The 25 Top National Parks in the US You Must See
The national parks are some of the most beloved places in the United States. They represent some of the most beautiful and diverse parts of the country. Ranging from majestic mountains to valleys carved by glaciers, lush green hills, and imperial redwood forests, these areas are as unique as they are breathtaking. Here are the top 25 national parks in the U.S. you won’t want to miss.
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Visiting the National Parks
There are currently 63 national parks and hundreds of other properties managed by the National Park Service. Each is special in its own way. Many people want to see as many as they can, but with such high numbers, it can take a long time to see them all. And these parks clock several hundred thousand visits a year—can you just imagine?
To make it easier for you, here is a list of the top national parks recommended by travel bloggers who shared their favorites. All of the 63 are worth visiting, of course. Though it’s a great idea to see some of the most visited as well as the lesser ones, this will help you prioritize.
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Always check the National Parks website for the latest conditions at the park. They share things like closures as and they are a great source of information for planning your visit from where to stay, and what to do when you’re there.
These are beautiful places and precious natural resources. So remember to take care when you visit. Respect the land, pick up any litter you see, and make sure you leave it the same as or better than when you arrived. Future generations are counting on it.
Get Your National Park Pass
Many of the National Park Service properties charge admission to enter. There are a number of passes offered that, with a one-time fee, you get free admission to the parks for a year from your purchase.
- America the Beautiful Pass—Everyone is eligible for this pass. It costs $80 a year and it’s available at one of my favorite stores, REI.
- Military Pass—Current US military members and their dependents as well as US military veterans are eligible for this free pass.
- 4th Grade Pass—4th graders are eligible during their school year as well as the following summer (from September through August).
- Senior Pass—US citizens and permanent residents over the age of 62 are eligible for this pass. It costs $20 a year or $80 for lifetime access.
- Access Pass—Lifetime access for free for US citizens or permanent residents with a permanent disability. (Applicants are required to provide documentation of residency or citizenship as well as permanent disability.
The National Park Service provides a page to help you determine where you can purchase these passes by state if you’re interested. Additionally, volunteers with over 250 service hours with federal agencies participating in the Interagency Pass Program may be eligible for a free annual pass. (Check with your volunteer coordinator for more information.)
Acadia National Park, Maine
Located on the northeastern shore of Maine, Acadia National Park is one of the gems of the National Park System. Made up of rugged coastline, beautiful ponds, and stunning views, Acadia offers something for everyone.
Many of Acadia’s must-see sights are located along the Park Loop Road. This picturesque drive will take you to the famous Sand Beach, a small beach flanked by green hills perfect for lounging on hot summer days.
You’ll also want to stop at Jordan Pond. This historic area is home to a pretty pond framed by rolling hills, a classic restaurant, and miles of hiking trails.
For ocean views, few trails are better than the Ocean Path. This 2-mile one-way trail will give you dramatic coastal views and is the perfect place to take photos.
For one of the most spectacular sunrises, head over to Cadillac Mountain. In the early morning light, you can see the sun dance over the coastline bathing everything in hues of purples and pinks. It’s a sight unlike any other.
You can’t leave Maine without seeing a charming lighthouse and Acadia delivers. Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is a pretty lighthouse and a great place to watch the sunset.
To visit Acadia, you’ll want to stay in the nearby town of Bar Harbor. Pick a cute bed and breakfast as your base—there are plenty!
Acadia is beautiful year-round, but try visiting in the fall to get the New England fall colors. You won’t regret it.
Ale from Sea Salt and Fog
Check out this great Acadia National Park self-driving tour!
Arches National Park, Utah
Arches National Park in eastern Utah is one of the most popular and unique national parks in the United States. Home to more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, the desert park is a wonder of picturesque red-rock formations.
Hiking to Delicate Arch is a must for anyone visiting this Utah park. It’s depicted on the Utah license plate and the interstate signs welcoming guests to the Beehive State. The towering Delicate Arch stands roughly 50 feet tall and has become one of the most recognized geological features in the world.
Other popular hikes within the park include Balanced Rock, The Windows, Double Arches, and Landscape Arch, one of the world’s longest natural arches. Its span would stretch more than the length of an American football field.
For an ideal experience at Arches National Park, plan your visit in either late spring or early fall, when the temperatures are optimal. Arches is located just 20 minutes north of the town of Moab. As a national park gateway town, Moab has plenty of great restaurants and hotels.
If visiting Moab with kids, plan to stay at the Springhill Suites by Marriott. It has an incredible pool with waterfalls, grottos, and spray features perfect for cooling down after a day of vigorous hiking and exploring. Moab is nearly equidistant from both Arches and Canyonlands, making it an excellent base for visiting both parks.
Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands National Park is one of the most unique of all of the national parks and it’s one of the most popular parks in South Dakota. This ruggedly beautiful area was etched by water erosion half a million years ago. You almost feel like you’re stepping back through time when you enjoy what nature created for us.
The badlands are very distinctive from the grassy plains covering most of the state and the pine-topped mountains to the west in the Black Hills. Half of the park belongs to the Oglala Lakota Nation, and it’s the 8th-largest Native American Indian Reservation in the country.
Dawn and dusk are the best times of day to visit the park as the rocks pick up the most breathtaking colors. Hiking is popular in the park and there are a number of trails. Some of the more popular are Window Trail, Notch Trail, Medicine Trail, and Castle Trail. Or, drive the Loop Road that runs through the park to take in the views.
The Cedar Pass Lodge is the only accommodations available in the park with cabins. You can also camp or RV there, or there’s some limited camping available at Sage Creek Campground for free. There are a couple of modest motels nearby. Or, you can stay in Rapid City for more variety, just an hour away.
Visiting the Badlands is one of the most popular things to do in South Dakota and something you won’t want to miss.
Sam from My Flying Leap
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
When you look out from a viewpoint overlooking Bryce Canyon, you’ll know why this park in Utah is one of the top national parks in the U.S. The colorful columns of stone, called hoodoos, look like pink and white sandcastles poured into a canyon. Weathering, erosion, and refreezing erodes canyon walls into windows in the rock and then into the distinctive sculpted hoodoos.
Bryce is on an elevated plateau, so it tends to be chillier than other Utah national parks. Visit in the spring and fall for the most pleasant temperatures. Winter is a popular time to see the beauty of the hoodoos covered in snow.
Hiking or horseback riding into Bryce Canyon will bring you up close to the rock formations. The popular Navajo Loop descends by the Two Bridges Trail and climbs out on the switchbacks of Wall Street. Add the Peekaboo Loop Trail for a 5-mile ramble through majestic rock spires and fins.
Those with less time will enjoy a walk along the rim to see the different vistas from the many viewpoints. Other activities near Bryce include ATV rides, fishing, mountain biking, and canyoneering.
Make sure to use the free shuttle to get around Bryce as it will save the hassle of finding a parking place at the popular viewpoints.
Camping is available in the park as well as surrounding towns. The nearby town of Tropic has several places and you can enjoy staying in a Western-styled log cabin.
Karen from Outdoor Adventure Sampler
Check out this 3-hour sightseeing tour of Bryce National Park.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Crater Lake is one of the smaller National Parks in the U.S. but it sure does pack a punch! This stunning clear blue lake, created from an ancient volcano, is the deepest lake in the country.
The most popular activity is driving the Rim Road and stopping to take advantage of the numerous hikes and overlooks. This 33-mile road circles the lake along the upper rim, with incredible vistas from every angle looking down into the crater. The water is an almost unreal color of blue, since it is the clearest lake in the world!
Crater Lake can be visited in one day if you just stay on the Rim Road. Those looking to stay longer can find plenty of things to do. Fantastic activities include endless hiking trails, biking the rim, taking a boat out to Wizard Island in the middle of the lake. Or, if you’re brave enough to visit in winter, snowshoeing and skiing. For kids, there’s a great Junior Ranger program.
Start your day at the Visitor Center to catch a fascinating film about how Crater Lake was created. Talk to the rangers to find out more information on hiking trails and other activities. Make sure to plan your trip according to the season—much of the Rim Road is closed in winter. The boat to Wizard Island doesn’t start running until July.
Crater Lake National Park has its own campgrounds, cabins and lodges that should be reserved well in advance. Most of them open in May or June. There are also hotels, including budget options, in some of the surrounding towns like Klamath Falls and Chiloquin.
Julie from Family Travel Lifestyle
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
Exploring Ohio’s national park is an unexpected pleasure! Cuyahoga Valley National Park is just 30 minutes outside of Cleveland, OH, and features the restored Cuyahoga River.
This area was once an industrial corridor and the river was so polluted it caught on fire. Yikes! But with the rise of railroads, the river and canal fell out of use for industrial purposes and were cleaned up and restored to their beautiful natural state. Yay!
The park’s most famous feature is Ohio’s tallest waterfall: Brandywine Falls. You don’t even have to hike to get to this waterfall. A wooden boardwalk with some stairs leads from the parking lot to the observation deck at the falls.
There is no bad season to visit the falls! The flow isn’t dependent on snowmelt or rainfall, so you will never be left disappointed by just a trickle.
Ranger talks and demonstrations teach the river’s history and demonstrate how canal locks work. Go kayaking in the summer! A scenic railroad and canal towpath trail both run parallel to the river for unique views, whether you bike, walk, run, or ride the train.
Several hiking trails explore meadows, forests, waterfalls, and sandstone cliffs. Visit in the fall for leaf peeping! Got a full 24 hours available? Don’t miss these 6 awesome sights for your first visit to Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The park is equidistant between Cleveland and Akron. If you like hotels, stay near one of the cities. If you like bed and breakfasts, many of the surrounding smaller towns have cozy options!
Rachel from Means to Explore
Death Valley National Park, Nevada
Extraordinary Death Valley is one of the top National Parks in the U.S. and one of the most unique places on Earth.
Death Valley is known as the hottest place on Earth. Besides that, Death Valley is the lowest place in North America and the driest place in the U.S. So, visiting spectacular Death Valley National Park once-in-a-lifetime is a must for all nature lovers.
The best season to visit Death Valley is winter for the most pleasant temperatures. And, visiting Death Valley in the spring during desert wildflower super bloom is a magical event.
The easiest way to visit Death Valley is from Las Vegas, since Las Vegas McCarren Airport is the nearest airport to Death Valley. Hit the road from Las Vegas and visit the incredible Death Valley from Las Vegas!
There are so many amazing things to do in marvelous Death Valley. Head to Badwater Basin to see the lowest place in North America. Afterward, go to Devil’s Golf Course and drive along Artist’s Drive to appreciate the colorful Artist Palette.
If you like mysteries, head to Racetrack Playa to see mysterious sailing rocks. For some adventure, try not to get lost on sandy Mesquite Sand Dunes. Hike Dante’s vista point for the most impressive views of the valley, and explore the trails of the Golden Canyon early in the morning to escape the heat. Don’t skip the volcanic Ubehebe crater or famed Zabriskie Point!
Extraordinary places like Death Valley deserve extraordinary accommodations. Therefore, spoil yourself with a 5-star stay in The Inn at Death Valley. Pamper yourself with a glass of champagne under the starry sky overlooking Death Valley!
Milijana from World Travel Connector
Check out this Death Valley National Park Full-Day Tour from Las Vegas!
Everglades National Park, Florida
Among the top national parks in the U.S. is Everglades National Park in Florida. This sub-tropical wilderness is so unique that there is nothing else like it in the world.
The Everglades are formed by a system of watersheds that begin in central Florida and flow all the way to the southern tip of the peninsula emptying into the waters of the Ten Thousand Islands. This wilderness habitat has animals, plants, and insects found nowhere else in the US making it excellent for nature lovers to visit.
There are hiking trails, many of which are boardwalks above the water in a flooded stand of bald cypress. Or go paddling with a kayak or canoe rental. And for an adrenalin rush, there are always guided airboat tours.
Depending on what you’d like to experience, schedule your trip during one of only two seasons here – winter is dry and mild, and summer is wet and hot. Winter appeals to hikers when many trails are no longer underwater.
For wildlife lovers, however, summer is best when it’s the wettest and greenest. This means you’ll see more manatees, orchids, numerous bird species, and the ever-popular Everglades alligators.
The park extends from Naples to Miami, so finding a place to stay is easy in either city. For a bit of adventure, there is camping in the Park at several good campgrounds. Definitely visit Shark Valley and take the guided tram ride to see the Everglades close up.
Depending on your mode of transportation the entrance fees range from $15-30 USD and it’s good for 7 days
Lori from Naples Florida Travel Guide
Glacier National Park, Montana
It’s easy to understand why Glacier National Park is at the top of many travelers’ bucket lists. From icy alpine lakes to rugged, rocky mountain tops, the park’s beauty is unparalleled. The best way to see the Glacier’s landscape is on a hike or a scenic drive.
The best hikes in the park include the Highline Trail, Grinnell Glacier Trail, and the Iceberg Lake Trail. If you’re looking for more family-friendly hikes, try hiking Trail of the Cedars or St. Mary Falls.
One of the United States’ most famous scenic drives is found in Glacier National Park: Going-to-the-Sun Road. This epic scenic drive cuts across the park, crossing the Continental Divide. It’s a must for every Glacier National Park itinerary.
The best time of year to visit Glacier National Park is from late June to early September. Much of the park is closed due to heavy snowfall the rest of the year. The main road through the park, Going-to-the-Sun Road, doesn’t usually open until late June each year.
The best places to stay in Glacier National Park are at the Many Glacier or Swiftcurrent Lodges in Many Glacier or at the Rising Sun Motor Inn in St. Mary. If you’re looking to stay outside the park, look for a spot on the east side in the towns of St. Mary or Babb just outside the park.
Julia Jennings from Well Planned Journey
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Who hasn’t heard of the Grand Canyon? It’s one of the best-known and most heavily traveled national parks in the country as well as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Grand Canyon is visited by people from all over the globe, and for good reason! It’s one of the most popular road trips from Phoenix.
There are many hiking trails leading into the canyon. Not everyone can handle the difficulty of hiking into the canyon and there is a fairly level Rim Trail on the South Rim. You can take in the incredible views from this pathway overlooking the canyon.
Some of the most epic hikes takes you to the base of the canyon to the Colorado River where you can stay overnight at Phantom Ranch. For those who are fit enough to hike to the river, the Bright Angel Trail or the South Rim Trail will take you there.
If you’re feeling especially daring, head to the Grand Canyon West Skywalk to walk on a glass-bottomed pathway directly over the canyon. Or, to avoid the largest crowds, head to the North Rum.
The summer is the most popular time to visit the Grand Canyon as the weather is the most beautiful. However, if you want to avoid the largest crowds or hike, go during the shoulder season from April to May or September to October.
The El Tovar Hotel is a wonderful option next to the South Rim. It’ a grand old historic hotel and very quaint. For more affordable options, there are hotels in Grand Canyon Village nearby or go to Flagstaff, around an hour away.
Sam from My Flying Leap
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Due to its proximity to Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park is often overlooked. But its spectacular mountain vistas should not be skipped on a visit to northwestern Wyoming.
Within the park, the Grand Teton range rises dramatically seemingly out of nowhere, which makes for some of the most stunning mountain scenery anywhere. Some of the best views can be found along the shores of Jackson Lake. It’s a natural mountain lake that was enlarged by a dam where mirror-like reflections of the peaks can frequently be seen in its calm waters.
Because most of the visitor areas are to the east of the mountains, the best viewing is in the morning before the sun gets high in the sky and shadows start to increase.
Hitting one of the many Grand Teton hiking trails is one of the top activities. Scenic drives, wildlife spotting, and boating are other popular things to do in the park. Trails range from easy lakeside strolls to strenuous treks deep into the backcountry or to mountain summits. Bears and moose are two of the most frequently spotted animals, and areas like Oxbow Bend are prime spots to keep a lookout for them.
Many visitors stay in nearby Jackson Hole, which features a small airport and plenty of dining and lodging. There are also several campgrounds and lodges within the national park. These book up quickly and should be reserved as far in advance as possible.
Kris from Nomad by Trade
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the entire country, covering eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. Made up of over 500,000 acres of public land, this park offers several waterfalls, history, and panoramic mountain views for visitors whether they are on foot or driving.
Most of the park is accessible year-round. Visiting the Smokies in June allows you to enjoy the famous azalea and rhododendron blooms while avoiding the worst heat and crowds. June is warm enough to splash in the creeks or find a waterfall swimming hole but still has cool breezes at night.
There are multiple gateway cities to the park so choose your activities first and then pick a place to stay. Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, TN is the busiest region with many typical tourist attractions in addition to the park. Townsend, TN and Cherokee, NC have a quieter vibe. The only lodging available in the park are campgrounds.
All visitors should cruise the famous Cade’s Cove loop to spot wildlife and soak up some local history. Walk up the steep Clingman’s Dome viewing tower for stunning long range views, and choose a waterfall hike to explore in the lush, mossy woods.
If you want to try Cade’s Cove without the traffic, double-check the official NPS website and visit on one of their “no car” mornings. Bicyclists and hikers can walk on the road and explore at leisure before the lines of vehicles begin.
Check out this list of things not to miss in Smoky Mountains National Park before you go!
Stephanie from Explore More Clean Less
Haleakala National Park, Hawai’i
Maui’s Haleakala National Park is one of the top national parks in the U.S. From its desert-like volcano summit to lush rainforests lining the mountain slopes, Haleakala’s unique beauty is unmatched.
One of the most popular things to do in Haleakala National Park is to watch the sunrise from the summit of the dormant Haleakala volcano. At 10,000 feet, you’ll be above the clouds as the sun fills the sky with golden light. It’s breathtaking!
Sunrise reservations are $1.50 and are capped at 50 cars per day, so be sure to make your reservation far in advance. If you can’t get a spot, sunset is nice as well!
Another popular activity is to hike the Pipiwai Trail. This 4-mile out-and-back trail is located on the eastern side of the park and will take you past a giant banyan tree, through a bamboo forest, and end at a spectacular 400-foot waterfall!
Maui’s climate is quite temperate, so the weather will be good year-round to visit Haleakala. To avoid the crowds, visit during shoulder season (the spring and fall).
You can stay anywhere on the island and be reasonably close to the Haleakala entrance. Upcountry Maui will be closest and is full of rental homes or local hotels. There is also some limited camping inside the park.
Jen from Glasses and Boarding Passes
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai’i
One of the most unique national parks to visit in Hawai’i is Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park located on the Big Island of Hawai’i. The park is open year-round. It’s easy to visit any time of the year but typically the park is best to visit during the short shoulder seasons. These run after summertime from September to October and short spring from April to May timeframe.
You can get to the national park from either Hilo side or Kona side as a day trip. Though, it’s easier to stay longer at Volcano village where you’re allowed a 7-day entrance to the park. You can explore, do more hikes and even see the live lava from the main caldera at night time. It shoots into the dark skies and mixes with steam plumes to create a visual show more vivid at night.
Popular attractions to visit at the park include the visitor center, any of the caldera viewing areas, and hiking the popular rim trails. You can visit the cool Thurston Lava tube, drive the chain of craters road, and even view the impressive petroglyphs to the largest field of ancient petroglyphs in Hawai’i.
There’s plenty to see and do in the park and an overnight stay will allow you to explore more of the beautiful landscape around the park. If you are visiting the east side of the island in more detail, check out my post on visiting Hilo and popular attractions in East Hawai’i he for more inspiration to visiting the Big Island.
Noel from This Hawaii Life
Joshua Tree National Park, California
Joshua Tree National Park is widely known for its unique landscapes and otherworldly views. It is an intersection of the Mojave desert and the Colorado desert. Home to the distinct Joshua trees, this national park is one of the world’s most amazing places to see a plethora of unique desert flora and wildlife.
Many outdoor enthusiasts visit Joshua Tree National Park throughout the year. Access to many hiking trails and rock climbing through numerous boulders and rock formations are top reasons.
The aptly named Arch Rock and Skull Rock are outstanding rock formations that can be reached through easy hikes. Gazing at the stunning starry sky while spotting shooting stars and the Milky Way in the night is an extraordinary experience for the park’s visitors.
For a mesmerizing sunrise, visit the Cholla Cactus Garden. Hundreds of cacti glow in the light of the sun’s rays to form a prosperous sight. For enchanting sunset views, make your way to Keys View.
This highest elevation point in Joshua Tree National Park unfolds beautiful panoramic views of the desert, Palm Springs, Salton Sea, Coachella Valley, and San Andreas Fault. The Barker Dam and Hidden Valley are other picturesque places in the national park.
Although Joshua Tree National Park is incredible any time of the year, it is best visited during the spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom. Pick a camping spot at one of the many campgrounds in Joshua Tree National Park to make the most out of your trip.
Anjali from Cheerful Trails
Check out this Joshua Tree National Park driving tour!
Mount Ranier National Park, Washington
Mount Rainier National Park, in western Washington state, is home to the stunning eponymous mountain. It stands at 14,410 feet tall, and the surrounding rolling hills and valleys are covered with technicolor wildflowers.
The best way to explore the park is by lacing up your hiking boots. One of the best trails in Mount Rainier is the Skyline Loop Trail, which provides hikers an eye-level view of Rainier and sweeping vistas of those famous fields of wildflowers. Mount Fremont Lookout Trail leads to a historic fire lookout overlooking the mountain. Burroughs Mountain Trail provides the best avenue for hikers who aren’t summiting Rainier to get as close to the top as possible.
If these hikes sound up your alley, you should plan your visit mid-summer through early fall (mid-July through early October). Otherwise, the trails will likely be covered in snow! That being said, summertime is quite busy in the park, especially on weekends. If you can swing it, it’s best to arrive very early in Rainier to ensure you can snag a parking spot. This way you get to enjoy the mountain, in all its glory, without the crowds.
If you’re looking for a good base camp for your visit to Rainier, check out the Paradise Inn. It’s located in the park’s southernmost (and most aptly named) area, Paradise. From here, you’ll have glorious views of the mountain from this historic alpine lodge. And, you’ll be steps away from some of the best trails in the park!
Jessica Schmit from Uprooted Traveler
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia
Located in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is the newest national park in the US. Elevated to national park status in December 2020, the New River Gorge has long been a popular spot for outdoor lovers in the West Virginia mountains. But you might not know it judging by the fact that many people have never heard of this place.
The New River is one of the oldest rivers in the entire world. It began carving out the New River Gorge before the dinosaurs even existed! And this new national park celebrates both the geological and human history of the area.
The top things to do at New River Gorge National Park include outdoor adventures like whitewater rafting, hiking (the Endless Wall and Long Point trails are two of the most popular), mountain biking, rock climbing, zip-lining, and fishing. There are also some scenic drives and viewpoints to enjoy.
Definitely don’t miss the horseshoe bend view at Grandview. Also, there’s, coal mining history to learn about, and the New River Gorge Bridge to marvel at. It is still one of the longest single-arch bridges in the world.
The best times to visit the New River Gorge are late spring through the fall, though be aware that summer is hot and humid here!
You can camp for free at several campsites within the national park, or look for cabin rentals in the surrounding areas. Fayetteville is a little town close to the New River Gorge Bridge and one of the park’s visitor centers that has some cute rentals and lots of great local places to grab a meal.
Amanda from A Dangerous Business Travel Blog
Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park has over 900,000 acres of varied landscape, making it a real gem of the Pacific Northwest, as well as the most popular National Park in Washington.
The best time to visit Olympic National Park is during the summer months. You will be welcomed with warmer weather, a fully open park, and all programs running.
The Hoh Rainforest, recognized as a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, is a breathtaking must-see.
There are also plenty of tide pooling opportunities along the coastline’s many beaches. One of the most popular beaches is Ruby Beach, named for the ruby-like crystals that can be found in the sand. It is also well known for the crazy amount of driftwood piled along the beach, and sea stacks.
Hiking is another popular reason to visit the park. The Sol Duc Falls Nature Trail is one of the easiest hiking trails, and only 1.6miles to see a popular waterfall. One of the most visited areas of the park, Hurricane Ridge, also offers a variety of trails.
The most popular trails include Big Meadow Trail, Cirque Rim Trail, and High Ridge Trail. All are suitable for hikers of all fitness levels. Time it right and you will see gorgeous wildflowers in the sub-alpine meadows.
One of the popular lodges to stay at within the park is Kalaloch Lodge. It is located right off Kalaloch beach and near the famous Tree Root Cave. Camping is also available at the Kalaloch Campground.
Debbie from World Adventurists
Check out this Olympic National Park small-group tour!
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Home to the American Rockies and some of the most active wildlife is Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The best time of year to visit the park is in the summertime when the beautiful Trail Ridge Road is open between late May/early June and until late October.
Along the Trail Ridge Road are numerous hikes that weave through the summits of the Rockies showing off the unique flora and fauna that frequent the alpine. Guided tours leave from the nearby Alpine Visitor’s Center. During the summer months, the peaks of the Rockies are still covered in snow giving visitors the chance to have a snowball fight in July.
To get away from the crowds, consider hiking Lake Sprague, near the very popular Bear Lake. Lake Sprague is a peaceful and easy hike for beginner hikers. Visitors might even get a chance to spot a mama moose and her calf snacking on their greens.
Camping in RMNP is the best way to enjoy the park and experience all the wildlife. It is possible to get a campsite without reservations in the park if visitors arrive early to scout out the best spots. In the morning, the elk bulges will wake up campers as they graze in a nearby meadow.
For those who aren’t keen on camping, nearby ski resort towns Estes Park or Granby offer excellent lodges and hotels. Estes Park is also home to the Stanley Hotel, made famous by Stephen King’s novel and film “The Shining.”
Martha from Quirky Globetrotter
Sequoia National Park, California
Sequoia National Park is one of the best national parks to visit in the US. 84% of this national park is designated wilderness, which means it’s not accessible by car. The best way to explore this park is through hiking and backpacking.
During the summer months and early fall months (July – September), the entire park is open. The trails are generally snow-free and the weather is mild, making it perfect for hiking, backpacking, and camping. If you’re looking for a winter adventure, January through March is the best time to visit. In the winter months, most of the park is closed, but it’s perfect for snow hiking and snowshoeing.
The High Sierra Trail is 72 miles long. It runs from Crescent Meadows inside the park to the west to Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states at 15,505 feet. It makes for an adventurous backpacking trip.
If you’re looking for a more challenging day hike, explore Alta Peak. It’s a 14-mile round-trip hike with around 3,900 feet of elevation gain. It’s a long day hike, or can be done as a backpacking trip. It offers stunning views of the Great Western Divide.
If you’re looking for an easier hike, check out Little Baldy which is around 3 miles, or Tokopah Falls which is around 4 miles round trip. For an even easier day hike, explore General Sherman Tree and the Congress Trail.
The best place to stay in Sequoia is by camping. There are 14 campgrounds inside of the park, and you can read more about each one and where it’s located here.
You can also stay in a hotel inside the park. Inside the Sequoia National Park, there is the Wuksachi Lodge, the John Muir Lodge, Grant Grove Cabins, and Cedar Grove Lodge.
If you’re unable to find a hotel or a lodge inside of the park, you also have the option of staying in Three Rivers which is a small town around 1.5 hours outside of Sequoia National Park.
Jenny from Limitless Hiker
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
White Sands National Park is such a unique national park to visit. Established as a national park in 2019, it is one of the newer additions to the top national parks in the United States. The park is composed of 145,762 acres of white sand that is made of gypsum crystals, thus giving it the white look. It is easy to spend a day exploring what the park has to offer.
The best time of year to visit White Sands National Park is in the spring or fall. Winters tend to be very cold and summers get very hot!
The closest town to White Sands National Park is Alamogordo. It is about a 15-minute drive to the park from there. You could also opt to stay in Las Cruces or Ruidoso Downs which are about an hour’s drive from the park. The Hampton Inns in all of these places were great values and a decent hotel option.
The most strenuous and popular trail in the park is the Alkali Flats Trail. This 5-mile loop trail goes up and down the sand dunes and provides you with fabulous picture opportunities. Other hiking options include the Dune Life Nature Trail, the Backcountry Camping Trail, the Interdune Boardwalk, and the Playa Trail.
Make sure not to miss sledding down the sand dunes! You can bring a sled with you or rent one from the Visitor Center.
Francesca from Homeroom Travel
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park is famous for having an extraordinary collection of vivid hot springs, fumaroles, and geysers. Located on top of a supervolcano, the park is broiling with amazing geothermal sights.
When building an itinerary for Yellowstone, you’ll want to include a hike up to Fairy Falls with a detour to see Grand Prismatic Hot Spring, the 3rd largest hot spring in the world. While it’s best to start early to avoid crowds in Yellowstone, Grand Prismatic is the one place in the park you’ll want to see at midday when the sun is directly over the hot spring. If you go too early in the morning, the steam might cover the entire spring.
Other highlights of the park include Upper Geyser Basin Loop, Old Faithful Geyser, and hiking the rim of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Also, driving through the Hayden or Lamar Valley to try your hand at spotting bison, bears, or wolves.
Yellowstone is a massive park that spans three states. To optimize your time, it’s best to stay within the park at Canyon Lodge. However, hotels in the park book out a year in advance and can be pretty expensive. A budget option is to find a home rental in West Yellowstone, Montana, outside the west entrance to Yellowstone.
The park is best enjoyed from June to September, with the high tourist time being July and August. Because of its high elevation, a snowstorm can come through Yellowstone as early as September. While the park is gorgeous in September and wonderfully less crowded, the weather will be cooler, and rain or snow is always a possibility.
Christina from Live A Wilder Life
Check out this Yellowstone tour from Jackson, Wyoming to see Old Faithful, the Lower Loop, and lots of wildlife!
Yosemite National Park, California
In the heart of the Sierra mountains lies the awe-inspiring Yosemite National Park. It’s a wonderland of granite cliffs, thundering waterfalls, and thriving wildlife.
Visitors will inevitably find themselves overwhelmed by the variety of scenic vistas, natural features, and hidden gems available to discover. Among them, the most popular include the iconic Tunnel View Overlook, Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Yosemite Falls, and Valley View.
If you’re an active hiker looking for a challenge, consider hiking to the top of Half Dome or Four Mile Trail for unbeatable bird’s-eye-views. If you’re not physically fit for such endeavors, there are incredible options with no walking required. These include Tunnel View, Valley View, and throughout the Yosemite Valley loop.
There is no one “best time” to visit Yosemite, but February, May, and October are considered the best months in general. Access will be limited in February, but visitors will enjoy smaller crowds and the seasonal miracle known as Yosemite Firefall. May is when the roads and trails open up and spring wildflowers come to bloom. October begins to see thinning crowds and fall colors.
If you’re lucky enough to snag a campsite at Upper or Lower Pines Campground, this is the most central location. However, the town of El Portal will be the closest option for most.
Pro Tip: If you happen to be there when the moon is full or close to it, be sure to visit Upper Yosemite Falls at night to witness the rare and majestic “moon bow.”
Sophie and Adam from We Dream of Travel
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park in southern Utah is a treasure in the U.S. national park system. While it’s more compact than some of the larger parks, there’s no better place to enjoy the unique geology that exists in this region. Towering granite cliffs in pink and orange sandstone stand sentry over the narrow slot canyon. The pristine Virgin River runs through it.
Zion National Park is truly a mecca for hikers. The best hikes in Zion range from easy ambles like the Riverside Walk Trail and the shared use Pa’rus Trail along the valley floor. There are bucket list experiences like wading through the Virgin River in The Narrows and experiencing the epic and strenuous Angels Landing Trail.
Be aware that in 2021 there is a reserve ahead policy for shuttle tickets. Since cars are not allowed in the park in summer, shuttle tickets much be purchased well ahead of visiting. No tickets are available onsite. However, one of the very best ways to see Zion is by bicycle. Consider renting a road bike, mountain bike or e-bike in nearby Springdale to skip the entrance lines.
The best time to visit Zion? In spring or fall to miss the summer crowds and enjoy moderate temps without the heat. However, if hiking the Narrows is a priority, go in summer. Spring storms risk dangerous flash flooding conditions and winter is too cold.
In short, any time is a great time to visit this epic national park.
Chris from Explore Now or Never
The Top National Parks of the US are Waiting for You!
It’s hard to believe there’s this much beauty in one country, and the national parks don’t disappoint. So, are you ready to get your National Park Pass and get started exploring?
If you have been to some of these national parks, which was your favorite? It’s hard to choose, isn’t it? Name your favorites in the comments below!
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