Accessible National Parks, Airline Division

Glacier National Park is just a jet ride away. Kurt Repanshek photo.

Units of the National Park System are really closer than you think. Some are quite literally in your backyard. Today we're pointing out those that are within an hour's drive of an airport with commercial service. (We'll return with the auto accessible version.)

Why look at those reached by airplanes? Well, airfares are like yo-hos. They keep going up and down. If you're free and flexible, or saddled with more frequent flier miles than you know what to do with, here are 10 national park units that are within your reach.

10. Acadia National Park. Book a flight to Bangor International Airport (most likely through Boston) in Bangor, Maine, and you're just a an hour's drive from Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island.

9. Zion National Park. You won't get lost in the City of St. George Airport, but when you exit the terminal you will find yourself 46 miles from Zion.

8. Great Smoky Mountains National Park. McGhee-Tyson Airport is just 45 miles west of the park, and if you know the route by heart and don't hit any stoplights before Gatlinburg, Tennessee, you should make it under an hour.

7. Shenandoah National Park. You'd probably be pushing it flying into Washington Dulles International, which is 56 miles from Front Royal, Virginia, but if you hopped a commuter to Shenandoah Valley Regional you'd be just 27 miles from the park's Swift Run Gap Entrance.

6. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Fly into Hilo International Airport and you're but 30 miles from the park.

5. Glacier National Park. Take a flight to Glacier Park International Airport in Kalispell, Montana, and you're but 25 miles from West Glacier.

4. Congaree National Park. The swamps of Congaree National Park and your search for an ivory-billed woodpecker is just 24 miles from the Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

3. Everglades National Park/Biscayne National Park. A rare two-fer. Fly into Homestead (Fla.) General Airport and you're adjacent to Everglades and just 25 minutes from Biscayne.

2. Elton John scored big with Philadelphia Freedom, and for good reason. Philly saw the birth of our nation, right there in Independence Hall. Roughly 60 percent of our national parks were established to preserve our country's history, and you can't move past square one without Independence Hall. Among other things, a visit here allows you to see Thomas Jefferson's quill pen with which he wrote the Declaration of Independence. Fly into Philadelphia International and you're just a cab ride away.

1. Grand Teton National Park. Fly into Jackson Hole Airport and you'll be in the park before you unsnap your seat belt.


sure you can fly into any one of these secondary airports, but what is the cost... Typically these airports are way more expensive than a "hub" airport and only serviced by smaller commuter jets. With today's economy, saving money is a major factor in vacation travel. Also the service is not as convenient so 1 must be really flexible in his/her itinerary. But thanx for pointing out these options.

I live just behind McGhee-Tyson Airport, and we can be at the Townsend entrance to the park in under a half-hour, and in the Cove in 45minutes. It's great!

Is it true, Anon2, that Townsend anchors "The Quiet Side of the Smokies"? On a scale of one to ten, where Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge and Cherokee represent a ten, how would you rate Townsend on the scale of Gateway Clamor and Visual Noise?

A few more to add to that list:

Arches National Park's entrance is about 15 miles or so from the Moab/Canyonlands airport, which features direct non-stop commercial flights to and from Denver on Great Lakes Airlines. Add another 20 miles or so, and you'll be at Canyonlands National Park's Island in the Sky District.

Colorado National Monument is about 10 miles or so from the Grand Junction Regional Airport, which features direct flights to all the major hubs in the region from all of the major airlines.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is less than 20 miles of the Montrose Regional Airport, which primarily serves Telluride skiers more than an hour away. Several major airlines fly to Montrose from regional hubs.

Saguaro National Park borders Tucson's suburbs, and isn't far from that city's airport.

Finally, Rocky Mountain National Park is within view of Denver International Airport, but it'll take you nearly two hours and more than 80 miles to get there by car. Nonetheless, we on Colorado's Front Range consider ROMO to be in our backyard and an easy day trip from town.

Don't forget the San Bernardino Natl. Forest that is within an hour's drive from Ontario, CA and the Ontario Intl. Airport.

[Ed: The San Bernardino National Forest may be well worth visiting, but alas, the recommendation is not applicable here because the San Bernardino NF is not a unit of the National Park System. This national forest is administered by the U.S. Forest Service.]

The Grant Grove Section of King's Canyon National Park is almost a perfect 1 hour's drive from Fresno-Yosemite International Airport in Fresno California. (Assuming you don't get behind a motor home driver who doesn't believe in using turn-outs!) Yosemite used to be an hour from the same airport, but with higher traffic levels it now takes a little longer.

Crater Lake's southern boundary is less than 50 miles from Klamath Falls Airport, which is served by United from Portland and San Francisco. Lava Beds' boundary is only 30 miles away.

One can fly from Seattle to Kalispell but why not take the train. Less expensive, good views, and helps support the train system. I'm going to Glacier for the first time this summer and I plan to take the train from Minneapolis. My thoughts on the Amtrak system, not all of which are good, could fill a page and this isn't the right forum so I'll just say "good traveling"

Fly into Cleveland OH and you are 16 miles from the Cuyahoga Valley National Park's Canal Visitor Center. Not the best National Park, possibly the worst, but close to the airport.

Here we are back to the national "park" issue again. I am sure there are more than 100 units of the National Park System within 50 miles of a major airport. Heck, there are probably a hundred within 20 miles. They just aren not national "parks," they are by other designations.

What do you have against Cabrillo NM (10-30 minutes from SAN, depending on whether you stop at Point Loma Seafood for a sandwich) with birds, relatively intact coastal chaparral, and nice tide pools?

You probably can't get to Pt. Reyes from SFO in under an hour, but you can get to all units of Golden Gate NRA, most of Muir Woods, and the Presidio.

What about Gateway & Fire Island (JFK?)?

If you fly into Hilo, certainly parts of Hawai'i Vocanoes NP are within an hour's drive.

For me, the harder question is which of the NPS units is the furthest in time or distance from commercial air service (separately for Alaska & the contiguous 48)?

Tomp - You are right on. I also think the Fire Island High Dune Wilderness, which starts at the edge of a road, may be the only federal wilderness directly accessible by public mass transit since the county bus line has a stop there.

@Bob -

Townsend rates about a 2 or 3 on that scale. The area has traditionally been relatively remote and less developed, thanks to the foresight of the Blount County government. A few years ago, though, then Gov. Don Sundquist (R) decided he wanted to four-lane the road into Townsend. He faced much local opposition, especially when TDOT began grading for the road and uncovered a fairly significant Native American burial ground, but Gov. Sundquist being Gov. Sundquist, he just built the road anyway.

Anyway, point being that while there's a giant, uneeded 4 lane road in the area, Townsend is generally the most peaceful spot you'll easily get to. There's only three or four hotels, and some rental cabins. The new addition lately was a small Dollar General and grocery store well off the highway. You'll not ifnd a neon light in the whole place, and the only crowds are at the resturant. Note also that if you go during the off-season (Halloween-April), Townsend is a ghost town.

Yes, these airports are close to our national parks, but then you all forget, you have to rent a car as well as fly. I live in Southeastern Oregon and plan a trip in the near future to Glacier National Park. For a 15-day trip and drivng over 2500 miles I will only pay $650 for gas. You cannot fly, rent a car and gas the car for that period of time for the same amount of money. AND, this is for two people. By driving, I can come and go as I please, spend time where I want and have the comfort of my own vehicle for less money. I have to think about ecomony since I am on a limited income. If I had money to spend, or throw away, I might consider flying.

There are some parks with decent shuttle bus systems and connections to the world outside. For example it is possible to fly to Visalia, CA take a taxi from the airport to the city center and hop onto the Sequoia shuttle bus. It will bring you to the Giant Forest area, where there is an in-park shuttle bus system, that connects the visitor center, the museum, the campground and a few trailheads.

But by far the best public transport in a National Park I've ever seen in North America is in Jasper NP, Alberta, Canada. They have a train station with first class rail service and long distance bus connections to the town of Jasper plus local buses to most relevant parts of the park. Canada has some pretty good public transport to their national parks anyway. The Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island is spread over three units, one (Long Beach) is directly accessible by public buses, the second (Broken Islands) has a boat service from Port Alberni and the West Coast Trail has several private companies that offer shuttle services.

And I won't even mentioning Europe.

I agree with anonymous. Bigger airports are cheaper to fly into, example Salt Lake City go south to Arches/Canyonlands (about 4 hours), Las Vegas and drive 1.5 hours to Zion. We did Rocky Mt. from Denver in 1.5 hours, Mamouth Cave from Nashvile in 1.5 hours, Shenandoah from Baltimore and Everglades from Ft. Lauderdale in a little over an hour.
Smaller airports have multiple stops and are costly. It's also nice to drive to many national parks with the beautiful scenery and pleanty to see.
Thank you for the information.

Nice list. If you are in Ohio check out Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Crooked River.