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A Theme Park Map of the United States' Greatest Outdoor Adventures

For a whole bunch of outdoor adventurers, the thrill of getting out into nature and walking, climbing, rafting, and skiing the landscape is the thrill of the authentic: farewell man-made rat-trap, goodbye digital realm, so long air-conditioned mediocrity.

By: G. John Cole + Save to a List

Billions of dollars are pumped into the building and maintenance (and marketing) of big plastic theme parks, when the greatest theme park of all is right outside the door: the natural world. And ironically, few natural landscapes have such an intensity and diversity about them as the home of the artificial theme park: the United States of America. So isn’t it time we started to think of the USA as the greatest theme park on Earth?

Take Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave National Park, for instance. 400 miles of this subterranean labyrinth have been explored to date – the kind of scale you’ll never see matched by an artificial theme park ride. Six thousand years of human history have taken place here, with the mummified remains of Native Americans discovered on-site and 19th century shysters being the first to try to market the area as a tourist attraction. When you take this particular ride, you’ll be following in the footsteps of centuries of explorers, bear-hunters, and even musicians who’ve sought out the unique acoustics of these unending passages to perform concerts of unrepeatable majesty.

Or then there’s the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Forget cartoon mice and underpaid holiday workers dressed as anthropomorphic doggos and puppers: Teddy’s park boasts flesh-and-blood bison, coyotes, cougars, wild horses, badgers, elk, and more than 186 species of birds. Okay, so you might not get a good selfie with your arm around a real-life coyote, but that’s probably not the kind of photography you came here for.

Let’s call our theme park version of White Sands National Monument the ‘Snow Desert’. If 600km of northern Chihuahuan Desert isn’t epic enough for you, there’s also the remote threat of being obliterated by a test missile from one of the surrounding military installations to keep the adrenalin pumping. And if movies are your thing, you can skip the Universal Studios experience and come right here: flicks such as Hang 'Em High (1967), My Name Is Nobody (1973), and Young Guns II (1990) were all shot here. Westworld, eat your heart out.

If the concept of USA-as-natural-theme-park is starting to inspire you, you’ll love this alternative map of the USA from Expedia, which includes a map of the entire territory re-imagined as one massive attraction. Ticket for one?

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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