With 58 national parks across the nation, there are endless opportunities to enjoy the best of what our country has to offer in your post-work years. The America the Beautiful program provides a $10 lifetime pass to those over 62 for access to the entire national-park system, making retirement the perfect time to explore the great outdoors. Hit the road and check out the top parks to see in retirement.
1. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio: One of the most-visited and newest parks, Cuyahoga Valley has much to offer despite its small size. This park is rich in wildlife as well as the heritage of the early days of American westward expansion. Take a leisurely walk along the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal.
2. Acadia National Park, Maine: Located on Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park is characterized by rocky coastlines and woodland forests. Take a guided carriage tour through 45 miles of scenic hills, valleys, forests, and lakes — these paths are closed to motor-vehicle traffic. The town of Bar Harbor is nearby with antique shops, fresh seafood restaurants, and cozy bed-and-breakfasts.
3. Sequoia National Park, California: Yellowstone may get all the glory as the nation’s oldest national park, but Sequoia National Park — the second-oldest park — still holds its own. With five of the world’s 10 largest trees in the park’s Giant Forest, it’s a majestic place. Kill two birds with one stone and swing by the adjoining King’s Canyon National Park as well.
4. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: It’s not a forest, it’s not a rock formation, and it’s not even a true canyon. But the twisting, maze-like stone landscape of Bryce Canyon National Park is quite a sight. Geology buffs will appreciate a ranger-led talk on the park’s unique jagged rock formations, known as hoodoos, that make up the majority of this natural amphitheater.
5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina: It’s the most-visited park in the system, so it must be pretty spectacular. Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses the misty mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina. Journey up to the homesteads at Cades Cove, a mainstay of abolitionist activity during the Civil War. There are also modern campsites, making it a convenient location for a night or two in the wilderness.
6. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park was the first national park established to honor and preserve man-made creations. More than 5,000 archeological sites are scattered throughout the park, including 600 cliff dwellings of the ancestral Pueblo people. These elaborate, multilevel stone dwellings, dating back to 600 A.D., are some of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the United States.
7. Biscayne National Park, Florida: A prime spot for ocean lovers, Biscayne National Park is about 95 percent water. Highlights include the sparkling aquamarine bay and the world’s third-longest living coral reef. Boat, snorkel, swim, and enjoy the sea life, or take in the crystal clear waters as you relax on a rocking chair on the shore.
8. Olympic National Park, Washington: A land of extreme ecosystem diversity, Olympic National Park is like visiting three separate parks at once. Traverse the Pacific coastline, traipse through the dense forests, and trek through the wildflowers of the alpine grasslands. Top it all off with a magnificent view of the glaciers. Don’t be fooled by the varied landscape; this is also one of the most accessible parks, with numerous hiking trails, 16 maintained campsites, and extensive roads that allow you to explore the park by car.