Best National Parks in the USA: 2023 Bucket List

Explore the best National Parks in the USA. Add these beautiful landscapes to your bucket list and start planning your visits.

The United States is home to an unparalleled collection of natural wonders, and its National Parks are among the most impressive of them all.

Choosing the best National Parks in the USA is like choosing a favorite child. Unless you only have one, it’s an impossible task.

There are 63 National Parks, and each one offers a unique and breathtaking experience.

From the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the vast deserts of the Southwest, from the rugged coastlines of the Pacific Northwest to the lush forests of the Appalachians, the National Parks of the USA are truly remarkable.

These public spaces provide visitors with the opportunity to experience firsthand the incredible power and majesty of nature and the breadth of history.

Whether you’re a seasoned outdoors enthusiast or just looking for a little adventure and inspiration, you’ll find what you’re looking for in US national parks.

If you’re ready to explore some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, grab your backpack and discover the best National Parks in the USA, and learn what makes them truly amazing.

I’ve collaborated with other travelers to bring you several must-see US National Parks, as well as some lesser-known gems that are worth adding to your itinerary.

To help you you plan your next adventures, download your free national parks bucket list!

Creek in Zion National Park
Zion National Park

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Related: National Park vs National Monument: What’s the difference?

Yellowstone National Park

Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park is located in three states: the majority of it is in Wyoming, with 96%. Montana has just 3% and Idaho, a tiny 1%.

At nearly 3500 square miles, this park is massive. 

Grand Prismatic Spring - orange thermophiles in foreground and blue smoke rising above the spring with tree-topped hill in background
Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park

On March 1, 1872, during an era of unprecedented growth and the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the U.S. government set aside more than 2.2 million acres for the enjoyment of its people.

That’s when President Ulysses S Grant signed legislation that created Yellowstone National Park. It was the first national park not only in the country, but also in the world.

In 1978, Yellowstone became one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites, when it was inscribed with eleven other unique locations.

What makes Yellowstone one of the best National Parks in the USA?

It’s known for its wildlife, its unique rock formations, its eponymous river, and its many waterfalls. There are 290 that are at least 15’ tall.

It’s also the largest volcanic system in North America and contains half of the geothermal features in the world.

Old Faithful may be the most well known, but it isn’t the only geyser in the park. In fact there are nearly 500. There are also hot springs, fumaroles, mudpots, and travertine terraces.

Once you visit Yellowstone National Park, it’s easy to see why early reports of its natural wonders were dismissed as the ravings of crazed lunatics.

But after enough stories, skeptics could no longer deny that these fantastical descriptions may be real.

There is lodging available in the park as well as several campgrounds. These fill up quickly, so book early.

You can also stay in Red Lodge and then drive the incredible Beartooth Highway. It’s one of the most beautiful road trips in the USA.

Zion National Park

Utah

Zion National Park is one of the state’s Mighty Five Naitonal Parks. When it was established in 1919, it became the first national park in the state. 

Zion is also a recent inductee to the International Dark Sky Park club.

Zion National Park, one of the best National Parks in the USA. Image of red sandstone peak with deep blue sky and evergreen tree
Zion National Park

You’ll drive State Route 9 into and through Zion, since it’s the only way through the park. Most of the year it’s the only road visitors are allowed to drive. 

While there is another road that enters Zion Canyon, congestion got to be so bad that a shuttle system was established in the year 2000. 

That shuttle is the only way visitors can experience Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from mid-February through late November.  

One of the surprising features of Zion is manmade: the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. The whopping 1.1 mile tunnel was carved through the mountain starting in the late 1920s and was dedicated on July 4, 1930.

Zion is known for its slender canyons and its dramatic hikes, like Angels Landing and The Narrows. Those and most other hikes in the park can only be accessed by taking the shuttle. 

However, there’s a fantastic hike that’s right off of State Route 9. At only a mile round trip, the Canyon Overlook Trail is a short one-hour hike.

There are several places to stay near Zion National Park in Springdale. If those are booked, you can search in St. George or Kanab.

Joshua Tree National Park

California

In addition to its name sake, Joshua Tree is known for its boulders and unusual rock formations, making this National Park a popular place for climbers.

The landscape is truly surreal and feels like an alien world.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is located in southern California and straddles two deserts: the Mojave and the lower Colorado. The eponymous trees are found in the Mojave.

Skull Rock is one of the most well-known of the park’s unique formations. It’s located right along the park’s main east-west road.

Even though the park is only a few hours from Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix, these nearly 800,000 square miles feel like they’re world’s away from civilization. 

There isn’t much shelter in Joshua Tree. It’s a stark landscape and it can be quite dangerous. Unless you’re completely prepared, it’s a good idea to stick to the roads and to well-marked hiking trails.

There are campgrounds within the park, or you can find accommodations in Twentynine Palms.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

North Carolina and Tennessee

Only at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park can visitors hike to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi, and also hike a portion of the 71 miles along the Appalachian Trail, accessible from Newfound Gap, all in one day.

The park’s appeal is that each season brings something new to see and experience. 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with haze over mountains in background
Photo by Apryl Chapman Thomas

There’s leaf peeping in the fall, wildflower discovery and waterfall chasing in the spring, and wildlife spotting in both fall and spring. There’s even the possibility for a bit of sleet at the top in winter.

Note: inclement winter weather can cause trail and road closures, so check ahead in December – February.

Then there’s the history part of the park. With over 90 historic structures, the park holds one of the best collections of log buildings in the eastern United States. View some in Cades Cove and along the Roaring Forks Motor Nature Trail.

As for accommodations, front and backcountry camping is available in the park. 

There is also LeConte Lodge, accessible by foot only and during open season, mid-March through mid-November. 

However, the best bet is finding lodging in nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where options range from chain hotels to bed and breakfasts and cabin rentals.

Contributed by Apryl Chapman Thomas of Southern Hospitality Magazine

Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park protects one of the greatest places in America – the Grand Canyon. 

The Colorado River has worked its way through the stone over six million years, creating something so large that it’s difficult for your brain to take in its greatness.

Far more than just a quick stop to peak into the canyon, the national park offers hiking trails, including the ability to hike rim-to-rim, scenic drives, and one of the most spectacular places to watch the sunset – anywhere on the planet.

Grand Canyon National Park
Photo by Stephanie Craig

You can visit the kitschier South Rim or the quieter and more rustic North Rim. 

Or you can visit both sides of the canyon to see what your prefer! Though if you have to choose, the North Rim has the reputation for more scenic views while the South Rim has a larger tourist scene with more to do nearby. 

I suggest spending at least a minimum one day at the Grand Canyon per side, but you can always do more!

Where you stay depends on which side of the canyon you are visiting, as it’s a four hour drive to get from one side to the other. 

The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff is great for visiting the South Rim, while the Grand Canyon Plaza Hotel is a good base on the North Rim.

Contributed by Stephanie Craig of History Fangirl

Rocky Mountain National Park

Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best National Parks in the USA due to its majestic mountain ranges, gorgeous lakes, vast array of wildlife, and stunning panoramic scenery. 

The variety of elevation levels leaves visitors enjoying dense forests filled with evergreens and fall-changing aspens, as well as the unique landscape of the alpine tundra above the treeline.

Rocky Mountain National Park
Photo by Sierra Schmidt

Rocky Mountain is one of the highest parks in the US with elevations reaching over 14,000 feet. 

These high peaks lead to incredible hiking opportunities like Long’s Peak, as well as many alpine lakes like Emerald Lake and Chasm Lake. The Continental Divide also runs through the park from Milner Pass. Plenty of easy trails also beckon travelers such as Bear Lake or Sprague Lake.

The Alpine Visitor’s Center is the highest in the country and deserves a spot on every Rocky Mountain itinerary. Sitting at the of Trail Ridge Road, travelers can pick up a snack, a locally crafted souvenir, or hike up the quick Alpine Ridge Trail for even more unobstructed views.

Estes Park offers several accommodation options just minutes from the park entrance. Those looking for unique lodging will love the Stanley Hotel, while the YMCA of the Rockies is the perfect spot for families.

Contributed by Sierra Schmidt 

Acadia National Park

Maine

Acadia is one of the best national parks in the USA as it’s a forest situated along a beach with numerous activities to do and sights to see.

Top recommendations to experience are the Park Loop Road and the Beehive Loop hike.  

The Park Loop Road is a scenic drive best experienced from the free hop-on-hop-off-esque park bus which makes stops en route at various points of interest. 

Acadia National Park
Photo by Chelsea Espinoza

The Beehive Loop is a difficult 1.4 mile round trip hike.  It takes about 1-3 hours to complete and offers stunning views from its highest point.

For a competitively priced hotel in a great location consider staying at Acadia Hotel – Downtown.  This hotel offers clean rooms in a great location perfect for both exploring downtown Bar Harbor and easily accessing nearby Acadia National Park.  

Enjoy your visit to one of the best national parks in the US!

Contributed by Chelsea Espinoza of Adventures of Chels

Yosemite National Park

California

One of the oldest national parks in all of the United States, and a World Heritage Site since 1984, Yosemite National Park has long been renown for its beautiful landscapes and abundance of flora and fauna. 

Even after a brief visit, it’s easy to see why it is one of the best national parks in the USA.

At the heart of Yosemite lies Yosemite Valley. 

As you drive into the valley you may glimpse the year-round Bridalveil Fall along one side, while it’s impossible to miss the towering El Capitan on the other.

Yosemite National Park
Photo by Shandos Cleaver

At the valley end is the aptly named granite monolith of Half Dome, which it’s possible to ascend via a permit lottery. 

The valley is also home to Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America.

When it’s time to depart Yosemite Valley, don’t miss stopping for the superb view at Tunnel View. 

You can also take in impressive views of the park including Half Dome from Glacier Point Lookout, while in the south of the park are the giant sequoia trees of Mariposa Grove.

If you’re visiting Yosemite with a dog, you can stay just outside the South Gate at the pet-friendly Tanaya Lodge at Yosemite, either in a lodge or cottage. 

Contributed by Shandos Cleaver of Travelnuity

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Ohio

One of the best national parks in the USA is Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It’s a vibrant place of natural beauty that sits between Akron and Cleveland. 

However, the real appeal of this place is that it can be found on the shores of the Cuyahoga River. 

This is also where you’ll find the stunning Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath, which winds its way through the area. 

Sedimentary rock outcrop of the Ritchie Ledges along a hiking trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park near Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo by Linda Yore

Another thing that makes this place so special is that it is home to the historic Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. 

Be sure to take a ride on this amazing train before enjoying other fun things to do in Cuyahoga Valley National Park like stopping at Ledges Overlook, checking out Brandywine Falls, and visiting the Canal Exploration Center.

This is a charming museum that details the incredible history of the Erie Canal, which dates all the way back to the 19th century.

You can spend the night at the Inn At Brandywine Falls. It’s a gorgeous little bed and breakfast from 1848 that actually sits within the bounds of the park.

Contributed by Linda Yore of Midwest Explored

Glacier National Park

Montana

Established in 1910, Glacier National Park is indisputably one of the best national parks in the USA. It sits on a little over a million acres in the northwest part of Montana. 

Glacier shares a border with Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park, and in 1932 the two collaborated to become the first International Peace Park. This was through the efforts of Rotary International Clubs in Montana and Alberta. 

St. Mary's Lake in Glacier National Park

Glacier was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1976 and in 1995, Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site.

In 2017, Glacier joined the International Dark Sky Park roster with Waterton, making them the only designation in the world to cross an international border.

Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is the main road through the park, is a National Historic Landmark, and one of the few roads in the country to receive that designation. It’s an engineering marvel which took more than a decade and two million dollars to build the fifty-one mile stretch.

Driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road offers some of the most awe-inspiring views in the country. You can take a self-guided driving tour, or a Red Bus tour. Restored 1930s buses, they’re also known as Red Jammers because of the sound made when the drivers shifted gears.

If you’re camping at the park or staying in a lodge, you’ll also want to check the schedule for ranger talks.

Explore the area with a seven-day tour of Glacier National Park, Idaho, Flathead Lake, and more.

Arches National Park

Utah

Arches National Park is a breathtaking destination in eastern Utah. Spanning over 76,000 acres, the park protects more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, as well as a variety of other geological formations, such as towering pinnacles, balanced rocks, and fins. 

One of the most remarkable things about Arches National Park is the accessibility of its natural wonders. Many of the park’s arches and formations can be viewed from the road, while others require only a short hike to reach. 

Double O Arch in Arches National Park near Moab, Utah

The most famous arch in the park, Delicate Arch, is a three-mile round-trip hike that offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

One of the toughest, and most rewarding, hikes is in Devils Garden. The hike to Double O Arch is over four miles and it’s strenuous, but worth it. 

In addition to hiking, visitors can also enjoy rock climbing, horseback riding, stargazing, and scenic drives. 

For those looking to stay overnight, the Red Cliffs Lodge is a highly recommended accommodation option. This rustic lodge offers comfortable rooms and stunning views of the Colorado River.

Guests can also enjoy horseback riding, river rafting, and guided tours of the area.

If you think Arches is cool, don’t miss nearby Goblin Valley State Park!

Badlands National Park

South Dakota

Badlands National Park may look like it’s in the west, but it’s actually in the Midwest.

This South Dakota landscape was first authorized as a National Monument on March 4, 1929. It wasn’t established as a National Monument until almost a decade later.

On November 10, 1978, it became a National Park.

Badlands State Scenic Byway, the route you’ll take through the park, is a surreal and otherworldly path through a unique terrain that was forged over millennia.

The route is less than forty miles end-to-end, but it’s an experience you won’t get anywhere else. That’s what makes it one of the best national parks in the USA.

Badlands National Park - gorgeous overlook

Stop first at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, named for the first Lakota to serve in the U.S. Congress. Inside you can watch an orientation film and browse exhibits.

There are several overlooks, so even though you could technically drive the whole length in about an hour, what’s the fun in that? Instead of rushing through, take your time and truly dig into this incredible drive.

You can camp in Badlands National Park, or stay in nearby Wall at Badlands Frontier Cabins.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park should be on everyone’s national parks bucket list

Located in southern Utah, this park is renowned for its unique geological formations called hoodoos. 

These towering rock spires and formations are a result of millions of years of wind, water, and ice erosion, creating a one-of-a-kind landscape that is both otherworldly and breathtaking.

Bryce Canyon with snow on the hoodoos

One of the most amazing things about Bryce Canyon is the way the colors of the hoodoos change throughout the day. From sunrise to sunset, visitors can watch as the hues of pink, orange, and red create a spectacular display of light and shadow.

There’s plenty to do in the park, including hiking trails that offer breathtaking views of the hoodoos, horseback riding, and scenic drives. 

For those interested in astronomy, the park is a designated dark sky park, making it an ideal location for stargazing.

In addition to the geological wonders, Bryce Canyon is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including mule deer, coyotes, and a variety of bird species. 

Make your visit convenient by staying in the park, including the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge.

Crater Lake National Park

Oregon

Crater Lake National Park’s centerpiece is Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the United States and one of the deepest in the world. 

The lake is a stunning blue, unlike anything else you’ve ever seen. It will literally take your breath away.

In addition to the lake itself, there are miles of hiking trails, including a 33-mile section of the Pacific Coast Trail. Hiking trails range from easy walks to challenging treks, all offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape. 

Crater Lake National Park

There are also ranger-led activities, boat tours, and snowshoe walks in the winter months.

One of the most popular attractions in the park is the scenic drive around the rim of the lake. It’s open seasonally and provides several opportunities to stop and explore the many viewpoints and hiking trails along the way.

The park is also home to a diverse range of wildlife, including elk, black bears, and cougars. 

Death Valley National Park

California and Nevada

Death Valley National Park is one of the best national parks in the USA thanks to its unique features such as holding the lowest point in North America.

If you only have one day in Death Valley National Park, you can’t miss Badwater Basin’s salt flats.

As you walk out to view the salt flats, you can turn around and see a sign on the hills above you that shows where sea level is. You are now at the lowest point in North America.

A trip to the Mesquite Sand Dunes is also a must. Be aware that the sand and Death Valley get very hot in the summer, so heading out first thing in the morning or near sunset if you must visit in summer are your safest times to explore the dunes.

Dunes in Death Valley
Photo by Christine Tegg Wheeler

Make sure to take a drive along Artist’s Drive and to take in the view from Zabriskie Point while you are there as well to see more of the unique landscapes that make up this beautiful park.

The accommodations near Death Valley are few and far between, but Stovepipe Wells Village Hotel located in the park is one of the better budget options and located near the sand dunes. 

Those looking for more luxury accommodations may enjoy The Inn at Death Valley or The Ranch at Death Valley.

Contributed by Christine Tegg Wheeler of Live Love Run Travel

Denali National Park

Alaska

Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska is one of the best national parks in the U.S. because it protects majestic mountains and unique wildlife. It also offers extraordinary attractions.

The park is home to the highest peak in North America, Denali, at 20,310 feet, which is climbed by fewer than 1,000 daredevils each year. 

Denali National Park
Photo by Agnes of The Van Escape

Denali is one of the best places to observe and photograph wildlife, as it’s home to hundreds of animals, including grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou, and Dall sheep.

Camping in Denali National Park is a fantastic adventure, but it requires good preparation, as the park has no amenities, electricity, cellular network, internet connection, or stores.

You can pitch your tent at one of the campsites or get a special permit and backpack through the wilderness. 

However, if you prefer hotel accommodations, staying at the McKinley Chalet Resort or Denali Rainbow Village RV Park and Motel is your best bet.

There is only one road through the park, Denali Road, which is 92 miles long, but you can only drive your own car as far as mile 15. So it’s best to take a narrated bus tour because you’ll learn a lot about the park. 

In the 2023 and 2024 seasons, buses will only go as far as mile 43 due to renovations, but there is no shortage of attractions along this route. 

If you like hiking, the most exciting trails in Denali are the Savage Alpine Trail, Thorofare Ridge Trail, Savage River Loop, Horseshoe Lake Trail, and Triple Lakes Trail. A scenic flight over Denali is one of the best and most unique experiences. 

A rafting trip down a river is also a thrilling adventure. Visiting Denali National Park Kennels should also be on a bucket list to admire Alaskan sled dogs.

Contributed by Agnes of The Van Escape

Dry Tortugas National Park

Florida

Off the coast of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, you will find Dry Tortugas, National Park. The park is 100 square miles of fun, history, and adventure. Made up of seven islands surrounded by crystal clear water and soft sandy beaches there is plenty to do and explore.

The warm and shallow waters of the gulf have become habitats for colorful tropical fish, sea turtles, and pods of dolphins.

Combing the beach or snorkeling the coral heads might become one of your favorite new hobbies.

Dry Tortugas National Park
Photo by John Behrns

Or, find yourself a secluded beach and splash around for an incredible fun-in-the-sun experience. The perfect couple activity in Key West. 

Take a tour around Fort Jefferson to unlock the keys to what protected the coast of the US. 

There are shuttle boats that depart Key West daily with options that included breakfast and lunch to make your trip a little more inclusive.

There are plenty of places to stay in Key West with some very cute options for Air B&Bs or stay at Douglas House, a lovely small boutique hotel. 

If you are looking for a primitive camping experience you can always spend the night on Garden Key just outside the walls of Fort Jefferson.

The stars come out to play on clear nights along with the low slow break of the surf on the sand. This is one of the best national park experiences you will find.

Contributed by John Behrns of Florida Wanderers

Everglades National Park

Florida

Everglades National Park, home to over 200,000 alligators, is an incredibly unique park full of fascinating landscapes that has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve. 

It is one of the best day trips from Miami or even Naples on Florida’s gulf side. 

Everglades National Park
Photo by Megan C. Starr

To learn more about this fascinating park, make sure to take the Shark Valley two-hour tram tour on the 15-mile “River of Grass” loop, narrated by an expert naturalist who will give you information about the animals and nature you will be seeing. 

Don’t miss out on an airboat tour, the best way to see the park’s marshland. Keep your eyes peeled for native animals like alligators, crocodiles, fish, snakes, birds, and the elusive Florida panther! 

On foot, check out the great hiking trails through the forest like the Pinelands Trail or Mahogany Hammock, or the boardwalk trails over marshy areas such as the popular Gumbo Limbo Trail or Anhinga Trail. 

If you like camping, consider staying at one of the two campgrounds actually inside the park, Long Pine Key or Flamingo, to really immerse yourself in nature.

Contributed by Megan C. Starr 

Glacier Bay National Park

Alaska

Glacier Bay National Park encompasses over three million acres of temperate rainforest, rugged mountains, and as the name suggests, abundant glaciers. 

In fact, this national park is home to 1,045 named glaciers/ There are seven tidewater glaciers in the park and four of these glaciers actively carve icebergs into the bay. 

Glacier Bay National Park
Photo by Arial Evans

Besides glaciers, this remote park offers visitors the chance to see serene coves, pretty inlets, and a myriad of wildlife. There is no doubt Glacier Bay is the best place to visit in Southeast Alaska!

This national park is unique because there are no roads leading to it. The only way to get there is by air or sea. 

Visitors can fly into Juneau then take another flight to Gustavus to reach Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay. 

But the easiest way to visit Glacier Bay is by cruise ship. This is because your transport to Glacier Bay is covered, along with accommodation and meals! 

It’s also a very affordable way to visit Glacier Bay National Park since you won’t have to organize flights, transportation, and accommodation separately. 

Although you won’t be able to visit the terrestrial part of the park on a cruise ship, you will be able to cruise through Glacier Bay and see the Fairweather Mountain Range from sea which is something visitors to the land portion of the park won’t get to experience. 

Another benefit of visiting by cruise ship is that you’ll get to witness glaciers actively carving into the ocean! It is a magnificent and exciting experience.

Glacier Bay is best visited in summer as this is the only season the park is open. The park typically opens on Memorial Weekend and closes on Labor Day.

If you do stay at the park, Glacier Bay Lodge is recommended.

Contributed by Arial Evans of America From the Road 

Grand Teton National Park

Wyoming

Thanks to Ansel Adams, the Grand Tetons are some of the most recognizable peaks in the US. This impressive mountain range north of Jackson and south of Yellowstone is filled with “oh wow!” views.

Grand Teton National Park offers something for active outdoorsy types as well as those who prefer a less strenuous visit. 

T. A. Moulton Barn at Grand Teton National Park

There’s hiking and mountaineering, and there’s also a bike path at the base of the Tetons. The Grand Teton Pathway is open to cyclists of all levels, and persons with physical disabilities can use electric and battery operated transportation.

You can also kayak, fish, and watch wildlife.

History fans will enjoy learning about the area’s past at Mormon Row and Menors Ferry.

There are campgrounds and lodges within the park, or you can book a room at Elk Country Inn in Jackson.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located in the southeast corner of the island of Hawai’i, otherwise known as the Big Island.

With two of the world’s most active volcanoes as its centre (Kilauea and Mauna Loa), the park encompasses land from sea level to 13,680 ft and has been designated UNESCO and an International Biosphere Reserve. 

What makes visitors flock to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park everywhere is the breathtaking lava flows. 

Lava floes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Photo by bennymarty

Depending on where the volcanoes are erupting, you can see this natural phenomenon take place either at the Chain of Craters Road along the rugged coastline or at Halema’uma’u Crater.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park also offers a plethora of hiking opportunities, from the easy Devastation Trail to the moderate Kilauea Iki Trail. The Crater Rim drive is also a must.

SCP Hilo Hotel is the best hotel in Hawaii for its proximity to the park entrance, only a 35-minute scenic drive through the mountains. The Hilo International Airport is only a short 5-minute hop from the hotel’s doorstep.

Contributed by Haley Blackall 

Haleakala National Park

Hawaii

Haleakala National Park in the Maui island of Hawaii is a unique National Park with the Haleakala dormant volcano in the center of it. 

The Haleakala summit is at an elevation of over 10,000 feet and visiting the summit is a must do activity in Maui.

The sunrise and sunset at Haleakala summit are spectacular and visitors flock to the summit to experience the sun rising or setting among the clouds. 

Sunset at Haleakala National Park in Hawaii
Photo by Anu Agarwal

The summit also has hiking trails like the Sliding Sands trail. The southeast entrance of Haleakala in the Kipahulu region is a rainforest with waterfalls and pools. 

Hiking the Pipiwai trail to see the Waimoku falls is a popular thing to do here as well as visiting the pools at Oheo Gulch. 

Most people do a day trip to Haleakala from the West or South Maui region where all the resorts are. Aston Kannapali Shores is a good beachfront resort to stay in West Maui. 

Contributed by Anu Agarwal of Destination Checkoff

Kenai Fjords National Park

Alaska

The Kenai Fjords National Park is easily accessible from Anchorage via the Seward Highway (AK-9) to Seward, the park’s main entrance. 

The park is famous for the spectacular Harding Icefield and is unquestionably the Kenai Peninsula’s top attraction. 

It is also well-known for its wildlife, including black bears and brown bears, coyotes, and mountain goats on land, but also whale species like humpbacks and orcas in the fjords, historical remains indicating the presence in the park of Alaska Natives for thousands of years. 

Glacier in Kenai Fjords
Photo by Patricia Pagenel

A unique blend of fjords, rainforests, and glaciers is easily accessible from this location. 

The principal activities at Kenai Fjords National Park on the Kenai Peninsula include glacier trekking, dog sledding, observing Kenai bears, helicopter landings, boat tours of the fjords, kayaking, and hiking. 

Kenai Fjords National Park can be visited as a day trip from Anchorage or as part of any Alaska road trip itinerary.

For a unique place to stay, the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge is located within the Kenai Fjords National Park and overlooks the Kenai River valley.

Contributed by Patricia Pagenel of Ze Wandering Frogs

Kings Canyon National Park

California

Kings Canyon National Park is often looped together with Sequoia when discussing both parks, most likely because they are neighbors that share a common connecting road.

But Kings Canyon definitely deserves its own place in the spotlight! 

Even deeper than the Grand Canyon, Kings Canyon is actually the deepest canyon in the U.S., plummeting 8,200 feet into the valley below.

John Muir deemed the canyon “a rival to Yosemite”, and driving the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range gives visitors a glimpse of what he was referring to. 

Kings Canyon Overlook
Photo by Erin Nicole

The byway is the only road traveling through the park and down into the canyon. The scenic byway is a 50-mile stretch of winding road passing breathtaking overlooks, waterfalls, steep cliffs, lush meadows, and towering sequoia, fir, and pine trees. 

Speaking of giant trees, don’t miss your chance to see General Grant, one of the largest trees in the world. 

Second only to its larger sibling General Sherman in Sequoia National Park, General Grant measures 267 feet in height, 29 feet wide at the base, and was deemed the “Nation’s Christmas Tree” by President Coolidge in 1926.

For a truly immersive experience, stay in Grant Grove Village at the John Muir Lodge. The lodge is a quiet retreat set in the forest under the sequoia tree canopy.

Contributed by Erin Nicole of Super Simple Salty Life

Mount Rainier National Park

Washington

Mount Rainier is a paradise of alpine wilderness, offering fields of technicolor wildflowers, dense pine tree forests, and of course, the tallest mountain in the Cascade Mountain range. 

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, the park has endless adventures in store. For example, explore any of the incredible Mount Rainier hikes, like the Skyline Loop. 

Mount Rainier National Park
Photo by Jessica Schmit

Along this epic trail, you’ll climb through fields of wildflowers up to one of Rainier’s ridges, with spectacular in-your-face views of the Nisqually Glacier. 

Alternatively, you can hike to a number of historic fire lookouts from the 1920s sprinkled throughout the park, which provide jaw-dropping views of Rainier and the surrounding Cascades.

For a more chill activity, drive the Chinook Scenic Byway, a 107-mile drive that snakes through Rainier and the neighboring Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, past rushing waterfalls, alpine lakes, and ancient glaciers.

During your stay, consider basing yourself in the town of Ashford, which is a perfect springboard for the popular (and aptly-named) Paradise section of the park. 

The Paradise Village Hotel is an affordable place to stay with all of the amenities you need, plus a few quirky extras, like a wood-fired hot tub.

Contributed by Jessica Schmit of Uprooted Traveler

Olympic National Park

Washington

Located along the Olympic Peninsula in northern Washington State, Olympic National Park sure gives visitors a big bang for their buck.

With vast mountain landscapes to expansive ocean shorelines to mossy green rainforests, you’ll experience all sorts of adventures within the park.

It almost feels like you’ve been transported to a new region of the country, just by driving a short distance away.

Olympic National Park
Photo by Kassidy Olson

There aren’t many opportunities to experience rainforests within the US, but right in Washington, you can wander through a temperature rainforest, the Hoh, which is what makes this park so special.

From moss-covered trees to yellow banana slugs crawling along the forest floor, the Hoh Rainforest is unlike anything you’ll experience in the United States. Specifically, visiting during the spring gives you the chance to see it at its best.

Along with that, experience other great hikes and views like the Olympic Mountains, Sol Duc Falls, Mount Storm King, Ruby and Rialto Beaches, and more.

You could spend a week in Olympic National Park and still have barely touched the surface!

When you’re ready to call it a night, book a stay at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort for a relaxing night’s rest.

Contributed by Kassidy Olson of The Hiking Helper

Sequoia National Park

California

Sequoia trees are the largest trees on the planet and most of them are found in the incredible Sequoia National Park. Here you’ll find the General Sherman Tree – the biggest tree in the world.

There are several easy trails in the park, including the Congress Trail that loops through a section of the Giant Forest that includes the President’s Tree (the 3rd largest sequoia) and the Lincoln Tree (the 4th largest), as well as two small groves, the House and the Senate.

Sequoia National Park
Photo by James Ian

There’s even a tree – the Room Tree – that is hollowed out inside and so huge you can walk inside it! 

The main road through the park is called the General’s Highway because it connects the General Sherman Tree and the General Grant tree, which is the second largest tree in the world, and is located in the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park. 

Sequoia National Park not only has the world’s biggest trees; it’s also home to the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney. For incredible views, the hike to the top of Moro Rock is also iconic. 

Contributed by James Ian of Parks Collecting

Shenandoah National Park

Virginia

If you’re looking for a mountain adventure, Shenandoah National Park has it all. 

From gorgeous waterfalls and forests to wildlife spotting and all types of hiking trails, you won’t run out of things to do. 

Cruise along Skyline Drive and stop at the many lookout points for amazing scenic views. This park is open year-round, with new things to discover in every season. 

Splash in streams in the summer, peep colorful leaves in the fall, see fields full of wildflowers in the spring, or even hike in a snowy wonderland throughout the winter in Shenandoah

Shenandoah National Park
Photo by Megan C. Starr

There are many fantastic trails to hike in Shenandoah, ranging from easy to difficult, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. Some well-loved hikes are the Old Rag Mountain, Dark Hollow Falls, and Rose River Falls hikes. 

The Limberlost Trail is also a fantastic trail for those with mobility issues. Most of the trails permit pets, so bring your pup along for an adventure together. You can also spend your time biking, fishing, and stargazing. 

A great way to have a more immersive experience in nature is to stay in the park itself. There are multiple campgrounds to choose from, or stay in the lodge at Skyland or Big Meadows and have the beauty of nature right on your doorstep.

Contributed by Megan C. Starr of Virginia Travel Tips

Voyageurs National Park

Minnesota

As the only national park in Minnesota, a trip to Voyageurs National Park is a must-do! With over a third of the park being covered in water, it’s unique and showcases some of Minnesota’s most beloved natural features.

Voyageurs National Park is located in northeastern Minnesota, nearly crossing the Canadian border. It’s home to multiple large lakes, roaming wildlife, and fun activities for year-round adventures.

Voyageurs National Park
Photo by Kassidy Olson

The main attraction is Kabetogama Lake, which is the largest of 4 major waterways within the park. Many people love swimming, boating, and fishing year-round on the lakes.

With there being over 10,000 lakes in Minnesota, this park gives you a chance to really experience what the state is all about.

While there is plenty of hiking and sightseeing to be done from the main areas near the visitor centers, the best way to explore Voyageurs is by boat.

Whether it be pontoon, speed boat, kayak, or canoe, this is the best way to get around.

In fact, some locations within the park aren’t even accessible by foot and can only be reached by boat. You can rent boats from nearby outfitters.

At the end of the day, head to Northern Lights Resort, one of the best resorts in the state, to get a good night’s rest before another day of adventuring!

Contributed by Kassidy Olson of Kassidy’s Journey


The United States is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and awe-inspiring national parks.

Whether you are a seasoned adventurer or a first-time visitor, a trip to one of these parks is sure to leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.

So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your next national park adventure today!

And to make sure you don’t miss any of the best spots, be sure to download our free printable national parks checklist. Happy exploring!

Explore the best National Parks in the USA. Add these beautiful landscapes to your bucket list and start planning your visits.
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