The U.S. National Park Service administers more than 84 million acres, including 59 national parks and 29 national seashores, lakeshores and rivers. In honor of the Park Service’s 100th anniversary, C&K writers and editors, told stories from 10 of our favorite parks. Obviously, we could have filled many more issues with odes to our national parks, which have been called “America’s best idea.” Here’s an alphabetical rundown of the parks we missed.
Above: Olympic National Park. Photo by Chris Burkard.
ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, MAINE: Set in the middle of the Maine coast, this starkly beautiful park boasts excellent sea kayaking in Somes Sound and Frenchman and Western bays.
ASSATEAGUE NATIONAL SEASHORE, MARYLAND AND VIRGINIA: Kayaks and canoes are an ideal way to experience the beaches, bays, and wetlands of this barrier island on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia.
BIG SOUTH FORK NATIONAL RIVER AND RECREATION AREA, TENNESSEE AND KENTUCKY: This 125,000-acre park features the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and all its paddling options, from easy meandering sections to harder whitewater.
BISCAYNE NATIONAL PARK, FLORIDA: Within sight of downtown Miami, yet worlds away, Biscayne’s aquamarine waters, islands and coral reefs let you paddle through 10,000 years of human history.
BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON, COLORADO: For those with the skills and an appetite for tough portages, this is a Class V whitewater adventure through a very deep and committing gorge.
BUFFALO NATIONAL RIVER, ARKANSAS: Our country’s first national river offers 135 miles of Ozark paddling, from Class I day trips to longer wilderness excursions.
CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK, UTAH: Multi-day canoe trips through the heart of canyon country on the Colorado and Green rivers, which meet just above Class IV Cataract Canyon.
CAPE COD NATIONAL SEASHORE, MASSACHUSETTS: The cape’s inland waterways offer prime paddling on a variety of sloughs, ponds and marshes.
CONGAREE NATIONAL PARK, SOUTH CAROLINA: The 16-mile Cedar Creek Canoe Trail leads through an otherworldly old-growth forest.
CANAVERAL NATIONAL SEASHORE, FLORIDA: A wildlife-filled barrier island for whatever boat you float, along on the longest expanse of pristine shore in Florida. Plus, rockets.
CAPE HATTERAS NATIONAL SEASHORE, NORTH CAROLINA: From nesting shorebirds to sea turtles, these ever-changing salt marsh islands are best seen from a kayak or canoe.
CAPE LOOKOUT NATIONAL SEASHORE, NORTH CAROLINA: A watery wonderland of barrier islands provide prime conditions for paddling, camping, fishing and watching wildlife.
CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, GEORGIA: Where history and nature meet, Georgia’s largest and southernmost barrier island—home to 9,800 acres of designated Wilderness—offers pristine maritime forests, undeveloped beaches and wide marshes to explore.
DENALI NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA: Gaze at the reflection of North America’s tallest mountain from a canoe in Wonder Lake, or float the glacial-fed rapids of the Nenana River.
DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT, COLORADO AND UTAH: Two of America’s best multi-day river trips—Yampa Canyon and the Gates of Lodore on the Green River—flow though Dinosaur.
DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK, FLORIDA: Explore a 19th century fort and seven offshore islands in this 100-square-mile park in the Gulf of Mexico, 70 miles west of Key West.
EVERGLADES, FLORIDA: The ‘glades are packed full of great paddling, including one of America’s oldest and best paddling trails—the 99-mile Everglades Wilderness Waterway.
GATES OF THE ARCTIC NATIONAL PARK AND PRESERVE, ALASKA: This 8.4-million acre swathe of central Alaskan wilderness includes the Noatak River, which has been called the most ecologically intact river valley in the world, with wildlife ranging from golden eagles to grizzles, Dall’s sheep and caribou.
GLACIER BAY, ALASKA: The fjords of Glacier Bay in southeast Alaska offer some of the best tidewater glacier sea kayaking in the world.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, MONTANA: Not to be confused with its Alaskan cousin, Glacier features clear glacial lakes among towering peaks, as well as multi-day trips on the Flathead River.
GULF ISLANDS NATIONAL SEASHORE, FLORIDA AND MISSISSIPPI: This two-part park offers miles of sandy beaches in its Florida section. The Mississippi side includes several islands accessible by sea kayak that offer primitive camping, great fishing and the occasional alligator sighting.
FIRE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, NEW YORK: This 30-mile-long sandbar guarding the south shore of Long Island provides plenty of great paddling opportunities, including backcountry camping in the Otis Pike High Dune Wilderness.
ISLE ROYALE NATIONAL PARK: Sprinkled with islands, bays and coves, Isle Royale is one of the best inland sea kayaking haunts in the country. Just be wary of changing weather and water conditions on Lake Superior.
KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK, ALASKA: The Harding Icefield spills out of the Kenai Mountains into the Gulf of Alaska, a rugged outer coast best seen from a sea kayak.
NEW RIVER GORGE NATIONAL RIVER, WEST VIRGINIA: One of the oldest rivers in the country (contrary to its name), this Class IV West Virginia canyon is for whitewater purists, plain and simple.
NIOBRARA NATIONAL SCENIC RIVER, NEBRASKA: Flowing through Nebraska’s Sandhills, the Niobrara is simply one of the best canoeing rivers in America.
PADRE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE, TEXAS: Forget everything you ever heard about Spring Break in Texas. That’s South Padre Island. The National Seashore protects Padre Island proper—the world’s longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island, and a safe nesting ground for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and a haven for 380 bird species.
POINT REYES NATIONAL SEASHORE, CALIFORNIA: One of the best places in the country to explore Pacific coastal estuaries by sea kayak. Hotspots include Tomales Bay, as well as Drakes and Limantour Estuaries. Expect kelp beds, seals, and more.
RIO GRANDE WILD AND SCENIC RIVER, TEXAS: Big Bend National Park gets the lion’s share of the attention (and about a third of the Wild and Scenic River lies inside the park) but don’t forget the lower canyons downstream.
ST. CROIX NATIONAL SCENIC RIVERWAY, MINNESOTA AND WISCONSIN: The St. Croix and Namekagon rivers serve up 255 miles of prime wilderness canoeing, accessed from a variety of put-ins and take-outs.
THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK, NORTH DAKOTA: Canoeing the Little Missouri is an ideal way to experience the beauty and solitude of North Dakota’s Badlands. The 107-mile float links the park’s south and north units and takes about five days—if the fickle flows hold.
VIRGIN ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: This park encompasses the majority of the island of St. John, including historical sites, the mountainous interior, and dozens of miles of sandy beaches, reefs and mangroves.
VOYAGEURS NATIONAL PARK, MINNESOTA: Named for the canoe-paddling explorers who plied these waters centuries ago, Voyageurs National Park boast a similar topography to the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness—with far fewer regulations.
YELLOWSTONE, WYOMING: America’s first national park offers superb paddling on Lewis, Shoshone and Yellowstone Lakes. Hint: beware of high winds in the afternoons.
ZION NATIONAL PARK, UTAH: If you have a Class V skill set, and if there’s water in the North Fork of the Virgin, there’s no better way to see this iconic park.