ARTICLE OVERVIEW: National Parks to Visit Near Football Bowl Games
Football Bowl Games 2023 came with a lot of controversy, and whether you’re still reeling or celebrating, the national parks to visit near each Bowl game location might help you find some calm in the chaos.
While you’re crunching the numbers for a football bowl game getaway, we’ve gathered the list of the closest units of the National Park Service. Many are near some of the best national parks to visit in December.
We’re covering each bowl game bowl game destination from Honolulu to Miami. Use the Table of Contents below to head right to the state and city where you’ll be traveling.
If you have any suggestions, our comments are open (bottom of the page). Let’s help make 2023’s College Bowl Season the best one yet with some natural wonders mixed in.
Table of Contents: National Parks to Visit Near Football Bowl Games
Table of contents: National Parks Near Bowl Games
- National Parks Near Bowl Game: List By State
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- Dark Sky Parks
National Parks Near Bowl Game: List By State
December 23 brings three big football bowl games to Alabama.
- Birmingham Bowl: Birmingham, Troy vs. Duke
- Camellia Bowl: Montgomery, Arkansas State vs. Northern Illinois
- 68 Ventures Bowl: Mobile, Eastern Michigan vs. South Alabama
Our top three choices for first-time Alabama visitors would be the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument in Birmingham, the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail between the two cities, and the Gulf Islands National Seashore just across the Florida border as a great option closest to Mobile.
Click or tap the images below to read our in-depth articles about the various places to see in ‘Bama.
I guess the secret of the best national park in Arizona gets blown by the nickname “The Grand Canyon State,” but more choices exist than you might realize.
Arizona has two football bowl games in the Phoenix area and one in Tucson.
- DECEMBER 26: Guaranteed Rate Bowl, Phoenix – Kansas vs. UNLV
- DECEMBER 30: Arizona Bowl, Tucson – Wyoming vs. Toledo
- JANUARY 1: Fiesta Bowl, Glendale – Oregon vs. Liberty
I can tell you as someone who spent several years enjoying Fiesta Bowl activities – you will welcome some distance from people after the game.
Roadtrippers will want to check out The ULTIMATE Arizona Road Trip: Seeing the Best of Arizona in 2023.
Click or tap below to see all the parks ranked.
The Grand Canyon
Football Bowl Season matches up with one of the best times of year to visit the Grand Canyon. While the North Rim is closed until spring, the South Rim is open with plenty of opportunities without those pesky summer crowds.
The Grand Canyon feels like our second home, given how much time we’ve spent there. We recommend you tackle at least a portion of the Bright Angel Trail, but it does go all the way to the canyon bottom.
With both Glendale and Phoenix hosting football bowl games between Christmas and New Year’s Day, you’ll have plenty of desert dwellings to check out. I lived in Arizona for a few years and I still didn’t get to every park I wanted to explore.
I encourage everyone to check out the Superstition Mountains, either through the foothills at Lost Dutchman State Park or the larger land at Tonto National Forest. Locals refer to the mountains as “The Superstitions.”
HIDDEN TREASURE IN THE SUPERSTITIONS?: Legend has it that in the 1870s, a “Dutchman” named Jacob Waltz stashed a treasure in a mine. That treasure sits (allegedly) somewhere in the Superstitions of Tonto National Forest. People who died to find it have (again, allegedly) met an untimely fate or a run of bad luck. Even if you would find it near Weaver’s Needle, where it is rumored to be, Leave No Trace Principles prohibit you from taking it.
Click or tap the photo below to see more of our favorite national parks near Phoenix.
The “Old Pueblo” offers the Arizona mystique without all the major metro area vibes of Phoenix.
Some of the best national park offerings come out at night as Tucson’s fight to preserve the night skies goes back decades.
To get a real feel for the magic of Saguaro National Park, take just three minutes of your time to watch our film.
The National Parks in California give some luster to “The Golden State,” with everything from mountains to deserts to islands.
Three Football Bowl Games 2023 are on the schedule.
- DECEMBER 16: LA Bowl, Inglewood (Los Angeles Area) – UCLA vs. Boise State
- DECEMBER 27: Holiday Bowl, San Diego – Louisville vs. Southern Cal
- JANUARY 1: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Michigan vs. Alabama
Trying to whittle down national parks in California comes down to what vibe you want from your adventure. We’ve also put together our favorite California Road Trip.
Those watching the Rose Bowl or LA Bowl will be close to the Angeles National Forest. In fact, Pasadena sits right at the base of the mountains.
If you’re planning to visit several different parks, consider investing in an America the Beautiful Pass that gets you access to more than 2,000 public lands for one low price of $80.
Our Top Seven Best National Parks Near Los Angeles include:
- Channel Islands National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Pinnacles National Park
- (And 6)Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
- Yosemite National Park
San Diego brings visions of beach days dancing in your head, but on and beyond the shoreline, you can find several national parks and major landmarks to explore.
Whether you want to stay in the city or go off the beaten path, we’ve tracked down something for everyone in the closest national parks and landmarks to the Holiday Bowl. Just click or tap the images below to be transported there.
Before you plan your pre-Holiday Bowl itinerary, remember that the Holiday Bowl Parade takes over the bayside at 10 am on December 27.
Florida’s football fandom gets eight football bowl games in 2023. The Sunshine State also has one of the least-visited national parks in the country, and it’s one of our favorite “secret spots to share with you.”
We’ve put together the best Florida national parks near the following games:
- DECEMBER 16: Cure Bowl, Orlando – Miami (Ohio) vs. Appalachian State
- DECEMBER 21: Boca Raton Bowl, Boca Raton – USF vs. Syracuse
- DECEMBER 22: Gasparilla Bowl, Tampa – Georgia Tech vs. UCF
- DECEMBER 28: Pop-Tarts Bowl, Orlando – NC State vs. Kansas State
- DECEMBER 29: TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, Jacksonville – Clemson vs. Kentucky
- DECEMBER 30: Capital One Orange Bowl, Miami – Florida State vs. Georgia
- JANUARY 1: Cheeze-It Citrus Bowl, Orlando – Iowa vs. Tennessee
- JANUARY 1: ReliaQuest Bowl, Tampa – LSU vs. Wisconsin
The images below have a link to their respective titles, giving you specific categories to avoid overwhelming you. You’ll just find so much to do. We’ll break down the separate cities next.
Since Miami and Boca Raton are within an hour of each other on the same coastline, we’re going to group them for simplicity.
The “Big 3” of South Florida National Parks are Biscayne National Park, Everglades National Park, and the one we hinted at before as one of the least visited, Dry Tortugas National Park.
Click through any of the images below to explore your preferred destination. Feel free to sip a fruity drink while you’re reading.
At some point, the Orlando traffic might get to you. In that event, you have national park sites in all directions. Whether you want the Space Coast, out-of-this-world experiences, or to see an alligator, it’s all waiting for you.
Yeah, there’s Disney World, too. But do you know what the crowds are like in December? Oof. Never again.
My Disney World December travel tips are:
- Reservations are REQUIRED through January 8, 2024. Don’t just show up hoping to get in.
- Go to Magic Kingdom first if that’s a priority
- Book the Genie+and Lightning Lane features if don’t want to wait hours for a ride.
Now, back to the national parks near Orlando. Canaveral National Seashore is the closest option.
I also strongly encourage you to read the information about Fort Matanzas National Monument. It’s a super cool place but also close to “the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European and African American origin in the United States,” in St. Augustine.
The Night of Lights holiday event is truly breathtaking.
Two things I want you to know about visiting during the bowl games in Tampa.
First, I-4 between Tampa and Orlando span 84 highway miles. It should take you an hour or so to get. BUT IT WON’T. In addition to being ranked repeatedly as one of the deadliest stretches of highway in the country, it’s also always plagued with traffic. Every last inch of it.
Second, the Gasparilla Bowl and the Gasparilla Piratefest are two different events held more than a month apart.
We’re nothing if not honest with you – most national parks near Tampa aren’t all that close. Fort De Soto National Memorial stands out as the closest location across the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Bradenton.
It’s important to note that Fort DeSoto National Memorial and Fort DeSoto (State) Park are on opposite sides of Tampa Bay.
Many preserved lands in this area are under state jurisdiction. I also lived in the Tampa area for several years, so let me share some of my favorite outdoor spaces with you:
- Shell Key Preserve: Take a boat ride to this undeveloped island.
- Myakka River State Park: Guaranteed to see an alligator or five.
- Honeymoon Island: Skip the crowds of Clearwater and go here instead. Same beautiful beaches. Much smaller crowds.
As noted above, St. Augustine is worth the visit you’re going to be this close. Jacksonville brings several NPS sites that aren’t national parks but still have so much history you should check them out.
Plus, not too far from the state line with Georgia, there’s Cumberland Island National Seashore. The stories of land battles on Georgia’s largest barrier island make it top anything Hilton Head can offer.
Many football bowl game fans have Georgia on their mind, as two big games are held in December – both in Atlanta.
- DECEMBER 16: Celebration Bowl, Atlanta – Florida A&M vs. Howard
- DECEMBER 30: Peach Bowl, Atlanta – Penn State vs. Ole Miss
Keep in mind the College Football Hall of Fame calls Atlanta home.
Everyone knows the best thing to do in Atlanta is get away from Atlanta traffic. We’ve done a roundup of the landmarks and national park sites across the state.
America’s 64th National Park in George? While Georgia doesn’t technically have a designated national park, many speculate that Ocmulgee Mounds will be among the next national parks. Will it be the 64th? We’re watching developments in Congress and will keep you updated!
With the distance and expenses required to get to Hawaii, you might as well use the old saying, “We didn’t come this far only to come this far.”
On December 23, the Hawai’i Bowl in Honolulu brings San Jose State vs. Coastal Carolina to the Aloha State. Stick around for a few days to celebrate 🎶Mele Kilikimaka 🎶with a traditional Hawaiian luau and feats on kahlua pig.
Across the Hawaiian Islands, you’ll find two national parks and several national park service units. Of course, the Pearl Harbor Memorial is another must-see location.
Is Maui Open?
We get this question a lot and wanted to share an update. The August West Maui wildfires devastated the community. Lahaina is still off-limits to the public, and you are asked to respectfully stay away from the area.
The rest of the island, including Haleakala National Park, is open and welcoming guests.
On December 23, the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl takes over Boise (“boy-zee” not “boy-see”) when Georgia State vs. Utah State square off. While you’re in the Gem State, there are some great nearby public lands to explore.
One of the first wilderness vacations of my life was in Idaho with my dad as we went rafting down the Snake River. Even if a destination is a few hours away, I can assure you that the road trip is like driving through a postcard at every turn.
Even the west entrance to Yellowstone is within a day’s drive.
Yellowstone’s “Zone of Death” in Idaho: A 50-mile sliver of Idaho is within Yellowstone National Park. It’s among the most remote and least visited areas. The nickname comes from a potential loophole in the Constitution that you could “get away with murder” here since you can’t be tried by a “jury of your peers.” Yellowstone show fans might think this sounds familiar. In fact, it’s the same place as the “Train Station” where Lloyd said, “no people, no law enforcement, and no judges.”
December brings a collision of creole, cajun, and crawfish delights along with three big football bowl games.
- DECEMBER 16: New Orleans Bowl, New Orleans – Jacksonville State vs. Louisiana
- DECEMBER 16: Independence Bowl, Shreveport – Texas Tech vs. Cal
- JANUARY 1: Sugar Bowl, New Orleans – Washington vs. Texas
Annapolis is home base for the Military Bowl between Tulane and Texas Tech on December 27. If you want to get away from the big cities of Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, we’ve gathered up a list of more than two dozen National Park Service sites for you to explore.
For fans of HBO’s Gilded Age, you might remember the introduction of Clara Barton in Season 1. She was the force behind the formation of the American Red Cross. Her home is one of the historical sites on our list!
The Fenway Bowl between SMU and Boston College on December 28 is held at the famed Fenway Park. Beyond all the Boston-area attractions, you can find more green than just the “Green Monster” at the ballpark.
Massachusetts holds so much history that it can be hard to pick out the best spots to explore. We’ve compiled a list of all the sites that fall under the National Park Service umbrella.
Acadia National Park
When visiting Boston in the winter, it’s important to note that Maine is somewhat of an extension of the state. Tourism data from 2022 shows that winter brings the most number of tourists from Massachusetts to Maine.
Michigan in winter could be three words to make you shiver, but the field heats up for the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit, where Bowling Green faces off against Minnesota.
For all the beauty Michigan offers in winter, there’s one national park you can’t visit. Isle Royale National Park closes from November 1 through April 15. That includes the 4.5-mile diameter around the park in Lake Superior.
Beyond that, you have some exciting indoor and outdoor National Park Service options to explore across Michigan. Click or tap the photos below to plan your itinerary.
The Las Vegas Bowl between Northwestern and Utah kicks off on December 23. Seize the time after the game and before the 400,000+ people arrive for New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Our Las Vegas and Nevada national park articles are among our most popular. Plus, you have Arizona, Utah, and California a short drive away, opening the door to even more parks.
Stargazers – pay attention to this one. You can start in Las Vegas and work your way through the Park to Park in the Dark. This road trip takes you between Death Valley National Park and Great Basin National Park on the “Starry-est Route in America.”
I’ve moved around a lot, but I spent a decade of my adult life in Las Vegas. I can tell you some of my favorite spots close to town are:
- Mount Charleston: This is the only place Southern Nevadans can go to see snow during most years.
- Red Rock Canyon: Even if you just take the 22-mile scenic loop, you’ll be amazed at the formations.
- Scenic Views: To get the best views of the Las Vegas Valley, take a short drive to Frenchman Mountain or Exploration Peak Park.
Below is our updated collection of the best National Park Service sites near Las Vegas and Nevada.
While the New Mexico Bowl between Fresno State and New Mexico State kicks off on Saturday, December 16, the national park competition you’ll face puts White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park on the 50-yard line.
Heck, why not fit both into your New Mexico Bowl game itinerary? December is one of the best months to visit White Sands with mild temperatures and you can still sled in the sand. Carlsbad Caverns might have smaller crowds than in summer, but reservations are still strongly recommended.
Here’s our compilation of stories from the New Mexico adventures.
New York City is busy, and when the Pinstripe Bowl between Rutgers and Miami (Florida) takes over the Bronx, a national park site might be the furthest thing from your mind. However, look closely to see NPS locations all around you.
In fact, 12 NPS sites surround the Big Apple. Yes, that includes the Statue of Liberty.
Here’s our roundup of the best NPS sites and historical areas to visit.
The Duke Mayo Bowl in Charlotte kicks off on December 27 between North Carolina and West Virginia. The Queen City’s central location allows for adventures in every direction – from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Outer Banks.
The North Carolina side of the Smokies includes Maggie Valley, Cherokee, and Bryson City. Consider taking one of the “most haunted trails in America” on Noland Creek in Bryson City. Explore the baffling history of the Road to Nowhere.
As a Beachcomber, I wanted to share a little-known fact about national seashores. You CAN take a limited number of empty shells from the beach here, but speak with the park rangers about the limits. This rule does not hold for National Parks.
Here’s our list of places to consider on your December trip to North Carolina.
They’ll be making waves at the Myrtle Beach Bowl in Conway, where Georgia South and Ohio face off.
When you want to get far from the bowl and beach crowds, we wanted to offer up some great options. That includes the impressive Conggaree National Park. Like a time capsule buried beneath a canopy of towering hardwoods, Congaree National Park safeguards the Southeast’s irreplaceable heritage of old-growth bottomland forests.
The Volunteer State has two bowl games. The Liberty Bowl in Memphis puts Memphis and Iowa State on the field on December 29. The next day, Auburn and Maryland go toe-to-toe at the Music City Bowl in Nashville.
Of course, Tennessee gets a lot of national park attention for being home to half of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We love it too. Check out the film we made during a stellar stay in the Smokies.
Across Texas, eight bowl games span the end of 2023 and the beginning of the new year. That includes the Grandaddy of all Bowl Games – the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
- DECEMBER 19: Frisco Bowl, Frisco – Marshall vs. UTSA
- DECEMBER 23: Armed Forces Bowl, Fort Worth – Air Force vs. James Madison
- DECEMBER 26: First Responder Bowl, Dallas – Texas State vs. Rice
- DECEMBER 27: Texas Bowl, Houston – Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M
- DECEMBER 28: Alamo Bowl, San Antonio – Oklahoma vs. Arizona
- DECEMBER 29: Sun Bowl, El Paso – Notre Dame vs. Oregon State
- JANUARY 8: College Football Playoff National Championship Game, Houston
From the watery Gulf of Mexico water to near the New Mexico state line to straddling the Mexican border, Texas’ NPS site options leave a lot of options. We’ve ranked the top choices, but here’s a spoiler alert – visiting Big Bend National Park is like getting three parks in one.
Dark Sky Parks
Especially if you have a daytime game, look for a Dark Sky Park near your football bowl game location. These places showcase spectacular night skies away from light pollution.
Two big celestial shows take over the skies in December.
Geminid Meteor Shower
- Active Period: December 4th – 17th
- Peak Activity: December 14th (around 6 PM PST)
- Radiant: Constellation Gemini
- Expected ZHR: Up to 120 meteors per hour
- Visibility: Best viewed after dusk and before dawn in the eastern sky
- Description: Considered one of the most reliable and active meteor showers of the year, the Geminids are known for their bright, fast-moving meteors. The shower is caused by debris from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon.
Ursid Meteor Shower
- Active Period: December 17th – 26th
- Peak Activity: December 22nd (around 2 AM PST)
- Radiant: Constellation Ursa Minor
- Expected ZHR: Up to 10 meteors per hour
- Visibility: Best viewed before dawn in the northern sky
- Description: The Ursids produce slow-moving meteors that can be faint and short-lived. The shower is caused by debris from the comet 8P/Tuttle.
Check out everything you need to know about Dark Sky locations by tapping or clicking the photo below.
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