Based on my experience, hiking and biking rank high on the popular pastimes list for happy retirees. Why? Both activities get you out and moving in nature, and as an added perk, they’re both inexpensive.
The next time you want to get active and soak up the natural world, consider a hike around one of these 7 amazing national parks.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Situated in Tennessee and North Carolina, this world-renowned park is celebrated for its diversity of plant and animal life. Offering sprawling mountains to hike and explore, the park is home to miles of official and backcountry trails, lending to views of waterfalls and old-growth forests. For travelers whose stamina matches their adventurous spirit, there’s the “Hike the Smokies” challenge, which rewards hikers with exclusive mileage pins for exploring 100 or more miles of the park.
2. Shenandoah National Park – Just 75 miles from the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park in Virginia contains 200,000 acres of protected lands. Home to songbirds, deer, and a clear, starlit night sky, the park offers over 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. The trails take hikers though deep forests and past majestic waterfalls and viewpoints.
3. Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument – One of the newer parks in America, Kasha-Katuwe is located in New Mexico, just 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe. Established in 2001 by then-president Bill Clinton, the park has trails galore, including a 1.2-mile hike leading up through a slot canyon to a lookout point that rewards hikers with stunning views of the tent rocks below. For an up-close look, the park has a 1.3-mile loop trail that winds past the tent rocks’ base.
4. Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center – An epicenter of hiking around the Mendenhall Glacier and the Tongass National Forest, the Visitor Center is a veritable paradise for nature lovers. Located in Juneau, Alaska, the area is home to an array of wildlife, including bald eagles, sockeye salmon, and black bear cubs. With more than 700 miles of trails, hikers never have to see the same thing twice. Up for exploration are dense forests and meadows, caves, and swampy bogs, called muskegs.
5. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park – Adventurers looking for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of getting up close and personal with the extreme heat of a volcano need look no further. In addition to volcanoes hikes, the park has trails that allow visitors to soak up beautiful ocean views, and make their way through a rain forest.
6. Glacier National Park – This legendary park in Montana serves as the headwaters for streams flowing to the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and Hudson’s Bay. Home to a multitude of hiking options, treks through or around the park range from easy to difficult. Seventy-one species of mammals call the park home, from the tiny pygmy shrew to the majestic elk, and a variety of birds and reptiles abound for visitors to spot along the journey.
7. Grand Canyon National Park – No discussion of U.S. parks would be complete without mentioning legendary Grand Canyon National Park. Located in Arizona, this iconic park has an abundance of hiking options. Easy vista point hikes take folks to the canyon’s edge, while expert-only trails from rim to rim measure around 20 miles. Above the rim, the canyon provides stunning views for miles. Down below, sights abound at the base, including the famed Colorado River rapids.