When it comes to communing with nature, few experiences can top catching your own fish, cleaning it, and cooking it over a campfire. You can reel in dinner and eat it in less than 20 minutes. Americans looking for this kind of experience are lucky – they have plenty of waterways and campgrounds to choose from, many of which are located a short hop away at our national parks.
The National Park Service (NPS) boasts 423 different areas that span more than 85 million acres in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. You’ll find no shortage of fishing options at national parks, not to mention campsites that cater to every preference – from modern facilities with all the amenities to remote areas tucked deep in the woods.
Keep reading to learn about the best national parks to go fishing. Before heading out, be sure to check the NPS website at www.nps.gov for information on opening dates and hours, entrance requirements, contact info, and COVID-19 restrictions (if applicable).
Glacier National Park, Montana
The icy, clear waters of Glacier Park are where anglers go to catch native west slope cutthroat trout and see amazing mountain views. The park is surrounded by the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River. It also has hundreds of mountain lakes that host both native species and introduced species such as brook trout.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Voyageurs is about 40 percent water, so it’s a great place to catch tasty walleye and other species. A few large bodies of water dot the park – including Rainy Lake, Namakan Lake, Sand Point Lake, and Kabetogama Lake – but you’ll also find several smaller lakes you can hike to. Anglers will also find good pike and smallmouth bass fishing at Voyageurs.
Katmai National Park, Alaska
Fishing here is described as high-octane. There are all five species of Pacific salmon and anglers come for lake trout, arctic grayling, rainbow, arctic char, and Dolly Varden. A valid Alaska fishing license is required to fish in the park and the advice is clear: when bears are within 50 yards, reel in and back off. If a bear claims your hooked fish, cut the line and let him take it.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The streams and alpine tarns are fed by the 14,000-foot snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains. With at least four species of trout including brown, brook, rainbow, and cutthroat, you’ll also find suckers in the lakes and streams. However, only the greenback cutthroat and the Colorado River cutthroat are native. The Rocky Mountains boasts about 50 lakes and 150 miles of streams holding trout.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
If you’re looking to explore the wonders of nature, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a great place to start. The park, which covers more than 800 square miles in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, is world-renowned for its biological diversity and animal life, with more than 19,000 documented species. Smallmouth bass, rainbows, browns, native brookies, and brook trout can all be caught in more than 2900 miles of streams.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho
America’s first national park is the place to go if you want to fly fish for trout. Yellowstone also offers browns, rainbows, and native cutthroat. In addition to the abundant fishing, there are grizzly bears, elk, bison, wolves, and more than 1,350 species of vascular plants – as well as Yellowstone’s famous geysers.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite covers 1,200 square miles in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and offers 58 streams with a combined length of approximately 770 miles. Fish include golden, crappie, browns, brookies, and rainbow trout. Yosemite follows the California State fishing regulations including individuals 16 or older must have a valid California fishing license. Stream and river fishing is seasonal, while the lakes and reservoirs are open to fishing when the park is open.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic is a popular destination for anglers in search of salmon, steelhead trout, and sea-run cutthroat trout. The park spans about 1 million acres and boasts 600 lakes, 4,000 miles of river, and 70 miles of intertidal habitats. Before dropping your line in the water, be sure to review the current fishing and shellfish regulations and check bulletin boards for locally posted regulation changes.
Biscayne National Park, Florida
Biscayne National Park, located within sight of downtown Miami, is a saltwater preserve that features tropical islands, coral reefs, and bonefish flats. You’ll find around 500 fish species here, so it’s an ideal spot for anglers looking to catch something exotic. Fishing classes are available in both English and Spanish.
Rock Creek National Park, Washington D.C.
Some folks might not realize Rock Creek is a national park, but it has that designation because all of Washington, D.C.’s grounds are managed by the National Park Service. Although Rock Creek has amenities such as a tennis center, golf course, and amphitheater, it also has excellent fishing for bass, catfish, and other species. No motorboats are allowed, but you can use canoes or kayaks. Be sure to check ahead to find out which areas of Rock Creek are available for fishing and which are off-limits.