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The Best Types of Exercise to Enjoy at US National Parks

United States Wellness National Parks
by Amanda Capritto Nov 22, 2019

Exercising is great, but exercising outdoors? Now that’s phenomenal. Not only do you reap the many benefits of exercise, but you also get to enjoy the exhilaration that comes with some sunshine and fresh air. Talk about a mood booster.

America’s 61 national parks may not have the dumbbells and machines you’re used to, but they still offer ample opportunity for everyday fitness. So mix up your usual workout routine and enjoy a change of scenery by exercising outdoors.

To help you get started, we rounded up the best national parks for different types of exercise: Check out how you can run, bike, climb, hike, walk, and much more at US national parks.

1. Best national parks for rock climbing

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  • Zion National Park
  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park

Yosemite’s biggest claim to fame is its concentration of granite rock faces, but you can get some incredibly rich and unique rock climbing opportunities at Zion, Joshua Tree, and Lassen Volcanic national parks. From smooth granite monoliths to rugged crags to overhanging cliffs, you can find your rock climbing terrain of choice at one of these parks.

2. Best national parks for running

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  • Grand Teton National Park
  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park
  • Shenandoah National Park
  • Yellowstone National Park

For trail runners, few things are more refreshing than lacing up your trail shoes and hitting the terrain in a national park. The beauty and fresh air are simply unparalleled. Whether you’re an experienced trail runner or about to embark on your first rocky run, these four national parks offer hundreds of miles of trails suitable for runners of all fitness levels.

3. Best national parks for skiing and snowboarding

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  • Crater Lake National Park
  • Olympic National Park
  • Rocky Mountain National Park

Much of the appeal of these three national parks lies in their ability to host winter sports. Every year, millions of snowbirds fly down the mountains of Crater Lake, Olympic, and Rocky Mountain national parks, zipping past trees, boulders, and critters at lightning speed.

4. Best national parks for sandboarding

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  • Great Sand Dunes National Park
  • White Sands National Monument
  • Death Valley National Park

Yep, you read that right. If you haven’t heard of sandboarding, you’re in for a fun surprise. It’s like snowboarding, but on sand. And it’s usually hot, so don’t forget to wear sunscreen. One big difference between this sport and its snowy counterpart? These parks don’t offer lifts to the tops of the sand dunes, so you’ll have to hike your way up there — a double workout!

5. Best national parks for ice climbing

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  • Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
  • Kenai Fjords National Park
  • Glacier National Park

Rock climbing’s more treacherous counterpart, ice climbing is reserved for the bravest and most adventurous of exercisers. However, depending on weather conditions and the availability of tour guides and educational programs, even complete novices can kick ice and throw axes around some rugged (and very cold) terrain.

6. Best national parks for hiking and backpacking

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  • Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks
  • Mount Rainier National Park
  • North Cascades National Park
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Honestly, every national park offers exquisite opportunities for hiking and backpacking, but these four easily take the top spots. Combined, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and the Great Smoky Mountains boast thousands of miles of trails — some suitable for day hikes and some that venture far out into the backcountry wilderness.

7. Best national parks for walking

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  • Mammoth Cave National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Big Bend National Park
  • Petrified Forest National Park

If you’re looking for some milder trails that offer a more leisurely walk (which has a very, very long list of health benefits, by the way), check out what these national parks have to offer. And don’t think that walking won’t provide the same expansive views that harder hikes do. These parks offer hundreds of miles of breathtaking scenery without strenuous topography.

8. Best national parks for biking

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  • Saguaro National Park
  • Acadia National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Redwood National and State Parks

Whether you prefer road cycling or mountain biking, you can find both at these national parks. While Saguaro features mostly flat ground, the terrain is rough. And the rest of them…well, stay on the pavement if you’re not interested in intense ascents and descents.

9. Best national parks for water sports

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  • Everglades National Park
  • Isle Royale National Park
  • Channel Islands National Park
  • Voyageurs National Park

These water-based national parks might just give you the hardest (and most scenic) workout you’ve ever experienced. Chock-full of opportunities to swim, kayak, canoe, paddle, and even scuba dive, a trip to one of these four parks will torch calories and leave you with an appreciation for the US coastlines.

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