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Have you visited these 6 National Park lands in the Southern U.S.?

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

When thinking of National Park lands, the West comes to mind for many people. But, did you know the South has incredible National Parks, Seashores, and Recreation areas to explore? From shorelines and marshes to inland hikes and camping opportunities, there is so much to do here. Here are six park lands to add to your must-visit list!

1. Arizona - Petrified Forest National Park

A person dressed in black standing near petrified wood. There are hills and grasses in the background with blue skies.
Photo by Sarah Levant.

Petrified wood is fossilized plant matter made up of nearly 100 percent quartz. This unique material sparkles in the sunlight. Iron, manganese, and carbon are all impurities that may change the color of the rocks from red and brown or a rainbow of hues. 

If you visit Petrified Forest National Park, hike the Giant Logs and Long Logs trail to the Agate House for a three-mile loop adventure through the areas with the most petrified wood in the park. Stop to examine the Agate House made of locally sourced rocks! 

To see a lava tube cave, hike the Blue Ridge Cave Trail. This 6.5-mile out-and-back trek takes you past Scott Reservoir, a waterway stocked with fish that's a cool place to take a break and enjoy a snack!

2. New Mexico - Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Interior of a cave with various caverns light up.
Photo by Lucas Pols.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park covers 73.07 square miles of the Chihuahuan Desert, including more than 100 caves! This area is home to seventeen species of bats, plus coyotes, cougars, and many other interesting animals. 

Walk deep into the earth by hiking into Carlsbad Caverns to see the stalactites and stalagmites among giant rock halls. This 3-4 hour adventure may not be a long distance (It's just over a mile), but the amazement factor makes this a truly unique experience. Stop by Temple of the Sun to see the well-known "chandelier" made of gypsum! 

Make sure you tour the Left Hand Tunnel by candlelight with a park ranger. These experts tell historical stories about explorers past and give a glimpse of what it was like to wander the undeveloped trail by candlelight. 

3. Texas - Big Bend National Park

Mountain peaks and blue sky.
Photo by Warren Goh.

Big Bend National Park includes 800,000 acres of protected lands in the Chihuahuan Desert, including the Chisos Mountain Range. Visitors come here to hike winding mountainous paths and paddle the wild rivers. 

Hike Emory Peak, an 8.5-mile out-and-back trail that is well-marked and easy to reach. Visitors love the 360-degree views of the park but recommend wearing a windbreaker as it can get chilly at the peak! Expect a zig-zagging trail that passes hot springs and a short rock scramble to get to the top.

Check out park ranger favorite Lost Mine Trail, a 4.5-mile out-and-back hike for amazing mountain and desert views. Feeling tired? Hike to the first overlook and head back. There are no restrooms on-site, so be sure to stop and take care of business ahead of time.

Photo by Jess Curren.

4. Florida - Dry Tortugas National Park

You can take a ferry, plane, or boat to get to Dry Tortugas National Park. The island, located 70 miles off Key West, is home to the 100-square-mile park that hosts Fort Jefferson. The massive, six-sided stone structure has a mote sure to satisfy all your family's pirate play dreams!

You can visit during the day to stroll around the island and even fish for groupers. Camp overnight to enjoy stunning stars, thanks to the lack of light pollution. 

Only 1 percent of this park is on land! We recommend renting snorkels from a local company to experience the incredible marine habitats that make up the majority of the park. You can see a variety of aquatic wildlife by snorkeling along the mote wall, Windjammer (Avanti) shipwreck, and the Texas Rock Coral Reef. You might even be able to snorkel at night!

Photo by Emily Lester.

5. Georgia - Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore is a barrier island off of Georgia that is largely made of constantly shifting sand. The wilderness area covers 9,800 acres of marsh, forest, and shoreline and is reachable by ferry, plane, or boat. Native Americans, enslaved African people, missionaries, and wealthy industrialists have all made the island home in the past. Today, visitors come to take guided van and bike tours around the giant sand dune-laden landform. 

Backpack the Parallel Trail to Yankee Paradise Campground to fully immerse yourself in this seaside park. The 15-mile out-and-back trail leads to several first-come-first-serve campsites. During your walk and stay, you might encounter wild horses and armadillos among the ruins of the mansion. Tour Plum Orchard a 30-minutes walk away from the campsites to walk through the mansion and get drinking water.

If you Camp at Stafford Beach, bring a hammock so you can sway with the beach breeze just a five-minute walk from the campsite! The seven-mile loop hike that passes through Stafford Beach is accessible from the ferry landing. There are 7-8 campsites here and bonfires may be allowed in designated areas. Bathrooms with showers are available but bring drinking water. 

Photo by Stephanie Hampton.

6. Oklahoma - Chickasaw National Recreation Area

Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur, Oklahoma, is a favorite place for RVers, campers, hikers, and hunters. It includes Lake of the Arbuckles, a manmade body of water with 36 miles of shoreline perfect for swimming, boating, and fishing.

Stop at the Travertine Nature Center to learn about local wildlife, plants, hydrology, and geology. Talk with a ranger about their fun experiences with critters like armadillos, turkeys, and flying squirrels.

Be sure to hike to Little Niagara Falls, a two-mile out-and-back walk with little elevation gain that brings you to several falls. People recommend coming during the spring and fall for lower temperatures and fewer crowds. In the summertime, you can stop to swim below the falls to cool off before heading back!

Feature photo of Emery Peak by Warren Goh.

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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