For Love of the Sport: Getting Active in National Parks

Katherine RivardNPF Blog
Yosemite National Park — National Park Service

Extreme thrill seekers, regular adrenaline aficionados, and casual fans of laidback pick-up games can all find a common playing field in national parks. Recreational opportunities abound in the National Park System, ranging from jogging through parks like Rock Creek Park, to group-led classes like Tai Chi in New River Gorge National River, to rock climbing Devils Tower. And no matter the season, you’ll be able to find a sport that will leave you sweaty and heaving.

If you want to get out of your gym rut, check out these ideas and be inspired to rack up some steps and get your heartrate elevated in your national parks.

Warm Weather Sports

Just Around the River Bend

Driving through the giant Redwood forests of California is an iconic West Coast road trip, but what happens when your arms become a bit stiff from holding the steering wheel? Then it’s time to kayak! Luckily, Redwood National and State Parks offer ranger-led kayak tours free of charge. This summertime activity includes a short orientation, before you head onto the small rapids and flatwater. Enjoy the journey as you also learn from a ranger about the geology and wildlife of the passing forest and Smith River.

Cool Slopes Without the Cold

Girl in a pink shirt sandboarding on a sandy hill with mountains in the background at Great Sand Dunes National Park
National Park Service

Sandboarding gets your adrenaline rushing, but with no fear of frostbite! Take advantage of this unique sport in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, or try using the incredible mounds of sand for sledding. Though your regular snow sled or snow board won’t quite work on the sand, renting the correct materials will result in some breathtaking views and once-in-a-lifetime memories as you slide down the pristine slopes. This unique way to enjoy the park’s sand is best enjoyed in the spring and fall.

Drop a Line

For a quiet sport perfect for enjoying the sounds of the birds waking in the morning or the rushing waters of a river passing beside you, grab your pole and try fishing! Parks across the country have waters waiting to be enjoyed. Find a park near or far and plan your trip, making sure to learn all the best fishing practices and regulations for the park you visit.

Whether you’re taking a class (offered in both Spanish and English) with Biscayne National Park experts in Florida or catching salmon as you explore the remote areas of Alaska in Kobuk Valley National Park, the national parks abound with opportunities to tie one on and enjoy this quiet pastime.

Party Like It’s 1999

Roller skating at Anacostia Park
Samuel Dixon Photography

Roller skating might make you think some of the awesome ‘90s birthday parties you attended, and you’ll love rediscovering that the fun of the rink is timeless! Bring your skates or rent a pair for free in Washington, DC’s Anacostia Park — home to the National Park Service’s only roller skating rink. The rink is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and is the perfect place to show off your moves… or practice future moves as you wobble around the outer edge.

Cold Weather Sports

When the Water Freezes

Small groups of people ice fishing on a frozen Pickerel Lake at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
National Park Service

The seasons may change, but many of the fish are still busy swimming about, which means the opportunity for ice fishing presents itself! Visit Mississippi National River and Recreation Area to learn about this classic Minnesotan sport. Get advice and tips from experienced anglers and NPS rangers as you catch crappies, northern pike, and sunfish. Just remember to keep an eye out for signs of thin ice!

Figure 8’s in an Iconic Park

The Yosemite Winter Club takes dedication to park winter sports in Yosemite National Park to the next level. Started in 1928, membership into the club includes discounted ski and snowboarding season passes, ice skating discounts, and access to events like the Alpine Race Team, Freestyle Ski Team, the Hockey Team, or an Ice Skating Program (not to mention an annual burrito bar dinner). Whether you’re a member or not, all are welcome to skate at the Half Dome Village Ice Rink, or to just stop by to enjoy the fire pit and incredible views.

Up Your Mood with a Downhill Sport

A person crosscountry skiing in the backcountry next to a giant tree at Great Basin National Park
National Park Service

Many national parks offer visitors the chance to cross-country ski, though a smaller group of them are also able to accommodate downhill skiing. Great Basin National Park is happily one such park capable of offering both! Gentle slopes fit the needs of novice skiers, while those with more experience can attempt the steep areas found on backcountry runs.

Go the Distance

Thirteen miles of maintained trails are ready to be explored in Maine when you visit Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Enter from the North End and strap on your skis beginning in early January. A variety of routes fit your skills and goals, but all will allow you to get moving and active while enjoying the peaceful surroundings.

Healthy fun, great company, and the sheer joy of a lighthearted rivalry — there are many reasons to get involved in a sport in your public lands. The national parks offer something for everyone, whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or looking for some friendly rivalry sportsmanship opportunities. Try something new or re-discover a favorite pastime in a new setting when you #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque.

For more ideas on which park offers your favorite activity, head to

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