14 National Parks Crazy Close to Military Bases


I grew up a city gal.

My parents never (and I mean never) took me camping or hiking out in the wilderness. Instead, we visited places like New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles, and many more growing up. It wasn’t till I met my spouse that I realized there was more to being outside.

We tent camped for the first time while my spouse was stationed at Fort Drum. That was also my absolute first time camping, ever! I had so much fun, it was ridiculous. We were able to take a dip in one of the many lakes in upstate New York and hike scenic trails. Coming from a hectic city week, a camping trip was very much welcome. No cell reception, no crowded streets, no traffic, no problems!

National parks that are close to military bases. Military families can get free passes too! (1)

That sparked a desire for us to explore parks, where ever we went because of the military and otherwise. Our first National Park experience happens to be an incredible one. When my spouse was on assignment in Arizona, he had a long weekend to spare. I decided to fly from New York to Phoenix, so we could spend our time at Grand Canyon National Park.

It was on my bucket list, but when would I have the opportunity to go?!

Honestly, if it weren’t for the military dragging him over there for a couple months, I don’t know when I would have managed to go. Since our trip to the Grand Canyon in 2012, we’ve hit countless other National Parks. You’d be surprised how many of them are actually within reasonable driving distance from military installations!

In honor of the National Park Service’s centennial, I wanted to share with you a handful of other amazing National Parks that are must-visits when stationed at different places in the United States.

Washington DC area military families, can visit…

Shenandoah National Park – My spouse’s colleagues brought this park to our attention when we arrived at our current duty station, saying it has some of the most amazing sights. We quickly added it on our duty station bucket list and have already hiked up Old Rag Mountain (be careful, it isn’t for the weary!) and other beautiful trails. It’s only a little over an hour away from us and it’s unbelievable how quickly the terrain changes.

Great Falls National Park – I’m the geek that follows the Department of Interior’s Instagram page. Well, if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have known about this park only 10 miles away from DC. They shared an image of it recently and I noted its proximity. How could we not go?!

National parks that are close to military bases. Military families can get free passes too! (2)

Central Virginia area military families, can visit…

The numerous Civil War Battlefield Parks –There are too many to list them all and there are several spanning neighboring states as well. Despite the seriousness of the topic, I hope military families stationed in any place in Virginia to take advantage to learn about our country’s history. When my husband was TDY at Fort Lee, we went to Richmond National Battlefield Park and Petersburg National Battlefield Park. If you’re at Quantico, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Battlefield Park is around the corner. If you’re in the Virginia Beach area, Colonial National Historical Park is a hop, skip and a jump away, too.

Northern Arizona area, including Luke AFB military families, can visit…

Grand Canyon National Park – I can’t commend this park enough. Really, it’s drivable from southern Arizona as well (that’s where we came from when we visited), so if you’re anywhere near the Phoenix area, go! That includes parts of Nevada, too!

Southern Arizona area, including Davis-Monthan and Fort Huachuca area military families, can visit…

Saguaro National Park – My spouse and I hiked around Saguaro and had a blast! Watch out for all the cacti! There are lots of giant ones all around the park that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else. It’s easily accessible around Tucson.

National parks that are close to military bases. Military families can get free passes too! (3)

Joint Base Lewis-McCord area military families can visit…

Olympic National Park – Last year, I had the pleasure in soaking in the sights of the Pacific Northwest. The trees are unbelievably huge and I kept thinking how old is this park?! Hiking through the trees provide wonderful cover, especially during hot days. There are lots of summits available for the extra adventurous.

Mount Rainier National Park – We missed out on checking out this park during our West Coast visit, but it’s on our short list for the next time! You can see Mount Rainier easily from the JBLM area and the park offers lots of great recreational activities.

San Antonio area military families can visit…

San Antonio Missions Park – I remember field trips to the park when I was in grade school living nearby. I would recommend taking the trek down to San Antonio even if you’re stationed at Fort Hood! It would be a couple hours’ drive, but so worth it to experience a piece of Texas history.

Southern California area military families, including Naval Base San Diego and Los Angeles AFB, can visit…

Joshua Tree National Park – If you’re anywhere in Southern California, I’ve heard great things about Joshua Tree. The park offers beautiful sights of nighttime stars. It’s also where two different desert ecosystems meet, so your family can witness some interesting sights unique to the area.

National parks that are close to military bases. Military families can get free passes too! (4)

Northern California area military families, including Luke AFB, can visit…

Yosemite National Park – It might take a handful of hours to drive here, but it would be well worth it! My spouse and I are even considering a special trip just to visit this park ourselves. There are meadows, forests, and so much more. We were really close to getting stationed in Northern California a couple years ago, so maybe we’ll get a chance to go someday!

Colorado area military families, including Fort Carson and Air Force Academy, can visit…

Rocky Mountain National Park – I would still love the opportunity to visit this amazing park, if we’re ever at Fort Carson. It’s one of the top 10 most-visited National Parks, according to National Geographic and it includes lots of stunning sights.

Y’all, I only scratched the surface! What I mentioned above are either National Parks that my spouse and I had the pleasure to visit or currently on our bucket list. A critical point that I have to mention is that Active Duty military families can visit any National Park for free with a special annual pass. Go get one! I encourage you to go to FindYourPark.com to search for others around you. Do you have any to add?

Rachel Tringali Marston is an Army spouse and daughter to an Air Force retiree. Rachel’s family settled in Texas and that’s where she calls home. Before getting married, she lived in New York City for almost 10 years and considers that her second home. Rachel enjoys learning and exploring the area around her husband’s duty station and is embracing life in the military. In her spare time, she shares her adventures on her personal blog called The Professional Army Wife.

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