With Thanksgiving right around the corner, it’s a great time to spend the holiday in a national park. During this time of year, even the most well-known parks have fewer visitors, which gives you a chance to explore your surroundings in a quieter environment. Whether you want to load up the van and take a road trip across the country or head to a national park in your area, the following are some of the top parks to visit this Thanksgiving.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park — Tennessee and North Carolina
Great Smoky Mountains National Park sprawls across the border of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Although this park gets millions of visitors each year, most tend to visit during summer. Going in late November means you can wander along uncrowded hiking trails in cooler temperatures, take scenic drives on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and enjoy other outdoor activities on Thanksgiving day.
While most campgrounds are closed for the season, Smokemont Campground and Cades Cove Campground offer year-round camping. Both campgrounds can accommodate vans and RVs. If you plan on roasting a turkey over a campfire, note that only heat-treated firewood is allowed in the park.
Congaree National Park — Hopkins, South Carolina
Congaree National Park, located in the heart of South Carolina, offers an opportunity to spend Thanksgiving hiking under towering hardwood trees and fishing or canoeing in creeks. Since temperatures tend to be in the 60s and 70s, you don’t have to worry about bundling up when visiting the park this time of year. Late November is usually past the peak of fall foliage in Congaree, but there’s still plenty of sights to see and activities to do, such as paddling along the Congaree River Blue Trail.
Campgrounds in Congaree are only for hammocks and tents, but nearby private campgrounds and state parks, including Poinsett State Park, have campgrounds that can accommodate vans and RVs.
North Cascades National Park — Washington State
Located in the northwestern corner of Washington State, North Cascades National Park is the place to go for a rugged Thanksgiving. The park offers spectacular views of glaciers, mountains, and old-growth forests. Visiting for Thanksgiving means keeping an eye on the weather, since snowy conditions can lead to road closures, especially on Highway 20. Weather-permitting, you can hike along scenic trails, such as Pyramid Lake and Diablo Lake Trail, or go climbing and fishing.
Some campgrounds within the park remain open in late fall and winter, including Goodell Creek and Gorge Lake, which can accommodate vans and RVs. Keep in mind that these campgrounds are first come, first served.
Yosemite National Park — California
At Yosemite National Park, located in eastern California, you can work up an appetite for Thanksgiving dinner by hiking on picturesque trails. Mariposa Grove offers stunning views of giant sequoia trees, while Hetch Hetchy provides views of cliffs, waterfalls, and more. The park’s higher elevations might be hard to access, depending on the weather, but the lower elevations are usually in good condition for hiking and other activities.
Yosemite has several campgrounds that are open all year and can accommodate vans and RVs, including Upper Pines in Yosemite Valley and Wawona to the south of Yosemite Valley. Reservations are required at these campgrounds, so plan accordingly.
Grand Canyon National Park — Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park in northern Arizona is one of the most widely visited national parks. Going to the Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving means you won’t be dealing with huge crowds, though, since most people visit in summer. Take a trip around the South Rim area on a mule, go hiking in the backcountry, and watch for elk, mule deer, and other wildlife before heading to your campsite to make your holiday meal.
Mather Campground in the South Rim offers van and RV camping all year round, while other campgrounds are closed for the season by Thanksgiving.
Mammoth Cave National Park — Kentucky
Mammoth Cave National Park in southern Kentucky tends to draw crowds for its memorable cave tours during summer, making November an ideal time to visit. Although fewer cave tours are offered around Thanksgiving, they’re not as full as they are during the peak season. This can give you a more enjoyable time exploring the caves before settling in to have your Thanksgiving dinner. During your stay, you can also go hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing.
Wind Cave National Park — South Dakota
Located in the southwestern corner of South Dakota, Wind Cave National Park is the perfect destination for spending Thanksgiving on the prairie. Take the Fairgrounds Tour or the Garden of Eden Tour of Wind Cave to explore this subterranean area, then go hiking for above-ground views of prairie lands, ponderosa forests, and other scenic surroundings. You might also get to watch bison and elk roam around the park.
Elk Mountain Campground in the park provides a beautiful place to park your van or RV and set up camp. The campground offers views of both the prairie and ponderosa forests. Keep in mind that in late November, the campsites are first come, first served.
Big Bend National Park — Texas
Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas offers mild weather, desert views, mountain vistas, and more for your Thanksgiving vacation. Take a scenic drive along Chisos Basin Road or Panther Junction, go hiking in the mountains, in the desert, or next to the Rio Grande for river views.
Big Bend National Park has a few campgrounds that are open in late November, including Chisos Basin Campground located right in the heart of the park. Rio Grande Village RV Park, located next to the Rio Grande Village Store, makes it easy to stock up on supplies for your holiday dinner. Note that ground fires and wood fires aren’t allowed in the park. Only charcoal grills and liquid-fuel stoves are allowed.
Grand Teton National Park — Wyoming
Located in western Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is a hot destination in summer. When you go in late November, though, you’ll have fewer crowds to deal with. The weather tends to be cooler this time of year, so bring plenty of blankets and layers of clothing to stay warm. While you’re in the Grand Tetons, you’ll have a chance to spend Thanksgiving hiking through alpine terrain, watching elk, and seeing beautiful views of aspen trees. Take a scenic drive, go mountaineering, or go fishing during your stay.
Arches National Park — Utah
Enjoy views of stone arches and red rock terrain in cooler weather at Arches National Park in eastern Utah. Take a scenic drive to the Windows Section of the park to see some of the biggest arches, go canyoneering in the Fiery Furnace, or hike along the park’s many trails, including Landscape Arch Trail and Sand Dune Arch Trail.
Devils Garden Campground provides a convenient place to stay for your Thanksgiving trip. Keep in mind that in late November, campsites are first come, first served.
From local adventures to long-distance road trips, having a reliable van that allows you to travel comfortably is a must. Having a van that makes it easy to prepare your Thanksgiving meal is even better. To find the ideal van for your adventures and learn more about the best places to go during late fall and winter, visit RecVan.