25 of the Best National Parks in the USA (Beautiful + Diverse!)

The US national park system is one of the crown jewels of our home country. Home to everything from white sand beaches to otherworldly glaciers, the breadth, depth, and extreme diversity of the best national parks in the USA is a delight to behold.

Exploring all 63 (and counting!) national parks, plus the hundreds of other properties run by the National Park Service, is a lifelong project for even the most fervent lovers of the parks. The scope of exploring every last one of the national parks in America is positively overwhelming!

To help you narrow it down, start planning some trips, and maybe even add a park or two that you haven’t considered in the past to your bucket list, we’ve teamed up with several other travel bloggers to round up some of the most beautiful national parks in the US.

From sea to shining sea, here are the top United States national parks that you just can’t miss–starting with a round-up of the five most visited national parks in the USA!

Kate Storm looking down into Wall Street Slot Canyon in Bryce Canyon, an unforgettable stop on a Utah road trip itinerary

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First Step: Pick Up an America the Beautiful Pass!

Planning to explore several of the best national parks in the USA over the next year?

If so, consider picking up an America the Beautiful Pass, also known as the USA’s annual national parks pass! For only $80–less for certain groups like seniors and military personnel–the park covers day-use fees to over 2,000 federally managed lands, including all 62 national parks, for an entire year.

It’s one of the best travel deals around and will pay for itself within 3-4 visits to popular US national parks (for example, as of the time of writing, many popular national parks such as Arches and Yosemite cost between $25-35 per vehicle to visit).

Buy your national parks pass today!

boardwalk over great prismatic spring in yellowstone, one of the best national parks in usa

Top 5 Most Visited National Parks in the USA

Based on 2019 visitor numbers, here are the most visited national parks in America (I have to admit I’m surprised that Yellowstone didn’t make the list–it was #6).

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee

From Stephanie of Explore More, Clean Less

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States, and for good reason!
 
This park is easily accessible from a number of airports, has free admission, and offers lots of wildlife viewing opportunities within an hour’s drive of several major cities.
 
Visitors can look forward to seeing black bears, elk, otters, or salamanders. Don’t miss walking up Clingman’s Dome to see for miles, visiting one of the many waterfalls in the area (Rainbow Falls is a great option!), or driving through the iconic Cades Cove loop with stops for rustic cabin history and wildlife spotting.
 
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To get closer to nature, there are over 150 hiking trails to choose from in a wide range of difficulty levels, pick one of the most popular beginner-friendly hikes in the Smokies to get started!

When to Visit

In the relatively temperate climate of eastern TN/western NC, there isn’t a bad season to visit GSMNP.
 
Spring brings a bounty of wildflowers, summer has lush greenery and roaring waterfalls, fall brings beautiful foliages and rutting elk, and winter has frozen creeks and snowy mountain views. Some areas of the park may not be open during winter, so keep winter plans flexible and refundable if possible.
 
sunrise of great smoky mountains, one of the most beautiful national parks in the us
 

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

One of the most famous national parks in the USA by a landslide, the aptly-named Grand Canyon is the largest canyon in the United States.
 
Meticulously carved by the Colorado River over the last several million years, Grand Canyon National Park is one of those places that you simply have to see to believe: pictures, however beautiful, fail to do it justice.
 
Grand Canyon National Park is divided into two sections, the more-famous South Rim and the lesser-visited North Rim.
 
While the North Rim is beautiful, for the iconic Grand Canyon views, head to the South Rim.
 
Hiking into the Grand Canyon is an arduous task, and the National Park Service strongly warns against hiking from the rim to the river and back in one day, but the South Rim still has plenty of challenging but beautiful day hikes to choose from, including on the popular South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails.
 
Sunrise and sunset at the Grand Canyon are legendary and not to be missed–and luckily, there are plenty of places along the rim that are perfect for admiring it from.
 
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When to Visit

The Grand Canyon is accessible and beautiful year-round. Summer and winter both bring their own challenges for hiking: the brutal heat of the summer and potentially icy conditions paired with shorter days in the winter mean that extreme caution is required when descending into the canyon in either season.
 
However, both are beautiful, and we wouldn’t recommend turning down an opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon, regardless of what month it presents itself.
 
South Kaibab trail into the Grand Canyon, one of the most famous national parks in USA
 

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

From Meg of Fox in the Forest

If you’re looking for a high-alpine adventure, look no further than Rocky Mountain National Park.

Featuring stunning mountain scenery from rich pine forests to the Continental Divide, there’s a reason that RMNP is one of the most visited national parks in the United States.

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Start by exploring one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

For beginners and experts alike there are endless miles of gorgeous trails and even world-famous mountains to climb. Long’s Peak is on many alpinists’ bucket lists, while Dream Lake, Gem Lake, and Sky Pond are all bucket list hikes.

View of Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain NP, one of the most beautiful national parks in the US

A signature activity in Rocky is to drive the scenic Trail Ridge Road. With plenty of pullouts and endless amounts of wildlife, you can easily spend the day traveling this beautiful road.

Speaking of wildlife, during the summer months it’s quite common to see chipmunks, marmot, pika, elk, moose, coyote, ram, and maybe even a black bear. Bring your camera, but keep a good distance between you and the wildlife (elk are known to charge).

Other activities include rock climbing, visiting scenic vistas, and backpacking.

Aside from the main (east) side of the park, there are plenty of auxiliary areas to discover such as Lumpy Ridge, Wild Basin, and the Long’s Peak area. The west side of the park is also plenty beautiful but sees fewer visitors.

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When to Visit

The best time of year to visit the park is between July and September. Keep in mind, this park is no secret, so it’s also the busiest time in RMNP and in nearby Estes Park.

Expect to wait in long lines or be required to take a shuttle as most of the parking lots fill up by 6 am. Winter and spring are also excellent times to visit, however, Trail Ridge Road is usually closed and lots of the trails become dangerous due to avalanche activity.

View of Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain NP, one of the most beautiful national parks in the US

Zion National Park, Utah

Home to some of the most legendary hikes in the United States, stunning Zion National Park is the most-visited of Utah’s Mighty Five.

Surrounding Zion Canyon and the Virgin River, Zion National Park is incredibly beautiful, combining the craggy, bright orange landscapes synonymous with the southwest with somewhat more lush views.

The best-known hikes in Zion NP include Angel’s Landing, the Narrows, and the Subway. All are magnificent and extremely different from each other. Only the Subway requires a permit, but as Angel’s Landing severely tests hikers’ fears of heights and the Narrows involves hiking through a river, none of them are easy.

Other popular trails include the Canyon Overlook trail, Observation Point, and the Emerald Pools trails.

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When to Visit

Zion National Park is stunning year-round, with extreme heat to contend with in the summer and some snow and ice to deal with in the winter.

The biggest factor in deciding when to visit Zion NP, though, is crowds: Zion is generally one of the most crowded national parks in America, and the Zion Scenic Drive is even closed to private vehicles for most of the year (you can drive yourself to the most popular hikes during the winter, otherwise, prepare to use Zion’s shuttle system).

For this reason, if you can, strongly consider planning a trip outside the busy summer months!

Kate Storm at the viewpoint at the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion National Park Utah

Yosemite National Park, California

From Kelsey of Sights Better Seen

Yosemite National Park is a special place. The towering granite cliffs, giant sequoias, and thundering waterfalls are awe-inspiring and make for an unforgettable experience.
 
There are plenty of trails, and popular hikes include the Mist Trail leading to Vernal Fall (be prepared to get wet) and Nevada Fall, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, Mirror Lake Loop, and if you manage to score a ticket in the lottery, Half Dome.
 
Watch climbers going up El Capitan, stare in awe at giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove, or drive up to Glacier Point to take in the view. If visiting Yosemite in winter, take the shuttle up to Badger Pass Ski Area and ski, snowboard, or snowshoe!
 
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When to Visit

Most people visit in the summer, but it can be packed with people. To avoid the crowds, go in the spring, preferably May or June to avoid the likelihood of snow (although it is still possible!). The waterfalls will be flowing, there will be fewer tourists, and the temperatures should be comfortable.
 
Fall also comes with mostly perfect temperatures and fewer crowds, but it may be risky considering California’s late summer and early fall have seen severe wildfires in the past few years.
 
Winter is beautiful and also less crowded, just be prepared for the snow (and the possibility of canceling due to a snowstorm), and be sure to carry chains!
 
Yosemite national park as seen from above, one of the top national parks in america. yosemite falls is visible in the background

Best West Coast National Parks in the USA

Olympic National Park, Washington

From Sarah of Live, Dream, Discover

Olympic National Park is on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state. The park is large with nearly 1 million acres of perfect Pacific Northwest wilderness and more than 70 miles of coastline. Here you can view and explore old-growth rain forests, several different eco-systems, rugged coast beaches, and snow-covered mountain peaks. 

Nature lovers will be in heaven with so much natural beauty to experience. Some of the must-see spots are the magical Hoh Valley Rain Forest, the steamy Sol-Duc Hotsprings, crystal clear Lake Crescent, cascading Marymere Falls plus the wild Ruby, First, Second, and Third beaches.

For hikers, there’s an almost endless list of hiking trails in Olympic National Park. There are trails for all levels of experience, but some favorites are The Hall of Mosses, Hurricane Ridge, Klahhane Ridge, and Elk Mountian. 

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For a fully immersive Olympic Park experience consider camping for a night or two. There are several campgrounds to choose from but they are all quite basic and most have just pit toilets and no showers. If you want to backpack one of the longer hiking trails you can purchase a wilderness camping permit for overnight stays.

One of the more unique places to camp is right on the beach. Second Beach is perfect for this as long as you don’t mind the short hike in with your gear.

When to Visit

The Olympic Peninsula sees a lot of rainfall year-round so although summer is generally the best time to see the sun it’s still far from guaranteed to be dry. Spring is a good time for waterfalls and wildlife.

Hiking is best from May through October, but unless you’re planning to hike the higher elevations most trails are open year-round.

Forested trail in Olympic National Park with a river flowing across the photo. Olympic National Park definitely belongs on your USA bucket list!

Pinnacles National Park, California

From Dhara of Roadtripping California

Pinnacles National Park is California’s youngest national park, and one of its lesser-visited parks. Visitors that do make the decision to explore Pinnacles National Park are rewarded with an extraordinary wilderness experience.

Hiking is quite unequivocally the most popular reason to visit Pinnacles. There is no road that runs through the park, and in order to explore it, you have to be able to hike.

If you are up for it, take one of the lower trails up to High Peaks Trail, where you can take in the views from the higher elevations of the pinnacles. Here you can also look for roosting California condors! The park is one of the few places where you can see the endangered birds with their enormous wingspans.

Pinnacles is also known for its talus caves. There is a talus cave you can explore from each of the park’s two entrances. Trails leading to the caves are relatively easy and family-friendly. On the eastern end of the park, you can go from Bear Gulch Cave to Bear Gulch Reservoir, a scenic place for a few minutes of relaxation.

When to Visit

The best time to visit Pinnacles is from late fall through early spring when temperatures in the park are pleasant. Summers in the park are very hot and best avoided.

pinnacles national park as seen from above at sunset, one of the most beautiful national parks in usa

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

From Jarrod of Ramble Around the World

From its snow-capped peaks to its 14,410-foot active volcano towering over 369 square miles of protected land, Mount Rainier National Park is one of the most uniquely diverse and splendid national parks in the country.

Home to some of the most incredible drives and hikes near Seattle, it can take the average person a few visits during different times of the year to see everything in its true beauty.

Mount Rainier National Park is known for its incredible reflecting lakes, like Tipsoo and Reflection Lakes, world-class hiking like Skyline Trail and Mount Fremont Lookout Trail, and mountaineering, as around 10,000 people each year brave the bitter-cold temperatures and sweeping storms to take a crack at summiting Mount Rainier.

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The park is also home to picturesque flora, including some of the most colorful wildflowers that start blooming in late July and early August in the Paradise area of the park. The reason for the late wildflowers is due to Mount Rainier National Park’s location, tucked inside many towering mountains and only a few hundred miles away from the Pacific Ocean.

When to Visit

Although snow blankets the park year-round, the best time to visit Mount Rainier is late in the summer. That’s when the roads are all open, waterfalls are spewing with freshly melted snow and wildflowers are blooming.

Although you can visit the park during other parts of the year, you may be met with bitter cold and many feet of snow covering the park’s hiking trails.

hiker in a field of wildflowers in mount rainier np with mount rainier visible in the background

Joshua Tree National Park, California

From Nadine of Le Long Weekend

With an incredibly intriguing landscape, unique flora, and native wildlife, a trip to the Joshua Tree National Park is never dull. The park spans over two deserts – the Colorado and the Mojave – yet the well laid out navigation means it’s easy to experience in a day.
 
However, if you do decide to stay longer, there are campgrounds to enjoy for the night too.
 
There are many hikes to undertake within the park and it’s best to stop at the visitor centre to pick up a hiking map on your way in. The hikes range in length and difficulty, and if you’re visiting Joshua Tree National Park with kids, you’ll find plenty of child-friendly options.
 
Don’t miss the Hidden Valley Nature Trail for chipmunks and plenty of Joshua Trees, the Barker Dam Nature Trail for birdlife, and the Skull Rock Nature Trail from where you can take in the mighty Jumbo Rocks.
 
Visit the Keys View viewpoint for a beautiful view of the Coachella Valley and Mount San Jacinto in the distance. And be sure to stop by the Cholla Cactus Garden where you’ll find the iconic “teddy bear cactus” to walk among – just be careful not to get too close!

When to Visit

The seasons of spring and fall are best for visiting Joshua Tree. Both summer and winter can see extreme temperatures and unfavorable conditions for exploring.
 
At any time of the year, go prepared for temperature fluctuations and carry enough water, layers of clothing, and sun protection.
 
Joshua Tree national park, one of the best national parks in visit december january february, with a joshua tree bending to the left in the foreground

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

From Kay of The Awkward Traveller
 
As Oregon’s only US national park, Crater Lake has big expectations to fill as an Oregon road trip destination, although it isn’t too big of a park.
 
As the name suggests, Crater Lake National Park is quite literally a giant crater filled with water. The lake was formed after the eruption of the ancient volcano Mt. Mazama, sacred to the indigenous Makalak people, and it’s the second cleanest freshwater lake in the country (and also the deepest).
 
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While you can’t kayak or boat in the lake, you can hike down to the water via the Cleetwood Cove Trail and jump in for a swim. Other iconic spots include Watchman Overlook, the Pinnacles Trail, and of course – Plaikni Falls. There are even wheelchair friendly trails such as the Sun Notch Trail, though you can enjoy 360 views of the lake straight from your car if you choose to drive.
 
Since the park is small, there aren’t too many food options. Either stop by the Rim Village Cafe for a bite or bring your own snacks.

When to Visit

The best time to visit is either summer or early fall when you have full access to the park. In the winter through spring, the entire rim is not open due to snow, and many hikes and trails are closed. 

Crater Lake Oregon as seen from above at sunset

Sequoia National Park, California

From Jenny of Campsite Vibes

Sequoia National Park nestled in central California is a gem you must visit! For starters, this is the only place to see sequoia trees, the widest tree in the world!

You can find a combination of forested trails, towering peaks, alpine lakes, meadows, and waterfalls. There are also trails for every difficultly level, from beginner day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips.

One of the best backpacking trips is the 72 mile High Sierra Trail which starts from Cresent Meadows and ends on the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney. This trail goes through some of the most beautiful scenery in California. If you can only do a section of this trail, spent 2-3 days hiking to Bearpaw Meadow. If you want to challenge yourself further, backpack to Lake Hamilton.

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There are also a variety of day hikes! Moro Rock is a steep but beautiful trail with 360-degree views of the Great Western Divide, do this one for sunset! If you’re looking for more of a stroll through the forest, visit the General Sherman Tree in the Giant Forest. Tokopah Falls Trail and Zumwalt Meadow Loop are also easy day hikes.

If you want to challenge yourself to longer day hikes, do the Jennie and Weaver Lakes Loop, the Alta Peak Trail, or Big Baldy Trail.

Then spend some time relaxing by Hume Lake. Go kayaking, go stand up paddleboarding, read on the shore, or go for a swim!

When to Visit

Summer or winter is the best time to visit this park and each season brings its unique experience. The winter is a great time to see the park as a winter wonderland and go snowshoeing or cross country skiing!

If you want to swim in the lakes, go hiking, camping, or backpacking, then visit this park in the summer.

Two people walking through a doorway in a fallen redwood tree in california usa

Most Beautiful US National Parks in the East

Acadia National Park, Maine

From Elena of The Carry-On Chronicles

Acadia National Park is affectionately known as the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast.” Located on Mount Desert Island, Acadia is an outdoor adventurer’s playground. This popular park offers terrain for hikers and bikers of varying abilities, as well as spectacular scenery for photographers. Whether biking or exploring on foot, there’s a vast network of carriage roads located throughout the park. 

Park visitors can warm up with a family-friendly stroll along the Ocean Path and admire spectacular coastline views from Sand Beach to Otter Cliff.

The Jordan Pond Loop offers another comfortable stroll and features views of unique South Bubble Mountain and North Bubble Mountain. Here, hikers can’t miss a stop at The Jordan Pond House for some popovers and tea.

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More advanced climbers may consider iron-rung-equipped trails, including The Beehive Trail, The Precipice Trail, The Jordan Cliffs Trail, and The Beech Cliff Trail. 

Regardless of ability, visitors cannot miss a hike (or a drive) up to Cadillac Mountain, the highest point along the Atlantic Seaboard featuring breathtaking views of the Porcupine Islands. 

When to Visit

While Acadia is beautiful year-round, it’s best between late spring and early fall, when the weather is moderate. November through March is least favorable, with cold temperatures and numerous attraction closures. 

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Everglades National Park, Florida

From Paula of Paula Pins the Planet

The Everglades National Park is a fascinating ecosystem and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Located in the sunny state of Florida, just west of Miami and Fort Lauderdale, it makes a great side trip to visit this heaven for lovers of outdoor activities. With loads of nature, many hiking trails to choose from, and water activities like the traditional airboat.  

Another must-visit place during your trip to the Everglades is the Ten Thousand Islands Wildlife Refuge, the second largest mangrove forest in the world forming fascinating labyrinths of water and islands with very rich wildlife, including some endangered species.  

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When to Visit

The best time to visit is between October and May when the weather is cooler and drier. The temperature and the humidity levels are lower, the mosquitoes are not around, and hurricane season has passed. During this time, the average temperature ranging between max 78.4°F (25.8°C) and min 59.7°F (15.4°C). It is also the best time to see the local wildlife.

This is the time that manatees migrate to the Everglades, also the water levels drop during the dry season and a large number of animals congregate around the water holes, making wildlife viewing an easy endeavor.  

If you visit during the summertime, between June and September, book your hikes and outdoor adventures for the morning, to avoid the hottest parts of the day and the frequent summer storms in the afternoon.

2 kayaks in the mangrove tunnels at everglades np, one of the best national parks to visit in february january december

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

From Cosette of KarsTravels

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful US national park that covers part of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Prepare for mesmerizing views at every turn. Visit for the views from the Skyline Drive, the waterfalls, hiking, and for a chance to see bears.

On top of things to do in Shenandoah is driving the 105-mile long Skyline Drive. It crosses the park from North to South and has many overlooks. Next to this drive, there are over 500 miles of hiking trails.

The most popular hike is to Old Rag Mountain, a 9.4-mile circuit hike that takes about 8 hours. Although physically demanding, the adventurous rock climbing (scrambles) and views all around on the Blue Ridge Mountains make it worth it.

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There are numerous smaller and less strenuous hikes available. The 20 hikes towards waterfalls are popular. Perfect with kids is the Stony Man Nature Trail, which leads to the Stony Man’s Summit, the highest point in the park.

When to Visit

The best time of year to visit is October, for the fall foliage. It’s also the busiest time of year. In winter, the snow can give beautiful views, in spring wildflowers and trees are in full bloom. 

view of shenandoah national park from above during fall foliage season. a small section of skyline drive is visible on the right

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Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

From Chris of The Aquarius Traveller

Viewing Bryce Canyon for the first time is an awe-inspiring experience and makes you feel like to have landed on another planet. It’s located on a higher elevation in Utah, not far from the more famous Zion National Park.

These irregular columns of rock, or what are known as hoodoos, are formed from frost weathering and stream erosion. Visiting Bryce Canyon gives you a chance to see the largest concentration of these hoodoos in the world.

There are 4 main viewpoints in the park that can be accessed without significant hiking – Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunrise Point, and Sunset Point. A shuttle service is also offered between April and October to help get you around.

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There are a number of day hikes through Bryce Canyon that can vary from 1 mile to 23 miles, so you will be sure to choose one suited to your situation and time frame. Some of the more popular trails are the Queen’s Garden trail, and the Navajo Loop trail (especially the Wall Street section).

When to Visit

April to October tends to be the busiest season with temps ranging from 75 to 98 degrees F, but if you’re after some snow-topped views then you can’t go past a winter visit in January or February. Either way, you’re sure to enjoy this very unique area of the world, but be sure to catch a sunrise. You won’t be disappointed!

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah as seen from Bryce Point. Bryce Canyon NP is one of the best places to visit in Utah

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

From Jeanine of Le Wild Explorer

White Sands National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the state of New Mexico. Located only about an hour outside Las Cruces you’ll find the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

It just became a national park in December 2019 but has been around some 250 million years ago when it was covered by a shallow sea. This unique place is a must-visit and will have you feeling like you’re in heaven as you step onto the sparkling white sand. 

There are many things to do in White Sands National Park and the sunset is not to be missed. For the adventure seekers, opt to go sand sledding. It’s a fun activity that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults and so much fun.

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If you love to gaze at the stars stay the night with a backcountry camping excursion.

And for those who are looking to just take in the beauty, a scenic drive is a wonderful experience. White Sands National Park can be enjoyed by just about everyone, it’s a stunning national park with lots of charm.

When to Visit

You can enjoy incredible views at White Sands National Park year-round, but to have the best experience at this incredible USA national park, consider avoiding the summer months when the heat can be extreme.

two young women hiking over sand dunes in white sands national park, one of the most beautiful national parks in america

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

From Hannah of That Adventurer Blog

Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah, located near Moab, is sometimes overshadowed by nearby Arches National Park but it’s one of the best of Utah’s Mighty 5!
 
While you could easily spend days exploring Canyonlands, if you’re short on time you can even visit both Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in one day
 
Canyonlands is enormous (337,598 acres), and is divided into 4 different districts, but most people visit The Island in the Sky district as it’s the easiest to get to. Some of the most popular things to see in this part of Canyonlands National Park are Mesa Arch, Grand View Point Overlook, and Green River Overlook. Each involves a short, easy walk from the parking lot where you’ll come out to an impressive viewpoint out onto the canyon down below. 
 
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Mesa Arch is perhaps the most famous and makes a great photo opportunity. It’s where the rock has eroded in such a way that an arch has formed and through this arch, you can see the canyon.
 
Green River Overlook offers incredible views of the Green River (you’ll see where it gets its name from!). The Green River joins up with the Colorado River at Confluence Overlook and it’s the Colorado River that then goes onto the Grand Canyon and is responsible for creating that landscape! 

When to Visit

The best times to visit Canyonlands National Park are in April/May and September/October when it’s not too hot or too cold. Canyonlands is in the desert but can see snow over winter and can get uncomfortably hot in the summer. 
 
Kate Storm sitting in front of Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, one of the best national parks in usa

Death Valley National Park, California & Nevada

From Carol of California Crossings

Death Valley is named as such because of the doomed efforts of pioneers who were desperately seeking passage through the southern Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s a hot dry, unforgiving landscape.

What initially looks like a vast, beige landscape rewards the visitor who takes a closer look. It’s solid, uncompromising geology, is exactly what makes Death Valley such a great US National Park.

At 5,200 square miles, it’s the largest National Park in the Continental US, but many of the top sites are concentrated in the middle of the park. You can see most of them using this two day Death Valley itinerary.

Top spots for sunrise include the Mesquite Dunes and Zabriskie Point. Mesquite Dunes are great for morning light and shadow. Zabriskie Point has amazing views, textured hills and the rising sun lights up the Panamint mountains in the distance.

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On the other hand, the top spot for sunset is Badwater Basin. It’s a large salt flat and the lowest spot in the US.

For crazy geology, head to the Artist Palette drive. In this canyon, the normally beige rocks give way to a rainbow of green, pink, and white.

The best place to learn about local mining history is the Rhyolite Ghost Town. Rhyolite is a great example of the quick-turn boom and bust of California’s mining history.

Death Valley is a busy park so reserve your hotel or camp spots well in advance.

When to Visit

Unlike most of the best national parks in the USA, which see their peak visitors in summer months, never visit Death Valley in the summer. The park lives up to its name, and in the summer, the 112’ heat makes it too hot to visit safely. 

Martian landscape of Death Valley NP with 2 small humans in the bottom left corner. Death Valley belongs on any bucket list for the united states

Big Bend National Park, Texas

From Michelle of The Wandering Queen

One of the best national parks to visit in the USA is Big Bend National Park, located in west Texas. It is a hugely underrated park with small crowds and is located at the border of Texas and Mexico, and hiking belongs on any Texas bucket list. There are many hiking trails, kayaking, lovely hot springs, and of course, the best Mexican food!

Some of the best activities at Big Bend include hiking popular trails such as The Lost Mine Trail, Window View Trail, Grapevine Trail, Boquillas Canyon Trail, Santa Elena Canyon Trail, South Rim Trail, and Emory Peak.

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The Lost Mine Trail is fantastic for sunset, while the Boquillas Canyon trail is beautiful in the early morning. You can see the steam from the hot springs nearby on a chilly early morning.

Another very popular activity is to experience the Hot Springs trail. It is recommended to go for sunrise to avoid the heat and the crowds. Big Bend National Park can still get pretty hot in the winter!

When to Visit

The best time to visit Big Bend is in the winter. Summer can be too hot for enjoying the outdoors, and sometimes, they’ll even close the visitors center in response to the heat.

hiker sitting in santa elena canyon in big bend np, one of the most underrated usa national parks

More of the Best National Parks in America

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

From Megan of Bobo & Chichi

While exploring the best US national parks, you don’t want to miss the very first national park in the world, Yellowstone. Located in Wyoming at the border with part of the park edging into the state of Montana, Yellowstone is easily one of the most unique corners of the United States.
 
Yellowstone National Park is full of surreal otherworldly landscapes and is famous for its wildlife and geothermal activity including geysers and prismatic spring pools.
 
There are 5 different entrances or access points into Yellowstone National Park for beginning your exploring.
 
Whether you have one day or a week to spend here, there are plenty of things to see in Yellowstone that you don’t want to miss. Some of the main attractions in the park including the layered thermal terraces at Mammoth Hot Springs, the world’s tallest geyser and a series of other hot geysers at the Norris Geyser Basin, the psychedelic colors at the Grand Prismatic Spring, wildlife spotting at Elk Park, Hayden Valley, and Lamar Valley, as well as the most famous of all the geysers, Old Faithful which spews hot water 100-180 feet in the air around every 90 minutes.
 
You can stay and explore Yellowstone from accommodation options within the park, for example, there are a few options by Old Faithful, or you can find plenty of lodging outside the perimeter of the park at each of its entrances.
 

When to Visit

While summer is the most popular time to visit Yellowstone, if you can swing a visit in the late spring or early fall, you’ll have an even better experience. Intense crowds can cause enormous traffic jams in the summer, and in the winter, most parks of Yellowstone are closed to private vehicle traffic.
 
View of Grand Prism in Yellowstone National Park, one of the best places to visit in USA
 

Glacier National Park, Montana

From Julia of Well Planned Journey
 

Glacier National Park should be at the top of your bucket list. From scenic drives to hiking trails, there is something for everyone. To explore the best hikes and drives, give yourself at least 3 days in Glacier National Park.

One of America’s most popular scenic drives, Going-to-the-Sun Road, runs through the heart of the park. Going-to-the-Sun Road is an essential part of any trip to Glacier National Park. Dedicate a full day to exploring the vantage points and hikes along this scenic drive. Be sure to stop at Lake McDonald Lodge, St. Mary Falls, and Hidden Lake Overlook. Going-to-the-Sun Road has plenty of pull-offs and viewpoints to photograph the stunning landscape. 

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While Going-to-the-Sun Road provides plenty of great views, the best way to explore Glacier is on a hike. Some of the park’s most scenic and popular trails are the Highline Trail, Grinnell Glacier, and Iceberg Lake. Hiking in Glacier also gives you the opportunity to spot its active wildlife, like bears and moose.

When to Visit

Going-to-the-Sun Road is closed and much of the park is inaccessible from October to May due to heavy snow. The best time to visit Glacier National Park is from July to September, but expect heavy crowds due to the short tourism season.

glacier national park in the summer, one of the best national parks in america. there are wildflowers in the foreground, a turquoise lake in the center, and mountains in the background

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

From Victoria of Tori-Leigh

While Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas is one of the smallest national parks in the US, it is by no means under- impressive. Ancient thermal hot springs, along with gorgeous mountain hikes and picturesque vistas, sit right in the middle of a historic town, creating a unique and memorable experience.

Numerous easy trails, along with a paved promenade and drivable viewpoints, make Hot Springs National Park one of the best US destinations for kids, seniors, and less seasoned travelers.

In fact, there are 26 miles of hiking trails, many easy, within the park’s borders. Along with the Grand Promenade, the trails provide quick access to the park’s natural hot springs. More difficult trails, including the Sunset Trail, are less traversed and provide more opportunity for unique wildlife sighting.

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Visitors looking to skip the physical hike can drive up the mountain and take in the Arkansas mountain views at the 1920s observation gazebo and the Hot Spring Mountain Tower. Sitting next to the park are the nine historic Bathhouses. Learn about the rich past of Hot Springs National Park along Bathhouse Row or participate in one of the many thermal spa experiences.

Regardless of what type of traveler you are, Hot Springs National Park will charm you with its beauty and uniqueness.

When to Visit

The best time to visit Hot Springs National Park is during the warmer months between April and October, when drying off from the thermal baths won’t induce shivering.

small waterfall in hot springs national park arkansas

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

From Ruby of A Journey We Love
 
Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska could not be harder to get to. Only accessible by boat or by a small floatplane to the nearest city of Gustavus, and with limited options to get to this national park, it takes a bit of planning and coordination to visit.
 
However, the scenery and wildlife are amazing. Icebergs are floating all over the bay, and a few dozen seals, sea lions, and otters can be found in their own little colonies on top of the icebergs.
 
One can also see the majestic glaciers that gave the national park its name and if you listen close enough, you can hear the rumbling as some of them prepare to calve. 

When to Visit

The best time of the year to visit is in summer when a limited number of Alaska cruise ship itineraries can go into this beautiful US national park.  Sometimes the ice may be a bit too thick, even during summer, so cruise ships may change their itineraries at the last minute.
 
Alternatively, one can get to Gustavus, find a boat tour, and see more of the park than regular cruise ship visitors do. 
 
glacier in glacier np in alaska with water in the foreground and a mountain in the background

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

From James Ian of Travel Collecting

Grand Teton National Park is not only one of the most beautiful national parks in the United States, but it also has a ton of things to do. 

One of the most iconic things to do is the 42-mile loop drive that traverses the main length of the range along the inner Park Road and then the outer main road.  There are stops at Jenny and Jackson Lakes and a detour up Signal Mountain for a stunning bird’s eye view of Jackson Lake.

Other famous viewpoints along the way are Oxbow Bend, where a wide bend in the Snake River creates a perfect reflection of the mountains, Snake River Overlook, and Schwabacher Landing, where moose are often seen. 

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At nearby Mormon Row, the famous Moulton barns create a picture-perfect foreground for the mountain views. 

There are many incredible hikes into the canyons between the peaks, though perhaps the best is Cascade Canyon, where the views are truly jaw-dropping.  Other things to do in Grand Teton National Park and the nearby areas include boating, kayaking, and swimming in summer and snowmobiling, skiing, and dogsledding in winter.

When to Visit

The best time to go is spring (April-June) and fall (September-October), as this area gets a lot of snow in winter, closing the inner road, and summer can be very crowded.  However, if you like winter sports, the surrounding area is a winter wonderland that you will love.

wooden barn along mormon row in grand teton np wyoming

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

From Michelle of Moyer Memoirs Travel Blog

Cuyahoga Valley National Park was declared a national park in 2000 but is still a little-known secret treasure among the best national parks in the USA. 

It spans 32,000 acres in between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio along the Cuyahoga River and boasts miles of beautiful hiking trails.  The most notable trail is the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, almost 20 miles of pristine pathways that are perfect for hikers and bikers to admire the park.

There are two iconic sites located within the park.  The first is a beautiful 60-foot waterfall, Brandywine Falls, with a boardwalk overlook and lower viewing platform.   

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The second site is the Ritchie Ledges.  This area is full of rocks and crevices formed from the glacier grooves millions of years ago and has a 1.8-mile trail around and down into the sandstone cliffs.

When to Visit

The best time of year to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park in the winter season when the snow is flying. During the holidays, the park runs the Polar Express in conjunction with the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. 

As a holiday delight based on the book and popular movie, the railroad takes a trip through the national park to the North Pole in order to visit Santa Claus and all his helpers.  This provides a very festive atmosphere to the already gorgeous national park scenery. 

waterfall over a rocky ledge in cuyahoga valley ohio

Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana

From Sara of Cernys’ Journeys
 
Indiana Dunes National Park is the 61st and newest of the National Parks system and it is not to be missed. There are year-round activities for the whole family to enjoy.
 
A day at that beach relaxing on the shores of Lake Michigan is a must for locals and tourists alike. It is recommended to get to the park early as parking can be difficult if you go later in the day. 

Hiking is a favorite year-round activity at the park. There are over 15 miles of trails, so before you go check out these nine hiking spots to plan your time.  Cowels Bog Trail is the longest at approximately 5 miles and probably the most challenging, but most rewarding trail. The terrain has you trekking through ponds, marshes, swamps, forest, to the beach.  

Other fun activities the park offers are horseback riding, camping, and bird watching.

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Winter activities include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Make sure to bring warm coats and gloves as the lake does tend to make the air cooler during the winter months. The park provides free rentals on a first come first serve basis at the Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education. 
 
Even if you are not renting any equipment, you should also stop in the Paul H. Douglas Center for some additional seasonal displays, activities, and freebies that the park may be offering during your visit.

The park is located 45 miles east of Chicago, so it is a great day trip for those wanting to have a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

When to Visit

Summertime is the most popular time to visit, as it is known to have some of the best beaches in the Chicagoland area. However, locals visit year-round.

white sand beach at indiana dunes with bright blue water on the right

Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri

From Sarah of Travels of Sarah Fay

From iconic shots of driving across Route 66 West, Gateway Arch National Park became one of the famous routes stop for cross country road trippers.

On February 22, 2018, Gateway Arch’s 91 acres was designated the 60th National Park. After the $380 million-dollar renovations Gateway Arch National Park has become the top thing to do in St. Louis, Missouri. The creation of walking trails on St. Louis, Missouri’s waterfront, a superb American History Museum, and the amphitheater make this worth the visit.

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The Arch was made to commemorate the western expansion of the United States during the 19th century. It took 7 years to complete, around 43,000 tons of steel, and $13 million dollars to complete in 1967.

It’s the largest man-made arch in the world, and visitors can take the 4-minute ride to the top via tram to the 630-foot viewing area. On a beautiful day, you can see as far as 30 miles from the top of the Arch. As one of the only national parks located in an urban setting, this is definitely one of the best national parks in the USA!

From the Arch, you can see the Old Court House where the famous Dred Scott trial was held in 1857, where a former slave sued for his freedom and suffragist Virginia Minor attempted to register to vote in 1872.  

When to Visit

The best time of year in terms of weather to visit the Gateway Arch National Park in the summer. However, I would say to avoid the crowds to come to visit the arch first thing in the morning before lines develop to take the tram to the top. 

4 photos of best national parks in us: acadia, glacier, glacier bay, and arches. black and red text on a white backgrounds reads "25 beautiful usa national parks for your bucket list"

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