Many Southerners may not realize 10 of the nation’s 59 national parks are right here in our backyard. Whether it’s the sprawling desert of Big Bend in Texas to the lush forests of Shenandoah in Virginia, the South is home to (what we think are) some of the best national parks around. Not only that, but some of the oldest ones are here, too. In fact, Hot Springs Reservation in Arkansas was established in 1832—40 years before even Yellowstone was officially designated a national park. So in honor of 100 years of the National Park Service, here are five reasons why we think you should pencil in a weekend at a national park—and soon.
1.Natural diversity. National Parks capture the natural diversity about the South. Included in the swath of the great Southern outdoors are swamps, deserts, forests, canyons, plains, and coasts—all preserved and accessible to the public, thanks to the National Park Service.
2. Close to home. Wherever you live in the South, one’s never too far. Use FindYourPark.com to well, find your closest park (and other public lands!). Plus, explore events and activities to experience the local flora and fauna.
3. Natural treasures. They’re home to—and protect—some of the world’s great natural treasures. For example, the Big Bend in far west Texas has been designated an International Dark Sky Park, as it’s home to the darkest skies in the lower 48 states.
4. Budget-friendly. It’s a relatively affordable way to vacay. The attractions and entry are often inexpensive or free, and most areas have a variety of accommodations: stay in quaint local bed and breakfasts, or go the rustic (and very budget-friendly!) route and camp.
5. Family-friendly. They're great for families—there’s adventure, education, and relaxation. In Hot Springs, you can relax at a contemporary bath house, hike local trails, or hit up the local distillery and craft brewery, Superior Bathhouse (and try the microbrew made with mineral spring water!)