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Memorial Weekend Magic: 5 Must-Visit National Parks for The 2024 Holiday

Ever considered national parks for your Memorial Weekend escape? Genius move!

If you’re sitting on the fence about where to jet for the three-day holiday, why not join us on a leafy, mountainous, or possibly bear-filled escapade?

We’re practically park rangers without the hats, having trekked through more national parks than we can count on two hands.

They aren’t just our thing; they’re our passion, and we’re here to guide you into making your upcoming holiday as epic as ours is going to be.

So, let’s take a look at some of the incredible options we recommend for you to get out and explore in a couple of weeks.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee & North Carolina

a deer stands in a green field in front of the smoky mountains of great smoky mountains national park
© Discover Parks & Wildlife

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where the trees whisper ancient secrets, and the mountains stand as guardians of the land.

Situated between Tennessee and North Carolina, this park is not just a pleasure to behold but a sanctuary for the soul.

Picture this: over 800 square miles of scenic beauty, making it the most visited national park in the U.S. – talk about being popular without even trying!

With nearly 850 miles of trails, it’s a hiker’s paradise, offering everything from leisurely walks to thigh-burning treks.

And for the bio-geeks among you, the park is a biodiversity hotspot, home to more than 19,000 documented species.

Birds chirping, black bears roaming, and the ancient Appalachian Mountains standing watch – what’s not to love?

Other Fun Things To Do Near Great Smoky Mountains:

  • Dollywood: If you’ve had your fill of nature and fresh air, why not toss in a dose of thrill? Just a stone’s throw away from the park, Dollywood is where you can scream your lungs out on roller coasters or get serenaded by Dolly Parton impersonators.
  • Gatlinburg SkyBridge: For those who think they’ve seen it all from the ground, try walking America’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge. The Gatlinburg SkyBridge offers breathtaking views, and yes, it’s perfectly fine to cling to the handrails and question your life choices midway.
  • Moonshine Tastings: In these parts, moonshine isn’t just a drink; it’s a cultural experience. Swing by one of the many distilleries in Gatlinburg for a taste of the local hooch. Just a friendly reminder, though—moonshine tastings can turn your straightforward walking line into a zigzag pattern, so maybe do this after the SkyBridge.

2. Yosemite National Park, California

picture of yosemite national park, with the falls running down the rocky mountain behind a pond and greenery
Credit: Depositphotos

Next up, we have Yosemite National Park – where the cliffs are so huge that you’ll start wondering if you accidentally wandered onto a giant’s golf course.

This Californian gem is famed for its breathtaking granite cliffs, waterfalls that seem to drop from the sky, and giant sequoias that will make you feel like a character in a fantasy novel.

Did you know Yosemite Valley was carved by glaciers during the last ice age? Yep, nature went all out with an ice sculpture here.

The park is home to the iconic Half Dome and El Capitan, both of which are meccas for rock climbers and bucket-list ticks for the daring.

And it’s also home to the spectacular Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in North America, cascading down a 2,425-foot drop.

But Yosemite’s more than just rocks and falls; the park spans approximately 1,200 square miles, offering everything from hikes to climbs for those ready to be out in nature.

Other Fun Things To Do Near Yosemite:

  • Bodacious Brew Tours: Feel like sipping on something other than mountain stream water? The local craft beer scene is as vibrant as a bear after a honey binge. Take a tour through the area’s best breweries and sample what the locals claim could be bear’s nectar—if bears had a knack for IPA.
  • Gold Rush Ghost Towns: Not all treasures are buried underground—some are just abandoned. Step into California’s history with a visit to near-forgotten ghost towns. And who knows? You might just find a piece of gold—or, at the very least, a golden photo op.
  • Historic Train Rides: Hop aboard a vintage steam train for a leisurely tour through the Sierra Nevada foothills. Enjoy the scenic views, the chug of the engine, and the occasional wild-west style train robbery reenactment. Remember, holding onto your hat is part of the fun.

3. Acadia National Park, Maine

a view of a pond in acadia national park with water so clear you can see all the rocks beneath the surface with green hills in the background
Credit: Depositphotos

If you’re the sort who thinks lobsters only belong on dinner plates, Acadia National Park might just change your mind—with a side serving of breathtaking landscapes, of course.

Located right on the coast of Maine, this park is the go-to spot for anyone who loves salty sea air as much as forest hikes.

It is home to the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard, where you can catch sunrises so beautiful that you’ll forget the agony of waking up early.

And did you know over 60% of the park’s flora is native? That’s right, it’s like stepping into a wilderness time capsule, untouched and wildly beautiful.

Plus, the park’s Carriage Roads, a gift from John D. Rockefeller Jr., span 45 miles, inviting you to explore the park without the company of cars – because nothing says “nature escape” like the absence of honking.

Other Fun Things To Do Near Acadia:

  • Bar Harbor Whale Watching: How often do you get to say, “Just saw a humpback doing the backstroke?” Grab a ticket, hop on a boat, and set sail in search of marine mammals.
  • Lighthouse Tours: Maine is virtually lousy with lighthouses, and each one has a story that’s probably more interesting than last night’s TV drama. Take a tour, snap some photos, and soak in the views. Bonus points if you find one haunted by a ghost who’s dramatically less scary than your last electricity bill.
  • Mount Desert Island Ice Cream Tasting: After all that whale watching and lighthouse spotting, you’ve earned a treat. Why not indulge in something cooler than a cucumber? Head to Mount Desert Island for an ice cream tasting. With flavors wilder than the local wildlife, it’s an experience that’ll freeze your brain and melt your heart.

4. Olympic National Park, Washington

the hoh rainforest in olympic national park full of tall trees, green moss, and small ferns filling the scene
© Discover Parks & Wildlife

Olympic National Park, where the forests feel like they’ve been whisked into existence by some old-world magic.

Spread over 922,000 acres, this park isn’t just big; it’s a whole world apart, featuring not one but three distinct ecosystems.

Fancy hiking up a mountain in the morning and wandering through a temperate rainforest in the afternoon? This is your place.

Olympic is also the peacekeeper for nearly 70 miles of untamed coastline, providing homes to a fiesta of marine life and some of the best tide pools in the nation.

It’s also a sanctuary for the elusive Roosevelt elk, a majestic creature you might be lucky enough to spot amidst the ferns and firs.

Other Fun Things To Do Near Olympic:

  • Seattle Space Needle: After communing with nature, why not aim for the stars, or at least as close as you can get at the Seattle Space Needle? It’s an elevator ride away from breathtaking views that make your mountain peak exploits look, well, a bit more down to earth. Plus, you can brag about seeing the entire city without having to take a single step.
  • Forks Twilight Saga Tour: For those who can’t resist the charm of sparkly vampires and brooding werewolves, a jaunt over to Forks will satisfy your supernatural cravings. Take the tour and revel in the misty locations that inspired the books and movies. It’s like stepping into your teenage fantasies, minus the awkward phases.
  • Port Angeles Culinary Cruise: Sure, you’ve feasted your eyes on the natural splendors, but what about actual feasting? Port Angeles offers a smorgasbord of local eateries where the seafood is so fresh you’ll wonder if it swam to the plate itself. Consider it a culinary cruise without the boat.

5. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

cliff palace sits within the walls of the rock cliffs under a blue sky
© Discover Parks & Wildlife

Mesa Verde National Park is a place that makes you think archaeologists just hit the jackpot.

Here’s the scoop: this park is more than just scenic—it’s a window into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who called this area home for over 700 years. We’re talking from AD 600 to 1300!

With over 600 cliff dwellings, including the formidable Cliff Palace, the area boasts the title of the largest archaeological preserve in the U.S. Preserved even better than that “vintage” couch from the 70s your grandma insists is still in prime condition.

For those keen on getting a real-life glimpse into America’s ancient cultures without risking a misstep into quicksand, Mesa Verde offers not just a peek but a deep dive into the architectural genius of its ancient inhabitants.

Plus, you can’t beat the panoramic views that come with a side of historical enlightenment.

Other Fun Things To Do Near Mesa Verde:

  • Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad: Ready to feel like a character in a Western without the risk of a duel at high noon? Board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for a steam-powered jaunt through the Colorado wilderness.
  • Canyon of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum: Not quite ready to leave the past behind? The Canyon of the Ancients Visitor Center and Museum has you covered. It’s Mesa Verde’s cooler, less crowded cousin, with even more artifacts and educational exhibits to make you feel inadequately accomplished in comparison to ancient civilizations.
  • Four Corners Monument: Ever wanted to be in four places at once without mastering the art of cloning? Head to the Four Corners Monument, where Colorado meets New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. It’s the only place in the U.S. where four states intersect, and yes, it’s exactly the kind of brag-worthy photo op that will make your friends back home envious—or at least mildly interested.

  • Fancy adding a few more scenic spots to your May getaway list? This article might feel like deja vu with a twist, featuring a mix of familiar parks that you’ve just seen and some fresh ones that would also work great for a Memorial Weekend holiday.

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