10 Best National Parks In The USA
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The United States is one of the largest countries in the world in population and in size. As such, it spans across many different landscapes. Desert and green fields, sandy beaches and rocky shores, snowy mountains and dry valleys – this country has it all. The wildlife and flora are also very diversified, with over 200,000 different species across the country. Some can be found in all the states, and some are unique to their region. The best way to explore all that beauty of nature is to travel to the National Parks of the USA.
I have been to some of the National Parks in Arizona and Utah as a kid and I have great memories from that trip. However, since then I mostly traveled in US cities and enjoyed exploring the city life. My last Road Trip to New England included a visit to Acadia National Park in Maine, and it reminded me how much I love the outdoors; Spending time climbing mountains, walking in the woods, sitting on the edges of beautiful lakes, and admiring the amazing creation of nature.
This has brought me a desire to explore more of America’s outdoors. So I asked a few colleagues to help me to create the list of the 10 best national parks in the USA. I hope to visit all of them in the next few years and to share here more of my experiences. Here are the best National Parks in the USA:
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadian National Park is located on Mt. Desert Island between the land of Maine and the North Atlantic Ocean. Right next to the park, the cute little town of Bar Harbor on the water welcomes all visitors. It is the perfect gateway to Acadian National Park.
The park is one of the 10 most visited National Parks in the USA, which attracts over 3.5 million visitors a year. It has 158 miles of hiking trails, camping sites, and amazing views of the ocean. The highest point on the US’ East coast – Cadillac Mountain, is also here. There’s a road leading up to the summit, and the views from up there are gorgeous.
Hiking in Acadia National Park
The trails in the park take on a journey through different sceneries. In the woods, on top of granite mountains, around beautiful ponds, or on the coastline. The most famous trail, the Beehive, is an adventurous one and includes climbing up metal ladders and bars, and walking on open edges. The views from the way up and from the summit are breathtaking and it’s absolutely worth it.
Another famous hike is the one that goes on Gorham Mountain. This trail takes you up to the mountain peak and includes walking through huge granite rocks and on the rocky summit. I recommend to combine this trail with the Beehive trail, to get a full 3-4 hours fun experience.
There are two other points not to miss in Acadia National Park. Sand Beach is a beautiful beach nestled between green and rocky mountains. It is right at the bottom of the Beehive trail and next to the parking lot. The second one is Thunder Hole, where the ocean waves break into the amazing red cliffs. It is a walking distance from the parking lot of Sand Beach.
Yosemite National Park, California
Contributed by Rachel Rodda from Adventure and Sunshine
Yosemite National Park is renowned for beautiful waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, world-class hiking and rock climbing, and some of the most iconic peaks in America.
The first impressive sight for most visitors to Yosemite is El Capitan. You can’t miss it as you enter the park and you will find yourself stopping and admiring it from many places during your visit.
For hiking lovers, the Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall loop in Yosemite Valley is one of the best ways to experience the magnificent waterfalls that the park is famous for. There are easier walks to Bridalveil Falls and Lower Yosemite Falls but the 8 miles (13km) round trip to Vernal and Nevada Falls is one of the highlights of a visit to Yosemite.
There are numerous viewpoints throughout the park worth visiting. These include Tunnel View, El Capitan Meadow, and Glacier Point for incredible views across to Half Dome.
If you have time, a day trip out along Tioga Road to hike in Toulumne Meadows and to visit the Merced Grove giant sequoia is worth the drive. Crystal clear lakes and pretty trails criss-cross the area which is only open in the Summer months. Merced Grove is less busy than Mariposa Grove, which has over 500 giant sequoias and is a spectacular place to visit south of the park.
Plan your trip
There is an entry fee to enter the park. If you plan to visit more than one National Park each year we recommend you purchase the National Parks pass. They offer superb value and they are a great gift idea for RVers.
Located on the West Coast in California, Yosemite National Park is an easy 4-hour drive from San Francisco to Yosemite. The park has an excellent information center where you can pick up maps, guides, and current information about the activities you wish to do.
Due to the popularity of the park in the Spring and Summer months, it is best to arrive early each day. It can become very busy and booking accommodation in advance is essential.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Contributed by Daphna Bar from A Tiny Trip
Grand Canyon National Park, in the state of Arizona, is one of the most famous natural attractions in not only the United States but the world over. Visiting the Grand Canyon is no easy feat as it is far removed from major population centers. You can fly into Phoenix, Arizona, (3 1/2 hours drive); Las Vegas, Nevada (4 hours drive), or the very small airport in Flagstaff, Arizona (one hour drive). From Las Vegas, you also have the option of taking public transportation. There is a tourist train that goes to Grand Canyon Village, or you can take a couple of buses. The classic way to visit the Grand Canyon is on a road trip incorporating other national parks! All of these options will bring you to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the most famous part of this National Park.
Explore the park
Visitors to the South Rim can camp or stay in lodges at Grand Canyon Village, or in hotels in the small nearby town of Tusayan. There are multiple viewpoints all along the rim. Between them runs the South Rim Trail which is an easy, mostly flat trail, suitable for all abilities. For the adventurous soul, the ultimate experience is hiking into the Grand Canyon. There are several short trails to hike partially down. However, do not attempt to reach the river and back out in one day, as the terrain is rough and requires experience and planning!
There is also the option of visiting the less touristed North Rim, a four and a half-hour drive from the South Rim. Alternatively, Grand Canyon West, which is privately run by the Hualapai American Indians, features the Skywalk, a clear walkway over the canyon. For those with more money than time, there are helicopter tours from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon West.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Contributed by James Ian from Parks Collecting
Grand Teton National Park is most famous for the incredibly beautiful Grand Teton mountain range. There are no foothills – the craggy peaks rise straight out of the plains of the Jackson Hole valley, which makes for especially dramatic scenery. Several canyons run deep into the mountains between peaks, which are topped with glaciers year-round and streaked with narrow waterfalls cascading down their side. Beautiful lakes provide mirror-like reflections of the mountains. The appropriately named Snake River winds its way along the length of the range. This is a nature lover’s paradise.
There are plenty of things to do in Grand Teton National Park. There are hikes for all levels. From an easy flat walk around Jenny Lake or to Moose Pond, to longer treks deep into Cascade and Painted Canyons, and to Solitude Lake.
You can also enjoy the most famous viewpoints along the 42-mile Grand Teton scenic loop drive. Highlights include Snake River Overlook, Oxbow Bend, and Schwabacher Landing. There is lots of wildlife to see too, including moose, black bears, and elk.
No matter what the time of year, there is something awesome to do in Grand Teton. Other summer activities include horseback riding in the surrounding areas, boating on Jackson and Jenny Lakes, kayaking in the lakes and white water rafting the rivers, and even swimming (though it is chilly).
Although the inner park road is closed in winter, this is also a winter wonderland for scenery and sports. You can go snowshoeing, snowmobiling and skiing in the area.
Grand Teton National Park is in Wyoming. The main access town is Jackson, where there is an airport. Yellowstone National Park is a short drive to the north.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Contributed by Shobha George from Just Go Places Blog
In 1872, Yellowstone is the first area designated a national park in the USA (and, hence, in the world). The US Congress could not believe the beauty of the landscape paintings brought back by a geographical expedition sent to Wyoming to assess the territory. The sketches and paintings accompanied the verbal description in those days before photography. These pictures not only impressed the government but also the public when they were published in newspapers. The national park designation preserved this beautiful place for generations to come.
Nowadays, approximately 4 million people come to visit Yellowstone annually. The approximately 3500 square miles of Yellowstone are mostly located in Wyoming. Some parts extend into the neighbouring states of Montana and Idaho too. Yellowstone is particularly fascinating for geologists because it likes on top of an active supervolcano. With its unique geology and thermal activities, Yellowstone is a UNESCO world heritage listed site.
Explore the park
Some of the things you must see in Yellowstone include the Old Faithful Geyser (and the historic Old Faithful Inn, which set the precedent for all national lodges in the country thereafter), the Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone Lake, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. You can see all of these sites even if you have only one day by using the Scenic Loop Road. The Loop Road runs a little over 140 miles with scenery that is truly jaw-dropping.
It’s strongly advised that you spend more than a day in Yellowstone so you can appreciate the national park better. There are miles of hiking you can do with many different species of flora and animals to see. Wildlife you may see are bison, coyotes, moose, elk, and mountain goats.
Yellowstone does have national park fees that vary on the size of your vehicle. You can choose to stay in one of the 12 campgrounds or in one of the national park lodges. You need to have permits for backcountry camping because of the risk of running into something dangerous. On the plus side, 80% of the fees you pay to use Yellowstone are put back into the care and maintenance of the national park.
Looking for Airbnb in the area? Check out these recommendations for the Best Airbnb Near Yellowstone National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Contributed by Nadine Maffre from Just Le Long Weekend
Joshua Tree is an incredibly diverse and unique National Park in California. Encompassing two deserts, the Colorado and the Mojave, it spans over 3200 square kilometers and offers the curious visitor plenty of opportunities for exploration. Call into the visitor’s center on your way into the park to pick up a map of all the walks and key sights, then get exploring.
There are walks for every level and ability. If you’re visiting Joshua Tree National Park with kids, they’re sure to find the shorter tracks more than manageable. Head to the Barker Dam Nature Trail for wildlife spotting, the Hidden Valley Nature Trail to walk among the iconic Joshua Trees. The Skull Rock Nature Trail which also leads you past the majestic Jumbo Rocks. All the trails are well marked, and the roads to drive between them are signposted for ease of navigation. Keys View offers the best vantage point for taking in the Coachella Valley and Mount San Jacinto in the distance. A quick walk around the Cholla (teddy bear) Cactus Garden is a must-do!
Joshua Tree is an easy day trip from Palm Springs, and less than 3 hours from both Los Angeles and San Diego, making it perfect for a weekend break. If you do decide to stay in Joshua Tree NP overnight, there are several places to stay in and around the park, including rustic huts and camping spots. Just be sure to take everything you may need with you into the park, including plenty of water, a full tank of gas, and suitable clothing for the elements.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Contributed by Jessica Averett from Bring The Kids
Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful National Parks in America and it has some of the most beautiful hikes in the world. Between the majestic mountains, the glacial lakes, and the stunning wildflowers, it’s nearly impossible to find a better place to get off the beaten path and explore.
Located in northern Montana directly on the Canadian border, Glacier is best accessed by car. It is popularly combined with a road trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, or with Banff and Calgary if you are coming from Canada.
If you take your kids hiking in Glacier, make sure to take them on the Avalanche Lake trail and also to let them enjoy playing in the snow at the top of Logan Pass. Logan Pass is one of the best areas in Glacier for spotting both Big Horn Sheep as well as Mountain Goats. While you’re there, make sure to always carry bear spray with you and make plenty of noise though, as wildlife is abundant. Remember to never approach or touch the wildlife.
While you’re in the area, there is lots of fishing, hiking, kayaking, and rafting, so plan on having an adventurous time. You can plan on camping inside of the park (advanced reservations recommended), or plan on staying in nearby Kalispell or Whitefish, MT.
In the summer Glacier can get quite crowded. Especially in July and August as the Logan Pass road is usually closed because of snowfall until the end of June. To beat the crowds, aim for being at your trailhead before 8 am, or if you enjoy late afternoon hiking, plan on heading out around 3 pm.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country. The Smokies is perfect for families, adventure seekers, avid hikers, campers, and nature lovers. There is something for everyone at the Great Smoky Mountains. What makes it so perfect is it is a beautiful destination all year around.
If you are looking for picturesque views, beautiful waterfalls, and color, the best time to visit the Smokies is in the spring and fall. In the spring, you can see the hundreds of flowers starting to bloom before the rush of the summer crowds. This is the perfect time to see the waterfalls along the different trails.
The most popular trails leading to waterfalls are The Trillium Gap Trail, Laurel Falls, Deep Creek, Abrams Falls, and Pigeon Creek Trail. As if waterfalls weren’t enough, this is the perfect time to see the wildlife that calls the Smokies home. You may be able to spot black bears, coyotes, elk, and deer.
If you decide to head to the Smokies in the fall, you’ll have the privilege of seeing the leaves change and the cascade of color over the trees. If you stop along the lookout points, you can take in the breathtaking color of the vast forest. With over 500,000 acres, on a clear day, you can see for what seems like miles.
Since this is such a popular destination the camping sites fill up quickly. If you are looking to camp here, you can reserve a campsite six months in advance. For nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an oasis in a hectic world.
Zion National Park, Utah
With its stunning red cliffs, bucket-list hikes, and incredible views, Zion has become one of the most popular National Parks in the USA. While it is a relatively small park in terms of area, it is packed with plenty of things to do.
Many visitors come to the park to experience one of its unique hikes. One of the highlights is Angels Landing. It is a thrilling hike that involves scaling a razor-thin ridge for the last 0.5 miles, with sheer 1000 foot dropoffs on either side. Those who are brave enough to complete the hike are rewarded with spectacular views of the Zion Canyon. It is a unique, exhilarating hike!
Another one of Zion’s marquee hikes is the Narrows. It gives hikers the unique experience of walking through the north fork Virgin River, where it is at its narrowest. Walking through the river, being surrounded by the tall canyon walls, is an absolutely magical experience and highly recommended. The spectacular scenery throughout makes the Narrows one of the best hikes in Zion.
For those looking for stunning views without much effort, Canyon Overlook is a short one-mile round-trip hike that offers dramatic views of the Zion Canyon. It is sort of like the “poor man’s Angels Landing,” offering similar views (although less expansive) with a whole lot less effort. It is especially stunning at sunset.
Zion National Park is within relatively close proximity to several other National Parks in Utah, including Bryce Canyon. It is an ideal stop on a Utah National Parks road trip. The nearest major airport is in Las Vegas, about two and a half hours away. Salt Lake City is also located about four and a half hours away.
Death Valley National Park, California
Death Valley National Park is one of the most unique national parks in the country. It is the largest park in the mainland USA and is also the hottest and driest place on the continent. The park is located in eastern California and easily accessible from Las Vegas. In fact, most visitors come to see Death Valley on an easy 2 hours day trip from Sin City. You definitely need to rent a car to access Death Valley as there is no public transportation in this part of the Californian desert.
Once inside Death Valley, you can admire its unique environment. Visit the Badwater Basin to see the salt flats. Here you can walk over the boardwalk trail to see the beautiful hexagonal salt crystals that cover the surface of Badwater Basin. Another beautiful area of the park is the Mesquite sand dunes. Here you can find golden-colored dunes stretching for miles and miles. Visitors can hike and sandboard over the dunes. Hike up to Dante’s view and admire the panorama stretched below.
The best time to visit Death Valley National Park is in the winter. Temperatures are mild and the dry heat does not hurt as much in the cooler months of the year. Another great time to visit is during the spring when the desert cacti and other plants bloom due to rains and you can see beautiful flowers throughout the national park. Summer is absolutely the worst time to visit as it is extremely hot. No matter when you go, carry plenty of water and keep yourself hydrated as you see the park.
Best National Parks In USA – General Tips
The best way to arrive at the National Parks in the USA is on a road trip. Road trips require preparation and planning, so check out my 10 Tips For Planning For The Best Road Trip.
There are six days a year in which a visit to the National Parks in the USA is free. In 2021 these days are: 1/18, 4/17, 8/4, 8/25, 9/25, 11/11. In these days, the entrance fee is waived, but other costs like activity or amenity fees are still applied.
While the list above is for the 10 best national parks in the USA, there are many more national and state parks with beautiful landscapes to see and explore. Some are close to each other and better to combine:
- Utah – Zion National Park can be combined with Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and also the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
- California – Death Valley can be combined with the Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park
- Wyoming – Grand Teton and Yellowstone are close to each other and can be easy to explore in one trip.
- New England – Acadia National Park, Maine can be combined with White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire.
There are some other National Parks in the USA with unique adventures and activities. Here are the special ones:
- Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky has the longest cave system in the world, with archeological findings that date back to almost 5000 years ago.
- Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii allows visitors to hike around active volcanos. The lest eruption was in 2018. Will you dare?
- In Everglades National Park, Florida visitors can kayak next to endangered manatees
- Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado will make you feel like in the middle of the Sahara desert. This is the place for Sand sledding for an extreme experience.
With the help of my colleagues, I was able to put up this great list of the 10 best national parks in the USA. There’s no doubt that this huge country is rich with amazing natural scenery, wildlife, and adventures. I can’t wait to plan my next road trip and reach more of the places on this list. If I can take a positive thing from the Covid-days, it would be the acknowledgment of the great experiences one can have in the outdoors. My bucket list has changed, and I am excited about it.
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