A Music Lover’s Guide to the National Parks

These are some pretty unbeatable venues.

A Music Lover’s Guide to the National Parks

Moab Music Festival

Photo by Richard Bowditch for Moab Music Festival

As travelers and music seekers, it’s our job to find melodies in the most unexpected—and beautiful—places. Since the national parks have been inspiring artists to create for 100 years now, it’s no surprise they also offer some of the coolest music events out there—some right on the park grounds. Whether you’re traveling three miles or 300 for your next national park fix, tack on one of these venues or events to end the night on a high note.

Event: Artists-in-Residence ConcertsThe U.S. National Parks
The National Park Service created an artist-in-residence program geared towards painters, sculptors, photographers, and musicians wanting to deepen their craft through establishing a strong connection with their park of choice—living and exploring the territory every day. Most of the programs require two shows or performances by the artist that resulted from their time living on park grounds, which you can check out on each individual park’s event calendar. See a violinist playing an ode to red cliffs, tall, evergreen trees, or majestic mountains. Programs are offered all year and vary by season.

Venue: Maxine’sHot Springs National Park, Arkansas
Located inside of Hot Springs National Park, Maxine’s shows range from burlesque and metal to indie and hip-hop. The bar is named after its original owner, Maxine Temple Jones, who opened in 1950 as a very successful brothel (regularly clearing $5,000 a night). You can even find her autobiography, Maxine: “Call Me Madam,” sold on-site. Not to worry, though: The Maxine’s of today has no association with its former life beyond its name and its tenacious spirit. Live music nights are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.
Maxine’s, 700 Central Ave., Hot Springs National Park, AR; websiteVenue: The Palms
Joshua Tree National Park, California
This out-of-the-way restaurant, bar, and music venue sits alone in an otherwise barren landscape, 16 miles northeast of Joshua Tree National Park. With old wooden signs and nothing but desert for miles and miles, the space embodies a Wild West vibe. Saturday is the night to go for live music, when bands from all over the States fly in to jam for eager 20- and 30-somethings. And Sunday brunch is practically religion for Wonder Valley natives. Bring camping gear and stay the night free of charge in the owners’ makeshift campsite out back—equipped with running water, so you’re not entirely roughing it like an old cowboy.
The Palms, 83131 Amboy Rd., Twentynine Palms, CA; website

Venue: Shrine of the Ages AuditoriumGrand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Located inside the Grand Canyon National Park, the annual Grand Canyon Music Festival brings classical instruments and ensembles to the multi-purpose Shrine of the Ages Auditorium, which also houses lectures and other events. Though dates haven’t been officially announced yet, the festivities usually take place over several days between August and September. And make sure to come early to explore the park; after the event, the park service won’t let you near the rim.
Shrine of the Ages, next door to park headquarters, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ; website

Event: Various put on by the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National ParkCuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
The Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park runs several year-round concert series in and around the park for visitors to enjoy. Folk music is a mainstay, as is Ed Caner of the band Hey Mavis, who hosts regular jam sessions. And in the summer months, the Conservancy hosts Music in the Meadow, a free live show at Howe Meadow featuring acts like bluegrass band The Lonesome Stars and the Revolution Brass Band inside Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, OH; website

Venue: Denali Park Salmon Bake (“The Bake”)Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
This ultra-isolated bar in Alaska’s Denali National Park, affectionately called “The Bake,” is a testing ground for aspiring musicians. The venue hosts a popular open mic night every Monday and karaoke on Tuesdays; it’s also home to the only pool table in Denali. Whether you want to get in on the performance side or simply enjoy the local talent is entirely up to you.
Denali Park Salmon Bake, 238.5 George Parks Hwy, Denali National Park and Preserve, AK; website

Event: Moab Music Festival
Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Utah
Moab Music Festival, which takes place in the town of Moab, Utah, wins the title for coolest outdoor fest around. Performances happen in red-rock grottos only reachable by boat, ranches, and canyons. The fest also offers musical hikes, in which attendees are shuttled to a secret location for a moderate hike ending with a performance in the middle of nature. Moab—home to both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks—is known for its beautiful views, sitting just south of the Colorado River. Catch this year’s acts from September 1 through September 15.
Moab, UT; website

Sarah Purkrabek is a Los Angeles-based travel writer.
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