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7 Epic National Park Adventures to Explore this Summer

From Yosemite and Yellowstone to Acadia and the Great Smoky Mountains, our team members here at The Outbound Collective have rounded up some of our favorite National Park adventures to inspire your summer destinations.

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

Presented by Sawyer

At The Outbound Collective, we're big on all kinds of adventure -- from front-door exploring to backcountry excursions. We aspire to epic experiences, and we're grateful for any opportunity to get outside too, whether it's for a full day of sun or 15 minutes of fresh air. And when it comes to National Parks, we believe pretty much any experience is epic. Rappelling down a slot canyon? Yep. A 1-mile hike from the car to scramble for a sunset view of El Capitan? Totally.

Here's our team-approved list of National Park adventures that are sure to get your blood pumping.

The Subway, Top-Down
Zion National Park

Photo: Kyle Frost

Recommended by Brian Heifferon, Co-Founder and CEO
The Subway is probably my favorite canyoneering day trip that I’ve done so far. It’s a proper adventure through one of Utah’s most beautiful and diverse slot canyons. It features a strenuous 9.5 mile hike that requires a whole bunch of fun/challenging stuff: rappelling (your group will need the proper equipment and knowledge), swimming, down climbing, and some route finding. It’s a pretty amazing experience. Summer is the best time of the year to try and plan a trip as the warmer air and water makes it more approachable (but also more crowded). Permits are required.

Hike the Kephart Prong Trail  
Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Photo: Joshua Contois

Recommended by Stephanie Harper, Social Media Coordinator
During COVID, our family was already used to being outside on weekends together in combos or as a whole--so when we decided to venture out one day, we made it a point to select a trail or space we hadn’t explored yet. The Kephart Prong trail was one of those instances where we wanted to be outside but not with a crowd or with the influx of tourists. The trail as we discovered through each step, was full of natural wonders as the first month of Spring had begun to unfold: spots of ferns unfurled and rested upon mounds of untouched dirt, tiny pops of color from the wildflowers at the base of trees, bright green leaves filled the canopies above, and the air felt lighter as the sun poured in through the trees. We only hiked a mere 2 miles but what stuck in my memory the most was the water overflowing from the streams and onto the slick boulders that molded parts of the trail we were on. We splashed and pounced in each divet we could find, taking in and relishing in the fact that warmer months were coming.

Hike to Lamar Valley Overlook and continue on to Specimen Ridge Trail
Yellowstone National Park

Photo: Spencer Rudy

Recommended by Meghan White, Partnerships Manager
I’ve visited Yellowstone NP a handful of times over the years, and while my family and I have mainly stuck to the more common tourist haunts, I have always wanted to explore further. This hike in particular has been on my bucket list for a while now - first recommended by my dad (a Yellowstone NP regular), and then continually recommended by other friends who have made the trek! It gives two options: hiking a shorter, easier trail, up to the Lamar Valley Overlook, and then if you’re feeling up to it (and have prepared for it) you can continue onto the Specimen Ridge trail (a bit over 15miles)! Both trails offer expansive views, and the chance to spot some of Yellowstone’s beautiful wildlife, but I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge of the longer version.

Sunset Hike to Taft Point 
Yosemite National Park

Photo: Joel Bear

Recommended by Tyler Drake, Founder
Taft Point isn’t what everyone would consider epic in terms of a long, arduous hike or tons of planning details. However, this approximately 2-mile hike in Yosemite National Park provides one of the best sunset viewing spots I’ve ever seen. Park your car at the Sentinel Dome trailhead and hike just over 1 mile to Taft Point. Be sure to bring your camera, a cold drink if you’d like, and potentially some padding to sit on. As the sun sets over El Capitan, you’ll know for sure that epic and simple don’t have to be mutually exclusive. 

Buckskin Gulch to Paria Canyon Backpack
Kanab, Utah, just outside of Zion National Park

Photo: Catherine Magyar

Recommended by Noël Russell, Communications Specialist
Set up a car shuttle and spend a couple dusty days in the desert squeezing through North America’s longest contiguous slot canyon located on Southern Paiute land. Pitch your tent beneath towering sandstone walls spotted with ancient rock art and hanging gardens and doze off listening to the sound of canyon wrens as they echo through the canyon’s sinuous caverns. Get ready to get wet, hot and very muddy - and be sure to bring boatloads of water. If the Paria isn’t dry during your visit, you’ll be able to filter once you reach the main canyon, but beware that drought years might leave you with creepy puddles to pump from (and that’s if you’re lucky). Be extra careful to plan around flash flood season, and keep your eye on the weather for surrounding areas. And on your walk out, be sure to explore the historical sites at Lee’s Ferry, or better yet spend an extra night at the campground there, which boasts some of the best sunsets in the Southwest.

Hike the Spearhead
Rocky Mountain National Park

Photo: Kyle Frost

Recommended by Kyle Frost, Designer
While the North Ridge of Spearhead is one of the 50 classic rock climbs of North America, a class III hike/scramble alternative exists for those looking for an adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park. This spectacular spire rises out of Glacier Gorge, surrounded by a cadre of jagged mountain peaks. You’ll start your hike at the Glacier Gorge trailhead, making your way on the well-traveled trail to Mills Lake. While many day hikers stop here, you’ll continue onward past Black Lake, and then continue hiking up into the incredible basin above. Spearhead will be an unmissable sight in the center of the cirque. The route takes you around the north side, towards the shores of Frozen Lake -- there will eventually be an obvious ramp heading to Spearhead’s ridge. Follow this ramp up, and then pick your poison for the scramble up to the summit ridge. With careful route-finding, you shouldn’t ever have to exceed Class III. Enjoy the solitude (compared to the rest of RMNP), and the incredible views of Longs Peak, Chiefs Head, Pagoda, and McHenry’s Peak.

Backpack to Boothe Lake
Yosemite National Park

Photo: Kevin Abernethy

Recommended by Jen Caudill, Editor
I'm a big fan of lakefront destinations. For me, a long day of backpacking pays off when I can take a dip into frigid water and then slowly regain warmth from the comfort of my sleeping bag. It's been a few years since my last lake hiking loop (it was Leavitt Lake in 2017, and Middle Velma in 2016, I loved every step of both trips), and needed to get back out there. This backpacking trip to Boothe Lake fits the challenge -- a little elevation gain, a solid distance to cover on each day thru-hiking, rock jumping into ice-cold alpine water, and crystal clear constellation-gazing. I like to head out to Yosemite in September to take advantage of the few weeks between the buggy months and snow season.

Our final recommendation? Go prepared.

Make sure you're prepared for the unexpected when you venture out for your epic adventures. You'll want to pack essentials including a first aid kit, sunscreen, insect repellent, and if you're headed out on a backpacking trip or long day hike, don't forget a water filtration system you can trust.

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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