7 Gorgeous Alternatives to National Parks

from Wildlife Promise

Update: Nature Find is still a great tool to find national, state, city parks and other sites to connect with nature.

This past Sunday I decided to go hiking with a friend. It was a gorgeous day and we decided to go to a favorite local spot, Great Falls. As we drove up to the entrance, it hit us. It’s Great Falls National Park, and it’s closed because of the government shutdown. We were already in Great Falls and needed a new place to hike.

That’s where the National Wildlife Federation’s Nature Find tool saved the day. We found Riverbend Regional Park just down the road, and it was fantastic! I thought it would be useful to take a few popular national parks and find nearby alternatives while the parks are closed.

A pond at Riverbend Regional Park in Virginia.

A secluded pond at Riverbend Regional Park in Virginia. (Photo by Dani Tinker)

1. Grand Canyon National Park

Alternative: Willow Lake Park

Prescott, AZ has several nature sites worth checking out, especially Willow Lake. The natural beauty is undeniable (just look at the photo below) and the park is an important birding area designated by the National Audubon Society.

Willow Lake Park in Arizona operated by the City of Prescott.

Willow Lake Park in Arizona operated by the City of Prescott. (Photo by Michael Wilson)

2. Yosemite National Park

Alternative: Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve

This thing is ancient. I mean, over 1 million years old, and one of the oldest lakes in North America. Mono Lake has incredible limestone towers (called tufas) that form by the interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. Also, it’s also a sensitive habitat for 1-2 million birds each year.

The unique tufa towers at Mono Lake in California.

The unique tufa towers at Mono Lake in California. (Photo by Mike Baird)

3. Yellowstone National Park

Alternative: Custer State Park

South Dakota’s Custer State Park has over 73,000 acres full of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, prairie dogs and pronghorn antelope. The park’s herd of 1,300 free-roaming bison is one of the largest publicly-owned herds in the world!

Bison at Custer State Park in South Dakota.

Bison at Custer State Park in South Dakota. (Photo by Thimindu Goonatillake)

4. Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Alternative: Indiana Dunes State Park

Yes, there are beaches in Indiana. Amazing beaches. The sand dunes at Indiana Dunes State Park (formed over thousands of years) tower nearly 200 feet above Lake Michigan. The area is ecologically diverse offering the chance to explore bogs, fens, prairies and woodlands!

The beach at Indiana Dunes State Park.

The beach at Indiana Dunes State Park. (Photo by Chris Harnish)

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Alternative: Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area

This park is filled with streams, waterfalls and mountain views. It’s one of the least disturbed forests in the Cumberland Mountains. View brilliant fall colors and some of the best wildflowers in Tennessee.

A barred owl & Debord Falls at Frozen Head State Park. (Photos by M. Hodge and F. Kehren)

A barred owl & Debord Falls at Frozen Head State Park. (Photos by Michael Hodge and Frank Kehren)

6. Crater Lake National Park

Alternative: Silver Falls State Park

I’m an Oregonian and couldn’t resist including one of my favorite state parks. Silver Falls has an abundance of Douglas firs, hemlocks and cedars and the forest floor is covered with ferns, moss and wildflowers. There are 10 waterfalls to choose from, or see them all!

Beautiful colors at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon.

Beautiful colors at Silver Falls State Park in Oregon. (Photo by Ian Sane)

7. Acadia National Park

Alternative: Baxter State Park

The site has a wonderful view of the Katahdin Range, and presents the vibrant and iconic fall colors of Maine. Wildlife is abundant and includes black bears, moose, bobcats and red foxes. Throughout Baxter State Park, several secluded waterfalls, streams and ponds can be found, explored and enjoyed!

Moose and the view of the Katadin Range from Baxter State Park in Maine.

Moose and the view of the Katahdin Range from Baxter State Park in Maine. (Photos by Jim Dollar)

I Just Want Our National Parks Back

Perfect, so do I. Let’s be honest, there really aren’t “alternatives” to our National Parks. Your voice is critical in telling Congress that they need to pass a funding bill so that our National Parks can return to service!

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I Don’t Live Near Any of These Suggestions

Don’t worry, NWF’s Nature Find database has over 12,000 nature sites across the country! You can find parks, trails, campsites and more near you.

Search for local nature sites and events where you can connect to nature!

We can help each other by sharing favorite parks for viewing wildlife, getting outdoors and enjoying nature. Share yours in the comments below!