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Best National Parks in the USA

What are the best national parks in the USA?

Well,  it really is a matter of opinion.  In the United States, the National Park Service manages over 85 million acres in all 50 states. That means there are a lot of parks, trails, historic sites, monuments, memorials, and battlefields all throughout the US. 

There are incredible East Coast National Parks as well as West Coast National Parks.  In this post, we are going to list some of the best National Parks to visit in winter as well as summer.   The United States National Park system is really amazing!

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The Best National Parks in the Western United States

National Park Map
Image courtesy of World Map

We are going to start with the Western United States.  This will include National Parks in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Out of the states listed above, the following are our top choices.

Denali National Park – Alaska

Denali National Park Alaska

Description of Denali National park by The Van Escape

Denali National Park in Alaska is one of the most beautiful and exciting national parks in the U.S.A. If you love mountains and wildlife, this place is for you.

Grizzly bears, caribou, moose, and much more are possible to encounter even during one day or two days of the visit. What’s more, you have the chance to see the highest peak in North America Mt Kinley, called Denali, which is 20,310 feet (6,190 m) above sea level.

So it’s worth considering Denali National Park if you are planning your visit to AlaskaHow to spend time in Denali National Park to have the best chance to encounter wildlife?

Take A Bus

Denali has only one road and only one park entrance. The way is 92 miles long, and you have to take a bus to visit the park. The car is not allowed after Mile 15. So you must book your bus trip. The best option is to take the most extended trip to Wonder Lake and back, which gives you plenty of opportunities to see wildlife, and bus drivers often stop to provide you with a chance of taking photos.

Go Camping

If you like camping and sleeping in a tent, Denali is perfect for you. It’s an amazing experience. You have six campgrounds in the Park to choose from, but you should book it ahead. They are very rustic but beautiful. You can go hiking from your campsite. But most vital for you is to know is that there is no marked trail in Denali, it’s pure wilderness. So you should prepare perfectly for your adventure, take a GPS, maps, enough food, and bear spray.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon

Description of the Grand Canyon National Park bought to you by the 9 to 5 Voyager

I could go on about how the sight of the 277-mile-long, mile-deep gorge fills up your entire field of vision with chromatic excellence, but I’ll let former president Teddy Roosevelt sum it up: “The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison–beyond description, absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world.”

Established as a national park in 1919 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, Grand Canyon National Park welcomes over six million visitors every year. The vast majority of visitors flock to the South Rim, which offers several observation decks.

Entrance Fee

The entrance fee is $35 per vehicle, and even if you are going alone it’s more than worth that price. The South Rim observation decks do get crowded, but trust me, you’ll get a good view. You can also hike in from the North Rim, or climb the Desert View Watchtower from the East Entrance.

Grand Canyon Views

No matter what angle you take, the Grand Canyon is breathtaking.  It’s interesting to note that despite its incomprehensible magnitude, the Grand  Canyon isn’t even the country’s largest canyon. That, however, does nothing to take away from its grandeur. 

 The Grand Canyon is an incredible experience that will fill you with wonder and appreciation for our natural world.  To use a well-worn but perfectly apt phrase: it must be seen to be believed.

Grand Teton National ParkGrand Teton National Park

Description of the Grand Teton National Park by Ordinary Wanderer

If you are planning a visit to Yellowstone think about adding Grand Teton National Park both parks are relatively close to each other.  There are many things to do at the Grand Tetons.  Take a scenic drive to look for wildlife.  They will be easy to spot.  Feel free to get out of your car and head on a breathtaking hike.

If you are more adventurous camp out in the backcountry but be sure to get a permit! You can also do a little mountaineering and climbing after you finish boating and fishing on the Snake River.

The Grand Tetons needs to be on your list of must-sees!

 

 

 

 

Glacier National Park – Waterton Glacier National Park

Description of Glacier National Park by The Trecking Family

Glacier National Park is located in Montana’s Rocky Mountains and extends up to the Canadian border.  There are over 700 miles of hiking trails.  One of the highlights is hiking to Hidden Lake where you will find the most breathtaking views and a photographer’s dream location.

Backpacking and camping are some of the most common activities to do at Glacier National park.  If you are planning to go check out  Waterton-Glacier International Dark Sky Night.  It is a time with no light to help raise awareness to the air population and is pretty incredible to experience.

Undoubtedly, Glacier National park is a great spot to visit!

Zion’s National Park 

Zions National Park

Description of Zion National Park by Ruhls of the Road

Zion National Park, located in Southern Utah, is one of the most beautiful National Parks in the United States. In Zion, you’ll be out in the wilderness getting in touch with nature and seeing some of the most beautiful sites in the world, while also checking out the local wildlife and having a wide variety of adventures.

You’ll be able to hike Angel’s Landing and Observation Point, two iconic and jaw-dropping hikes. You can hike through the Virgin River in The Narrows, where you’ll be surrounded by cliffs hundreds of feet over your head.

If you are a daredevil, you can go rappelling, white water rafting, or even try out skydiving over the huge Utah desert! Zion is an adventure paradise, full of amazing things to do for people of all ages, whose interests vary from a leisurely walk to jumping off a cliff with a harness on. You’ll have an incredible time in Zion, this will be a memory that will last a lifetime.

Arches and Canyonlands National Park

Description of Arches and Canyonlands National Park by When You Wander

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, near Moab, Utah, are such remarkable places that everyone should visit at least once.

There are glittering rivers edged by lush trees cutting through vibrant monoliths of rock.  Cool dark canyons abound which create an oasis of respite from the desert heat. There are sunsets so intensely red that you think the sky is on fire. Even the dirt in Utah is a stunning shade of crimson.

This 1-week itinerary for Arches and Canyonlands has all the highlights. Find out what to do, where to stay, travel tips, and where to eat when visiting these stunning Utah National Parks.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Description of Bryce Canyon National Park by I live 4 Travel

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in the south of Utah around 70 miles from Zion National Park.  It is a great park to spend 1 day or 2 days as there are many beautiful viewpoints and hikes to do.

The park has an 18-mile scenic drive from the visitors center to Yovimpa Point with lots of stunning viewpoints along the way.

The bottom of the canyon has streams and so grasses and willows are growing, giving a beautiful green background to the yellow and orange hoodoos that
dominate the park.

Hiking in Bryce Canyon

On this drive, you can also do one of the many loop hikes which are less crowded than the hikes which start in the amphitheater.  Bryce amphitheater is the busiest and most popular part of the park and here you have great views of Bryce Canyon.

You can walk along the rim of the canyon and at Bryce Point, you can see the most amazing sunrises. Many hikes start around the amphitheater which takes you down into the canyon and explores the different hoodoos close up.

The Queens/Navajo loop hike is the most popular hike in the park and at only 3 miles it is a great hike that everyone can enjoy and one that I can recommend.

Yellowstone National ParkWest Thumb Yellowstone

Description of Yellowstone National Park by Planningaway

Yellowstone National Park is the 4th most visited national park with over 4 million visitors annually.  It is located mostly in Wyoming but also extends into Montana and Idaho.  Yellowstone is most likely, unlike anything you have seen before!

Old Faithful is the most well-known geyser in the park.  Eruptions can produce 3700- 8400 gallons of boiling water 106 ft into the sky.  It really is a sight to behold.

A visitor center is located at the Old Faithful site. There are park rangers at this location ready to guide and direct you to the many amazing sites throughout the park.

Taking Kids to Yellowstone

Taking your kids to Yellowstone is a great idea.  Yellowstone National Park has a junior ranger and scientific program. My son was able to check out a thermal temperature reader allowing us to measure the temperature of the water all around Old faithful.  It was really cool.  My kids had a great experience and learned a ton.

Hot Tip

Another really important thing when you bring your kids to National Parks is to make sure they stay hydrated.  Always bring water bottles when you are hiking with kids.

Yellowstone is a national park everyone should see at least once in their lifetime.

Redwoods National ParkRedwoods National Park

Description of Redwoods National Park by Travel Hacking Mom

Having lived in Northern California for 40 years, I can attest that one of the most beautiful places in nature is Redwood National Park. Imagine walking through the majestic giant redwood trees, hearing the chirping of birds, and seeing squirrels scampering around. It is truly a blissful experience!

My favorite part of Redwood National Park is located in Humboldt County. Two of my favorite things to do in the park are to hike through Fern Canyon and see the elk in Prairie Creek State Park which is part of Redwood National Park.

As you head to the Prairie Creek visitor center, keep your eyes open for herds of elk. You can pull over and watch them for a while along with other tourists. Continue to the visitor center where you will find several different hikes you can take.

Hiking at Redwood National Park

If you want to take a long hike, I suggest the 12 mile James Irvine Trailhead that will take you through Fern Canyon and the beach and back. Fern Canyon may be one of the most beautiful spots on earth! Ferns grow up a 50-foot wall and Home Creek runs through it – simply breathtaking!

The hike over small wooden bridges, the sound of water running, and the beauty of nature will make you feel like you had a spa day. One of your most unforgettable hiking days will be in Fern Canyon!

Yosemite National Park

Best National Park Yosemite National Park

Description of Yosemite National Park by Traveling Tayler

Upon entering Yosemite National Park you’re immediately awestruck with the beauty and majesty of the scene. It’s absolutely breathtaking and the memory still gives me chills.

The park is comprised of large granite mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and forests providing a variety of activities for visitors. It’s also a popular destination for amateur and professional rock climbers alike drawing in climbers from all over the world.

Popular Activities at Yosemite National Park 

Other popular activities include trail and backwoods hiking, river rafting, camping, picnicking, and animal sightings. The park is home to many black bears, deer, squirrels, and other forest creatures. Be sure to learn a bit about bear safety upon entering, not only to protect yourself but also the bears living in the park. It’s one of the first national parks I ever visited and one I think everyone should get the chance to see someday.

Crater Lake National ParkBest National Park Crater Lake

Description of Crater Lake National Park by We Dream Of Travel

Crater Lake in Oregon is easily one of the best national parks in the USA.  As the name suggests, the lake was formed 7700 years ago after an eruption caused the collapse of the peak.  Today, it is the deepest lake in the USA at 1943ft deep, and one of the purest in the world.

Crater Lake is fed only by rain and snow which is what helps to maintain its deep blue color and makes it one of the best locations for photography in Southern Oregon. 

Winter at Crater Lake

It is a beautiful place to visit year-round. In the winter it is only accessible through the southern entrance.  However, it transforms into a winter wonderland under a blanket of snow and you can even go snowshoeing with a park ranger. It is, in fact, one of the snowiest places in the US with an average of 43ft of snow per year, which can last into May.

Summer Time at Crater Lake

During the summer, both entrances are open to the park and there is more accessibility throughout once the snow has melted.  There are some incredible hiking trails throughout the park taking you through old-growth forests and offering spectacular views of Crater Lake and Wizard Island within it.

There are also two campsites so you can spend the night under the dark skies watching the Milky Way overhead.  If you’re feeling brave you can swim in the lake in designated areas, but it is very cold!

Muir Woods National Park Best national Park Muir Woods

Description of Muir Woods National Park by Unapologetically Bossy

The Muir Woods National Monument is located in Marin County, California, just an hour outside of San Francisco.  Muir Woods is a coastal redwood forest, with some trees that are up to 1,000 years old and rising to the astonishing height of 260 feet.

The park has a variety of trails ranging from 1 mile to 6 miles in length and easy to hard difficulty. There is a trail option for everyone, allowing everyone the opportunity to see the beautiful redwoods!  It’s a sight that you definitely will not want to miss on your visit to the San Francisco Bay area!

Sand Dunes National ParkGreat Sand Dunes National Park

Description of Sand Dunes National Park by Always Up For An Adventure

The Sand Dunes National Park is a must-see! When driving up the dunes seem to appear out of nowhere surrounded by scenic mountains in Mosco, Colorado.
 
There are many things to do including hiking, camping, star gazing, sand sledding, and sandboarding. This is definitely a place you want to visit a least once in your life!

Best National Parks in the Central StatesNational Parks

Did you know that we have some amazing National Parks in the Central part of the United States.  These parks that make our list are located in Texas!

If you have other National Parks in the area that you love be sure to comment below!

Big Bend National Park Big Bend National Park

Description of Big Bend National Park by My Curly Adventures

Big Bend National Park is such a unique destination in Texas because of all that it offers. Hike through Santa Elena Canyon with some of the best views of the river running by, relax in the natural hot springs, cross the border into Boquillas, Mexico which is only accessible through the park, and so much more!

Just as exciting are the surrounding towns to access Big Bend, National Park. Check out the funky ghost town of Terlingua that is a mixture of strange art and abandoned buildings or visit the North entrance of Marathon where you can stay in a beautiful blue and orange papercrete castle!

Guadalupe National Park Guadalupe Mountains National Park 1

Description of Guadalupe Mountains National Park by Yonderlust Ramblings

Most people are familiar with Texas’s most famous National Park, Big Bend, but did you know that there are actually two National Parks in the Lone Star State? The benefit of visiting this lesser-known park could be all yours because you can experience the feeling of having Guadalupe Mountains National Park all to yourself!

This secluded National Park is located in far west Texas, and houses a plethora of intriguing and challenging hikes, remote camping opportunities, and even the state high point of Texas at Guadalupe Peak!

Hiking at Guadalupe National Park

The best thing about hiking here at Guadalupe is that you will intersect with multiple ecosystems and varying terrain all within this one area. There are canyon hikes, ponderosa forest hikes, high elevation mountain hikes, and hikes that traverse the expanses of the surrounding Chihuahuan desert.

Camping at Guadalupe National Park

Camping at Guadalupe is a guaranteed night of adventurous solitude framed by an enormous panorama of the west Texas sky. The Guadalupe Mountains range provides the perfect backdrop to any outdoor activity here in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and successfully shatter the misconception that Texas is all just flat and boring!

Best National Parks in the Eastern United States National Parks of the USA

Obviously, there are more National Parks in the Western United States but we can’t forget the Eastern States.  We choose our favorite and want to hear what your favorites are in the comments below!

Shenandoah National Park 

Best National park Shenandoah

Description of Shenandoah National Park by The Solo Life

One of the best national parks on the East Coast is Shenandoah National Park. Located in the middle of Virginia and only an hour and a half from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah is best known for its gorgeous foliage in the Fall. This is also the most crowded time of year, with cars almost bumper to bumper along the famous Skyline Drive.

Hiking in Shenandoah

Shenandoah also has a lot to offer off the main road. There are more than 500 miles of hiking trails that include a little bit for everyone, from forests and meadows to waterfalls to scenic mountain overlooks.

The Appalachian Trail also cuts through parts of Shenandoah, so hikers can try out how it feels to walk on this historic trail. Other attractions to enjoy are the Byrd Visitor Center with interactive exhibits and the adjacent open grassland, Big Meadows, which is ideal for relaxing and wildlife-watching.

While visiting Virginia, or even Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is the perfect bucket list destination. Whether you visit during the popular months of Fall, or any time of the year, Shenandoah is a must-visit destination for any national parks-lover.

Pro-Tip

Don’t forget your Shenandoah National Park Trail Map!

Acadia National ParkBest National Park Acadia

Description of Acadia National Park by While We Were Wandering

Found along Maine’s rocky coastline, Acadia National Park is considered to be the Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast. As one of the most beloved parks in the United States, Acadia welcomes over three million visitors a year! And it is no wonder why. Acadia is home to a diverse landscape that offers a multitude of outdoor activities for people of all ages and interests to enjoy.

Hiking at Acadia National Park

With more than a hundred miles of hiking trails in varying lengths and difficulties, it truly has a trail for everyone. For those looking for a challenge, we highly recommend the Precipice Trail. Here you will scale the side of the mountain using metal rungs. Talk about a rush! However, for those looking for something a little bit more leisurely, we suggest exploring the Carriage Roads. This scenic network of flat, car-free roads is perfect for bikers and families alike.

Bar Harbor

Once you have built up an appetite exploring the park, make sure to visit the quaint town of Bar Harbor. Here you will find unique restaurants that offer an array of food. Just don’t forget to at least try the lobster. You are in the northeast after all!

We have road tripped through most of the United States and have visited several of the beautiful national parks it has to offer, but there is just something special about Acadia National Park! From eating lobster bisque to putting your fear of heights to the test, Acadia is sure to leave you with some amazing memories. For more information, make sure to check out Our Complete Guide To Acadia National Park.

Smoky Mountain National Park Smoky National Park

Description of Smoky Mountain National Park by Way Beyond The Norm

Smoky Mountain National Park 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park has something that everyone will enjoy. Kids are sure to love hiking amongst the canopy of trees available in this national park. There are over 150 trails for all skill and age levels to choose from.

If you love to relax and listen to the wind blowing through the trees or the sounds of the birds singing in the morning, you might consider camping at Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There are plenty of areas to camp, from campgrounds to backcountry to horse camps.

Or maybe you’d prefer to take in the beauty of this park. Hop in the car and take a drive along some of the many scenic roads located within this national park. Whatever you like to do, you’re sure to find it at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Pro-Tip

If you are hiking in Smoky Mountain National Park be sure to have a trail mapAlso, if you are looking for great hiking shoes Tropicfeel is a great option.

Renting an RVRent a RV with RV Share

Now, that you have seen all of these amazing National Parks you are probably so excited to plan a road trip.  Me too! There are so many more National Parks not included in this list.

I just learned about one I had never heard of before called Black Canyon of Gunnison.

Comment below and tell us which National Park is your favorite and if you have any plans of visiting them this year!

Pro-Tip

Did you know you can rent RVs?  This is such a great idea if you want to try them out and see if you like them.  Also, as you enjoy all the National Parks it makes it very convenient for lodging purposes!  If you want to learn more check out my post on How to Rent an RV from RV Share.

Also, if you are considering this or you already have an RV, check out my Free Cheat Sheet For the Best Apps and Websites for Boondocking and Camping.


The Best National Park Art

Grand Canyon

We are also featuring Rob Decker a National Park Artist who studied under renowned photographer Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park  National Park Posters can be purchased on Amazon. These posters are ideal for the national park lover or outdoor enthusiast — reminders of their own special national park adventures! This year, many of our National Parks celebrate major anniversaries, including Grand Canyon (100th), Zion (100th), Grand Teton (90th), Big Bend (75th), and Joshua Tree (25th) — and Rob has created special limited edition prints to commemorate the occasion!

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125 Comments

  1. Such a great round up of helpful and inspiring posts! I love the national park posters too. We were just in Big Bend and it quickly became one of my very favorite parks. The posters make a perfect momento!

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  3. What an awesome round up of blog posts. Great to be featured with these amazing travel bloggers. These are definitely the best of the best national parks! Though I haven’t been to a few of them, they are on my list. And the ones I’ve been to are on my list to do AGAIN!!!

    1. I love National Parks and I have not been to all of them listed! I am excited to go explore a few more this year!

  4. What a great round-up. I’m pinning as we hope to go to some of these next year and this will be a great resource 🙂

  5. Great list, description and photos of these beautiful parks! I have only been to some of them, but I enjoyed reading about them all!

  6. We are so lucky to have such beauty at our fingertips! There are so many great National Parks around us. I can’t wait to visit all of them!

  7. I love your collaboration posts – they always provide since a variety and lots of great tips. I really need to visit more national parks. I’ve only been to two on this list…we’ve got some beautiful places here in the U.S.

  8. I have not been to near enough National Parks in my life, but this makes me wants to check more off my list!

  9. I live within 15 minutes to one of the entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National park, so this one is my favorite!!

  10. Thanks for letting me contribute to the post! And I’m getting some good tips and ideas for the parks I haven’t visited yet. I’m planning on going to Acadia this year, so this was perfect.

  11. That’s a cool map! we still have a long ways to go to hit them all. We have our work cut out for us out west!

  12. I’ve been to a handful or so of these wonderful parks. I need to bring my girls now. It would be great to rent an RV and drive the country for the summer. Definitely a bucket list dream.

  13. WOW!! This is a huge and awesome list. With us gearing up to hit the road in Jan 2021, I am making lists of blogs that I love that have info like this, because our RV dream is to hit as many parks, in the warmer states, as possible.

    Thanks Lisa for sharing.

  14. For someone who loves nature as much as I do, I cannot believe I have NEVER been to a National Park!! That needs to change before I turn 50!

  15. This is a great list of US National Parks! I have been to several, but none in the west as of yet. Looking to change that this year!

  16. We have visited many national parks and each one has something special about it. The hikes and walks are usually a favorite. Some have museums that share the history of the area. I like those too.

  17. I’m not really a park/hiking kind of a girl, but this is a terrific list of amazing parks. Will definitely pin so that others can find it, because it’s super helpful.

  18. What a great round up of so many amazing places. The RV tip is helpful as that is how we would like to visit many of these.

  19. What an amazing list! Bookmarking this for later when we are ready to RV around the US. I am hoping 2 years!

  20. This is such a great list! We’ve been to some of these but definitely need to add some more to our must-do list.

  21. This is such an amazing post! Provided so much information for us to use on our travels. We love the Smokey Mountains! Thanks for sharing!

  22. What a comprehensive guide Lisa! My wanderlust is kicking in and would love to do a roadtrip there next year (e.g. Denali, Zion, Yellowstone). The US has one of the BEST national parks in the world.

  23. I adore that you provided so much information in one place so I didn’t have to jump around to find what I was looking for.

  24. I love National Parks….they’re so well kept and the beauty of them is mind-blowing! This is a great resource.

  25. We absolutely love the National Parks! It is our dream to visit all of them some day. Thanks for putting together such a great list!

  26. Such a comprehensive resource to visiting these National Parks. There are so many so thank you for compiling this. They are all so beautiful (I really liked checking out the Sand Dunes). Thanks again.

  27. Those posters are beautiful. I have not been to as many as I would like, but hoping to change that next summer with a trip out west. Will hit the big 5 in Utah along with some others is the plan.

  28. What a great list! I’ve been to several of these…most recently Redwoods National Park a little over a week ago. So many more to check out. I’d love to see Denali and Yellowstone!

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