My Son's List of Top 5 National Recreation Areas

    My Son's List of Top 5 National Recreation Areas


    By Kimberly Dijkstra


    Like national parks, US National Recreation Areas are protected locations of natural, cultural, or historic significance, with an emphasis on family-friendly activities. Some are close to cities, while others are deep in the forest, and all are packed with opportunities for outdoor fun and excitement.


    Here are the top 5 national recreation areas in the US.


    Golden Gate National Recreation Area


    Beneath the iconic symbol of San Francisco stretches 80,000 acres of hilly terrain and stunning views. Golden Gate National Recreation Area features 37 distinct park sites, more than 130 miles of trails, and 1,200 historic structures, many of which are dog-friendly.


    Muir Woods National Monument is a primeval forest, where you can walk among towering coastal redwoods. The wind-swept prairies known as the Marin Headlands are another major highlight, with an abundance of hiking trails, lookout points, and beaches down below. 


    Construction of Fort Point began during the California Gold Rush and it stands strong today for self-guided and ranger-led tours.


    Though it may not sound like a great place to bring the kids, Alcatraz Island is surprisingly appropriate for families. From the picturesque ferry ride across San Francisco Bay to the sea birds nesting on the Parade Ground, everyone loves a visit to the Rock.


    Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area


    About two hours outside New York City, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area straddles New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The natural beauty of the rural landscape draws millions of visitors each year.


    An easy day at the Delaware Water Gap could include a scenic drive down Old Mine Road and a family picnic at Milford Beach. If you’re looking to get out and about, there are more than 30 miles of packed gravel on the McDade Recreational Trail for bicycling, and more than 100 miles of hiking trails that lead to treasures like Hidden Lake and Buttermilk Falls.


    Choose any of three beaches and several other access points to launch a canoe, kayak, or raft into the river. The recreation area is one of few places available for hunting in the region, with native and stocked game, including whitetail deer, pheasant, and bear.


    Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area


    Vast, wild, and breathtaking, the extraordinary landscape of Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area offers visitors unparalleled opportunities to explore. This park is unusual because it is separated into two districts which are not directly connected, one in Montana and one in Wyoming. With so much to see and do, the hardest part of your trip will be deciding where to spend your time. 


    The ancient Bad Pass Trail was traveled by humans as many as 12,000 years ago and can be followed along today on the Park Road either by bike or on foot. Hiking opportunities are aplenty, with 17 miles of trails ranging from easy to advanced. The moderate Hillsboro Trail will take you past Hillsboro Ranch, a historic ghost town. Three other abandoned ranches are spread throughout the park, kept in their original state and ready to tell stories of the open range and dude ranching.


    To be surrounded day and night by some of the most beautiful scenery in the west, camp in one of four different campgrounds open all year. Get out onto Bighorn Lake on a boat and float in the shadow of cliff sides up to 1,000 feet high. Bring your fishing rods to the renowned waters of the Bighorn River, where trout are the most sought-after prize.


    Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area


    Just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area offers an escape from the city. The 48-mile stretch of river offers an assortment of outdoor recreation activities.


    Looking to fish? The Chattahoochee River is the southernmost trout river in the US, and home to 20 other species of fish as well. Wildlife is abundant in the park ー from rabbits, white-tailed deer, and frogs to osprey, owls, and playful river otter area all present for observation.


    During any season, a nature walk alongside the river or a float down it is a colorful experience. The Chattahoochee is relatively calm ー perfect for leisurely paddling on a raft, tube, canoe, or kayak.


    Chickasaw National Recreation Area


    An oasis in southern Oklahoma, Chickasaw National Recreation Area has more than 22 miles of trails, two lakes, two streams, six campgrounds, and several unique freshwater and mineral springs. Get started in the Travertine Nature Center to pick up helpful information about your visit and pick the brains of rangers. The exhibits there highlight the forest and prairie ecosystems of the area, and kids will love the interactive learning area featuring live reptiles, amphibians, and fish.


    The Lake of the Arbuckles is the largest body of water in the park. Created by Arbuckle Dam in 1966, it has 36 miles of shoreline and is a popular fishing destination for catfish, perch, bass, and crappie. The smaller Veterans Lake offers much of the same, with boat ramps, a fishing dock, a paved trail, and a picnic pavilion.


    The walking trails in this park are mostly level and provide views of the historic district, the forest, streams, waterfalls and panoramic views of the lakes and prairie uplands. Bison Pasture Loop is home to a small herd of bison and Rock Creek Multi-Use Trails are open to horseback riding. Hiking, bird-watching, and water activities are available year-round, but to see fields of vibrant wildflowers, the best window is from March to October.

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