These National Parks only require one day to visit

Some national parks require you to hunker down for days to enjoy the mesmerizing views and intricate details truly. Others only ask you to spend a day understanding what makes it unique.

Those latter places are what we’re covering today.

While you could spend multiple days at these places and have an amazing time, the size and number of activities are limited enough that you might not know what to do by the afternoon on day two. Camping at these is always recommended, but don’t feel pressured to dedicate a full second day.

I figured it wouldn’t be too long when I was thinking of this list. But as you can see below, many National Parks are one-day options!

You Only Need to Spend One Day In These Nationals Parks

Mesa Verde National Park:

In Colorado, Mesa Verde National Park protects some of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the United States, including cliff dwellings and mesa-top villages.

I knocked out the park in about half a day, though many tours were closed due to the pandemic. If you were set on taking every tour, you should start right as it opens to make your way through. Still, this is an iconic National Park that holds so much history.

Pinnacles National Park:

Pinnacles National Park is renowned in central California for its towering rock formations, talus caves, and diverse wildlife, offering unique landscapes and challenging hiking trails.

I suggest hiking on the High Peaks Trail, which offers fantastic views of the entire park and the condors who reside here. Cool caves are also available to explore, but those can be closed due to bats/other issues.

Crater Lake National Park:

Nestled in Oregon, Crater Lake National Park is home to the deep, pristine Crater Lake formed by the collapse of a volcano, offering stunning vistas, hiking trails, and water activities.

The hiking trails are pretty good, but nothing is too long, so you can move around the rim to see different vantage points.

Arches National Park:

Arches National Park is located in Utah and is famous for its over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the iconic Delicate Arch, unique geological formations, and hiking trails.

This will require a full day, but even in winter, you can still see it all. I got to Arches at sunrise and hiked until sunset at Delicate Arch. Now, if you’re not planning to go-go-go and hike 10 miles in a day, then you may want to double your time here.

Thankfully, getting around it easy: one road in, one road out.

Gateway Arch National Park:

Situated in St. Louis, Missouri, Gateway Arch National Park features the symbolic 630-foot Gateway Arch, representing the westward expansion of the United States, with a museum and park grounds.

You can probably budget an hour here and see how it goes.

Hot Springs National Park:

Located in Arkansas, Hot Springs National Park is known for its historic bathhouses and thermal springs, offering a blend of relaxation, hiking trails, and cultural experiences.

I haven’t been, but I’ve heard nothing exciting about the place.

New River Gorge National Park:

The newest National Park! In West Virginia, New River Gorge National Park is renowned for its deep river gorge, spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, and opportunities for adventure sports like whitewater rafting and rock climbing.

Wind Cave National Park:

Located in South Dakota, Wind Cave National Park is famous for one of the world’s longest and most complex caves, featuring rare formations, and is also home to prairie landscapes and diverse wildlife.

Make sure to book a tour if needed and to take all the photos you can!

Petrified Forest National Park:

Sitting in northeastern Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park is known for its large deposits of petrified wood, colorful badlands, ancient petroglyphs, and a portion of the Painted Desert.

Depending on how many stops you take and hikes you do, you could get through this in 1 hour or four. Still, you won’t even need a whole day here.

PS: Don’t take anything from the park.

Kings Canyon National Park:

This is the one stretch on the list.

Just north of Sequoia National Park in California, Kings Canyon National Park is celebrated for its deep valleys, towering trees, giant sequoias, and rugged terrain, offering an authentic wilderness experience.

While the easily accessible portion of the park is excellent, the backcountry is where it’s at. With hundreds (maybe thousands) of miles of backpacking trails, like Rae Lakes, it offers some of the most staggering views in the country.

If you explore Grants Grove, hit Panorama Overlook, and drive down into roads end to do some hiking, you’ll get a fantastic overview of the park. But, as I said above, the true greatness lies in the backcountry.

Congaree National Park:

In South Carolina, Congaree National Park preserves the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States, offering hiking, canoeing, and a rich biodiversity.

Mammoth Cave National Park:

Located in Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park protects the world’s most extended cave system, offering extensive cave tours, scenic river valleys, and diverse flora and fauna.

Make sure to book a tour if needed and to take all the photos you can!

Black Canyon of the Gunnison:

In southwestern Colorado, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is known for its steep, dramatic canyons carved by the Gunnison River, offering striking vistas, rock climbing, and hiking opportunities.

You can hike to the bottom, but it’s a steep 3k gain/loss and gear for adventurous souls. Otherwise, most hikes are along the rim to overlooks, which will be incredibly cool.

Carlsbad Caverns:

Located in New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns National Park features over 100 limestone caves, including the famous Carlsbad Cavern, with its vast underground chambers and unique formations.

Make sure to book a tour if needed and to take all the photos you can!

Indiana Dunes:

On the southern shore of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Park offers diverse ecosystems, from beaches and dunes to wetlands and prairies, along with numerous recreational activities.

This is a perfect place to spend the afternoon and evening before heading back into the city or hotel.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside