caves by kayak and whisper sweet nothings to the stalactites.

17. Embark on a single hike that promises more waterfalls (more than one!) than your social media can handle.

18. Stand in awe of dramatic volcanic landscapes and ponder why you didn’t become a geologist.

19. Take a scenic drive that reassures you the world is bigger than your to-do list.

20. Stargaze and find constellations you’re pretty sure were made up on the spot.

21. Count the types of trees on a trail as if there’s a prize for finding the most varieties.

22. Watch a sunset paint rugged canyons and consider a career change to landscape painting.

23. Hunt for fossils or unique geological features because you’re basically an Indiana Jones in training.

24. Venture along part of a famous long-distance trail and share exaggerated tales of your endurance.

25. Camp on a beach or coastal area, testing your skills at sandcastle architecture by night.

26. Trek to an isolated island within a park and channel your inner Robinson Crusoe, minus the despair.

27. Watch geysers or hydrothermal activity with the kind of anticipation usually reserved for popcorn popping.

28. Attend a cultural heritage demonstration and see history come to life without the need for a time machine.

29. Explore a historic site within the park.

30. Wander through rolling prairies and pretend you’re in a dramatic movie montage.

a river runs along the road in the shade with sun shining on the colorful fall colors in the back in great smoky mountains national park
© Discover Parks & Wildlife

31. Stand in awe beneath ancient trees or unique forest ecosystems, contemplating if tree-hugging is your true calling.

32. Snorkel to view underwater life and convince yourself you’re a mermaid or merman in training.

33. Photograph flowers and insects with a macro lens, because you need evidence that you were actually that close to nature.

34. Cross a lava flow and try not to make too many “hotfoot” jokes.

35. Walk on a canopy or elevated forest trail because you’ve always wanted to know what squirrels see.

36. Take a silent hike and discover the sound of your own thoughts is louder than expected.

37. Have a picnic in a location so serene even your food tastes better.

38. Attempt rock climbing on natural formations and realize gravity is not a mere suggestion.

39. Use binoculars to spot a bear or other large mammals and immediately regret not paying more attention during the safety briefing.

40. Visit a park visitor center to learn about the park’s ecology, acting as if you’re preparing for a quiz show on nature trivia.

41. Raft down a scenic river and pretend you’re auditioning for a whitewater thrill-seekers commercial.

42. Listen to the sound of nature in a quiet spot, and try not to interpret every rustle as an approaching mountain lion.

43. Experience fishing in freshwater rivers and tell tales of “the one that got away.”

44. Join a guided full moon hike and resist the desire to howl, or don’t – live your best life; we don’t judge.

45. Play hide and seek with (AKA search for) wildlife in expansive valleys (spoiler: they’re better at hiding).

a roadrunner sits on a rock filled hill in big bend national park
© Discover Parks & Wildlife
  • Discover More: If playing hide-and-seek with wildlife that’s practically invisible isn’t your idea of a fun Saturday, then maybe, just maybe, we’re not on the same adventure wavelength here.

46. Enjoy a scenic boat tour and wave at passing wildlife like they’re old friends.

47. Learn to identify several species of butterflies, because everyone needs a party trick that involves lepidopterology.

48. Relax in naturally occurring hot springs and debate if you’ll ever be able to bathe in a regular tub again.

49. Record a video of your hike, offering overly enthusiastic commentary as if hosting a nature show for an audience of squirrels.

50. Play a nature-based scavenger hunt; who doesn’t love finding a “rare” leaf as if it’s pirate treasure?

51. Hike to the park’s highest point and consider yelling, “I’m the king of the world!”

52. Learn the history of the park from an expert while imagining you’re gathering intel for a secret society of history buffs.

53. Explore a new section of the park, convincing yourself you’re boldly going where no one has gone before, despite the clearly marked trail signs.

54. Photograph a sunrise and sunset in one day, because you’re all about that “carpe diem” life (and also, for the likes).

55. Identify tracks and signs of wildlife and indulge in a little fantasy that you’re on the trail of a never-before-seen creature.

56. Listen to an audio tour of the park while walking and pretend you’re on a guided tour with a ghost; why not?

57. Meditate in a secluded spot and convince yourself you’ve achieved enlightenment.

58. Find a place to view the park from above.

59. Walk barefoot on a sandy trail and pretend you’re auditioning for a role in a survival reality show.

60. Find a natural arch and take photos through it, capturing your best “frame within a frame” shot.

the seaside portion of Kejimkujik National Park with a rocky coastline meeting up with the ocean waves
© Discover Parks & Wildlife

61. Spot and identify different kinds of mushrooms, but ignore that desire to start a spontaneous cooking show in the middle of the woods.

62. Sketch or paint a landscape scene while in the park and discover your hidden (or not-so-hidden) talent or lack thereof.

63. Walk a coastal trail to see dramatic cliffs or coastal formations while avoiding the urge to quote poetic verses dramatically to the sea.

64. Study the stars with a telescope, and make up your own constellations because, as we mentioned before, you can’t do any worse, right?!

65. Listen to the sounds of different water bodies, convincing yourself you’re creating a natural symphony.

66. Hike to see the park’s tallest tree and spend minutes (or hours) trying to get a photo where it doesn’t just look like a regular tree.

67. Photograph reflections on water and marvel at nature’s ability to outdo any social filter.

68. Watch for bats at dusk and try not to narrate their movements in a Dracula voice.

69. Climb to a lookout and use it to spot landmarks, then pretend you’re surveying your vast kingdom.

70. Enjoy the fragrance of the park after rain, and debate if it’s possible to bottle and sell it as “Eau de Nature.”

71. Find a quiet spot to practice yoga, then have a mini identity crisis about whether you’re more yogi or explorer.

72. Look for nests or burrows, showcasing your best Sherlock Holmes impression as you deduce their inhabitants.

73. Volunteer for a day with park staff and pretend you’re undercover, researching for your next big role as a park ranger in a blockbuster movie

74. Discover ancient rock art and resist the urge to add your own doodles (but seriously, don’t).

75. Finish the day with an ice cream at the park’s concession stand; no adventure is complete without questioning the calorie count of a cone that tastes like victory!

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