Some travelers love to hike — others love to gaze upon the mountains while sitting indoors with a glass of wine. Yes, nature does that whole ‘take your breath away’ thing and leaves you in a puddle of wonder with its colors, shapes, and contortions of water that defy the very laws that are supposed to govern them. But for some of us, the downsides of nature — extreme heat or cold, tiny, crawly pests that tend to fly and bite — occasionally outweigh the benefits. In an effort to make the great outdoors more user-friendly, we’ve combed the country for national parks that have the best indoor perks and come with ways to experience the wonder from the great indoors.
Yosemite National Park
There are ways to explore and appreciate the 1,169 square miles of this glacier-carved utopia that doesn’t involve backpacks or leaky tents. Instead, let the tour guides of Tenaya Lodge, located in the Sierra Mountains, just two miles from Yosemite’s South Gate, ferry you to see the best parts of the park in their retractable roof-outfitted buses. No need to trek miles to see Glacier Point, Bridalveil Falls, or Half Dome. Look up through your chariot’s transparent top and snap the photos that’ll create a social media stir and amaze your friends. When you return to the Tenaya Lodge, reward yourself and your adventurous spirit with a soothing massage in the Silver LEED-certified Ascent Spa. At night, take a guided snowshoe hike in the winter or a flashlight-illuminated one in the summer to learn about the wildlife around Tenaya Lodge. If you stay in one of the two-bedroom Explorer Cabins, located right next to the main lodge, you can make dinner in your full kitchen or have the friendly staff bring you food from one of the on-site restaurants. Listen to live music under the stars in summer, ice skate under the pavilion in winter, or go indoor swimming year-round. While the kids perfect their s’mores skills at the fire pit outside your cabin, you can relax fireside indoors with a glass of wine.
New River Gorge National Park
It may be the newest national park in the United States, but New River Gorge National Park, in West Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains, is one of the oldest rivers in North America. Teeming with a history, the 70,000 acres of land around the New River calls to white water rafters and rock climbers everywhere. Yet there are ways to experience this terrain that aren’t so rugged. Start at Adventures on the Gorge, a resort that aims to satisfy the full spectrum of outdoor curiosity. Stay in one of their two-, three-, or four-bedroom deluxe cabins and gaze from your patio at willows, pines, and honeysuckle growing all around your log-cabin retreat. Some in your group may enjoy the guided rapids tour on the exhilarating Lower Gauley River, while others may prefer floating along the Upper Gauley River in an inflatable raft, casually learning about the history of the land and spotting wildlife grazing around the river. The resort can arrange a local masseuse to rub out all that daring inside the comfort of your cabin.
Death Valley National Park
There may not be the lush walls of green covering these plains and mountains but a visit to the largest National Park outside of Alaska, Death Valley is a walk through history and otherworldly beauty. Death Valley is the lowest and driest area in North America. In the summertime, it’s also the hottest in the world. No need to break a sweat during your fall visit to The Oasis At Death Valley, where two spring-fed pools offer 87-degree temperatures to guests. Two hotels occupy the Oasis At Death Valley, the upscale and newly restored Inn at Death Valley, once a Hollywood favorite, and the family-friendly, Ranch at Death Valley. Stay at the brand new casitas at the Inn at Death Valley for maximum privacy within your little slice of desert paradise. Prepare a craft cocktail in the wet bar and enjoy it on your patio surrounded by desert landscape. Whirl around the grounds in your complimentary golf cart. In the morning, take a horseback or carriage ride through the sand dunes like the ’49ers did when they crossed the desert looking for gold at Sutter’s Creek. You can time your visit to experience the monthly full moon rides with millions of stars lighting your way. Or, take one of the many trails around the resort to hike or bike into salt flats or meadows full of wildflowers. Later, reward yourself with a well-deserved pampering by a highly skilled masseuse with hot stones and salt scrubs washing away your desert exertions.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Imagine having your own personal assistant coordinate your entire visit to one of the country’s most-visited national park. AvantStay, a bespoke home rental service, has houses nationwide, like the 12 bedroom Sugarland, perfect for friends and families traveling together, surrounded by panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains. A smartphone app is all you need to have your personal home concierge fill your fridge with whatever you desire, or invite a personal chef to serve an incredible meal on your covered deck. Summon a teacher to lead private yoga or sound bath sessions at your home. Order a flock of bikes to fly through the Great Smoky Mountain’s popular Cades Cove 11-mile loop for the best opportunities to see black bears, white-tailed deer, and turkeys. Then come back to hang out in your private movie theater, play billiards in your game room, or do whatever your indoorsy heart desires.
Grand Canyon National Park
If you want to tell your friends you went camping at Grand Canyon National Park, you won’t be lying if you stay with Under Canvas — you just won’t be telling them the whole story (seeing as Under Canvas’s high-end furniture and organic bath products don’t exactly make you feel like you’re roughing it). There’s yoga, live music, and even movie nights on-site, as well as a restaurant where chefs use locally sourced ingredients, exquisitely prepared, to satisfy sophisticated tastes. Take a guided hike or ride a donkey into the biggest hole in the United States, a mile deep and 270 miles wide. Want to see more and not work as hard? Take a jeep tour instead.
Zion National Park
Take a dip in the waterfall hot tub at Cliffrose Lodge and Gardens, set right against the Virgin River, the body of water that flows through Zion National Park’s famed Narrows hike. You don’t have to do the 10-mile, round-trip Narrows hike. You can ride along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway instead. Once you’ve had enough, the Five Petals Spa is waiting to knead those deserving muscles or serve up an organic algae facial. Head back to have a sundowner on your private patio facing Zion’s magnificence and drop off into your plush mattress for a well-deserved rest.