Top 15 Best National Parks in the USA!
top 15 best national parks in the USA!
The United States is home to some of the most beautiful and diverse natural landscapes in the world, and its national parks are a testament to that. From the towering peaks of Teton National Park to the vast deserts of the Southwest, there is something for every nature lover to enjoy. In this article, we will look at the top 15 national parks in the USA, highlighting their unique features and what makes them so special.
1. Yellowstone National park
Located primarily in Wyoming, the park extends into Montana and Idaho. The park is home to the famous Old Faithful geyser, which erupts every 90 minutes, and the colorful Grand Prismatic Spring. Visitors can also take in the awe-inspiring views of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, go hiking in the park’s backcountry, and spot a wide variety of wildlife. Here you can find bison, elk, and grizzly bears.
We had to put Yellowstone national park as our number 1 because we have a special connection with this place. Not only did we live nearby at one point, but we have done a lot of work at this National Park. We know the ins and out’s of this place like the back of our hand. We wrote an article about Yellowstone National Park Entrances that you can check out. Prepare yourself for beauty like you have never seen before. A grand canyon, hot geysers, bright colors at grand prismatic, a majestic waterfall, and so much more. Yellowstone has it all.
How Long do you need at Yellowstone National Park?
Your Yellowstone National Park trip should include 1 day of driving around and exploring 1 day of whitewater rafting, and as many hiking and fishing days as you want. For every national park, your first day should be a light exploration and drive-around day. This will help you understand what you want to do while you are there.
Yellowstone is very famous. This means many tours and tourists will be there during peak summer months. Get up early and get ahead of the crowds. The views are so much better when there are fewer people. Also, do not be scared of a rainy day. My first trip to Yellowstone was on a rainy day, which was great for crowd control.
2.Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is famous for its spectacular granite cliffs and waterfalls in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. The park’s most prominent feature is El Capitan, a 3,000-foot granite monolith that attracts rock climbers worldwide. Visitors can also take in the stunning views from Glacier Point, hike to the top of Half Dome, and see the iconic Yosemite Falls. The park is also home to diverse wildlife, including black bears, mountain lions, and mule deer.
I am a rock climber, so when I think of Yosemite National Park, I think of Alex Honnolds Free Solo of El Capitan. This man climbs all the way up this cliffside without a rope. You do not have to do that to enjoy your trip to Yosemite, but this National Park has some of the best rock climbing routes, and I recommend a guide and seeing Yosemite from a harness hanging off the side of a cliff.
Rock climbing is not for everyone, so fear not. Yosemite is beautiful, no matter how you view it. Just make sure you do not visit without seeing El Capitan at sunrise. The morning sun hitting the top of the Dome is iconic.
3.Grand Canyon National Park
Located in Arizona, the Grand Canyon is a world wonder. The park’s main attraction is the Grand Canyon itself, a massive gorge carved by the Colorado River over millions of years. Visitors can take in the views from the South Rim, hike down to the bottom of the canyon, or take a helicopter tour for a truly breathtaking experience. The park is also home to various wildlife, including bighorn sheep, mule deer, and mountain lions.
Arizona was my home for 16 years, so I have a special connection to this state. I visited the Grand Canyon many times but was too young to make any overnight backpacking trips. I still have fond memories of seeing the massive Raven birds that guard the parking lots and the dramatic cliff edges.
When I return to the Grand Canyon, it will be to hike the Rim to Rim 23 miles backpacking trip. Many different backpacking trips range in the distance. You also can take a short hike down the canyon. When I was younger, we would just do the crazy switchbacks at the start that quickly take you from the top to the bottom of the canyon. That was enough for my little legs.
4. Zoin National Park
Located in southern Utah, Zion is known for its towering sandstone cliffs and narrow canyons. The park’s most notable feature is Zion Canyon, a massive gorge visitors can explore by hiking, biking, or taking a scenic drive. The park is also home to various unique rock formations, including the famous Checkerboard Mesa and the Great White Throne. Visitors can also spot a wide variety of wildlife, including mountain lions, bighorn sheep, and mule deer.
My NordicTrack bike takes me through Zion National Park from the perspective of a bike, and it is excellent motivation for me because I want to be able to actually bike these trails one day. At this point, I have only driven through the park without stopping, but two of my ultimate bucket list hikes are at this park.
The first iconic hike is Angles Landing. This hike will take you up a cliff by hanging onto a metal chain hooked into the mountain. This 5-hour hike is best to do as early as possible in the morning because it is very popular, and the trail will get crowded as the day goes on. Definitely not a hike for those that do not enjoy heights.
The second hike I want to do is called the Narrows. This is a hike where you walk through a winding shallow stream. Remember your Chacos or water shoes for this one.
5.Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is known for its unique hoodoo rock formations and colorful rock layers in southern Utah. The park’s main attraction is the Bryce Amphitheater, a massive canyon filled with thousands of hoodoos (tall, thin spires of rock). Visitors can take in the views from the canyon’s rim, hike down into the canyon, or take a scenic drive through the park. The park is also home to various wildlife, including bighorn sheep, mule deer, and mountain lions.
Bryce Canyon is easily identified by its 50 shades of orange and unique structures. Bryce Canyon is made up of sedimentary rock, meaning that billions of layers of sediment, like sand and rocks, have been smushed together by immense pressure, probably a glacier or a body of water. After that, the pressure disappeared, and over time as rain fell, the water broke away chunks of sand and slowly formed these unique structures you see in Bryce Canyon. Eventually, the colors underneath the surface were revealed.
Bryce Canyon is a fun day trip if you are in southern Utah. Southern Utah is packed with national parks, including arches, Moab, Zion, etc. If I had 2 or more weeks, I would hit all these places.
6. Rocky Mountain National Park
In Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its towering peaks and alpine meadows. The park’s main attraction is the Continental Divide, a massive mountain range that separates North America’s eastern and western regions. Visitors can take in the views from the top of the peaks, hike through the alpine meadows, or spot a wide variety of wildlife, including elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions.
We always go to Rocky Mountain National Park for work, which never stops being jaw-droppingly beautiful. We typically are headed for Grand Lake, a city outside the park. This park is full of dramatic mountains and lush forests. Unlike the southern Utah National Parks, the Rocky Mountains National Park has massive grey and snow-topped mountains.
Like other parks, the Rocky Mountain National Park offers hiking, backpacking, scenic drives, and guided activities. The most popular activity is snowshoeing if you can handle the cold in the winter. The thick white snow that covers this National Park in the winter will only elevate your experience. Not only does the snow make things more beautiful, but there will also be much less winter tourism.
7. Acadia National Park
Located on the coast of Maine, Acadia National Park is known for its rugged coastline and picturesque mountains. The park’s main attraction is Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the Atlantic coast, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area. Visitors can also hike along the park’s many trails, including the Precipice Trail and the Jordan Pond Path, and take a boat tour to see the park’s many islands and lighthouses. The park is also home to various wildlife, including moose, black bears, and eagles.
At Arcadia National Park, you get to the beach and forest, meeting together in one place. We have yet to go to this park, but it is on our bucket list. One thing we want to do when we go is a boat tour like this one. This tour company says you can see whales, dolphins, seals, lobsters, and more. I would spend a day at sea trying to see sea life, deep sea fishing, and taking in the coastline view.
8. Redwood National Park
The beautiful Redwood National Park is located in Northern California. This National Park is the playground for these massive and infamous redwood trees. These trees start out the size of any other seed, and over thousands of years, they grow into giants.
Redwood National Park is massive, and you do not even have to drive all the way up to the National Park to see some big Redwood trees. We had a few short hours of free time when we were in San Francisco for work and we wanted to see the Redwood trees but we did not have enough time to drive all the way up to the National Park. Instead, we went to the Redwood Forest state park, and we were able to see trees big enough to fit cars.
I would much rather have gone up to the national park and driven through the redwood tree that has grown over the road, but if you are in San Francisco with limited time, this is a great option.
9. Glacier National Park
Located in Montana, Glacier National Park is known for its stunning glaciers, alpine meadows, and towering peaks. The park’s main attraction is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, a scenic drive that takes visitors through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the park. Visitors can also hike along the park’s many trails, including the Highline Trail and the Iceberg Lake Trail, and spot a wide variety of wildlife, including mountain goats, bighorn sheep, and grizzly bears.
Glacier National Park is one of the least visited National Parks. This is not because it is a lesser park, but because it is harder and more expensive to get to. Glacier National Park has the most dramatic mountain peaks that sit next to crystal-clear lakes. The most popular site is Lake McDonald because its waters are clear, and it has iconic colorful rocks along the shore.
If you are interested in Biking at Glacier National Park, you want to take advantage of the opportunity to bike the going to the sun road before cars are let on it when the park opens for the season. No vehicles are allowed during the spring, so it will be just you and other bicyclists. This is a bucket list item for me, but I want to get much better at biking before I take on such an intense trail. The going to the sun road is waiting for you. Be prepared for a tight and windy road that is sandwiched between the cliff edge and the steep mountains of Glacier National Park.
10. Grand Teton National Park
In Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is known for its towering peaks, alpine meadows, and sparkling lakes. The park’s main attraction is the Teton Range, a massive mountain range that includes the Grand Teton, the park’s highest peak. Visitors can take in the views from the top of the cliffs, hike through the alpine meadows, or spot a wide variety of wildlife, including elk, bighorn sheep, and moose.
You cannot visit the Teton National Park without also visiting Yellowstone. These parks neighbor each other so closely that the Yellowstone south exit is the north entrance for the Teton National Park. They often get thrown together on lists, but I wanted to separate them because the Tetons have a lot to offer an adventurer like yourself.
First, you should drive around the park. Depending on traffic and animal crossings, this will only take an hour or so. Next, you should hike on one of the many trails. Find one that fits your timeline and fitness level. The backpacking trail I want to do one day requires a permit and is called the Teton Crest Trail. This is a 40-mile trail that marches you along all the infamous peaks of the Tetons. For a day trip, I recommend Jenny Lake. Here you can hike, take boat tours, and relax by the water.
11. Everglades National Park
The Everglades is the most unique national park. They are not famous because they have dramatic mountain ranges or crystal clear lakes. The Everglades are an explosive ecosystem of wildlife, from birds to alligators. Unlike the rock features at other parks, the Everglades National Park is a Wetland. This place might seem like water and trees, but it is much more.
When you visit the Everglades National Park, you enter a world of adventure and wildlife. The best time to visit this National Park is during the wet season, May through November. During this time, you can take an airboat and explore the Everglades on a boat safari.
12. Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is one of the many beautiful mountain ranges in northwestern Washington. Like Arcadia National Park, Olympic National Park is where the forest meets the ocean. This National Park has the most beautifully dark trees with bright green leaves. There is something unique about the green and brown moss that grows all over the trees in Olympic National Park. When you drive around this National Park in the summer, you enter a pristine temperate rainforest. In the winter, get ready for some snow. An ideal trip to Olympic National Park would include beaches, hiking, large lakes, and scenic drives.
13. Big Bend National Park
Located in southern Texas, Big Bend National Park is known for its rugged mountains and expansive deserts. The park’s main attraction is the Chisos Mountains, a massive mountain range home to various unique plants and animals. Visitors can also explore the park’s many other mountains and deserts, including the Santa Elena Canyon and the Boquillas Canyon, and hike along the park’s many trails, including the South Rim Trail and the Lost Mine Trail.
The desert landscape of Big Bend National Park may seem dull compared to the mountains. Coming from someone who lived in Arizona most of their life, the desert is anything but boring. Enjoy the dry heat of the desert from a kayak as you paddle down the steep Big Bend Canyon. This will give you the best view of the canyon walls. This also will be the most extraordinary way as the water will keep you cool and the Shade provided by the stone walls will cover you from the sun, but remember a hat.
14. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Located in Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its beautiful mountains, waterfalls, and wildflowers. The park’s main attraction is the Great Smoky Mountains themselves, a massive mountain range home to various unique plants and animals. Visitors can take in the views from the top of the peaks, hike through the lush forests, and spot a wide variety of wildlife, including black bears, deer, and wild turkeys. The park is also home to many historic sites, including the famous Cades Cove and the Mingus Mill.
Something you can do at every National Park is hiking. I love hiking, but I like to look for experiences that set a national park apart in my mind and give it a unique identity. One fantastic opportunity offered at the great smoky mountains national park is Glamping. Sleep in the park in fun canvas tents equipped with a bed, shower, meals, guides, and more. This will set your trip to the smoky mountains apart from any other hiking trip.
Some other fabulous opportunities include horseback riding tours, zip lining, fishing, train rides, and more.
15. Denali National Park
Located in Alaska, Denali National Park is known for its vast wilderness and towering peaks. The park’s main attraction is Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America and one of the most challenging climbs in the world. Visitors can take in the views from the park’s many scenic overlooks, hike through the park’s vast wilderness, and spot a wide variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, moose, and wolves. The park also offers the opportunity to see the Northern Lights during certain seasons, making it a unique and truly unforgettable experience.
What can you do besides hiking at Denali National Park?
If you are not up for the hike to the top of Mount Denali, then you still have so many options at Denali National Park. Have fun on an ATV tour. Zoom through the wilderness on an ATV. I bet you’ve never experienced that before. You can rent the gear and guide yourself or join a tour group with a professional guide.
In conclusion, the United States is home to some of the most beautiful and diverse natural landscapes in the world, and its national parks are a testament to that. There is something for every nature lover to enjoy. These 15 national parks are just a tiny sampling of the many incredible parks that the United States has to offer, and they are worth visiting many times in your life. So pack your backpack and start planning your next adventure in one of these magnificent parks.
You can find an interactive map with all national parks on the NPS site here. These are only 15 national parks out of the 63, and they deserve their shout-out because the United States is beautiful, and you should take any chance you get to explore.
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