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8 Ways to Explore Our National Parks That You Haven't Considered

Celebrate the National Park Service's centennial by experiencing our national treasures in a new way.

U.S. News & World Report

8 Ways to Explore Our National Parks That You Haven't Considered

Landscape Arch in the Arches National Park, Utah, United States.

Whether you want to explore by train, ship, bike or horseback, there are plenty of exciting ways to soak up the great outdoors in iconic and under-the-radar parks this year.(Getty Images)

Our national parks are more popular than ever, thanks in large part to this year's centennial of the National Park Service and related programs, like Every Kid in a Park, an initiative designed to encourage children to get into our national parks. Even better, fourth graders and their families receive free park passes. And while hiking and camping in our parks are popular past times, there a variety of other ways that park-goers can explore our national parks. From guided cycling adventures to geocaching to photography walks, even a triathlon at Everglades National Park in Florida, here are eight great ways to experience our national parks that you may not have considered.

Take in America's Parks by Train

Some national parks, like Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, allow visitors to get a new perspective on the parks by taking scenic train rides that last two to three hours. Another great option? Hopping aboard an Amtrak train for a national park getaway. Try the six-day getaway from Chicago to Glacier National Park aboard Amtrak's Empire Builder train, and spend three nights at hotels inside the scenic Glacier National Park.

Take a Photography Walk

At Yosemite National Park, park-goers can enjoy a free camera walk with experts at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yellowstone Village, and learn tips and advice on how to take better pictures of the scenery and wildlife found in the park. Several other parks, like Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Parks, also offer photo safari tours for kids and adults that are tailored to the interest and skill levels of participants.

Participate in a Triathlon

While a triathlon may not come to mind when considering a visit to a national park, Everglades National Park in Florida offers one that's fun for the whole family. The Tamiami Trail "Triathlon" allows visitors to go at their own pace and includes a 15-mile bike loop, a 3-mile hike and 3.5 miles of paddling in a kayak or canoe. Even better, those who complete the triathlon receive a prize.

Try a Small-Ship Cruise

Yes, you can get to know our national parks by boat. Try an expedition with AdventureSmith Explorations, which offers more than 15 small ship voyages to explore national parks, like Olympic and Glacier Bay National Parks. Passengers cruise aboard one of two ships that hold either 60 or 76 passengers. Best of all, the ships are equipped with paddleboards and kayaks, enabling travelers to get up close with wildlife along the way.

Stay up for a Night Sky Program

Visit our parks by day for the best viewing of wildlife and natural features, but stay awake to see what our parks have to offer after dark. Several national parks, including Lassen Volcanic National Park, offer night sky programs. Kids will love using high-powered telescopes to see planets and constellations. And look out for celebrations too, like the Acadia Night Sky Festival. Another event to check out is the Annual Astronomy Festival at Bryce Canyon National Park for planet walks and model rocket building.

Try a Guided Cycling Adventure

A guided cycling tour is a fun way to explore our national parks. Western Spirit Cycling offers nearly a dozen guided bike tours that range from four to six days and enable participants to explore such parks as Redwood and Grand Teton National Parks from their bikes. Try the six-day Bryce to Zion Family Trip for biking, hiking, camping and the opportunity to take in two of Utah's most-loved national parks.

Test Your Geocaching Skills

Lots of national parks offer geocaching adventures (or a treasure hunting activity available through GPS-enabled smartphones), enabling visitors to seek out items that have been hidden in the parks. At Rocky Mountain National Park, download the free geocaching mobile app and hunt for geocaches as part of the Across the Divide GeoTour. Cross the Continental Divide as you make your way between Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park in Colorado. During the hunt, you can find at least 10 geocaches to earn a souvenir commemorative coin.

Go Horseback Riding

Some national parks, like Glacier National Park in Montana, offer horseback trail rides, allowing park guests to experience the wilderness trails. This is a fun way to enjoy the parks from a new vantage point, about three or four feet above the ground. One of the best trail rides can be booked through Swan Mountain Outfitters and starts out at the Many Glacier Hotel on the east side of the park (at the Many Glacier entrance). Take the scenic Cracker Flats ride to explore Lake Sherburne and the old mining town of Altyn.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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