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America’s national parks enchant us with their incredible and varied scenery, wildlife, and recreational opportunities. While thoughts of these parks often evoke images of dramatic rock formations, pristine forests, and soaring mountain peaks, many national parks are also appealing destinations for beach lovers. If you know where to look, you'll find sandy spots nestled everywhere from the base of the Grand Canyon in Arizona to the rivers of California’s Yosemite National Park. Here are 10 great beaches to enjoy on your next visit to a national park.
Boat Beach (Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona)
Reaching the beaches all the way at the bottom of the 6,000-foot-deep Grand Canyon isn’t always the easiest task, but those on a Colorado River rafting trip are likely to make a stop at Boat Beach to either replenish water supplies or exchange passengers. The water is cold, but the canyon’s sweltering summer heat often makes the plunge worth it. Hikers can also reach the beach by trekking either the north or south legs of the Kaibab Trail, which crosses the river via the Kaibab Suspension Bridge. You can even stay overnight near the beach at a campground and historic lodge along the Bright Angel Creek.
Boca Chita Key Beach (Biscayne National Park, Florida)
With a location on a group of tropical keys surrounded by glistening azure waters, it comes as no shock that Biscayne National Park is a paradise for water lovers. But despite the predominance of water, there are surprisingly few beaches here. To reach the best of them, Boca Chita Key Beach, you need to take a boat to the Boca Chita Key Historic District. Located on the northern side of the key, the beach is a serene spot with inviting calm waters and picnic tables. After taking a dip in the Biscayne Bay, visitors can stroll across the key to Boca Chita Lighthouse, where the lookout deck affords views of the Miami skyline.
Cathedral Beach (Yosemite National Park, California)
Should you ever find yourself paddling down the Merced River, be sure to stop at Cathedral Beach Picnic Area to soak up a new perspective of Yosemite National Park. Unblemished forest surrounds the sand-and-pebble beach, but the best part is the view of El Capitan, Yosemite’s famous 3,000-foot-tall granite monolith. Visitors can laze on the beach, swim in the river’s shallow and crystalline water, and look up to spot climbers scaling the monolith.
Gold Bluffs Beach (Redwood National and State Parks, California)
Home to some of the tallest trees on the planet, Redwood National and State Parks also offers 40 miles of Pacific shoreline. Gold Bluffs Beach occupies about a quarter of the park’s coast in the Prairie Creek state park section, which is jointly managed with the national park. Visitors can camp in the sand dunes and embark on long, uninterrupted walks to admire the pounding waves and striking cliffs. Roosevelt elk can often be seen roaming freely in the grassy plains between the beach and redwood-clad bluffs. For more adventure, follow a trail that leads to the fern-draped sheer walls of Fern Canyon.
Ofu Beach (National Park of American Samoa, American Samoa)
The only U.S. national park in the Southern Hemisphere, the National Park of American Samoa covers 13,500 acres on the Samoan Islands of Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta’ü. Those willing to make the long journey from the mainland U.S. will encounter a tropical wonderland of bats, beaches, coral reefs, and rainforests. Catch a plane or hitch a ride with local fishermen to Ofu island to lounge around on the all-but-empty Ofu Beach and play Robinson Crusoe for the day — there is little else to do than stroll the pink sands and dip your toes in the balmy waters.
Rialto Beach (Olympic National Park, Washington)
Olympic National Park dazzles with a landscape of snow-capped mountains and verdant rainforests in the Pacific Northwest. It also has an incredibly scenic 73-mile-long stretch of Pacific coastline with easy-to-reach and isolated beaches. Head straight to Rialto Beach to unwind and reconnect with nature. The scenery is a mix of oceanfront forest, bleached driftwood, sea stacks, and tidal pools. Roughly 1.5 miles north along the coastline is the Hole-in-the-Wall, named for the holes carved into the cliffside by volcanic eruptions. Visitors will find excellent surfing, camping, and whale-watching, too.
Sand Beach (Acadia National Park, Maine)
With a simple yet effective name, Sand Beach is nestled between the mountains and rocky shoreline of Mount Desert Island. This is the only sandy ocean beach located in Acadia National Park — the others consist mostly of rock and pebbles. The water here is cold year-round, but that rarely prevents beachgoers from swimming on warm days, and lifeguards are on duty during the summer months. There are three superb hikes that start close to the beach: The Ocean Path Trailhead skirts the shoreline, while the Beehive Trail and Great Head Trail bring hikers to summit-top viewpoints over the park.
Scorpion Beach (Channel Islands National Park, California)
Don’t let the name deter you: Scorpion Beach has a lot to offer. The beach is part of the verdant and wildlife-rich eight-island chain that makes up Channel Islands National Park, just off the coast of Southern California. In the northeastern corner of Santa Cruz Island is a trail that leads to Scorpion Beach. It’s unclear how the place was named, but it may be due to the shape of the beach. Bluffs and wildflower-clad cliffs rise high above it, while the Pacific laps at the sand and cobblestone shoreline. With opportunities to explore sea caves and spot varied marine life, it's a top spot for kayaking, diving, and snorkeling. Anyone not up for the hike can catch a ferry straight to the beach from Ventura, which takes approximately 90 minutes.
South Beach (Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida)
Seventy miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is about 99% water — the rest is a group of small coral islands. On Garden Key (the second-largest island), four beaches offer easy access to the crystalline waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In front of the historic South Coaling Dock Ruins, you'll find a very different South Beach from the a couple hundred miles northeast. Here, the soft white sands slope gradually into warm shallow waters that teem with coral reefs and tropical fish species. Snorkeling in Dry Tortugas is among the best in Florida, and it's suitable for beginners and children. Afterward, explore two of the nearby highlights of the national park, Fort Jefferson and the Garden Key Lighthouse.
Trunk Beach (Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands)
With coconut palms swaying gently along a quarter-mile of shoreline, Trunk Beach is about as postcard-perfect as beaches get. It’s an ideal spot to just throw a towel down, bask in the sunshine, and take a refreshing dip in the Caribbean Sea. The beach is located on the island of St. John in Virgin Islands National Park. Almost 40% of the national park is underwater, which also makes it an appealing place for snorkeling. Grab a snorkel and mask and follow the Underwater Trail to observe the park’s many exotic coral and fish species.