List of National Parks for One-of-a-Kind Experiences

The United States established Yellowstone National Park as the country's first national park back in the 1800s. Other wilderness areas came under federal protection over the years, and the National Park Service was established in 1916 to protect and care for these wilderness areas. The list of national parks expanded, and the federal agency now safeguards nearly 400 places, including battlefields, historic homes and national monuments.

Here is a short list of national parks with adventures and elements unique to each.

Watch the Lava Flow
With three active volcanoes within its boundaries, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park gives visitors a chance to get close to lava flowing from deep within the earth. The Kilauea Volcano puts out 250,000 to 350,000 cubic yards per day. You can explore the park in your car, or hike along its more than 150 miles of trails. Be sure to check weather and lava flow conditions with the rangers in the visitors' center before hiking; conditions can be extremely dangerous.

See the Geysers
Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and parts of Montana and Idaho holds nearly 60 percent of the world's geysers, the most famous being Old Faithful. Be sure to attend one of Old Faithful's regularly occurring hydrothermal eruptions, which occur every 60 to 110 minutes and reach an average height of 130 feet, but do not miss the walk through the adjacent geyser basin, an otherworldly environment of smaller geysers, steam vents and hot springs. Other geyser basins are nearby, some more accessible than others.

Watch the Whales
At Redwood National and State Parks in northern California during March, Pacific gray whales stop to feed near the mouth of the Klamath River during their annual migration from summer feeding grounds off the Mexican coast to Alaskan waters. Rangers regularly schedule viewing sessions that month at the Klamath River Overlook, where visitors can see the whales feeding in the shallow water just hundreds of yards offshore.

Feel Tiny
Next on this list of national parks: Grand Canyon. Whether it's a half-day or a weeks-long trip, there are few things that can make a person feel smaller than paddling on the Colorado River through mile-high canyon walls. If you are not an experienced paddler, there are many commercial outfitters that offer trips of varying length.

Get Tropical
Well, subtropical. The largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, Everglades National Park covers 2,400 acres of South Florida and encompasses a wide diversity of habitats and wildlife, including plenty of representatives of Florida's state reptile: the American Alligator. Boating, canoeing and kayaking can be a blast, but it can also be hazardous, and not because of the gators; it's easy to get lost in the canals and winding waterways that thread through park, which have many unmarked shallow areas where your boat can get stuck. It's best to hire a guide if you want to do some fishing or exploring, or at least take an online boating safety course and be sure you can read a navigation map.

Of course, there are hundreds more adventures to be had, but space doesn't permit a complete list of national parks. You can go to the NPS website to discover more opportunities for adventure and customize your own list of national parks that you want to visit, or you can download an iPhone app that offers information on 50 of the most popular parks.

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