Hiking, camping, water sports, star gazing, climbing – all of these things are popular activities at National Parks across the United States. However, there’s more to this country’s diverse 80 million acres of National Park land than that. From geological hot baths to unearthly climates and arboreal record breakers, we’ve picked out just a few of the unexpected and exciting activities you can do – today – courtesy of the National Park Service.
Sandboard in Colorado
You’ve heard of snowboarding and skiing, but there hotter and drier cousin is just as thrilling. Visitors to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in the south of the state can enjoy exhilarating speeds of up 50 or 60 miles an hour as you cruise down America’s tallest sand dunes. Don’t try and use a snowboard or a home-brewed sled here though. Sand doesn’t work quite like snow meaning sandboards are specially constructed for the purpose, says the National Park Service official guide to the activity.
If you’re planning to try out this lesser-known extreme sport, plan ahead and make sure to visit one of the four recommended sandboard rental stockists within 30 miles of the Great Sand Dunes Visitor centre. Oh, and try to avoid stormy or extra hot weather too.
There aren’t many more inhospitable environments on Earth than in certain parts of Death Valley National Park in eastern California. In fact, many of the salt basins and shallow ponds in arid and windswept craters bare a decent resemblance to the conditions found in specific parts of the Martian landscape. This has made it an attraction for planetary biologists and other scientists investigating the Red Planet. Many of them congregate here in February each year, in a free event that is open to the public. It features talks, demonstrations, stargazing and more.
Boil Yourself (Safely) in Wyoming
Fairly well known this one, but still a unique activity. If you didn’t know, Wyoming is home to Yellowstone National Park – one of the most celebrated in the country. This mountainous region is actually the caldera, or cratered top, of a huge super-volcano.
Don’t worry though, its been dormant for 650,000 years and shows no signs of coming back to life anytime soon. One advantage of this colossal power deep beneath the Earth’s crust, however, is that visitors to the park can enjoy the erupting geysers and crazy mineral deposits of the famous geothermal pools. One lesser known experience though, is the Boiling River. Slightly off the Yellowstone’s most beaten tracks, the Boiling River is a point in which a geothermal hot spring and a local freshwater stream meet. This enables safe bathing and swimming in its naturally warmed waters. One of this fascinating site’s best kept secrets!
The World’s Biggest Tree
Located in the Sequoia National Park in central California, General Sherman is the largest tree by volume in the world. This imposing Giant Redwood or Sequoia tree 279 feet tall, with a 35-foot diameter at the base. Interestingly, it may have the largest volume, but the General isn’t actually the widest, tallest or oldest tree from around the globe. Still, none of that will matter when you’re standing at the trunk and looking up to be dwarfed by one of nature’s most impressive sentinels.