This summer, cool off at these scenic spots to swim, float, and soak in the sun at the West's amazing national parks.
Best for adventure: Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
There’s just one way to reach most Colorado River beaches in the canyon—and that’s by rafting down the river. Many people consider the 3- to 18-day trips one of the high points of their lives.
Best lazy float: Yosemite National Park, CA
With El Capitan and Half Dome towering above, the Merced River beaches in Yosemite Valley sometimes get forgotten. Which is a mistake, especially in summer, when valley temps sizzle and the river water is blissfully cool.
Best beachcombing: Olympic National Park, WA
The easy hike to Shi Shi Beach is best made at low tide, when you encounter some of the best tidepools on Earth against the backdrop of towering sea stacks, Pacific waves, and the occasional kayaker.
Best desert oasis: Glen Canyon National Rec. Area, UT/AZ
A blue mirage set in red rocks, Lake Powell—which forms the watery heart of Glen Canyon National Rec Area—has nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, which means a lot of Lake Powell beaches to choose from.
Best for surf and sun: Santa Monica Mountains National Rec Area, CA
Malibu-ites know to skip the Zuma tourist zoo and come to El Matador, a gem tucked from sight at the foot of sandstone cliffs. Out in the waves, bodyboarders and surfers perform aerial acrobatics.
Best for solitude (even on weekends): Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
Limantour Beach is a little-known narrow finger of sand stretching 2 miles north between Drakes Bay and a mighty estuary teeming with birds. Out at the tip, harbor seals loll and bark. On the rare sunny summer day, the water is calm and swimmable.
Best for thinking really, really big: Redwood National Park, CA
To step from a redwood forest onto the wide-to-the-sky spread of Gold Bluffs Beach is an unforgettable memory. Equally memorable are the Roosevelt elk grazing in the meadows, then making their regal, antlered way through the sand.
Best ocean-view swimming hole: Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii
Hawaii’s national parks feature volcanoes, not beaches. And yet Maui’s Haleakala National Park includes a “beach” of a sort—not sand but large, warm basaltic stones; not ocean but the refreshing roar of plunging freshwater cascades that form the superb swimming holes of Oheo Gulch.
Best for a city stroll: Golden Gate National Rec Area, CA
Knockout views. Appealing mix of people. Good coffee. Crissy Field gives you everything you love about San Francisco in one scenic package.