Ask anyone in the world the top five things they want to see in the United States and chances are that one or more of their bucket list items are National Parks. But what are the best National Parks in USA?
Well, that’s a somewhat subjective question since there are over 420 National Park sites in the U.S. National Park system and each one is naturally unique. We can narrow it down though.
For starters there are currently only 63 sites with the “National Park” designation as selected by Congress. Although that number continues to grow.
The other 300+ sites fall into an additional 19 categories including monuments, memorials, battlefields, reserves and recreation areas. You can see the complete list of categories here.
For this article we’ve taken the 63 designated US NPs and narrowed it down to 27 of the best National Parks in the USA, as selected by ourselves and our fellow nature lovers and travelers.
Now, as I said before the question of “best” National Parks is subjective so there’s a chance your personal favorite is missing from our list. If so don’t be afraid to let us know. We’re still working on seeing all 63 of them!
Map of Top USA National Parks
Top West Coast National Parks in the USA
Olympic National Park
The Olympic National Park is on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula of Washington State and is a perfect example of all the natural wonders the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Sea Tac is the closest major airport and from there it’s about a two hour drive.
The park is large, covering almost 1 million acres and contains several unique ecosystems ranging from rainforest to coastline to glacier capped mountain peaks.
There’s a lot to explore in the Olympic National Park and if you enjoy hiking you’ll want to spend a few days there. The Hoh Valley Rainforest is famous for its moss draped, old-growth trees and is a lovely place for an easy hike of all abilities. For something more challenging and stunningly scenic the Hurricane Ridge is a great choice.
The park is also home to 650 lakes and 15 rivers with Lake Crescent being a popular spot in the summer for water activities. There are also multiple waterfalls and two hotsprings in the park. Marymere Falls is easily accessible and makes a great addition to a day at the lake but Sol Duc Falls is the most visited.
Then there’s the 73 miles of natural, unspoiled coastline! You have to hike into many of the beaches in Olympic National Park but the stunning scenery at the end of the trail is so worth it. Our favorite is Second Beach which is also open for free camping with a Wilderness Camping Permit. If hiking in isn’t an option Rialto and Kalaloch Beaches are accessible by car.
The scenery is beautiful anytime of year but naturally the summer months are the most popular time to visit, especially for the beaches. There are several lodges and resorts within the park including the Kalaloch Lodge and the Sol Duc Hotsprings Resort. You can even go glamping in Washington’s Olympic National Park.
~Sarah from Discover the Pacific Northwest
Yosemite National Park
Of all the beautiful wildlife spots in the USA, Yosemite National Park is easily among the most popular. Nestled amongst California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite’s closest airport is Fresno-Yosemite International Airport, however, the gorgeous park is a popular trip or weekend break from cities like San Francisco, San Jose or Sacramento.
If you’re looking to stay in the park for multiple days, then you could stay in areas like Mariposa County or Groveland, but there’s also plenty of accommodations options within the park itself. You could also camp out in the park which is another popular option. During late Spring or late Summer are the best times of year to visit Yosemite National Park as temperatures are still lovely and warm but the park is less crowded.
Some of the best things to do in Yosemite is a visit to Yosemite Valley and the infamous Yosemite Falls – one of the most beautiful and striking waterfalls in the area. The Half Dome is another of the park’s most popular places to visit, with the stunning granite boulder being one of the USA’s best rock-climbing spots.
A few of the park’s other highlights include Tunnel View, El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Glacier Point. Don’t forget to visit the Yosemite Museum too, and learn about the first people that lived in the park’s Indian Village over 3,000 years ago.
~Alice from Adventures of Alice
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park, in southern California, is one of the most unique National Parks in America. It’s known for uniquely sculpted rocks, stark desert landscapes and bizarre twisted, cactus-like trees for which the park is named. The closest airport is Indio/Palm Springs which is 90 minutes away.
It’s called the land where two deserts meet because the Mojave and the Colorado Deserts, two distinct ecosystems, do indeed intersect within Joshua Tree. This makes for a glorious variety of plantlife, animals and geologic features.
The best way to explore Joshua Tree National Park is on foot as there are lots of great hikes to take in the diverse and unique scenery. Although you will need a car to drive around the park to the hiking trails.
Some of the top hikes include the easy Barker Dam Loop Trail, and the more challenging Warren Peak Trail. Other top spots to visit are Skull Rock, Arch Rock, and Cholla Cactus Gardens.
If you don’t care to hike and/or don’t have a car there is a shuttle in the park that stops at many of the sights. The Keys Ranch Tour is also a good alternative to hiking.
The closest towns to base yourself are Joshua Tree and Twenty Nine Palms but you can also stay within the park itself. Camping or glamping in Joshua Tree National Park is a great way to enjoy the full desert experience including stargazing which is one of the top things to do in Joshua Tree.
~Nathan from All About Glamping
Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park is in south-central Oregon and is the only National Park in Oregon. It was formed 7,700 years ago from the collapse of a 12,000-foot-tall volcano, Mount Mazama. Once the volcanic hole cooled, it filled with snowmelt and rainwater over 600-800 years, creating Crater Lake.
Famous for its bold blue and clear water, Crater Lake Rim Road is one of the best scenic drives in the United States. Driving the 33-mile Rim Road, there are over 30 scenic pull-offs, each giving a different perspective of the lake. If you visit on a clear day, you can see up to 150 miles away!
The water stays clear and a bold blue since the volcanic terrain limits the nutrients and prevents streams from entering the lake. You can swim in designated areas, but you cannot take any personal boats or flotation devices on the water. If you want to explore Crater Lake from a boat, you must take a boat tour. There are also several hiking trails with jaw-dropping views.
The best time of year to visit Crater Lake is during the summer months. In the summer, you can stay at one of the campgrounds or lodges to extend your adventure time in the park. If you are not big on camping, stay at the historic Crater Lake Lodge. You will get some of the best views of the park from its location on the rim of Mount Mazama’s crater.
The closest major airport to Crater Lake National Park is Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport in Medford, Oregon. This airport is 72 miles from the center of Crater Lake National Park.
Debbie Fettback from World Adventurists
Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park is an incredibly underrated national park. From hikes through the giant redwood trees to scenic coastal drives, this national park truly has something for everyone.
You’ll find Redwood National Park in northern California, about 5 hours north of San Francisco. The closest airports to Redwood are in Humboldt County or Del Norte, but both only offer a few flights a day. For more selection in flights, consider flying into San Francisco, Oakland, or Medford and driving to the park instead.
Eureka or Klamath are the perfect towns to spend the night while visiting the park. Consider staying at the Carter House Inns in Eureka or the Historic Requa Inn in Klamath.
Redwood National Park has mild weather all year long thanks to the coastal breeze. Winter months tend to be rainy, so the best time to visit is during the dry season from May to September.
There are several great hikes in Redwood National Park. Tall Trees Grove takes you through a giant redwood grove, home to the tallest tree in the world! Fern Canyon follows along a creek surrounded by towering ancient ferns.
Taking a scenic drive is one of the best ways to see the park if hiking isn’t an option. See the coast on a drive along Klamath Beach Road to High Bluff Overlook or drive through the redwoods on Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. You may even be able to spot some wild elk!
~Julia from Well Planned Journey
Sequoia National Park
Famous for its giant sequoia trees, Sequoia National Park is the second oldest national park in the United States after Yellowstone that was designated in 1890 by President Harrison.
One of the best places to visit in Sequoia for a great panoramic shot is Morro Rock. It has an elevated platform with incredible views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains. Your best bet is to do it on a clear day with minimum clouds.
I recommend staying in the immediate area of the park to avoid extra driving. The nearby town of Visalia is a great place to stay as it offers hotels and restaurants. Before you plan your trip, make sure that the park’s roads are open (as they can be closed sometimes in winter because of snow). If the forecast calls for snow, you will be required to have chains on your tires.
Summer is the best time to visit the park when all of the roads are open and the weather is perfect for hiking. However, it’s also the busiest time and if you plan to visit some of the park’s highlights, the General Sherman Tree, Moro Rock and the General Grant Tree Trail, I recommend planning your visit for early to mid-fall before the area sees its first snow.
The closest airport to Sequoia National Park is Visalia Municipal Airport, however, it’s very small and if you need to take a commercial flight, the best option is to fly into Fresno and take a drive to Sequoia from there.
Many visitors who come to Sequoia National Park also make a stop at the neighboring Kings Canyon where you can see several impressive waterfalls such as Grizzly Falls and Mist Falls.
~Daria from The Discovery Nut
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier in Washington State is one of the most dramatic of all our national parks. An active volcano within the majestic Cascade Range, rising 14,410 feet above the Puget Sound below, it is the third most dangerous volcano in the county. It ties with Mount Baker, just to the north, as the snowiest place in the country. This makes it the most glaciated mountain in the contiguous United States. It is graced with old growth forests, waterfalls, lakes, and in the summer, fields of wildflowers.
Despite this grandeur, the mountain is remarkably accessible and easy to enjoy. Many visitors will fly into Seattle’s SeaTac airport, less than two hours away. If you fly, get yourself a window seat to take in the sublime views of the Cascade Range.
“The mountain is out,” is a joyful refrain you will hear throughout the region on clear days. When the sun is shining, residents and visitors alike take in the views of Mount Rainier with awe and start planning their ascent. Like many in the region, we see the mountain from our house, so it is always on my mind. After many trips, my top recommendations are hiking the trails around Paradise and going to the visitor center there. Be sure to also include the Grove of the Patriarchs trail.
Those visiting Seattle for a short period can keep their same lodgings and drive up for a day trip. Travelers who visit longer will want to stay on the mountain itself. Backpackers can enter the lottery to hike the famed Wonderland Trail. La Wis Wis campground is next to the park but a much easier place to snag a spot for car campers. For indoor lodging, consider a stay at the historic Paradise Inn, with some of the prettiest hikes in the park right out your door. Finally, if it is a last-minute trip, Packwood Inn is a top pick.
~Erica from Tripscholars
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park is located in California, on the border with Nevada, west of Las Vegas. The nearest major airport is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, which is a 2-hour (118- mile) drive away from Furnace Creek, at the center of the valley.
The main settlement area inside Death Valley is Furnace Creek. Here you will find a resort, family style motel accommodations and campgrounds, along with basic stores and a couple of restaurants.
Death Valley is not only the lowest and driest place in the United States, it is also the hottest place on the planet! Day time temperatures often exceed 120°F/ 49°C in the summer. Which is why winter is the best time to visit. In the winter months, it is actually very pleasant with temperatures in the mid-60’s F/ around 18°C.
There is a lot to see and do in Death Valley. After stopping off at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, drive up to Dante’s Peak. This is a lookout with panoramic views over the valley below. At Zabriskie Point, you can see an area of golden colored badlands. The corrugated hills are a popular spot for sunrise and sunset.
Another popular place to go for the sunrise is the Mesquite Flat sand dunes. The 100-foot high dunes are the most accessible in the park. Don’t miss the drive past Artist’s Palette, where various ores have oxidized and formed multi-colored rocks. Proceed on to Badwater Basin. The scenic salt flats there are the lowest point in North America.
Another highlight is Ubehebe Crater, an extinct volcano where you can hike around the rim. There are also several narrow slot canyons around the edge of the valley that make scenic places to hike.
For something different from the natural highlights, you can also visit an abandoned mine at Borax Harmony Works and Scotty’s Castle, a fascinating 1920’s vacation mansion that offers tours. (It is currently closed due to flooding, but may open again in 2021).
A recommended place to stay is the Oasis at Death Valley in Furnace Creek. Here you will find the Inn at Death Valley, one of the classic historic US national parks inns, and the family-oriented Ranch at Death Valley.
~James Ian from Travel Collecting
Best Southwest National Parks in the USA
Grand Canyon National Park
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the most visited part of the park and it is open all year. Elevations average 7000 feet above sea level and it’s these views that make the journey to the canyon so spectacular.
One of the best ways to see the amazing overlooks and viewpoints of the Grand Canyon is to take the free shuttle loops. Another great way to experience the grandeur of the Grand Canyon is a hike from the south rim on Bright Angel Trail. The National Park Service (NPS) considers this the safest trail in Grand Canyon National Park. The trail descends to the Colorado river and there is an elevation change from rim to river of 4460 feet.
I suggest choosing a hotel inside the park and near the rim, especially if it’s a first-time visit. There are numerous hotels, resorts, lodges, inns, camping sites in or near the South Rim. My favorite is El Tovar Hotel.
The best time to visit the Grand Canyon is March through May or September through November when daytime temperatures are cool and the crowds are much smaller than the summer months.
Most visitors to the Grand Canyon fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix. There’s also a small airport in Flagstaff, just an hour from the South Rim, and some North Rim travelers fly into Salt Lake City.
~Alexa from 52 Perfect Days
Arches National Park
One of the top National Parks in the US is Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. Famous for having over 2000 natural sandstone arches, its stunning desert landscape is an ocean of red desert, towering hoodoos, and soaring arches at every turn.
The most sought-after destination in the park is Delicate Arch. A moderate 3-mile round trip hike will take you to the largest free-standing arch in the park. At 46 feet high and 32 feet wide, it’s a sight to see and worth the trek. It’s a popular trail, so get there early in the morning to avoid crowds or bring a headlamp and do it at sunset.
If you’re an adventurer and want a challenging hike, the Devil’s Garden Trail is a must-do. The 7.2-mile hike will take you several different arches and requires getting on your hands and feet to scramble and climb. With steep drop-offs and narrow ledges, this trail is not recommended for anyone afraid of heights.
Alternatively, you could do the first mile of the hike to Landscape Arch, a thin arch that spans the length of an entire football field. An excellent option for families or anyone who isn’t keen on heights.
With camping being the only option in the park, the best place to stay is in Moab, Utah. The Springhill Suites is the closest hotel to the park and has a great outdoor pool and hot tub area.
Arches is a high desert destination, so summers will be scorching hot. The best time of year to visit is in the spring or fall, when the heat will have subsided. Those are also the busiest times of the year, so we prefer to visit Arches National Park in winter when the weather is cooler, but you’ll have the hiking trails all to yourself.
~Christina from Live A Wilder Life
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is made up of stunning, red rock canyons and gorgeous views. Located in southern Utah, Zion is located about a two and a half hour drive away from Las Vegas, where you’ll find the closest airport.
There are many things to do in Zion! But, to experience the best of the park you’ll need to lace up your hiking boots and explore the many hiking trails. Bucket list worthy hikes include hiking The Narrows – a gorgeous hike through the river, with canyon walls that tower over a thousand feet above you. Angels Landing is another popular trail, where you’ll hike along narrow, exposed cliffs to reach breathtaking views.
More mellow hikes include the Canyon Overlook trail, which will give you panoramic views of Zion Canyon. Similarly, the Pa’rus trail is a mellow 3-mile walk that has you walking along blooming meadows, and is great for sunset.
Zion is one of the most popular parks in Utah, and with good reason! If you’re looking for solitude, however, you’ll want to visit the Kolob Canyons. Here, the Timber Creek Overlook trail is a good way to avoid the crowds and still get great views.
The best time to visit Zion is spring and fall, when the weather is cooler and the crowds are slightly thinner. No matter what time you visit, plan to stay in the town of Springdale – it’s literally right outside the main park entrance.
~Ale Leon from Sea Salt & Fog
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah should not be missed! The park is roughly a four and a half hour drive from either McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, NV or Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, UT. Bryce Canyon is the perfect park to include on a multi-national park trip throughout Utah and Arizona. It can be explored in any season though May – September is considered peak season.
If you are interested in tent, van or RV camping, there are two different campgrounds, Sunset and North, within the park that could serve as your homebase. If you would rather stay in a hotel and drive or take a shuttle into the park, there are a variety of options nearby including the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn located right outside the entrance of the park.
Bryce Canyon National Park is known for its hoodoos, which are column-like rock formations that can be found throughout the canyon. Many of the hiking trails throughout the park weave through the hoodoos. The 1.4 mile Navajo Loop trail is one of the most popular hikes in the park.
The Navajo Loop trail is often combined with the Queen’s Garden trail for a 3 mile hike that shows off the best of the park. The hike includes seeing the infamous Thor’s Hammer hoodoo formation and includes exploring “Wall Street,” which is a series of switchbacks that lead into a narrow slot canyon.
If you aren’t interested in hiking you can take a guided horseback ride throughout parts of the park! There are also a variety of scenic overlooks to enjoy off of Highway 63 if you’d rather observe the magical hoodoos from above.
Don’t forget to explore the park after dark as Bryce Canyon is a certified dark sky park! If you’re lucky you will get to see shooting stars, the Milky Way and a number of other planets and constellations. If you are interested in learning more about the night sky, the park offers a variety of astronomy programs including Astronomy Ranger talks that are definitely worth a listen!
~Sarah from Roadmaps and Restaurants
Canyonlands National Park
Located just outside of Moab, Utah, Canyonlands National Park is one of the best national parks in the USA. It is unique in that it’s divided into four distinct districts, each offering different types of adventures: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the Colorado River and its tributaries.
To reach Canyonlands National Park, you’ll want to fly into Canyonlands Field Airport (CNY), just 18 miles north of Moab. You’ll also likely want to use Moab as your home base to jump between the districts.
As the four different districts are divided by the Colorado River, determining how to visit Canyonlands National Park is a bit more challenging than your average park. The districts can be hours apart by road, so you’ll want to target which district to visit prior to hitting the road.
Visit Island in the Sky for breathtaking canyons with roadside overlooks and short hikes. Arrive super early to watch sunrise at Mesa Arch for a once in a lifetime opportunity. If you’re looking for longer day hikes or backcountry hiking, the Needles is the ideal district for you. Two of the best options for hiking in the Needles are Druid Arch and Chesler Park.
Looking for something more challenging? Make your way to the Maze. It’s the perfect place to get off the beaten path into the backcountry with multi-day treks into the puzzle-like canyons. Most people spend at least three days in the Maze due to the travel time to reach it.
Meanwhile, if watersports are more your speed, take advantage of the opportunity to get out on the water with activities like whitewater rafting.
No matter what your interest, Canyonlands has something to offer you. Plan to explore just one district or take the time to discover them all!
~Julia from The Cure for Curiosity
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is located in southwest Texas along the Rio Grande River. It has the most stunning diversity of landscapes from the desert floor and river canyon to the stunning Chisos Mountains.
A terrific advantage of traveling to Big Bend is that only about 377,000 people visit each year (as opposed to 5 million at Yosemite). One of the reasons for this is the park’s remote location. The closest ‘major’ airport is the Midland International Air & Space Port with three commercial carriers (American, Southwest, and United Express), but that is still 220 miles away. El Paso is the next closest at 288 miles.
The best time of year to visit Big Bend National Park is October through January. The weather is too hot in the summer and the park is too crowded in the spring.
This national park is an outdoor adventurer’s dream. One of the most popular activities is hiking. There are trails for every level of hiker. In fact, there are more than 150 miles of trails with elevation ranging 1,800 feet along the Rio Grande to 7,832 feet on Emory Peak in the Chisos Mountains. Another popular activity includes kayaking or canoeing through the gorgeous canyons on the Rio Grande. You can choose from a variety of river trips from hours to days in duration.
The best place to stay is in the national park itself. The Chisos Mountains Lodge offers a variety of rooms and cottages. Another option is to camp and one of the park’s four campgrounds. If you want to stay outside the park, the best accommodations can be found at the Lajitas Golf Resort, which lies between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. The resort also manages a campground, Maverick Ranch Campground, and guests can use all the amenities at the resort.
~Julie from Chickery’s Travel
Mesa Verde National Park
Mesa Verde is one of the most unique national parks in the United States. The 52,000 acre park in southwest Colorado is an easy addition to any southwest USA road trip. It is the only national park in the country that received its designation due to its man-made wonders rather than its natural ones.
The area is home to more than 5,000 archeological sites, including remarkable cliff dwellings built more than 600 years ago by the original indigenous settlers of the region. One of the dwellings, known as The Cliff Palace, is believed to have once housed approximately 100 people.
If planning to visit Mesa Verde, you’ll need to rent a car. While the nearby towns of Cortez and Durango have small airports, most people fly into Albuquerque, New Mexico or Denver, Colorado and drive about 5 hours to get to the remote park.
Although not easy to get to, the park is well worth visiting, not only for its historical significance, but for its beauty and dark nights, which are perfect for stargazing. Morefield Campground, located within the national park, is a great place to spend a night under the stars. But if you prefer a hotel to a canvas tent, there are numerous hotels just a short drive away in Cortez.
~Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
More Popular National Parks in the West
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is located in the northwest corner of Wyoming, as well as parts of Montana and Idaho. The roads through the park basically form a figure “8” and the park can be accessed from all directions.
The closest airport is the small Yellowstone Airport near West Yellowstone and the park’s west entrance. Other convenient airports are Yellowstone International Airport near Bozeman, about an hour and a half from the park’s north entrance; Yellowstone Regional Airport near Cody and the park’s east entrance; and Jackson Hole Airport, which is convenient for Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone’s south entrance.
There are several lodges and campgrounds throughout the park, at each of the park’s major highlights. One of the most iconic of the national parks’ grand lodges is found there – the incredible seven-storey Old Faithful Inn. The most convenient base for those wishing to stay nearby is West Yellowstone, which is just outside the west entrance in the middle of the figure “8”.
Yellowstone can be visited all year, though most of the roads are closed to regular vehicular traffic in winter and open to over-snow vehicles. The park can be crowded in summer and often muddy in spring, so the best time to visit Yellowstone is early fall.
Yellowstone is America’s oldest national park and arguably its most spectacular. There are several major attractions. The park is a center of geothermal activity and is famous for the geysers that spout high into the air.
The most well-known is Old Faithful, but you may well see others erupt as well. There are also dozens of brightly colored springs, such as the enormous sun-shaped Grand Prismatic Spring.
It also has the tallest waterfall in the United States, the Lower Yellowstone Falls, which thunders down the colorful Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. The park is also often called “America’s Serengeti” and is a great place to see bison, bears and wolves.
~James Ian from Parks Collecting
Consider stopping in Twin Falls, Idaho if you’re doing a road trip to Yellowstone.
Grand Teton National Park
Located in northwestern Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park plays host to jaw-dropping views, epic hikes and all sorts of adventures for both outdoor enthusiasts and families with little ones. Whether you have a single weekend or several weeks to explore, there are plenty of exciting things to do in Grand Teton National Park that will keep you busy!
Grand Teton National Park is known for the mountain rage bearing its name, and these peaks are a sight to be seen. The ruggedly beautiful mountains and crystal lakes make for all sorts of adventures. Whether you’d like to hike deep into the backcountry and away from crowds, or you’d prefer to do easy walks and relax by the water, Grand Teton has an adventure that’s calling your name.
Within this national park, there are many opportunities to spot wildlife, like moose and bear. If you happen to any animals on the trails, be sure to keep your distance and never feed or approach them.
The best weather and conditions are arguably found in the summer months; however, this is also the most crowded time. If you have flexibility, early autumn (September – early October) can be a fantastic time to see the best this park has to offer without all the crowds. Beware that this region can get snow as early as October, so be sure you’re prepared.
The town of Jackson Hole has an upscale Western feel and is a popular place to stay near the national park as there are plenty of hotel options. Plus, with a pretty decent food and nightlife scene, it’s a fun city to explore. However, if you’d prefer to sleep beneath the stars, there are lots of campgrounds in and around the park.
~Katie from Two Wandering Soles
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park awaits in northwestern Montana between the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains along the Continental Divide.
Glacier ranks as one of our all time favorite parks in the USA due to its many alpine lakes and backcountry hikes, plus outdoor adventure opportunities like kayaking, paddling, whitewater rafting, fishing, and more.
Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, you have many options for fabulous hikes like Trail of the Cedars to Avalanche Lake, St Mary Falls and Virginia Falls, and the Highline Trail to Granite Chalet, to name a few.
Spy wildlife like Bighorned sheep and mountain goats at the top of Logan Pass on a short hike to Hidden Lake. Be on the lookout for grizzly bears. A day trip up to Polebridge and Bowman Lake was also a favorite of ours. Try huckleberry ice cream or a huckleberry bear claw for a local treat.
To quickly reach Glacier National Park, fly into nearby Kalispell and drive only 33 scenic miles to West Glacier entrance. Or fly into Missoula if that’s more economical and drive 138 miles up along Flathead Lake.
July and August are the most ideal months to spend time in Glacier, as the days are long and warm. However, this is when the park is most crowded, but there are tips for how to enjoy Glacier in July or August without the crowds.
On the west side, Columbia Falls and West Glacier are perfect home bases from which to explore the park, unless you can score a campground inside the park. On the east side, St. Mary or Babb are great places for lodging, or try your luck at snagging a campsite in the breathtaking Many Glacier campground.
The West Glacier KOA Resort is top notch, and Under Canvas Glacier is a fun splurge for glamping. Or rent one of the many sweet vacation cabins in Columbia Falls.
~Tanya from Rad Family Travel
Read about Whitefish, Montana which also makes a great base for visiting Glacier National Park.
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is one of the most popular National Parks in South Dakota and a top place to visit in the state. It was created over 500,000 years ago when water ran through the layers of rock and erosion formed smooth sloping hills throughout the park.
The badlands are distinctive and very different from the grassy plains in much of the rest of the state. Half of the park belongs to the Oglala Lakota Nation and it’s the eighth-largest Native American Indian Reservation in the United States. In fact, some still live there today.
The park lights up in color, especially at dawn and dusk. It’s a popular place for hiking and there are many great trails ranging in difficulty. Drive the Loop Road that runs through the park and find a trail that looks appealing. There is lodging in the park and just outside, or you can easily stay in Rapid City. It’s just an hour away and there are a lot more hotel options as well as an airport.
This park is a popular place to visit, especially in the summer, spring, and fall when the temperatures are warmer. If you want to skip the crowds and go on the shoulder season, go in April and May or September and October. Summers heat up so if you go then, you’ll want to go early in the day.
Badlands National Park is such an interesting and unique place to visit, unlike most of the state and even the country. Take a day or more to explore the many trails and you’ll feel like you’re stepping back through time to enjoy the beauty nature created.
~Sam from My Flying Leap
Denali National Park
Alaska is known for its nature and rugged terrain and one national park that’s accessible to visit for individual travelers is Denali National Park. Within a 4 hour drive from Anchorage or Fairbanks, it is a good Alaska road trip, or tacked on as part of a two week Alaska trip which includes a cruise down the inside passage.
The closest commercial airport is in Anchorage or Fairbanks, where one can easily connect to various cities in the continental US or if you’re already in Alaska, one can charter a small plane to a town called Talkeetna, around an hour’s drive away.
When looking for accommodations on a multi-day Denali trip, make sure that the hotel is just outside Denali National Park. There’s only a handful of lodges and hotels that are within a 15-20 minute drive from the park entrance, and they get booked pretty quickly as the cruise lines that offer water and land tours block rooms on these hotels.
Denali is only offering guided bus tours up to a certain mile marker, and the Toklat River tours/shuttles are only available in the summer. These tours take up to 12 hours, and will take you as far inside the park as the buses go. A week after Labor day, one can join the lottery that will enable you to drive your own vehicle inside the park.
Inside the park, you can opt to go hiking, gaze out to look for wildlife as part of the shuttle tours, and just be one with nature.
~Ruby from A Journey We Love
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
One of the most dramatic and liveliest parks to visit in Hawaii would be Volcanoes National Park located on the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii. Most visitors to the park come from either the Kona side or Hilo side of the island and you can easily base yourself in Volcano Village to explore the park in more detail.
The closest airport is Hilo but you can easily fly in from Kona and drive in for the day. An entry fee to the park allows you to visit for 7 consecutive days to hike, enjoy the park at night or check out unusual attractions around the park area.
Highlights to visit include: Seeing the volcanic and ash eruptions dramatically lit up at night time at the caldera. Doing a hike around the caldera or rim trail view points. Enjoy a road trip through the park and visiting the various attractions around the drive. Visit the main visitors center for talks, a lovely video and other displays to enjoy at the park. Do a ranger followed walk in some of the historic areas of the park. Explore the cool local art of artists from the area at the Volcano arts center.
You’ll love exploring around the entire park area and seeing the live eruption of Kilauaea Volcano right at the center of the immense caldera in the park. If you are basing yourself in Hilo, check out my top things to do in Hilo here for cool places and attractions to visit in town and the surrounding areas.
~Noel from This Hawaii Life
Gorgeous National Parks in the East
Shenandoah National Park
One of the most beautiful parks in the eastern U.S. is also one of the most convenient to visit. Shenandoah National Park is just over an hour west of Washington DC and its two major airports (IAD and DCA), so it makes an ideal getaway destination for DC visitors.
Scenic Skyline Drive offers easy access to the beauty and history of the park. The 105-mile road follows a mountain ridge through the park with spectacular views to the east and west. You’ll find some of the best things to do in Shenandoah National Park’s Central District.
Here you can enjoy stunning views, two classic park lodges with restaurants, and beautiful hikes for every challenge level.
Be sure to stop at a mix of overlooks on each side of Skyline Drive. Mary’s Rock and Hazel Mountain Overlooks have lovely eastern views. Jewell Hollow and The Point Overlooks are favorite stops for western views of mountains and the Shenandoah Valley.
Enjoy more spectacular vistas on a hike to the summit of Stony Man, Hawksbill, or Mary’s Rock. Or take a beautiful waterfall hike to Dark Hollow Falls. Stop at the Byrd Visitor Center to learn about the park’s fascinating history.
To fully experience Shenandoah, spend a night or two in or near the park. Skyland Resort and Big Meadows Lodge offer simple and rustic rooms (some are updated) with no TVs and very limited or no wifi. It’s the perfect environment to disconnect, and you can’t beat the convenience of watching a mountain sunrise and sunset to begin and end your day.
The towns of Luray and Front Royal are a good base if you prefer more modern lodging at hotels and rental cabins.
~Julie from Fun In Fairfax VA
Mammoth Cave National Park
Come explore the world’s longest cave system at Mammoth Cave National Park! This unique ecosystem is hidden in plain sight, right off of I-65 in western Kentucky. The cave stays around 54°F all year round, once inside the cave, so it’s a comfortable tour whether it’s January or June.
Mammoth Cave was used as a church, a saltpeter mine (for making gunpowder), and a tuberculosis hospital before becoming an outright tourist attraction in the 1800’s and, eventually, a national park. See the remnants of all that history as well as some incredible geological formations on a tour through the cave!
Whether you have two hours or two days, there’s a cave tour option to suit your needs. Claustrophobic visitors will appreciate the Mammoth Passage Tour which sticks to the more spacious caverns, but there are tour options for history buffs, kids, photographers, and adrenaline junkies! Electric lighting runs through most spaces, so you’re not fumbling through the dark but rather admiring beautifully lit cave formations.
The cave may be the main attraction at this national park, but there are also plenty of activities above ground to enjoy! Hiking and biking trails crisscross the park and are especially beautiful in the fall. Kayaking the Green River is a big hit in the summer.
At only 1.5 hours from either Nashville, TN or Louisville, KY, this park is a great weekend getaway option for either city. If you’re flying into the area to check this park off your bucket list, Nashville usually has more flight options than Louisville, but check them both!
Stay on-site at The Lodge at Mammoth Cave, the park’s hotel, or nearby Cave City has every major US hotel chain and is convenient to the interstate.
~Rachel from Means to Explore
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Located on the North Carolina/Tennessee border in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular of all the US National Parks, attracting well over 10 million visitors every year.
Whether that’s because of its proximity to nearly every major city in the Eastern US, its rich natural beauty, the region’s role in American history, or a combination of all three remains up for debate! The park is also just 25 miles east of the McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) near Knoxville, and 60 miles from the Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) on the North Carolina side.
The 522,000-acre park was created in 1934, right after the Great Depression, and became protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 due to its breathtakingly scenic mountain landscapes (16 of which are over 6,000 feet tall), wondrous waterfalls, trout-filled mountain streams, and the largest intact forest ecosystem in the southeastern US.
Unfortunately, the park was also included by the US National Parks Conservation Association in its list of America’s Ten Most Endangered Parks for several years in a row because of the continuing decline in the area’s air quality, due largely to air pollution caused by nearby coal-fired power plants. Still, thanks to ongoing conservation efforts, Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains a relatively pristine haven for anyone who loves nature, wildlife, and exploring the great outdoors.
You can spend endless days exploring the park’s picturesque highlights, such as Cade’s Cove, Clingman’s Dome, and Newfound Gap Road. And of course the Blue Ridge Parkway begins at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park entrance, stretching 469 miles to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.
Popular summertime activities at the park include camping, fishing, hiking the Appalachian Trail, birdwatching, and watching for wildlife. GSMNP is home to 1300 native vascular plant species, as well as an array of animals (including Black Bears, White-tailed Deer, and the world’s greatest diversity of Salamander species).
But, for serious animal lovers, the park’s highlight– the last herd of wild Elk in North Carolina– can be found in the eastern section of the park. Early summer is a great time to see the Cataloochee Valley Elk, whose babies are typically born from mid-May to early June. But please do remember that mamas can be very aggressive if they sense any impending threat to their young, so keep a respectful distance.
While you’re in the area (in the eastern side of the park), you can also hike the Little Cataloochee Trail to see a number of historic buildings from the 1800s and early 1900s.
~Bret Love & Mary Gabbett from Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is the largest US National Park east of Yellowstone and occupies over 1.5 million acres in South Florida. Four airports—Miami, Southwest Florida (Fort Myers), Ft Lauderdale-Hollywood, and Palm Beach—are within 75 minutes of the Everglades.
Staying from Miami to Ft Lauderdale is best to visit the popular eastern and southern areas of the park. Naples is better for accessing the western Everglades, Ten Thousand Islands, and Everglades City.
January to April are most popular for Everglades visits. The impeccable winter weather attracts more tourists but conveniently this time is also the “dry” season. Approaching April, the “River of Grass”—as early Native Floridians called it—becomes less swampy, lending itself to increased chances to see wildlife (gators!).
To explore the 2,300+ square miles of this unique environment—UNESCO World Heritage Site AND Biosphere Reserve—would take many lifetimes. Main Everglades headquarters entrance is in Homestead in the south but the most popular entrance is Shark Valley on Tamiami Trail. Parking in Shark Valley may be restricted during busy parts of the year but enjoy the 65-foot observation tower, tram tour, and 15-mile loop trail (electric bikes are allowed) with two short nature trails when there.
The 38-mile drive between the southern entrance and Flamingo village provides a totally different experience and is one of the best scenic drives in South Florida. In the southern Everglades you will see more migrating birds and are actually more likely to see crocs than gators.
Besides reptiles, Everglades is home to Florida panthers, manatees, dolphins, bears, other subtropical animals and plants, and hundreds of bird species. Airboat tours are a thrilling way to see remote sections of the Everglades. The 99-mile Wilderness Waterway is popular for weeklong liquid road trip adventures.
Our favorite Naples hotels are Inn on Fifth and Lemon Tree Inn. SpringHill Suites Miramar is only 45 minutes from Shark Valley.
~Charles from McCool Travel
Check out other great vacation spots in Florida
Dry Tortugas National Park
Nestled around 70 miles from Florida’s Key West coastline, Dry Tortugas National Park consists of a series of tiny islands. This underrated area of the nation is one of the top National Parks in the United States and is frequently visited by history-buffs, snorkelers, and fishermen alike.
The islands of Dry Tortugas were discovered back in 1513 by Ponce de Leon. With the islands’ strategic position on the most strategic deepwater anchorages in North America, the United States quickly constructed Fort Jefferson to protect the American heartland. Now, those visiting this beautiful National Park can happily stroll the beautiful historic fort, snorkel the surrounding reef, and enjoy excellent fishing conditions.
The closest airport is Key West Airport (EYM) in Key West, Florida which is a great spot to set as your home base. The majority of people visiting DryTortugas National Park enjoy a day trip from Key West into the park on the Yankee Freedom III ferry. One of the best places to stay in Key West is the Parrot Key Hotel and Villas which offers a refreshing outdoor pool and plenty of amenities.
For those looking to stay on the island, Dry Tortugas offers a camping site at Fort Jefferson. This camping site is a great affordable option but is technically a primitive campsite requiring guests to bring everything they need for their stay.
~Elli from Ellie’s Travel Tips
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the US. It is located on Mt. Desert Island on the Atlantic coast of Maine.
If you are flying in, search for flights to Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport (BHB) which is the closest one, or to Bangor Airport (BGR), which is 50 miles away but also serves international flights. However, the best way to reach Acadia is on a road trip while exploring New England. The park and the nearby lovely town Bar Harbor are 3 hours drive north of Portland, Maine.
You can find a variety of accommodations here, restaurants, and a fun downtown to spend the evening before and after visiting the park. The Bluenose Inn is recommended and is located right between downtown Bar Harbor and the Hulls Cove Visitor Center – about 3-5 minutes’ drive to each side.
The best time to visit Acadia National Park is between June to October when the weather in this area is not so cold. In October, you get to see the beautiful fall colors all around, which make the scenery even more impressive.
The highest peak in the park is Cadillac Mountain, which has amazing views of Bar Harbor and the islands of Frenchman Bay. Another unique spot to visit is Sand Beach – a beautiful little beach nestled between mountains and rocky shores. This is also the starting point of one of the best hikes in the park – the Beehive Loop trail. The climb up to the beehive summit might be challenging, but the gorgeous views from up there absolutely worth it.
The other two recommended hikes are the Gorham Mountain Trail (Medium level) and the Jordan Pond Loop Train (easy).
Visiting Acadia National Park is a must for nature lovers at all levels. You can spend here one day or a few, and it will be a trip you won’t forget.
~Moshe from The Top Ten Traveler
What’s Your Favorite National Park in the USA?
Are you inspired to make plans to visit some of the stunningly beautiful National Parks in America? How many have you already been to? We’d love to hear your favorites!
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Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.