While National Parks might have the most notoriety, different federally designated recreation playscapes also beckon adventure. From Flaming Gorges to Delaware Gaps, a great example of wild playgrounds often less visited include the different National Recreation Areas (NRA’s) found across the country. The name is no misnomer either, and each of these stunning natural places are filled with hiking trails, campgrounds and everything you need to scratch an activity itch. For fewer crowds and equal excitement, make this the year to visit some National Recreation Areas.
Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, New Jersey & Pennsylvania
Encompassing both sides of the Delaware River between New Jersey and Pennsylvania, this recreation hotspot is named after a distinctive notch on Kittatinny Ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Alongside this scenic water-carved feature, Delaware Gap NRA also comprises over 70,000 acres of Appalachian mountain appeal including waterfalls, historic places and hiking terrain. Swimming at the beaches and hiking along the A.T. are popular activities at this eastern recreation area, as are utilizing the scenic roadways and launching boats onto the river.
Curecanti National Recreation Area, Colorado
On the Gunnison River of Western Colorado and surrounding three massive reservoirs, Curecanti NRA is a popular destination for boaters and anglers. At twenty miles long, Blue Mesa is the largest of the three reservoirs and is often inhabited with motorized boats, water skis and fishing poles throughout the summer. The other two reservoirs, Morrow Point and Crystal, give access to hand-carried watercraft only, lending to awesome canoe and sea kayak adventures including a selection of boat-in campsites are utilized.
Gauley River National Recreation Area, West Virginia
A whitewater paddlers paradise come true, the Gauley River National Recreation Area of West Virginia features 25 miles of rushing gorge terrain complete with nearly 700 feet of vertical drop and over 100 water features. When the Summersville Dam is released every September, thousands of boaters flock to the Gauley and its V+ rapids, and numerous local outfitters are happy to provide a ride. For more West Virginia river running, both the New and Bluestone National Rivers are only a short shuttle ride away.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah & Arizona
North of Grand Canyon National Park on the Colorado River in Arizona and Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area encompasses the largest man-made lake in the country, Lake Powell, as well as the Glen Canyon Dam. Boating reigns supreme on this massive reservoir and recreation area, and shoreline camping makes for easy overnight visits. The historic Lees Ferry can also be found within Glen Canyon, making for an interesting visit and launching grounds for a Grand Canyon rafting trip.
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, Washington
Part of the larger North Cascades National Park Complex, Lake Chelan NRA comprises over 60,000 acres between the northern tip of Lake Chelan and the Canadian border. Home to the hideaway mountain community of Stehekin, this recreation area is only accessible by foot, watercraft or seaplane. The Pacific Crest Trail makes its way to the Canadian border through Lake Chelan NRA, and throughout the area many other upright hiking trails invite exploration. A recommended approach, the Lady of the Lake boat service makes daily ferries between Chelan and Stehekin.
Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, Montana
Operated by the United States Forest Service, the Rattlesnake NRA is within the Lolo National Forest and accessible from the university town of Missoula with a fifteen-minute drive. Featuring alpine lakes, 8,000-foot mountain summits and a variety of recreation options throughout the year, this adventurous environment is a tremendous activity resource for the surrounding community and visitors traveling from afar. For those looking to avoid the sometimes crowded conditions of the Rattlesnake NRA, trails continue from the area into the adjacent and less-visited Rattlesnake Wilderness Area.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, California
Forty miles west of Los Angeles and incorporating beaches in Malibu, the Santa Monica Mountains NRA provides an easy urban getaway into a lush environment. Uniquely co-managed between federal, state and local agencies, this SoCal recreation area has something for every level of adventure. Beachcombing, mountain traversing and historical spots like the Paramount Ranch garnish a lot of attention, and for a great leg stretcher, the NRA’s Backbone Trail extends across the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains for over 65 miles.
Gateway National Recreation Area, New York & New Jersey
Comprised of three different units between New York and New Jersey, Gateway NRA provides a real getaway from surrounding urban environments. At the Jamaica Bay Unit of the NRA, within Brooklyn and Queens, visitors can find piers, parks and public camping to enjoy, as well as the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Further south, the Staten Island unit provides retired military barracks and open fields for organized sports. Across state lines in New Jersey, the Sandy Hook Unit features a 2,000-acre barrier beachfront filled with ocean activity.
Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Georgia
Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee, activities like floating, fishing and day hiking reign supreme. Twenty miles north of Atlanta, the NRA that surrounds this scenic stretch of river is a popular destination for urban dwellers. All roads are open to bicycle travel within the park, and designated cycling-only trails add even more terrain to explore. The real appeal of this natural environment comes from the water, though, and trout fishing or floating down the river are two of the most common activities at the national playground.
Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Utah
Within the Ashley National Forest in northeast Utah near the Wyoming border, Flaming Gorge NRA encompasses a large reservoir created by the impoundment of the Green River. Water activities including boating, skiing, and fishing are popular at this southwest hot spot–all which include a beautiful backdrop of the Uinta Mountains. A great place to pitch a tent throughout the year, Flaming Gorge features 43 campgrounds with over 700 campsites available within the mixed environment of mountains, water, and beauty.