National parks take center stage within the National Park Service (NPS), but also within their designation are other NPS units that deserve your attention. There are battle sites, memorials, seashores, preserves, and reserves just to name a few. Here are ten of the best sights within the National Park System that aren’t national parks.
Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania
On July 1st, 1863, Robert E. Lee and his Confederate soldiers encountered opposition as they marched into northern territory. Over the next three days, one of the most influential battles of the Civil War took place as countless American soldiers laid down their lives to defend their values. It is also where Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address that reshaped the battlefield into a living memorial. A trip to Gettysburg National Military Park is a life experience that you will remember forever.
Nez Perce National Historical Park; Idaho, Montana, Oregon, & Washington
Before the concept of designated wilderness or of national parks, the Nez Perce people roamed the land that we associate with Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. They hunted bison, gathered berries, and lived in accordance with what the landscape provided. They were stewards of the land and it shaped their religion and culture. The Nez Perce National Historical Park is spread throughout 38 sites, and it preserves not only the landscape, but also the values and beliefs of the Nez Perce. It offers us a remarkable glimpse into how their livelihoods and the landscape were intertwined.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
Lake Superior gains its name for obvious reasons; with approximately 350 miles of lakeshore, this massive body of water contains many scenic destinations and worth-while adventure opportunities. Perhaps the best place to start exploring is the 21 islands and 12 miles of lakeshore that makeup Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. Featuring sailing, hiking, kayaking, SCUBA, lighthouse viewing, (just to name a few), the only thing that this National Lakeshore is missing compared to its National Park partners is the big crowds and overcrowded campsites.
Coronado National Memorial, Arizona
While the exact path of the Coronado Expedition remains a mystery, this national memorial commemorates their historic expedition. In Coronado’s quest for wealth, of which he was ultimately denied, he headed north from modern-day Mexico through the American Southwest. The memorial makes for a good place to expand your own horizon, and imagine what it must have been like to explore this wild landscape centuries ago.
Blue Ridge National Parkway
Taking you back to an era where Sunday drives were a time-honored tradition, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds through Appalachian Mountain scenery for 469 scenic miles. With an average speed limit of 35 mph, it brings a slower pace back into your life. Like any good adventure, a trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway isn’t about the destination, it’s all about the journey you took to get there. With plenty of pull-offs and scenic stopping points, the Blue Ridge Parkway offers plenty of chances to take your time and enjoy the ride.
Muir Woods National Monument, California
Named after one of the most notable men in wilderness conservation, the Muir Woods National Monument consists of a large tract of land that was first bought by William and Elizabeth Kent in an effort to protect its rugged landscape. The Muir Woods is a very popular day trip from San Francisco where visitors wander among enormous old growth redwoods. By taking advantage of the free shuttle service that is offered by the monument, you can do your part in preserving this tree-lover’s paradise.
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve was formed by an ancient eruption that resulted in a massive lava flow. This otherworldly landscape hosts a number of recreational and scientific activities for explorers young and old. There are numerous trails to explore, like the Broken Top Loop or Tree Molds Trails. Any way you choose to explore it, the Craters of the Moon will leave you amazed at the artwork created by our earth’s geography.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Georgia
During a visit to Atlanta, you can see where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born, where he went to church, where he spoke out on the streets, and where he ultimately was laid to rest. Along the way, you can treat yourself to a slice of history through the visual and stimulating information displayed throughout the historic site. Any trip to the historic site provides a look back into time for inspiration.
City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho
Whether you go traditional, sport, or like to hang from the top rope, City of Rocks is a climber’s dream come true. With over 14,000 acres to explore, whether you hike the trails, climb the rock, or just soak in some southern Idaho scenery, City of Rocks is always looking to add to its bustling population of geographic formations. A great place for rock climbers or anyone who likes gazing up at great rock formations, City of Rocks lives up to its name and can provide you with those high views your life has been waiting for.
Golden Gate National Recreational Area, California
Just looking at an image of Golden Gate National Recreational Area should get you excited to visit this iconic site. With San Francisco as the backdrop, you can explore the trails in the morning, grab some fresh seafood at lunch, and spend your night exploring the San Francisco scene. Split between the mountains and the sea, Golden Gate National Recreational Area has trails, historic structures, beaches, and enough things to do to make moving to California one of the easiest life decisions you’ll ever have to make.