National Parks In The USA That Should Not Be Missed

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. 

Death Valley

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! 

If you are looking for the best National Parks for kids, they are all great! Kids love exploration as much as we adults do. 

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

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

Acadia National Park is one of the top national parks in the US, but because it’s so far “out of the way” it often goes unnoticed. Acadia is found in Maine, located primarily on Mt. Desert Island, and it is simply gorgeous. 
 
The park spans 49,052 acres, with rugged coastal cliffs that scream “this is Maine!”, towering pines, and epic sunsets. It’s really a stunning destination for the nature lover. 
 
Hiking is definitely one of the top things to do in Acadia National Park, with so many fantastic options. The Beehive is a particularly fun hike for those who aren’t afraid of heights! You’ll climb along a steep rock face, often feeling like you’re on the edge itself. Of course, you’re not, and this is definitely hiking, and not rock climbing, but you’ll climb using stairs, metal rails, and handholds that have been placed there to help hikers on their way. It’s genuinely the most fun I’ve ever had on a hike. 

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.

Finally, you’ll want to be sure to catch a sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain. This is the tallest peak along the Northeastern seaboard, and also the very first place on the continent where you can see the sunrise for much of the year. 
 
Amy Hartle, Two Drifters
 
 
Dry Tortugas 
 
Located in the Gulf of Mexico and about 70 miles south of Key West is Dry Tortugas National Park. It is unlike any other National Park in the USA because 99% of the park is actually underwater.  Additionally, it is remote and difficult to get to as you can only access it via boat or seaplane.  However, this should not discourage you from visiting. On the contrary, its remoteness is part of the appeal, and the journey to get there is a part of the adventure. 
 
Speaking of the journey, if you are planning a day trip to Dry Tortugas then I highly recommend arriving by seaplane. Not only does it save you time but it is a thrilling ride with incredible views. It is more expensive than the Ferry, so if you have budget restraints this option is not for you. Pro tip: Book early because there is limited availability and flights fill up fast.  Additionally, select either the first or last flight of the day in order to enjoy some time on the Island without the crowds that arrive via Ferry.
 
Once on the island make sure to spend time exploring Fort Jefferson, which is the largest brick masonry structure in the Americas. You can join a free guided tour, explore on your own, or with a self-guided audio tour available for download online. 
 
Furthermore, with the majority of the National Park being underwater you will want to spend some time snorkeling and enjoying the beautiful coral reef and abundance of marine life.   And if you like birds, bring your binoculars, because Dry Tortugas is home to around 300 species including some rare birds that make their appearance during the migration periods.
Finally, for those who want to camp, Dry Tortugas offers one of the most secluded and natural camping experiences in the USA. Low light pollution allows you to see the Milky Way and you wake up to one of the world’s largest barrier reefs right outside your tent.
 
If you are interested in learning more, then here is all you need to know about planning a visit to Dry Tortugas National Park.
 
Joella Doobrow, Roving Jo
 

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!

 

Grand Teton National Park
 
Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming is truly a treasure of America’s wild west. It’s hard to miss the majestic Teton peaks—so named by French trappers for “Les Trois Tetons” or “Three Breasts”— which tower over the valley floor.
 
Out-of-towners can fly into Salt Lake City for a long drive into the park or even into nearby Jackson Hole, technically part of the park itself and, in fact, the only US national park with its own airport (for better or worse). Once you’re there, make the most of your trip with dawn hikes for fewer crowds and more wildlife. In summer, look for brown bears drunk on huckleberries at Jenny Lake. (And then indulge in a huckleberry smash or huckleberry pie back at one of the lodges.)
 
There are so many activities to enjoy in Grand Teton. Whatever you do, be sure to see Oxbow Bend on the Snake River, first made famous with wildlife photography by Ansel Adams. You can see it from a scenic viewpoint on the road, a hike, or by horseback.
 
Consider a Snake River float trip for bald eagle spotting or a sunset eco tour for viewing elk, antelope, beavers, osprey and more. Pro tip: Don’t skimp on the bear spray! It’s illegal to transport on an airplane, but easy to purchase in the park.
 
Christina Roman, Explore Now or Never
 
Kenai Fjords

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

The Everglades is a National Park in the sunshine state of Florida. This incredible 1.5 million-acre area which is made up of coastal mangroves, saw grass marshes and pine Flatwoods that are home to hundreds of animal species. 
 
The Everglades is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and was established in 1947 as locals and activists sought to protect such an incredible natural eco-system. 
 
The best time to visit is from November to March, this is when the wildlife is going to be most active. However, even outside of those months it’s still a worthwhile visit and an incredible experience. 
 
In our opinion, the best way to see the true beauty of the Everglades, and spot some of it’s incredible and endangered wildlife such as the leather back turtle, Florida panther and West Indian manatee is on an air boat. 
 
There’s a whole host of different air boat tours that can either be booked in advance or upon arrival (I recommend in advance just to secure your place) the majority of which last anywhere from 3 to 5 hours. 
 
With over one billion mosquito’s making up an essential part of the food chain at the Everglades, I recommend packing some bug spray, otherwise, if you’re anything like me, you’ll get eaten alive! 
 
Cora Harrison, Inside Our Suitcase

Death Valley National Park

Next up on our list of the best USA National Parks to visit is the Death Valley National Park.
 
Located along the California/Nevada border, this National Park is a 2 hours drive west of Las Vegas, and a 4 hours drive north of Los Angeles.
 
The Death Valley is often associated with extreme heat, and many people think of it as a desert. However there are plenty of things to see there, but you need to visit at the right time.
 
From May to September, average temperatures in the Death Valley are around 100°F, which makes it pretty hard to go out of your car to explore the area.
 
To make the most of your visit, I recommend visiting from November to March, when the weather is perfect for hiking. You’ll also be able to camp in the Park, at the few designated camping areas: make sure you bring your stargazing tent to see the stars at night!
 
Here are the main things to see in Death Valley:
  • 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
So there you have them, the best things to see in the Death Valley National Park, one of the best parks in the USA!
 
Kevin Mercier, KevMRC
 
 

Joshua Tree

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

Apostle Islands 

Apostle Islands National Lake shore is one of the lesser-known national parks in the US, but definitely one of the most scenic ones. This peaceful archipelago of 22 islands lays at the northern tip of Wisconsin’s Bayfield Peninsula and for a long time, the islands were long home to Objiwe native people.
 
The main island, Madeline island, is the only year-round inhabited island. From here you can explore the smaller islands by boat or sailing charter. The best way to reach Madeline island is by ferry from Bayfield.
 
Home to stunning rock formations and several historic lighthouses, the Apostle Island National Lake shore, offers kayaking, hiking, historic sites, and island camping experiences. Apostle Islands National Lake shore is thus a great Wisconsin vacation idea!
 
Paulina, Paulina on the Road
 
 

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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