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Unique Experiences to Discover in Urban Parks

by Hollis Hughes
Art installation hung indoors
"With Wind" by Ai Weiwei, on Alcatraz Island, in 2015
NPS Photo / Brenna Cruz

Camping, hiking, fishing—trusted and timeless favorite national park activities.

But these are not the only activities available in our national parks! If you’re looking to try something different, our partner L.L.Bean suggests heading to your nearest city and finding a park. Urban parks offer a wealth of resources and unique experiences.

For example, you could leave Earth behind for a little while and get lost in the stars at Rock Creek Park’s planetarium, the only one in the National Park System. These free shows change every month, offering a dazzling look into our celestial ceiling and beyond. Want to look at the real thing? The park also hosts evening stargazing sessions once a month from April through November.

Superior Bathhouse at Hot Springs National Park (NPS Photo / Mitch Smith)

Want to stay closer to the ground? Why not drink it in at Hot Springs National Park, which is home to Superior Bath House Brewery, the only brewery in a U.S. national park. Here you can really connect with the Earth with every sip you take: the brewery uses the park’s famous thermal waters to brew their beer (including their root beer)—the only brewery in the world to do so.

Or you could soak in the fine arts exploring Art in the Parks at Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Parks have inspired artists for generations—visit the varied art installations at the park for a creative national park experience. With a rotating exhibition schedule of outdoor, multidisciplinary, and indoor works, there’s something for everyone.

Exhibits in Peale's Museum section of the Second Bank at Independence National Historical Park (NPS Photo)

Perhaps you want a glimpse of the past? You don’t need to visit a museum—Independence National Historical Park has a collection of over 100 portraits of people who lived in colonial America at the Second Bank. Gaze at the paintings by Charles Willson Peale and reflect on what the subjects were trying to convey about themselves and their place in an uncertain and nascent society.

National parks, including those in urban areas, are managed by an incredible team of national park staff who are passionate about these treasured places and ensuring every visitor has a meaningful experience. On your next visit, you could meet Captain Maria Said, MD, MHS, a US Publish Health Service officer who is the epidemiology branch chief of NPS’ Office of Public Health serving parks in the Washington, DC area. Or you could meet Lieutenant Commander Matt Kolzer, a commissioned corps officer from the US Public Health Service stationed at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, who develops and implements site specific health measures to protect staff and visitors.

L.L.Bean and NPF are grateful for the work these individuals do on behalf of our parks every day. We’re proud to work together to recognize and celebrate the talented workforce of National Park Ambassadors who make these incredible and unique national park experiences possible. Next time you’re in a park, show your appreciation by saying hello to a ranger!

So what are you waiting for? There are new experiences and people right in your backyard. Need help finding where to start? Try our Find Your Park Quiz for personalized recommendations for parks to explore.