With over 300 million visitors every year, America’s National Parks are a vast and breathtaking collection of some of the best natural and cultural wonders of the United States and should be on everyone’s USA bucket list!
From purple mountains majesty to the oceans far and wide, these parks offer the perfect opportunity for travelers to get a taste of everything that makes America such a diverse and unique country.
Through the diligent work of the National Park Service, these protected areas will remain untouched and untainted, preserved for generations past and those yet to come. No matter where you may be traveling in the United States, there is a chance that you will find a National Park nearby.
With well over 400 sites on the list of National Park sites and over 60 with the title of National Park in their title, travelers have a plethora of options to choose from when crafting their own National Park bucket list.
Overview of the National Parks
Created over a century ago, the National Park System was created by Congress to oversee and maintain all the pristine and breathtaking sights that can be found throughout the United States.
Covering a grand total of over 84 million acres of land, the National Parks are intended to not only preserve the natural, cultural and historical integrity of these protected places but also ensure the ability for people to experience them and enjoy them in an up close and personal way.
In order to be named a National Park, the area must meet all four of the following criteria; the site must be a remarkable example of a particular natural resource, it must be an incredible example of America’s natural or cultural heritage, it must offer extraordinary opportunities for recreational use or scientific study, and it must maintain the integrity of being an unspoiled example of the natural wonders of the area.
The National Parks also include open waters, historic sites, archaeological sites, marine land, waterways and other culturally significant regions all throughout the United States and most of the territories under influence of the United States.
There are so many National Parks that Delaware is the only one state in the country doesn’t contain any land designated as National Park, though the neighboring states all do so you can still find an opportunity to visit one!
Zion National Park
Utah’s first National Park, Zion is a breathtaking expanse of red rock cliffs, sweeping desert vistas and deep slot canyons.
Filled with history that spans from the settlement of indigenous peoples and the westward expansion of early American settlers, Zion is as culturally and historically diverse as it is ecologically. Hiking trails zigzag from canyon edge to base and all over the land, while shuttles make it even more accessible for everyone to enjoy.
Camping is permitted as well and knowledgeable park rangers can help lend context and understanding to the scenery and history both. When rangers aren’t available, recorded information and informational plaques help to bring the story of this National Park into clearer focus.
Yellowstone National Park is a special place and it’s not just because it is the world’s first National Park. It was recognized every early that Yellowstone was special. The Native American Tribes recognized this natural wonder and today 26 tribes have historical claims to the early. The first Europeans found the park awe-inspiring and quickly realized that this special landscape NEED to be protected.
Yellowstone is home to the world’s largest geothermal areas and some of the world’s most active geysers. There are several different geysers/geothermal basins to explore. The Upper Geyser Basin contains several predictable geysers such as Old Faithful. Old Faithful erupts every 35 to 120 minutes and can be predicted by a mathematical formula based on the previous eruptions.
Another popular basin is the Mammoth Hot Springs area. This massive area features a series of terraces that have been created by mineral deposits from the hot springs. Visitors are welcome to explore these geothermal areas via the established boardwalks.
Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley is known as the Serengeti of North America. This valley is one of the best places to see Yellowstone’s wildlife. Bison, elk, bears, and wolves are regularly seen in this area. Another popular feature is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This massive canyon is one of the park’s best waterfalls.
Yellowstone is one of the most popular national parks and the crowds can be massive. Start planning your trip to Yellowstone as soon as you can and grab a guided tour to get more out of your trip.
Yellowstone Campground and hotel reservations can be hard to get. Plan to start your day early to avoid the crowds and have a better shot at seeing the wildlife. Be prepared for traffic jams and respect the wildlife.
Jennifer Melroy, National Park Obsessed
Denali National Park
Home to America’s tallest mountain peak and over 6 million acres of unspoiled Alaskan wilderness, Denali National Park is a breathtaking natural wonderland filled with flora and fauna of all shapes and sizes.
Mountain climbers from all walks of life come to test their mettle against this massive peak and outdoor enthusiasts explore the trails that hug the one and only road that runs through the park, making backpacking in Denali a popular travel adventure.
First instated as a National Park over a hundred years ago, this section of protected land has grown in size ever since, reaching its current sprawling size over the years.
While the majority of the hiking trails are relegated to the stretches alongside the road, opportunities for off trail hiking into the deeper woods are available and local tribes and citizens are permitted to trap, hunt and fish the forests for subsistence only.
Whether you are visiting to see the massive evergreen forests, fly over the glaciers or tundras or simply marvel at the scale of the tallest peak in the United States, the sights of Denali National Park will leave you speechless and in awe.
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is a massive natural feature covering an area of well over one million acres in size. At its deepest point, it is roughly 6,000 feet from the edge of the gorge to the bottom and at its widest point, nearly 18 miles wide!
Over 6 million people visit this stunning park annually, so you will want to plan ahead for your visit to secure lodging and any tours.
You’ll find plenty of hiking, helicopter tours, whitewater rafting, sunset watching, and stargazing galore.
Acadia National Park
Don’t miss Thunder Hole, either, a natural rock formation which, during high tides, experiences intense crashing waves. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the loud “booming” sound this creates. Either way, you’ll see some impressive splashes.
Glacier Bay National Park
Located in Alaska’s Inner Passage, Glacier Bay National Park is a vast and stunning area of over 3 million acres that is made up of rugged mountains, massive glaciers, pristine fjords and temperate rainforest.
Home to a wide variety of species, from whales to grizzlies and everything in between, this National Park attracts visitors in droves. Whether you are seeking personal encounters with rare and unique wildlife, a chance to see glaciers up close or learn more about the indigenous peoples of Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park has something for everyone!
With over 40 different glaciers all connected to the Harding Ice field, the Kenai Fjords National Park beckons travelers from all over the world to this Alaskan wilderness.
Whether you wish to hike the icy terrain or kayak in the cold, wildlife teeming waters of the Fjords, you will have plenty of opportunity to immerse yourself in the breathtaking natural splendor of this truly unique and delicate ecosystem.
Whales and seals call the waters home while eagles soar overhead and bears forage the forest edge, a perfect example of the delicate balance of life that exists in the unlikely terrain.
Glacier National Park
Montana’s Glacier National Park is called the “Crown of the Continent,” and for good reason. The park is filled with turquoise lakes, cascading waterfalls, majestic mountain peaks, and yes, glittering glaciers. It also has the most diverse and well-preserved ecosystem of anywhere in the country, with animals such as grizzly bears, moose, mountain lions, and mountain goats calling the Glacier mountains home. Its beauty makes it one of the crowning jewels of the national park system.
For hikers, it’s an epic destination. That are hundreds of miles of back country trails to explore. The Highline Trail is one of the most famous in the country, offering 16 miles of unparalleled vistas. You can also hike directly to the foot of a glacier on the Grinnell Glacier Trail, or see icebergs year-round by taking the Iceberg Lake Trail.
There are plenty of ways for non-hikers to enjoy the park too. The historic red bus tours have been operating for decades and take visitors along the dizzying Going-to-the-Sun Road. You can also canoe or kayak on one of the park’s beautiful lakes, like Lake McDonald or Two Medicine Lake.
The park is actually open year-round, but the majority of people visit in the summer when the Going-to-the-Sun Road has been plowed. For a more intimate experience, consider visiting in spring or fall. The road may not be driveable, but much of the park is still accessible and you won’t have to compete with millions of other tourists.
Maggie McKneely, Pink Caddy Travelogue
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park protects a lush and ecologically diverse area in the Appalachian Mountain range on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.
Famed for black bear sightings, hiking trails and a hazy blue tint on the horizon, the ‘Smokies’ are a popular destination for nature-lovers. The nearest regional airports are in Asheville and Knoxville, both allowing easy access by car or tour into the park (around 1-hour drive time).
There are many scenic drives around Gatlinburg that incorporate the beautiful roadways through the national park, and quaint surrounding towns. The views from Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap are spectacular, and accessible for those with limited mobility.
You can also hike part of the Appalachian trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – but remember to bring your bear spray! Cades Cove is a popular spot that has a one-way scenic route around the 100-year-old cabins and mills that were once used for logging in the area.
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is an area of incredible beauty, wildlife, biodiversity and outdoor pursuit; that will give you a glimpse into the magic of backcountry Appalachia.
Hannah Henderson, Hannah Henderson Travel
Everglades National Park
Death Valley National Park
- Badwater basin: the lowest point in North America, Badwater basin is a salty basin below sea level
- Zabriskie Point: one of the most famous viewpoints in the Death Valley
- Dante’s View: drive up the mountain to get an elevated view over the whole area
- Golden Canyon: a great place to go for a hike
- Artists palette and Artists Drive: a scenic drive that will take you to a viewpoint where you’ll see several colors on the hills
- Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes: this is the largest sand dune area in the park
- Watch the perfect sunsets in Death Valley
If you are looking for a unique US National Park to visit, consider Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California! Located on two deserts, the park is home to unique landscapes and a variety of flora and fauna.
You can enjoy Joshua Tree in one day, visiting on a day trip from Los Angeles or Palm Springs, or you can spend a few days here, either at one of park’s campgrounds, or in a hotel in a town just outside the north or northwest entrance to the park. Either way, you will have a fabulous time!
Joshua Tree’s landscape is most well known for its gigantic boulder formations, some of which have names. It is also known for the namesake Joshua trees, which are widespread in the northern part of the park.
Hiking is one of the most popular things to do in Joshua Tree. You will find hikes of varying lengths and difficulty levels: even on a one-day visit, you can do a few short hikes to get up close to the desert landscape and the flora.
You can also just drive through the park enjoying its beauty, and head to Keys View for beautiful panoramas over the Coachella Valley. Go rock scrambling, take a rock climbing lesson, or have a picnic in the desert.
The best time to visit Joshua Tree is from fall to spring, when daytime temperatures are pleasant.
Dhara, Not About The Miles
From field and forest, mountain peak to coastline, America’s National Parks come in all shapes and sizes and cover a vast array of the unique and breathtaking natural biomes and climates of the United States.
No matter where you might be visiting in the country, there is bound to be a National Park nearby, making it easy to craft a National Park bucket list of your own!
Dedicated to accessibility for all, you will find a plethora of recreational activities available for all ages and abilities.
Hiking, kayaking, camping and simply taking the time to unplug and absorb the beauty of the natural world around you are all opportunities provided and protected by the National Parks of the United States, ensuring that these rare, pristine and breathtaking places remain intact for generations to come.
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