The Best U.S. National Park Beaches
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National parks are a staple of the American traveler, from the rich natural history to the cultural contributions of each area. But sometimes, amid all that hiking and exploring, you just want to relax and splash around. Thankfully, a slew of national parks also boast beaches where you can do just that without straying too far from preserved areas (or your tent, cabin or hotel). Consider these national parks for your next trip for a mix of discoveries and lounging in the sun and surf.
Voyageurs National Park
Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park boasts four large, pristine lakes and 26 interior lakes that cover 40 percent of the 218,000-acre park. The park also contains 655 miles of shoreline and is sprinkled with about 500 islands, making it a fantastic destination for swimming, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and hiking on more than 27 miles of trails. Travelers can also rent houseboats, camp at a number of sites or stay at the historic Kettle Falls Hotel, which is accessible only by boat. Voyageurs National Park also offers a huge bonus: The unpolluted skies enable visitors to watch meteor showers and Northern Lights shows.
Apgar Beach in Glacier National Park
Apgar Beach in Glacier National Park doesn't have the traditional beach allure of white sands and warm water, but it does offer a lot of unique features like brightly-colored pebbles, clear lake waters and a breathtaking panoramic view of the mountains. Lake McDonald's calm waters are great for swimming and boating, and Apgar Village also offers plenty of local hiking and bike trails.
Drakes Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore
Drakes Beach, located in the Point Reyes National Seashore, is remote and takes a long drive to reach, but is worth the trip. The extensive beach backs up to rolling cliffs, and from December through March, a breeding colony of elephant seals takes over the beach. There's also abundant hiking opportunities in the area, including the hike to Chimney Rock which offers stunning views. In the winter, a shuttle can take you right from the Drakes Beach to other scenic areas in Point Reyes. The waters are calm enough to make for relaxing paddleboarding or playing by the shore. You can also explore the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Ocean Beach, Fire Island National Seashore
Located in Suffolk County, New York, Fire Island is a mecca for urban dwellers who need some sand and surf on a long weekend, and its remote location makes it ideal to get away from the hustle and bustle (and automobile exhaust) of the city. With no paved roads, the island's vehicles are limited to emergency and service vehicles, so you'll have to get around by bike or on foot. You can also surf, sail and swim to your heart's content. Ocean Beach is one of the area's most popular due to the prolific sand dunes and clear waters—plus an abundance of restaurants and bars.
Hunters Beach and Little Hunters Beach, Acadia National Park
While Maine is famous for its lobster, not many people realize the actual seashore in the state is a fantastic place to relax, hike, boat and stargaze. You'll find many rocky beaches in this park, but escape the crowds and discover a more off-the-beaten-path shore. It's easy to miss Little Hunter's Beach, but just stick to Park Loop Road and look for a wooden staircase and sign. Once there, you'll find a pebbled beach tucked into a little cove that's perfect for picnics and romantic walks.
Outer Banks, Cape Hatteras National Seashore
North Carolina's Outer Banks, located within the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, is rife with activities for all ages. Biking, birdwatching, boating, surfing, swimming, offroading and even historical sites (including the Wright Brothers National Memorial, Civil War trail and First African-American Lifesaving Service) await visitors to the Outer Banks. You can also take air tours of the islands.
Endert's Beach, Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park has more than majestic namesake trees. The park also boasts a gorgeous shore in Endert's Beach. The water is rich in sea life, and visitors can enjoy hiking, tidepooling, bird- and whale-watching and camping. Writer Karla K. Morton, who's on a mission to visit all of America's National Parks, says Endert's Beach is "a beautiful early morning spot that's worth getting up early for." If you're early enough, she says, you can "see the pristine beach with no human footprints and many tide pool wonders (plus blackberries lining the short hiking trail down to the beach)!"
Kalaloch, Ruby and Rialto Beaches, Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park in Washington offers quite a few sensational beaches, but the general consensus is that Kalaloch, Ruby Beach and Rialto Beach are the favorites. You can spot adorable tufted puffins and other gorgeous local birds at Kalaloch and Ruby Beach, which are just about an hour away from Rialto. You can explore the famous Hole in the Wall during hikes at Rialto, but know that you should only go during low tide, as it's possible to become stranded during high tide.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park near Key West, Fla., is comprised of a series of islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Don't miss out on Garden Key — it's the second largest in the series of islands, and also features Fort Jefferson, a cultural center rich in history. Visitors can also enjoy snorkeling, swimming, boating, paddle sports and spectacular views of the night sky and local wildlife.
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