Best National Parks for Alternative Fitness Activities

Hit the Trails! And the Lakes, Beaches and Dunes to Enhance Your Health

National Parks are like giant, outdoor fitness centers, just waiting for you to put them to use. And even though they don't boast racks of dumbbells or lines of treadmills, they provide a wealth of opportunities to get active and improve your health. Whether you're looking to take up a new hobby, like sandboarding, or you're hoping to stretch your legs and run the trails surrounded by some of Mother Nature's most incredible landscapes, all you have to do is use the Find Your Park website to locate the right park for you. 

Also, you may want to make special note of the National Park Service's annual free entrance days. While some National Parks offer free admission year-round, 124 of the most spectacular parks, including Yosemite, Great Sand Dunes, Everglades, Yellowstone, Crater Lake, and Zion, typically charge an entrance fee. These fees are waived during free entrance days, making them an ideal time to visit and explore. Dates change from year-to-year, but admission is typically waived on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the week surrounding Earth Day (typically christened National Parks Week), National Public Lands Day, and Veteran's Day. 

If you're looking for new ways to get out there and get active, consider these off-the-beaten-track ideas. 

1
Horseback Riding

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National Park Service

For the uninitiated, you may be surprised to realize that horseback riding requires core strength, leg strength, and coordination, even for a basic trail ride.

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2
Trail Running

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Martin Sundberg/Getty Images

Skip the hike and pick up your pace. These 10 parks feature trails that will challenge your stamina while amazing your senses.

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3
Surfing

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National Park Service

Yes, you can surf in National Parks...more specifically, you can surf along the national shorelines. Just grab a board and hit the waves—you'll challenge your strength and balance in the process.

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4
Kayaking or Canoeing

Kayaking National Parks
Getty Images/Blend Images/Roberto Westbrook

Whether you're looking for a nice, easy paddle, or you want to brave white-capped rapids, the National Parks Service includes a multitude of lakes, rivers, and shores where you can set sail.

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5
Sandboarding

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National Park Service

Never heard of sandboarding? You're in for a treat. It's like snowboarding, but on sand dunes. The main difference between the two sports (other than the weather, of course) is most parks don't have lifts to help you get to the top of the dunes. That means you get double the workout as you must climb to the top of the hill before boarding to the bottom.

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6
Scuba Diving

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Georgette Douwma/Getty Images

Yep, it's even possible to enhance your fitness while exploring the vast blue waters of the nation's lakes, rivers, and oceans. While scuba diving may not be an overly strenuous workout, you still have to swim through the water's resistance, and in some cases, against a current—it definitely qualifies as moderate-intensity exercise.

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7
Family Hiking

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Jim Peaco/National Park Service

When you're heading to the park with the whole fam, you need a workout appropriate for all levels. These parks offer something for everyone.

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8
Geocaching

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tirc83/Getty Images/E+ Collection

Geocaching is like a great outdoor scavenger hunt where you use GPS data points to discover hidden items or locations, commonly known as "caches." National Parks often offer geocaching programs, but you need to be sure you're following the rules, as most parks don't allow unapproved caches to be stored on federal land. 

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Enjoying the National Parks

There are more than 400 national parks and more than 84 million acres of protected national park land in the United States, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Puerto Rico. In 2014, more than 292 million people visited the parks. And while many of the National Parks are well known, including Yellowstone, the Everglades, and the Grand Canyon, you may be surprised to find smaller, lesser known parks in your area. Rather than take your family to a local playground, check out the nearby National Parks and appreciate the beauty of the protected land—just don't forget to double-check the free entrance dates so you can hit the trails without paying a penny.

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