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19 National Park Racecations

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The National Park Service is a government organization responsible for the preservation, protection, and promotion of some of America’s most beautiful and rare landscapes, environments and habitats. And on August 25, 2016, it will celebrate its 100th birthday!

To honor this milestone, we’ve outlined 19 of the best and most exciting parks for you to plan your next racecation. Whether you’re interested in towering glaciers, steep mountains, or desolate desert landscapes, there’s a National Park for you. So put down those electronics, celebrate Mother Nature, and #FindYourPark.


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Shutterstock / MaxFX

1. Kenai Fjords National Park

Known For: Glaciers

Park Fee: $0

Get a glimpse into past ice ages with 51% of the park covered in – you guessed it – ice. Here you’ll find majestic mountains, lush forests, icy seas, and an abundance of wildlife – knowing your bear and moose safety is a must. Amidst the incredible scenery, take time to spot a humpback or killer whale, study the heritage of the native Alutiiq maritime people, and learn about the impact humans are having on this frosty environment.

Must Do:
Channel your inner Vanilla Ice and hike the Harding Icefield Trail – an 8.2-mile strenuous loop with up to 40 glaciers (plan on 6-8 hours). Ice, Ice Baby.

Anchorage Races:
Anchorage Mayor’s Midnight Sun Run (June)
Anchorage RunFest (August)


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Shutterstock / Sumikophoto

2. Grand Canyon National Park

Known For: A Mile-Deep Scenic Gorge

Fee: $30 per vehicle

Check out one of the World’s most studied geological landscapes – a massive canyon of exposed rock carved by the fiercely running waters of the Colorado River. Once inhabited by the ancestral Puebloan people, this immense and ever-popular tourist attraction is split into two distinct areas: 1) the South Rim which is more popular and accessible, and 2) the North Rim which is more secluded and wilder.

Must Do:
Explore South Rim Hermit Road – jump on and off free shuttle buses to take advantage of scenic views and canyon trails for photography and hiking.

Grand Canyon Races:
Grand Canyon Half Marathon (May)
Grand Canyon Ultras (May)


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Shutterstock / Matthew Connolly

3. Channel Islands National Park

Known As: North America’s Galapagos

Fee: $0

Home to 2,000+ plants and species, of which 150 are found nowhere else in the world, it’s no wonder these remote islands are referred to as North America’s Galapagos. Encompassing rocky terrain, wildflowers, sea cliffs, reefs and turquoise waters, this park’s incredible beauty and solitude is divided by its five islands: 1) Anacapa – the closest to the mainland and most visited, 2) Santa Cruz – the easiest to get to and offers the most activities, including the only visitor center, 3) Santa Rosa – perfect for those seeking isolation and rugged adventure, 4) San Miguel – challenging to get to and requires a permit to visit, and 5) Santa Barbara – a tiny island mass with expansive views. Limited to foot, kayak or boat transportation, visits to these islands require preparation and self-reliance, as no services or amenities are provided.

Must Do:
Head to Santa Cruz Island and take a kayak tour of Painted Cave – one of the longest sea caves in the world – covered in lichen and minerals giving it its famous multi-hued colored walls.

Santa Barbara and Ventura Races:
Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon (May)
Mountains2Beach Marathon (May)
Santa Barbara Veterans Day Half Marathon (November)

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Shutterstock / Doug Lemke

4. Death Valley National Park

Known For: Extreme Heat

Fee: $20 per vehicle

Drop it like it’s hot at the lowest and hottest spot in the United States. This harsh and extreme desert environment is home to faults, rugged canyons, sand dunes, salt pans, nocturnal wildlife, and – believe it or not – is contrasted with snow-capped mountains, natural hot springs and flowers. Once a hub for mining operations, this rough and unique terrain was sculpted from the combination of erosion, pressure and heat. Still considered sacred land to some Native Americans, this park also harbors one of the darkest night skies – perfect for some star-studded illumination.

Must Do:
Get low with the Salt flats at Badwater Basin – the lowest point in America at 282-ft below sea level. Remember – water, water IS NOT everywhere – so bring plenty of your own.

Death Valley Races:
Death Valley Trail Marathon and Half (December)

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Shutterstock / JeniFoto

5. Joshua Tree National Park

Known For: Joshua Trees

Fee: $20 per vehicle

Distinguished mostly by elevation, this vast park is defined by the meeting of the Colorado and Mojave deserts, which are covered in thick tree, grass and shrubbery landscapes. The deceptively barren surrounding of visible rock piles, brush, and below-the-surface fault lines are home to an active nightlife with nocturnal animals and flickering night skies of stars, planets, and passing meteors. Developed from centuries of earthquakes, erosion and ancient volcanos, the park encompasses six distinct mountain ranges and includes four visitor centers.

Must Do:
Take the self-driving 4WD Geology Tour – an 18-mile dirt road with 16 designated stops to experience the geological wonders of the park. Geology Rocks! (we had to say that one)

Palm Desert Races:
Palm Desert Half Marathon (January)


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6. Rocky Mountain National Park

Known For: Highway to the Sky

Fee: $20 per vehicle

A spectacular alpine tundra packed with grand mountain peaks, vivid wildflower colors, vibrant roaming wildlife, and thick wooded forests. Occupying the front range of the Colorado Rockies, this playground for solitude or recreation is also home to the Continental Divide, a ridge that separates watersheds between the East – drier with rock glaciers, and the West – more developed with lush, deep forests.

Must Do:
Feel on top of the world while driving the famous Highway in the Sky, also known as Trail Ridge Road – a 48-mile, All-American Road with scenic pullouts, above tree line views, and an altitude over 12,000 feet.

Estes Races:
Rocky Mountain Half Marathon (July)


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7. Dry Tortugas National Park

Known For: Sea Turtles

Fee: $10 – though entrance fee is included with seaplane and ferry ticket

Home to Fort Jefferson, a main attraction once used as a line of defense against entering ships, less than 1% of the park is actually on dry land. This cluster of seven islands and its white sandy beaches are surrounded by vibrant reefs, crystal blue waters, tropical fish and marine life, protected lighthouses and shipwrecks, and the most active turtle nesting site in the Florida Keys. An oasis in the middle of the sea, there are no bathrooms and limited shade – so bring your Coppertone.

Must See:
Snorkel outside the Fort Jefferson moat wall – a water wonderland home to coral heads, anchor chains, and extraordinary marine life. Just be like Selena and keep your hands to yourself.

Key West Races:
Key West Half Marathon (January)
Ragnar Florida Keys (February)
Keys 100 (May)
Southernmost Marathon and Half (October)

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Shutterstock / Rudy Umans

8. Biscayne National Park

Known For: Water

Fee: $0

With 95% of the park covered in water, this underwater playground hides ocean gems such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangrove forests, ancient shipwrecks, and various aquatic life. Serving to protect threatened and endangered species, including a popular sea turtle conservation program, guests can check out the park’s four areas: 1) Convey Point – home to a visitor center and museum, complete with educational films and galleries, 2) Boca Chita Key – the most popular island with a variety of facilities and the famous ornamental lighthouse, 3) Elliott Key – the largest island and includes the park’s only hiking trail, and 4) Adams Key – a day-use island only, once used at an escape by past Presidents.

Must See:
Snorkel or dive the Maritime Heritage Trail – home to the remains of six shipwrecks (hint: Mandalay is best for snorkeling).

Miami Races:
Miami Marathon (January)
Ragnar Relay Florida Keys (February)
Miami Beach 13.1 (March)

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Shutterstock / Nick Fox

9. Everglades National Park

Known For: Airboats and Alligators

Fee: $20 per vehicle

A flat and subtropical wilderness, this “river of grass” is comprised of marshlands, woods and waters. Home to a maze of boardwalk trails, the park seeks to preserve the habitat of rare and endangered local wildlife including tropical birds, the Florida panther, the American crocodile, and the West Indian Manatee. And while this is a rate location where crocodiles and alligators cohabitate, the Everglades and airboats do not – those tours can only be found in the non-park portions of the surrounding area.

Must Do:
Walk the Anhinga Trail on Pine Island – a less than 1-mile loop of paved walkway popular for its abundant wildlife and gator crossing.

Miami Races:
Miami Marathon (January)
Ragnar Relay Florida Keys (February)
Miami Beach 13.1 (March)


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Shutterstock / Henner Damke

10. Haleakalā National Park

Known For: Volcanos

Fee: $15 per vehicle

Meaning “House of the Sun”, this subtropical rainforest is home to dramatic landscapes, a dormant volcano, stunning sunrises and sunsets, and some of the world’s best astronomy – offering views of rainbows, moonbows, planets, stars, and moons. Blending ancient and modern Hawaii, the park is divided into two districts: 1) Kipahulu – home to lush greenery, waterfalls and Hawaiian experiences, and 2) the Summit – a place sacred to Native Hawaiians and is still used for cultural practices.

Must Do:
Catch the early bird’s worm by watching the sunrise from Haleakalā Crater – the highest peak on the Island.

Maui Races:
Maui Marathon (September)


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Shutterstock / Jon Bilous

11. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Known For: Treetop Mist

Fee: $0

As America’s most visited park, these forested hills and mountainous terrains are home to a portion of the Appalachian Trail, historic homes and buildings, and wildlife hidden amongst the thick forest brush. Explore the land and learn about its Cherokee Indian heritage and rich Appalachian culture. And because it’s possible to run into a not-quite-so-friendly version of Yogi, George or Baloo – get up-to-speed on how to prevent and handle bear encounters. Even Smokey would approve.

Must Do:
Cades Cover – an 11-mile one-way loop circling the Cove (plan on 2-4 hours).

Townsend Races:
Great Smokey Mountains Half (September)


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Shutterstock / Zach Frank

12. Mammoth Cave National Park

Known For: Caves

Fee: $0 – however cave tour options range from $6-$18 per person

Get a glimpse into the center of the Earth inside a limestone and sandstone wonderland filled with grandeur, hollow halls, and complete darkness. As the world’s longest known cave system, its history runs deep. Learn about its burial grounds, the Kentucky Cave Wars, and how bats are dying due to white-noise syndrome.

Must Do:
Tour the cave – as long as you aren’t afraid of the dark or claustrophobic.

Louisville Races:
Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon (April)
Urban Bourbon Half Marathon (October)


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Shutterstock / Kurdistan

13. Acadia National Park

Known For: Rugged Coastline

Fee: $25 per vehicle

A rugged coastline of granite mountain peaks, jagged cliffs, rocky beaches, and woodlands. Learn about the Wabanak Native Americans, take in the scenery during Fall Foliage, and visit Cadillac Mountain – the tallest mountain on the North Atlantic where you can catch the first sunrise in the U.S. (October to March).

Must Do:
Bike the historic Carriage Roads – a 57-mile system of paved paths off-limits to motor vehicles.

Bar Harbor Races:
Mount Desert Island Marathon (October)


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Shutterstock / Lee O’Dell

14. Grand Teton National Park

Known For: Mountain Peaks

Fee: $30 per vehicle – $50 per vehicle for Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks

Carved by glaciers, the youngest mountain range in the Rockies is a vertical wonderland of majestic peaks, rocky soils, glacial lakes, alpine terrain, and wildlife including roaming bison and moose. When settlers realized the land was not well-suited for livestock, dude ranches become popular for tourists seeking the western experience. Today, it provides numerous opportunities for recreational adventure – especially adventurous climbers.

Must Do:
Hike Forks of Cascade Canyon – a strenuous 10-mile roundtrip hike with panoramic views, waterfalls, and Inspiration Point.

Jackson Hole Races:
Grand Teton Half Marathon (June)
Jackson Hole Half Marathon (June)
Jackson Hole Marathon (September)

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Shutterstock / KKimages

15. Yellowstone National Park

Known As: The World’s First National Park

Fee: $30 per vehicle – $50 per vehicles for Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

A volcano system known for having the world’s largest collection of geysers, hot springs, and thermal areas. Though made famous for Old Faithful, this park holds over 10,000 thermal features, 200+ waterfalls, and immense wildlife such as grizzly bears, wolves, bison and elk.

Must See:
Grand Prismatic Spring – the largest, natural hot spring in the U.S., known for its array of vibrant colors.

West Yellowstone Races:
Yellowstone Half Marathon (June)


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Shutterstock / Josemaria Toscano

16. Arches National Park

Known For: Red Sandstone Arches

Fee: $25 per vehicle

Home to the world’s largest concentration of sandstone arches, this unique and rocky terrain is comprised of rugged canyons and cliffs, pinnacle formations, and beautiful trails and sunsets. A red and orange landscape complete with 2,000+ sandstone arches, it serves as a playground for the outdoor enthusiast. Fun fact: to be an official “arch” the opening must span 3ft. Get out your rulers.

Must Do:
Take the 3-mile hike to Delicate Arch – the largest free-standing arch in the park.

Moab Races:
Canyonlands Half Marathon (March)
The Other Half Marathon (October)
Moab Trail Marathon (November)

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Shutterstock / Silky

17. Bryce Canyon National Park

Known For: Hoodoos

Fee: $30 per vehicle

Known for its spectacular views and trails, this park is home to several horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters and spires, carved from years of constant wind and water erosion. No need for binoculars – on clear days, visitors can see up to 100-miles of red and pink rock formations, and maybe a Prairie Dog. The park holds an annual Utah Prairie Dog Day (April) to celebrate and promote the benefits of their activity on other species and the soil.

Must Do:
Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive – a 12-mile stretch of Highway 63 passing must-stop photography spots such as Natural Bridge, Rainbow Point, Sunrise Point, and Sunset Point. Instagram filters not needed.

Bryce Races:
Bryce Canyon Ultras (June)

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Shutterstock / Victor Maschekc

18. Canyonlands National Park

Known For: Canyons

Fee: $25 per vehicle

Sitting atop the Colorado Plateau, this maze colorful canyons and trails can be categorized into three distinct areas: 1) Island in the Sky – the most accessible and offers an overlook of the park, 2) The Needles – offers an extensive trail system ideal for long and overnight hikes, and 3) Maze – the least accessible and most remote, requiring a bit of self-reliance with no services available.

Must Do:
Mesa Arch Trail at sunrise – an easy and popular 1-mile roundtrip hike.

Springdale Races:
Canyonlands Half Marathon (March)
The Other Half Marathon (October)
Moab Trail Marathon (November)

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Shutterstock / Frank Bach

19. Zion National Park

Known As: Utah’s First National Park

Fee: $30 per vehicle

Once covered with water, this desert landscape is now a picturesque landscape with spectacular red and pink sandstone cliffs and canyons. Carved by erosion and uplift, the biodiversity of the environment blends together stunning geological features, a wide-range of wildlife, and a recreation paradise into one beautiful, yet expansive location. Unlike most canyons where visitors look down from the rim, be prepared to look up at steep, towering rock formations and mesas for sky-high views of nature’s vast beauty. Hello Crick, meet Neck.

Must Do:
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive – also known as Floor of the Valley Road – a 6.5-mile stretch of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway with canyons, tunnels and switchbacks. The entire 54-mile road seeks to connect Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, and other attractions in northern Arizona.

Springdale Races:
Zion Half Marathon (March)
Zion Ultras (April)

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