They embody everything that’s great about nature in America, but national parks aren’t necessarily impossibly remote or difficult to get around in. Often, it’s the contrary, in fact. Although they are the epitome of natural beauty and wildness, most of them are surprisingly accessible via nearby urban hubs, such as the following gateway towns near national parks.
Top 9 Gateway Towns Near National Parks
In many cases, there are fun, hip towns near national parks where you can either base yourself during your visit or stock up before heading out into the wild. This post features a selection of awesome towns for national park visits. These convenient hubs boast all necessary facilities and services to make any national parks adventure a memorable one.
9. Asheville, North Carolina
The hipster capital of the Southeast, vibrant Asheville has reinvented itself as a hub of arts, craft beer brewing, and music. Its these three things that make downtown Asheville such a great destination. There’s plenty of (window)shopping, beer sampling, and music listening to keep you busy for a whole weekend. Additionally, the Biltmore Estate is one of America’s greatest private homes and Asheville’s star attraction.
However, the real beauty of this mountain town lies in its location. The iconic Blue Ridge Parkway passes right by, offering easy access to the Blue Ridge Mountains and their hiking trails and viewpoints. Down the road awaits Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this gorgeous park is home to more tree species than all Western Europe combined, as well as a huge diversity in wildlife.
- Nearby National Parks: Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Other Attractions: The Biltmore Estate and Pisgah National Forest
- Kick Back with a Beer at: Wicked Weed Brewing, Burial Beer Co., or Highland Brewing Company
8. Bar Harbor, Maine
Situated on the northeast shore of Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor is a super-cute coastal town. Home to countless boutiques, restaurants and hotels, it’s a fantastic place to just wander around in. Nice shoreline trails wind their way along a spectacular section of Maine coast, while beaches offer visitors the chance to do some summer sunbathing.
Bar Harbor lies at the doorstep of Acadia National Park, the only national park in New England. Its many accommodation options make it the perfect base to explore this sensational coastal park. Featuring ruggedly rocky shores, shimmering lakes, bare granite summits, sand beaches and historic carriage roads, Acadia is an outdoor lover’s paradise.
- Nearby National Parks: Acadia National Park
- Other Attractions: Shore Path and Land Bridge to Bar Island
- Kick Back with a Beer at: Atlantic Brewing Company
7. Miami, Florida
Often synonymous with superficial beach life, partying, and glitz and glamor, Miami is so much more than that. Its renowned Art Deco architecture and thriving Cuban culture give the city an edge that you won’t find anywhere else in the U.S. This urban variety combined with its proximity to a number of great outdoor destinations makes Miami one of the best national park gateway towns.
Two sensational national parks lie just a short drive south of Miami. Biscayne National Park is basically visible from the city’s waterfront, while Everglades National Park, incidentally the most endangered natural area in the entire U.S., occupies much of the southern part of Florida’s panhandle. They respectively offer world-class snorkeling and scuba diving, and wildlife watching and boating, and are the perfect addition to any beach vacation.
- Nearby National Parks: Biscayne National Park and Everglades National Park
- Other Attractions: Art Deco District, Little Havana, Miami Beach, and the Florida Keys
- Kick Back with a Beer at: Lincoln’s Beard Brewing Co., J Wakefield Brewing, or Concrete Beach Brewery
6. Rapid City, South Dakota
Nicknamed the “City of Presidents”, Rapid City is where you’ll find Mount Rushmore, the giant world-famous sculpture of four U.S. presidents. This relatively small city boasts lots of pioneering and Wild West history, including several Native American sites and monuments. It’s arguably one of the best places in America to learn about Native American culture and immerse yourself in the pioneering days of the West.
In terms of national parks, Rapid City finds itself among the best towns in the country. Gorgeous nature essentially surrounds this city. To the south, Wind Cave National Park offers astonishing subterranean exploration, while Badlands National Park with its dramatic landscapes beckons from the east. Also south of the city lies Custer State Park, home to a large herd of American bison and one of America’s greatest state parks.
- Nearby National Parks: Badlands National Park, Wind Cave National Park, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Other Attractions: Custer State Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Black Hills Central Railroad
- Kick Back with a Beer at: Hay Camp Brewing Company or Lost Cabin Beer Co.
5. Charlottesville, Virginia
One of the greatest small cities in the United States, Charlottesville lies nestled scenically in the heart of Virginia. Within striking distance from the Blue Ridge and surrounded by rolling farmlands, it’s setting is idyllic, beautiful and peaceful. Greater Charlottesville is the former home of no fewer than three U.S. presidents—James Monroe, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.
The latter’s home, Monticello, lies just outside of downtown Charlottesville and is a must-visit attraction. Also, don’t skip a stroll around the Academical Village at the University of Virginia, founded and designed by Jefferson, or T.J. as locals call him. Both Monticello and UVA are designated as World Heritage by UNESCO.
What sets Charlottesville apart from other similar-sized college towns, however, is its natural surroundings. It’s no more than 30 minutes by car to the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park and the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Both are breathtaking places to go for a drive and a hike.
- Nearby National Parks: Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway
- Other Attractions: Historic Downtown Mall, University of Virginia, and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
- Kick Back with a Beer at: Champion Brewing Company or Three Notch’d Brewing Company
4. Anchorage, Alaska
One of the ultimate national park gateway towns, Anchorage is also basically the gateway to all of Alaska. The state’s largest city, it’s well-known for its cultural attractions, such as the Alaska Native Heritage Center, but also for its adventurous spirit.
Anchorage offers (relatively) easy access to three of the wildest, most rugged national parks in the U.S. Denali National Park, home to North America’s highest mountain, is by far the most popular. Kenai Fjords National Park lies to the south, near the small town of Seward, and is best explored on a boat or cruise. To the east, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park encompasses four different mountain ranges, glaciers, valleys and lakes.
The latter is by far the largest of all American national parks, six times bigger than Yellowstone. The states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined are smaller than this one park—it’s as epic a place as you’ll come across anywhere on earth.
- Nearby National Parks: Denali National Park & Preserve, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
- Other Attractions: Chugach National Forest, Anchorage Museum, and Alaska Native Heritage Center
- Kick Back with a Beer at: Anchorage Brewing Company or Midnight Sun Brewing Co.
3. Jackson Hole, Wyoming
There are plenty of amazing parks in the contiguous United States, but few compare to the remarkable beauty of Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park, natural as well as architectural. Both are easily accessible from the fun mountain town of Jackson Hole.
This outdoor-minded town is home to no fewer than three ski resorts—Grand Targhee, Snow King Mountain, and Jackson Hole Mountain. Its adventurous mindset is visible all over its townscape, from the arches made from shed elk antlers at the Town Square to wildlife-centered art by people like Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keeffe at the National Museum of Wildlife Art.
Jackson Hole definitely has its place in the top three of towns near national parks. Both above-mentioned parks lie within striking distance and feature extraordinary mountain landscapes, hiking, natural hot springs and waterfalls, and much more.
- Nearby National Parks: Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park
- Other Attractions: National Elk Refuge, National Museum of Wildlife Art, and Granite Hot Springs
- Kick Back with a Beer at: Snake River Brewing
2. Seattle, Washington
The unofficial capital of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle has a lot going for it. It’s the birthplace of grunge music—Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden are/were all from the city—and the headquarters of some of the world’s largest companies, such as Boeing, Starbucks, and Amazon. There’s plenty to see and do in terms of history and culture in this fine coastal city.
However, what makes Seattle one of the best towns near national parks is its stunning location. You’ll find lots of variety in the landscapes that surround the city, from some of the world’s most active volcanoes to nearly impenetrable wilderness and rugged coastal scenery. All this beauty can be experienced in the three national parks near Seattle. The city lies effectively in the middle of these parks, pretty much equidistant to all of them.
Mount Rainier National Park with its glacier-covered volcano, thundering waterfalls, and wildflower-filled meadows lies to the south, while the vast wilderness areas of North Cascades National Park, one of the least visited national parks in the country, draw adventurers to the north. To the west, Olympic National Park and all its diversity is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and deserves at least three days.
- Nearby National Parks: Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and North Cascades National Park
- Other Attractions: Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, and Smith Tower
- Kick Back with a Beer at: Fremont Brewing Company or Cloudburst Brewing Company
1. Moab, Utah
Even though this list is packed with awesome national park gateway towns, only one of them can be the number one. And this was a pretty easy pick. Moab, Utah is one of the adventure capitals of the world, the gateway to two of the finest national parks in America. This vibrant, charming town lies adjacent to Arches National Park—it’s literally fifteen minutes by car—while epic Canyonlands National Park sprawls to the southwest.
Both parks are absolutely glorious. Arches boasts the world’s densest concentration of natural rock arches and is at its very best around sunset. Canyonlands is so spectacular and vast that it almost puts Grand Canyon to shame. If you’re after seclusion and scenery, drama and daring adventures, Canyonlands is where it’s at. It’s one of the world’s most popular mountain biking and 4-wheel driving destinations and one of my personal favorite parks in America.
- Nearby National Parks: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park
- Other Attractions: Dead Horse Point State Park and Sand Flats Recreation Area
- Kick Back with a Beer at: Moab Brewery
Have You Ever Visited Any of These Gateway Towns Near National Parks in America or Did We Miss a Great One? Let Us Know in the Comments Below!
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