The United States are just about the perfect destination for a road trip. If you are planning to explore more of this incredible country, make sure to hit at least one – or more – of the best national parks in USA.
Created with the intent to protect the delicate environment and wildlife, national parks are perfect places to visit whether you are in search of some down time away from the hustle and bustle of city life; or if you want to have an epic adventure hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, rafting or more.
There are 62 national parks in the United States. In this post, I have selected the best ones.
The 23 Best National Parks In USA You Must Visit
Yellowstone National Park
Created in 1872, Yellowstone is the first national park in America, and its most famous. Sprawling across three states – Wyoming, Montana and parts of Idaho – it will surprise you with the variety of its landscapes.
You will find geysers that erupt regularly – such as Old Faithful; colorful hot springs such as Grand Prismatic, whose colors are due to heat-seeking bacteria; wildlife galore – bisons, elks, deer, pronghorn, coyote, grizzly bears and even wolves live in the area of the park. The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone will call for many adventures – rafting is world class there.
Yellowstone is an incredibly hiking destination, and you can also kayak around Yellowstone Lake and even visit historic sites such as Old Faithful Lodge or Lake Yellowstone Hotel.
Should you want to join a multi-day guided trip to Yellowstone, you could consider this National Parks Family Journey: Yellowstone and Grand Teton, this National Parks of the Northwest US, or this Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone 4 Day 3 Night Wildlife.
If you are short on time, opt for this Yellowstone Lower Loop Tour from Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Make sure to read my post “12 Unmissable Things To Do In Yellowstone.”
Grand Teton National Park
*Contributed by Priya Vin of Outside Suburbia
Grand Teton is an incredible national park. The best access point to the park is Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is is known for its epic ski runs and winter adventures, but just as well provides excellent opportunities for other adventures such as rafting with scenic views on the snake river, fishing, mountain hikes to wildlife spotting.
Together with Yellowstone, this park has more wildlife than anywhere else in the lower 48 states. You can see bisons, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, foxes, elk, deer, moose, pronghorn, even a mountain lion or wolverine if you are lucky.
Jackson Hole Wildlife Safaris is the go-to company for safaris in the park.
If you are visiting Jackson in winter don’t miss the sleigh rides in the National Elk Refuge, a truly unique and amazing way to see thousands of elk and other species of Wyoming’s amazing wildlife up close.
Stop at Snake River Outlook where Ansel Adams, the famous landscape photographer, took his world-famous shot of the Tetons and snap a photo of the historic Mormon Row Historic District Barns. These iconic barns are one of the most photographed landmarks in Jackson Hole!
Looking for a guided tour? You may want to check out this Grand Teton National Park: 4-Hour Wildlife Safari Adventure or this Grand Teton National Park Half Day Tour.
Zion National Park
*Contributed by Margherita of The Crowded Planet
If you’re a hiking lover visiting the Southwest US, definitely add Zion National Park to your list! This park is located in Southern Utah, close to the border with Arizona, and it’s a must-visit for outdoor lovers in all seasons – including winter.
The park extends around Zion Canyon, formed by the Virgin River, and includes countless hiking trails of varying difficulty levels. For example, families and visitors on wheelchairs can explore the Riverside Trail, a mile-long trail running parallel to the river, whereas those into a bit of adventure can tackle Angels Landing, a four-hour hike to a scenic spot, via a chain-assisted ridge. You definitely need to have a head for heights!
Another iconic Zion adventure is the river hike to the Narrows, where the two walls of Zion Canyon get so close they’re almost touching. You need approximately 6 hours for that, and waterproof gear is essential as you’ll be hiking INTO the river!
If you are not into hiking, you can definitely enjoy the beauty of Zion National Park by driving around and stopping at many scenic spots. Trust me, you’ll love it!
Looking for a guided tour? Consider this Zion and Bryce Canyon small group tour from Las Vegas or this Antelope & Grand Canyons, Zion, Bryce & Monument Valley.
Check out my post “15 Incredible Places To Visit In Arizona.”
Bryce Canyon National Park
*Contributed by James Ian of Parks Collecting
Located in southern Utah, Bryce Canyon is a landscape like no other, and easily one of the best national parks in USA. The bowl-shaped amphitheater that forms the centerpiece of the park is full of hoodoos – pillars of sandstone – and en masse, they are a truly incredible sight.
There are three main ways to experience the park.
Firstly, there is a wonderful scenic drive to Rainbow Point. Drive 18 miles/ 29km to Rainbow Point at the end of the road then stop off at all the scenic viewpoints along the way on the return journey.
Secondly, you can walk the easy rim trail that skirts around the top of Bryce Amphitheater. There are spectacular views – especially at sunset and sunrise – of the hoodoos at multiple lookouts along the rim.
Thirdly, there are several great hikes down into Bryce Canyon. Hiking among the towering hoodoos gives you a unique perspective of this amazing landscape. The most popular is the stunning (and steep) Queen’s Garden-Navajo Loop trail.
Arches National Park
*Contributed by Julie of More than Main Street
Located just outside of Moab, Arches National Park is a must visit Utah destination.
Whether you spend a week or just one day in Arches National Park, you’re sure to have memories to last a lifetime! You will be blown away by the massive rock formations, unique arches, and beautiful scenery, and will be able to enjoy all levels of hiking, mountain biking, and insane star gazing.
Be sure to visit the world-famous Balanced Rock, Double Arch, and Windows section of the park during your visit.
If you’re up for a challenging hike, try Delicate Arch. If you’re not into hiking, you can still see a lot just by driving the entire length of the park and getting out at several popular viewpoints.
If you are traveling solo and don’t have much time to spend in the region, you may want to consider this half-day guided tour. Keep in mind that park fees are not included.
Check out my post The Best Things To Do In Moab.
Grand Canyon National Park
*Contributed by Nicole LaBarge of American SW Obsessed
The Grand Canyon is visited by over 6 million people per year and for good reason: it is an incredible place to visit.
The park is a four hour drive from either Las Vegas or Phoenix. Your first stop when visiting should be Hopi Point – the best Grand Canyon viewpoint. This is the northernmost point along the Grand Canyon’s Southern rim. From there, you can see the vista on Dana Butte which is over the canyon.
As the park is so busy during the summer, cars are not allowed and you need to use the shuttles. These run every 30 minutes and are great for getting around and reaching the Grand Canyon Village.
You should also check out the small city of Tusayan which is six miles south of the Grand Canyon: you will find a few museums there and an IMAX which shows videos on the Grand Canyon.
If you need a guided tour, you should consider this Grand Canyon National Park – South Rim with Snacks & Lunch. For birds’ eye views, opt for this Grand Canyon Helicopter Landing Tour.
For a budget friendly option, consider this Grand Canyon Bus Tour & Optional Skywalk Ticket from Las Vegas.
Everglades National Park
*Contributed by Peuline Vergnet of BeeLoved City
Everglades National Park is located in the southern part of Florida, near Miami. This huge wetland is a paradise for nature and wildlife lovers as it’s home to almost 2,000 species of animals and plants!
There is plenty to do in the Everglades but the most popular activity is an airboat ride. It’s the perfect opportunity to discover the mangroves and see plenty of alligators. If you are lucky, you might even spot a crocodile. Indeed, the Everglades are home to both crocodiles and alligators!
There are also a lot of hiking and biking opportunities near the visitor centers in Shark Valley, Flamingo, Gulf Coast and Ernest F. Coe.
Finally, if you want to learn more about Everglades National Park, you should go on a park-ranger led tour. You can book it online or at one of the visitor centers. It’s a pretty awesome thing to do as you can go kayaking, walking or on a tram ride with the park rangers themselves. They will bring you to the best places and explain many interesting things about the ecosystem.
If you are looking for a guided tour, you may want to consider this Everglades National Park airboat tour and wildlife show or this Everglades National Park Mangrove Tunnel Kayak Eco-Tour.
Sequoia National Park
*Contributed by James Ian of Parks Collecting
Sequoia trees are the largest trees on earth and Sequoia National Park, in California, is home to the biggest ones. Standing next to these giants of nature will leave you feeling insignificant and totally in awe.
Start your trip with a visit to the Giant Forest Museum for an overview of the park and to learn more about the trees. Many trees have been named: the largest tree on the planet is the General Sherman Tree. From there, you can do an easy loop along the Congress Trail to see more gigantic trees such as Chief Sequoyah Tree, President Tree, and Lincoln Tree, as well as small groves called The Senate and The House.
Another popular trail is the Big Trees Trail around a grassy meadow. It is common to see wildlife such as black bears foraging on the meadow at dusk and dawn. Seeing these enormous trees and walking between and around them is an experience you will never forget.
Check out my post “9 National Parks In California You Must Visit.”
Yosemite National Park
*Contributed by Emma Morrell of Wanderlust and Wet Wipes
Yosemite is, hands down, one of the best national parks in USA. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984, this is the place to go in search for adventure.
Located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, there is no lack of things to do in Yosemite. It has hiking trails for people of most ages and abilities. For those less interested in hiking, there are any number of other outdoor activities including climbing, rafting, biking, fishing, golf, and horse riding.
Yosemite also has some stunning lakes to swim in. There are few great museums and some other activities such as gold panning! The park also often puts on large scale events including festivals and smaller-scale activities such as guided nature walks and stargazing. If that isn’t enough, there are also breweries and tastings for the foodies and a range of spa and wellness offerings for those in need of some R&R.
One of the highlights is Yosemite Falls, a 740 meters (2427 feet) jump that makes it the fifth highest waterfall in the world. You can reach it via a hike – which is actually rather challenging. If you are looking for an easier trail, opt for the Vernal Falls footbridge and the Mirror Lake Loop.
Make sure to spend a few days in Yosemite to make the most of it. This Yosemite Valley 3-day camping adventure is perfect if you want to stay immersed in nature. But if you are short on time you can also go there on a day trip. Such as this San Francisco: 1-day Yosemite National Park or this this San Francisco to Yosemite Park full day tour.
The best season to visit Yosemite is after the end of April, when the snow melts.
Joshua Tree National Park
*Contributed by Trijit Mallick of Budget Travel Buff
Joshua Tree National Park, in Southern California is comparatively smaller than other National Parks in the United States, blessed with stunning nature but also a cheap place to visit in California.
You can see most of the tourist attractions in one day – you can go for a day trip from several major cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego and Phoenix – all within 2-3 hours.
There are plenty of things to do at Joshua Tree NP. If you love rock climbing, you’ll find more than 8000 climbing routes and a hundred natural gaps and neat rock formations. Echo Cove has ample routes for the first-timers and advanced climbers.
You should also visit Cholla Cactus Garden and Keys View – you can enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of Coachella Valley and Palm Springs from an elevation of 5185 feet (1580 meters) above sea level.
Make it a point to visit at sunrise or sunset to get a magical view.
Channel Islands National Park
*Contributed by Tom Bartel of Travel Past 50
Channel Islands National Park is truly one of the best national parks in USA, because even though it’s located off densely populated Southern California, it’s a bit difficult to get to – you can’t drive there, but you have to take about a one-hour boat ride from Ventura. And that means many fewer visitors.
There are five Channel Islands, but it will take days and extensive preparation to adequately visit them all. If you only have a day, it’s probably best to visit the largest ones – Santa Cruz, where, depending on how much time you have, you can hike, kayak, snorkel, or scuba.
A hour hike around Santa Cruz is rewarding. Bald eagles, friendly ravens, and island foxes are among the wildlife you’ll encounter on your hike, and maybe best of all, on the boat ride over, there’s a very good chance you’ll see hundreds of playful dolphins swimming alongside your boat.
Other than hiking, you’ll have to arrange the other activities in advance with one of the National Park Service approved vendors.
There is no lodging on any of the islands. You’ll be camping.
Pinnacles National Park
*Contributed by Dhara of Roadtripping California
One of the less visited national parks in California, Pinnacles National Park is one of the newest additions to the list of US national parks.
One of the main reasons the park is less popular is that there is no “scenic drive” through the park. This, of course, makes it all the more attractive to outdoor enthusiasts that come here to hike. Trails in the park are of varying lengths and difficulty. The Moses Spring to Rim Trail Loop is about 2.2 miles (3.5 km) and a good choice if you have just one day in Pinnacles National Park.
You can enter the park through its east or west entrance and pick one of the trails on offer. Many of the hikes allow you to explore the talus caves in the park. The pinnacles themselves look stunning as they rise up into the sky.
Keep your eyes open for California condors as you hike, especially at higher elevations. You may also see golden eagles and peregrine falcons. And in the spring, look for beautiful yellow, purple, and pink wildflowers along the trails.
Visit Pinnacles National Park in early spring, late fall, or winter. Summer temperatures in the park are brutal.
Redwood National Park
*Contributed by Zack Litchfield of Florida Man on the Run
You really can’t beat a hiking road trip through the Redwood National and State Parks. Often missed due to their more remote location, the beauty and awe you’ll find here can rival even the best national parks in USA.
This wonderful collection of parks combines and protects pristine and ancient redwood groves across Northern California. Even better, it’s easily accessible as part of any road trip up the Pacific Coast along US 101.
You’ll want to take advantage of the numerous hiking options that allow you to explore countless titanic redwood trees found in the parks.
For easy to reach hikes, checkout the Lady Bird Johnson Grove or Prairie Creek Trail. These are within minutes of each other and are suitable for families.
If you have more time (and skill) then a deep woods hike along the James Irvine and Miners’ Ridge Loop will be perfect to fill up a whole day or more.
Finally, head north and find the Grove of Titans located outside of Crescent City. This spectacular grove has some of the largest trees in the world and shouldn’t be missed.
Death Valley National Park
*Contributed by Kelly Edgar of Wanderlust by Kelley
Visit one of the hottest places on earth! Death Valley National Park does not disappoint. Located in Eastern California and straddling to the Nevada border, this is the largest National Park outside of Alaska.
Its unique landscape allows you to explore various extremes including the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin, which is located at 282 meters (925 feet) below sea level. Make sure to walk along the boardwalk to see the salt flats.
You can also experience 30 meters (98 feet) high sand dunes at Mesquite Flat. These are the most accessible dunes in the park and allow you to explore the desert landscape.
Make sure to stop by Furnace Creek to stand where the highest air temperature on Earth has been recorded!
Another highlight is watching the sunset at Zabriskie point, where you’ll witness dramatic and colorful views of the badlands from two vantage points. This, including with the stunning wildflowers and unique wildlife are a must see.
You can visit Death Valley on this guided tour departing from Las Vegas.
Crater Lake National Park
*Contributed by Sophie Clapton of We Dream of Travel
Despite boasting more natural beauty than (arguably) any other state, Crater Lake is the only national park in all of Oregon. Anyone who has ever gazed at Wizard Island from the rim of the lake, however, understands exactly why this park must be mentioned among the best national parks in USA.
7700 years ago, an enormous volcano called Mount Mazama erupted with such force that it created a significant depression in the earth known as a caldera. This eruption changed the entire landscape of the region, at the same time creating the deepest and most photogenic lake in all of North America.
Due to its high elevation, inclement weather limits access to the majority of the park for most of the year. In the summer months, there is a ring road that circles the caldera and provides endless stunning views and one of the most spectacular Southern Oregon photography locations. During most months, however, only the South entrance is open and exploring the park requires both snowshoes and determination.
Rocky Mountain National Park
*Contributed by Daria of The Discovery Nut
Located about 1.5 hours from Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best places to visit in Colorado. Aside from highlights such as the scenic Trail Ridge Road or Bridal Veil Falls, you should explore less busy corners of the park to experience incredible nature and tranquility.
The park boasts more than 350 miles (563 km) of trails that snake along alpine peaks, clear lakes, and green meadows. Rocky Mountain National Park is also home to Longs Peak, one of Colorado’s “fourteeners,” or mountains that are taller than 14,000 feet (4267 meters).
After a day of hiking, you can stay at Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park where you can find stores, restaurants, and accommodations, and lots of nice breweries. Make sure not to miss the Aerial Tramway!
Make sure to check out this full-day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park departing from Denver or Boulder and read my post “The Best Things To Do In Rocky Mountain National Park.”
Glacier National Park
*Contributed by Dean Johnson of Routinely Nomadic
Considered by many to be the king of American national parks, Glacier boasts some of the most stunning mountain scenery you’ll find anywhere this side of the Himalayas. Located in northwestern Montana right on the border, where it meets up with its Canadian counterpart, Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier is an endless wilderness playground.
With fantastic campgrounds and even more spectacular backcountry sites, it is the perfect place to get back to nature. Or you can stick close to the Going-to-the-Sun Road – arguably the most beautiful drive in the country – and enjoy the bevy of easy viewpoints and handful of good restaurants.
Hiking trails are where Glacier really shines, however, and whether you choose one of the spectacular day trails such as Highline or Siyeh Pass or go with short and sweet like Hidden Lake Overlook or Avalanche Lake, you are sure to be amazed by the phenomenal scenery and abundant wildlife.
Big Bend National Park
*Constributed by Erin Mushaway of Sol Salute
If you love nature and wish to avoid crowds, you absolutely have to visit Big Bend National Park in West Texas. This small park hugs the Rio Grande and houses an entire mountain range within its borders and features 150 miles (241 km) of hiking trails.
For a complete Big Bend experience, you should visit all three geographic regions of the park: the mountains, the desert, and the river.
This region of Texas at one point was a shallow ocean populated by dinosaurs, so make sure to visit the fossil exhibit to see the remains of this land’s ancient history.
It’s also possible to cross the border for the day to visit the Mexican village Boquillas del Carmen. The border crossing is within the park so don’t forget your passport.
For accommodation, the most convenient and picturesque option is staying within the park in the Chisos Mountain Lodge. However, you’ll find fun options like glamping or tee-pees in the nearby Terlingua ghost town.
Denali National Park
*Contributed by Dan Bagby of Cabin Critic
Denali National Park, in Alaska, consists of six million acres of wilderness and three different ecosystems, giving you the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife, vegetation, and amazing views of unique landscapes including North America’s tallest peak, Denali, glaciers, streams and other mountains that make the park unique.
Most people experience Denali in one day on a bus tour provided by the park and while that is a great experience, you should spend at least two full days in Denali if you can.
This way, you could take the bus tour one day and taking a shuttle bus another day to go hiking within the park. If you have the budget, take a plane ride into the park (you can book it here) where you can land on glaciers!
You can also stay at one of the lodges near the end of the only road, but it is the best way to have the full experience. This allows you to take a nap on the tundra, eat wild berries, go on hike and bike ride, and truly experience Denali.
Shenandoah National Park
*Contributed by Megan Starr of Megan and Aram
Shenandoah National Park is one of the highlights of the state of Virginia. The long, narrow park stretches across the state, following the Shenandoah Valley in the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains.
The main highlight is Skyline Drive, a 105-mile (169 km) road that works its way across the top of the mountains, providing a fantastic view out over the valley. You can easily spend a few days driving through the park and stopping at various campsites along the way.
In addition to the jaw-dropping views of Skyline Drive, there are over 500 miles (804 km) of hiking routes with various levels of difficulty inside of the park. This gives you the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with the park’s wild inhabitants such as the white-tailed deer, bobcats, and black bears.
Do follow park regulations to ensure you don’t scare or taunt the wildlife.
One of the most popular things to do in Shenandoah National Park in winter is to try your hands at backcountry camping in the 124 square miles of wilderness.
Shenandoah National Park is open year-round and each season brings a set of new opportunities and challenges, making this one of the best national parks in USA to visit.
Volcanoes National Park
*Contributed by Sinead Camplin of Map Made Memories
A visit to Volcanoes National Park on Hawai’i Island (or Big Island) is an unforgettable experience. The park is enormous – 523 square miles – with a landscape in stark contrast to the rest of the lush, verdant Hawai’i island.
The park contains two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa and sustained significant damage during the 2018 eruptions. Most of the diverse attractions in the park have reopened and you will need 2-3 days to fully explore it.
Your first stop should be the informative Visitors Centre to understand the geology and history of the area. Explore park highlights such as the eerie Nahuku/Thurston lava tube, the potent steam vents and sulphur banks along the partially open Crater Rim Drive and of course, the other worldly Halema’uma’u Crater. Drive the scenic Chain of Craters Road; take a short hike along Devastation Trail or view some of the 23,000 petroglyphs at Pu’u Loa.
Badlands National Park
*Contributed by Amanda of A Dangerous Business Travel Blog
Badlands National Park isn’t as well-known as some of the more flashy national parks in the US – but that’s exactly why you should visit. I promise you it’s one of the best national parks in USA.
Located in South Dakota, Badlands National Park gets its name from the “badlands” landscape, where soft and crumbly rocks have been eroded by wind and water over time, resulting in interesting rock formations and patterns.
Start by driving the loop road through the north unit of the park, which has lots of lookouts and several trailheads for short hikes. Trails will take you into the otherworldly rock formations at several different points; the short Door Trail and Window Trail are both must-dos.
You can also stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn more about the park, and to visit the fossil prep lab, where they work on the many fossils found in the Badlands.
Allow at least half a day to visit Badlands National Park so you can fully enjoy this unique landscape.
Acadia National Park
*Contributed by Neha Kulshrestha of Travelmelodies
One of the most visited Nationals Parks in the East coast is Acadia National Park, Maine. A park with varied landscapes from rocky cliffs, sandy beaches, ponds to mountains spread across 47,000 acres, this is a favorite of many, and one of the best national parks in USA.
The national park has the highest peak of the east coast, Cadillac Mountain, with spectacular views of the Eagle lake. If you are a morning person, then visit the summit to watch the magical sunrise.
The best thing to do in Acadia National Park is to drive along the 27-mile (43.4 km) Park Loop Road, which runs along the Atlantic ocean with mesmerizing vistas to enjoy and has many scenic spots like Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, Otter Cliff, Jordon Pond, with parking spaces to pull off.
The park can be visited from late spring to fall, with the latter being popular for foliage colors. Plan to spend a day or two exploring and hiking through the trails and enjoy being in the lap of mother nature.
Great Smokey Mountains National Park
*Contributed by Cate of Sacred Wanderings
The most visited National Park in the country and one of the best national parks in USA, Great Smokey Mountains National Park is a beautiful mix of mountains, hiking, culture, and history perfect for families.
The park spans across North Carolina and Tennessee.
On the Tennessee side, Gatlinburg is a popular ‘base’ for exploring and is near the unmissable Sugarlands Visitor Center.
On the North Carolina side families can enter the park through the Oconaluftee Visitor Center and visit the Museum of the Cherokee Indian to understand more about the history of Native Peoples in the Smokey Mountains.
For a quieter experience, on the Tennessee side families can stay in Townsend, just minutes from the entrance to the popular Cades Cove loop. In Cades Cove, you can drive slowly through incredible mountain scenery while stopping to visit historic places of worship, a historic mill, and historic cabins.
It’s not uncommon to see one of the Smokey Mountains famous bears on this loop.
Which do you think are the best national parks in USA?
Further Readings About The USA
Make sure to check out my other posts about the US:
- 40 Incredible Things To Do In New York City
- The Best Day Trips From NYC
- A Complete Guide To Visiting The Statue Of Liberty
- A Wonderful Itinerary For A Day In New York
- The Perfect Itinerary To See New York In 2 Days
- A Fabulous Itinerary For 3 Days In New York
- An Easy To Follow Itinerary For 4 Days In New York
- 5 Days In New York: An Easy To Follow New York Itinerary
- A Great Itinerary For A Week In New York
- A Great Itinerary For 3 Days In San Francisco
- The 10 Best Places To Visit In California (That Aren’t Just Cities)
- 15 Unmissable Things To Do In California
- 10 Things To Do For A Fabulous Trip To Miami
- Seven Adrenaline Filled Things To Do In Yellowstone (With Kids!)
- Where To Get The Best Views In New York
- 10 Not To Miss Hikes Near Denver
- 12 Free Things To Do In Denver