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Explore national parks near Sentral communities, like Big Bend National Park. Photo by Brittani Burns.

16 National Parks Within a Day’s Drive from Sentral Communities

BY JENNY ADAMS
Though friluftsliv (pronounced “free-loofts-liv”) may be a Norwegian practice, the Nordic idea, which loosely translates to “open-air living” and encourages getting outside no matter the weather, aptly fits with a concept we find closer to home: the National Park Service.
Created in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, the National Park Service was designed to protect and preserve our wildest spaces and monuments. Today, it manages more than 400 designated areas — parks, monuments, seashores, memorials, recreation areas, and more — encompassing 84 million acres across all 50 states. Furthermore, 20,000 park service employees are there to help you forge a deeper connection with the great outdoors.
The park service’s broad reach means there’s definitely a park near you, especially if you live at Sentral or are staying for a quick visit. Though Sentral’s designed for the urban dweller, we also know the importance of disconnecting from our tech and reconnecting with nature — and Sentral locations offer the best of both worlds.
Many of our communities
are within driving distance of some of the nation’s most beautiful and fascinating parks, which makes it easy to get out in the great outdoors, whether you’re a Sentral resident or
staying for just a few nights
.
So fill up your Thermos, dust off your field guide, and decide which nearby national park you’re going to visit first. 

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR ATLANTA

Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia.
Georgia is home to dozens of National Park Service sites, including natural and historic landmarks, trails, and recreation areas. A few of the best make an easy day trip or weekend from
Sentral West Midtown at Star Metals
.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK

3.7 miles from Sentral West Midtown at Star Metals
Honoring a vital time of American history — and the man behind it — this 35-acre park comprises Martin Luther King Jr.’s childhood home, a rose garden named for his “I Have a Dream” speech, Civil Rights exhibits, a museum, a memorial, the beloved Ebenezer Baptist Church — where King was baptized and served as pastor — and his burial place. An essential stop in Atlanta and for anyone interested in American history.
nps.gov/malu
 

CUMBERLAND ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE

250 miles from Sentral West Midtown at Star Metals
Want to explore further afield? Georgia’s southernmost barrier island encompasses nearly 10,000 acres of designated wilderness, including undeveloped beaches, marshes, and forests. Board a ferry at the last mainland town of St. Mary’s and arrive at an island whose most famous residents are feral horses. You certainly can’t ride them, but they make a postcard-worthy photo, galloping over the white, rolling dunes covered in seagrass.
nps.gov/cuis

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR AUSTIN

Big Bend National Park in Texas. Photo by Adan Guerrero.
Everything’s bigger in Texas, which means exploring its national parks takes more time and miles than other places. But you can still discover some natural delights (relatively) close to Sentral East Austin
1614 E. Sixth
and
1630 E. Sixth
. Want to get away from city life for a bit? With Texas unfurling to your west and Arkansas easily accessed by heading northeast, you are positioned to experience the majestic beauty of the southern plains. 

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK

477 miles from Sentral East Austin 
Stars. Remember those? All the light you cannot see within Austin city limits blankets the black sky out here, in millions upon millions of brilliant points. The International Dark-Sky Association (the leading authority on light pollution) ranked Big Bend as the No. 1 place to stargaze in the Lower 48. Moonlight walks and night parties happen throughout the year, and if you head out on the eight-hour drive from Austin by mid-morning, you’ll arrive in time for shooting stars. Awake the next morning to dozens of winding, scenic desert roads, old mine trails, breathtaking rim hikes, and stark canyons. Big Bend is a big draw, now bringing in 600,000 travelers annually. Want to beat the crowds? It’s crucial to plan ahead, especially if you want to secure a campsite, and follow the advice on the park service website.
nps.gov/bibe

HOT SPRINGS NATIONAL PARK (ARKANSAS)

480 miles from Sentral East Austin 
Visitors have been coming to these storied hot springs for ages, with indigenous people extracting novaculite for tools and weapons long before the site was first designated as a “Hot Springs Reservation” in 1832. Today, you’ll find an impressive 30 miles of (every-skill-level) hiking trails through the vibrant wilderness of the Ouachita Mountains. After a strenuous day of hiking, unwind in the area’s namesake. The region’s 47 natural hot springs are fed by rainwater that travels 8,000 feet below ground. Eventually (oh, every 4,400 years), that water is pushed back up to the surface at hot tub temperatures. The spring water is rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium, and belief in their healing powers has kept them protected by Congress since 1832.
nps.gov/hosp
 

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR CHICAGO

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan.
From
Sentral Michigan Avenue
, the city of Chicago stretches out before you, and you’re minutes on foot from
iconic museums, dining, and parks
. Set your sights a little further, and national parks in neighboring Indiana and Michigan await.

INDIANA DUNES NATIONAL PARK

35 miles from Sentral Michigan Avenue
It’s only a 40-minute drive from the Magnificent Mile to a sugary, bone-pale beach. This national park in Indiana is one of the nation’s most ecologically diverse, with 15,000 acres of stunning wild dunes and 1,000 species of flowering plants, all right on the southern edge of Lake Michigan. The landscape also offers cool, stark contrasts. Visit the adjoining Black Oak Savannas, strikingly sparse grasslands­­ littered with groves of fire-resistant, black oak trees — a visual you’d expect in Africa, not Indiana.
nps.gov/indu
 

SLEEPING BEAR DUNES NATIONAL LAKESHORE (MICHIGAN)

365 miles from Sentral Michigan Avenue
A five-hour drive up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan delivers you to another world of enormous sand bluffs rising 450 feet high — among the largest on earth. Boardwalk paths help you up all but one: the famous Dune Climb, whose sand face is entirely yours to play upon. Some argue there is no better way to see Lake Michigan than from these incredible bluffs, but every trip should include the water’s edge. Miles of sugary soft sand make the perfect setting for  a picnic — not to mention a fantastic place to catch the Northern Lights, particularly in October, November, and April, thanks to Michigan’s latitude and relatively low light pollution.
nps.gov/slbe
 

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR DENVER

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Photo by James Coffman.
Why has Denver become one of America’s best cities to live in?
All the appeal of a modern city
combined with easy access to the great outdoors. Head a couple of hours out of town from
Sentral Union Station
and you can truly escape into the wilds.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK

73 miles from Sentral Union Station
It’s less than a two-hour podcast from Denver to deliver you into some of America’s most extreme wilderness. In summer, elk graze on vibrant grasses in the montane zone, and raptors skim the tops of pine, spruce, and fir trees. In winter, blinding white blankets of snow provide a sharp contrast to the piercing blue skies and jagged, black rock mountains. Hiking, birdwatching, biking, and scenic drives are abundant year-round. If you avoid the peak seasons of fall and spring, when roads and popular trails can be congested, a day trip from Denver gives you this 450-acre park nearly to yourself.
nps.gov/romo
 

GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK & PRESERVE

235 miles from Sentral Union Station
A sacred cornerstone for the Navajo (Diné) people, the natural wonders of Great Sand Dunes shock even the most hackneyed landscape photographer. At the base of the snow-capped, 14,000-foot peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range, you’ll find enormous golden sand dunes — America’s largest. Meanwhile, marshes, meadows, and wetlands create a homeland for bison, elk, and birds. The combo of water, sand dunes, and snowy mountain peaks is mind-boggling, so use the three-hour, 40-minute drive from Denver as a transition back to civilization, with stop-offs in historic Colorado towns like the railroad city of Pueblo and the vibrant arts community of Colorado Springs.
nps.gov/grsa
 

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR LOS ANGELES

Joshua Tree National Park in California. Photo by John Ko.
Sunny beaches, big surf, desert getaways: California truly has it all. When your home is at either of Sental’s DTLA properties in the heart of L.A.—
732 S. Spring
or
755 S. Spring
— you’re still close to two of the coolest national parks around. (That’s saying something in a state that features more national parks than any other.)

JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK

137 miles from Sentral DTLA 
Just two hours from Los Angeles, Joshua Tree National Park has long drawn writers, artists, musicians, and healers seeking a deeper spiritual connection with the land. Two distinct desert ecosystems — the Colorado and the Mohave — exist here, creating dramatic weather patterns, otherworldly visuals, and sunsets beyond belief. From desert black-tailed jackrabbits to gray fox, bighorn sheep to desert iguanas, you’ll share this park with the most interesting of neighbors, too.
nps.gov/jotr
 

CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK

73 miles from Sentral DTLA 
Take a leisurely 90-minute drive north on U.S. 101 to the Channel Islands Harbor and book the one-hour ferry to these five remarkable islands. Anacapa’s eroded volcanic topography, sea pillars, and caves are often shrouded in romantic fog. Santa Cruz has green cliffs that rise 2,000 feet above the sapphire waves of the Pacific. San Miguel’s 27 miles of windswept coastline are home to thousands of seals and sea lions, as well as 600 untouched archeological sites.
nps.gov/chis

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR MIAMI

Everglades National Park in Miami.
The
mural-covered walls and hip restaurants
surrounding
Sentral Wynwood
seem a world away from the swamps, mangroves, wildlife, and beaches of Florida’s national parks — but they’re a lot closer than you think.

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK

Less than 7 miles from Sentral Wynwood
Airboat tours through swamplands thick with Spanish moss. Sunrise kayak paddles through dense mangrove tunnels. A jungle hike on raised platforms between the gumbo limbo trees. There is no more pristine, primitive, immersive travel experience than a visit to Everglades National Park. First-timers should not skip the ample Park Ranger tours here, which combine adventure with education in myriad ways. Another must-visit: Shark Valley, with a 15-mile loop (perfect for walking, biking, or taking the tram) that will bring you face-to-face not with the namesake ocean dwellers but with the last of the living dinosaurs: the alligator.
nps.gov/ever
 

BISCAYNE NATIONAL PARK

Less than 40 miles from Sentral Wynwood
Fifty years ago, the Florida Keys were nearly destroyed by a plan to dredge a 40-foot-deep channel and create an industrial seaport (sexy!). Mercifully, that idea was flipped on its head in 1968 to create a stunning national park. The drive from Wynwood to one of the world’s most spectacular nature preserves only takes an hour. At Biscayne, you can spend a weekend lobster fishing and learning about marine conservation, snorkeling on guided eco adventures and canoeing through mangroves, or even scuba diving a shipwreck. Just don’t forget your sunscreen.
nps.gov/bisc

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR NASHVILLE

Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee. Photo by Ivana Cajina.
SoBro: Where you can spend your nights line-dancing and filling up at classic meat-and-three diners and your days hiking one of the country’s most beloved national parks.
Sentral SoBro
puts you in the middle of it all.

MAMMOTH CAVE NATIONAL PARK (KENTUCKY)

89 miles from Sentral SoBro
“National Park” isn’t the only title Mammoth Cave boasts. With the longest known cave system in the world, diverse flora and fauna, and human history dating back thousands of years, the site is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. All in all, it’s a pretty big deal. With so much to explore, reserving a guided cave tour is a must! And there are a lot to choose from — at the time of posting, the park service lists 13 different tours available.
nps.gov/maca
 

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

195 miles from Sentral SoBro
Once you’ve visited the Smokies, you’ll understand why it plucks Dolly Parton’s heartstrings (and guitar strings). The scent of pine and fir trees and the romance of early-morning mist moving over a tapestry of golden leaves is the epitome of autumn. Summer blankets the Cades Cove valley in wildflowers, attracting native white-tailed deer, and you can saddle up on a guided horse adventure or get cozy in a rented cabin any time of year. The park is three hours and change by car from Sentral’s Nashville location.
nps.gov/grsm
 

NATIONAL PARKS NEAR SEATTLE

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Photo by Caleb Riston.
For the avid outdoors person, Seattle is your gateway to Pacific Northwest paradise, and the national parks here are second to none. Bonus: they’re just a couple of hours away from
Sentral First Hill
and
Sentral South Lake Union
.

MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK

90 miles from Seattle
Spend a day in Seattle and chances are you’ll spot the majestic Mount Rainier even from downtown (that is, if it’s not cloudy or raining). Want to get a closer look? It only takes a couple of hours driving from the center of the city to enjoy awe-inspiring views of this 14,000-foot-plus peak. There are many ways to explore the park, and you can see a lot by car if you’re more of the see-but-don’t-touch type. Even at the entrance, where the air is thin and crisp (elevation: 6,400 feet), the wilderness is a brilliant mix of deep, Pacific Northwest colors. For longer stays, there are two rustic inns for a sleepaway, park programs led by skilled rangers, and, of course, plenty of hiking and climbing routes. Oh, and did we mention Mount Rainier is an active volcano? Here’s to an adventure!
nps.gov/mora
 

OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK

110 miles from Seattle
You don’t need to leave the U.S. to see a rainforest. In fact, you only need to drive three hours from Seattle to be hiking in the Hoh Rain Forest. The towering maple trees here are covered in soft blankets of neon-green moss, thanks to 140 inches of precipitation per year. Make a reservation, pack a tent, and stay all night at one of 72 campsites. Alternatively, opt for a laid-back beach experience at one of the park’s three coastal wildlife refuges. Kalaloch Beach is home to sea otters, porpoises, and the beloved harbor seals, as well as great hikes and dark stretches of dramatic sand.
nps.gov/olym
 

HOW TO GET AN ANNUAL NATIONAL PARK PASS

While many park service sites are free to enter, there are
108 fee-charging national parks
with different entrance fees based on age, vehicle, and other criteria. Our recommendation? If you think there’s any chance you may visit two sites in a year (you likely will!), go straight for the annual pass. 
At $80, the “America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass” covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees (day use fees) at more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. For comparison, most of the large national parks cost $20-35 per vehicle to enter. You can purchase the annual pass, along with other passes for different groups like volunteers and seniors, at many of the federal recreation sites or
online here
.

NATIONAL PARK WEEK 2022

Every April, the park service and the National Park Foundation organize a presidentially proclaimed National Park Week. Across the country, park service sites host special events and programs. All entrance fees are also waived for one day to kick off the week.
National Park Week 2022 is April 16–24 with entrance fees waived on April 16.

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