We all need a respite from work and the routine of life. With only a few precious days off a year, you want to ensure you spend it with your family. And nothing is better than a trip with your loved ones to one of our nation’s 58 national parks. While in the summer these destinations are often crowded, in the fall and winter, you might find you have the views, hiking trails and waterfalls to yourself.
If your kids are anything like mine, they love to hunt, which is why vacations have turned into family hunting trips. When scoping out a national park, I’m also scanning the surrounding national forest land where we can spend at least a day taking advantage of local hunting seasons. Typically, three-day, out-of-state licenses are available to purchase. Just be sure to familiarize yourself with the local game laws and regulations of the public land you’ll be hunting. Here are a few top destinations that you and your family are sure to enjoy, with quality hunting nearby.
Wyoming, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks
Yellowstone National Park is often labeled as the crown jewel of our parks system. It was the world’s first national park, protected in 1872. It’s massive, covering more than 2.2 million acres. Be sure to catch Old Faithful, perhaps the most famous geyser in the world, and the other geothermal features in Yellowstone. Grand Teton National Park, home to arguably the most beautiful mountain range in the country, is just south, and offers canoeing and miles of hiking trails. There is no shortage of camping spots in these two parks, which range from tents to RVs, and cabins are widely available too.
Within a short drive is the Bridger-Teton and Shoshone national forests where deer, elk, moose, antelope, bighorn sheep and mountain goat are plentiful. In the former national forest alone, there are 3.4 million acres of land available for recreation. In the national forests, there are also established campsites available. Here, you can expect no crowds at all. Keep in mind the remoteness of the backcountry and carry a GPS or Spot Tracker in case of emergencies.
Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park
Colorado is a popular destination for vacationers, thanks to plenty to do in the Front Range cities of Denver, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins, with easy access to millions of acres of public land in the Rocky Mountains. Rocky Mountain National Park features seemingly endless miles of hiking in the Colorado high country. Estes Park and Grand Lake, two small mountain towns, are nestled on the edge of the Continental Divide with plenty of cabins to rent. There are also no shortage of family activities in both towns. Check out Bear Lake for an easy hike with kids of all ages, as well as Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continuously paved highway in the United States (winter weather closes this road early in fall).
Colorado is a top destination for out-of-state elk hunters thanks to widely available over-the-counter tags. Non-resident licenses and tags are relatively cheap (under $500) and it’s quite easy to acquire a cow tag if you’re simply looking to fill the freezer. West of the national park are the Medicine Bow-Routt national forests and State Forest State Park, and south are the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests. Elk and mule deer abound in these beautiful parcels of public land, as do camping opportunities.
Tennessee/North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts around 10 million visitors a year, the most of any in the system. No trip to the park is complete without a drive up to Newfound Gap and Clingman’s Dome, a manmade observation tower that offers 360-degree views atop the tallest peak in the park. From there, hop on the Appalachian Trail for a few miles or drive down to Cade’s Cove where you can spot elk, deer and bear roaming the tree-lined fields. The kids always get a kick out of Dollywood near Gatlinburg, which also features plenty of attractions.
The Cherokee National Forest parallels the park along the Tennessee border, while the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests do the same across the border into North Carolina. Whitetail deer and turkey are abundant here, scattered among the eastern deciduous forest. Unlike out west, the weather here is milder, which means roads stay open and the conditions are more suitable to hunting later in the season. The rut kicks off at the end of October and lasts through November. Just be ready for plenty of climbing. While the Smokies appear tame, they are rugged and packed full of hidden ridges and hollows.
Of course, there are plenty more locations to choose from. Virtually all national parks are close to local, state or federal land open to hunting. We recommend finding a park you’d like to visit first, then search for nearby hunting land. The beauty of such a trip is that if you have an RV you can remain mobile while having the creature comforts of home. Just be sure to pack some cleaning knives and a rope and gambrel.