America’s national parks are some of the most renowned in the world. With over 400 park sites and 331 million total visitors in 2017, they’re also some of the most accessible.
No matter where you live, you’re never more than a days drive from one of these beautiful places.
Do you know which park you’ll visit next? Draw some inspiration from our list of the ten best national parks in the United States.
1. Best National Park on the West Coast: Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park is home to the tallest trees on the planet, but little do they know of the other treasures that await. A visit to Redwood includes ancient redwood trees, vas oak woodlands, and 40-miles of California’s most rugged coastline.
Redwood offers a diverse ecosystem that can’t be beaten. While here, you can go for walks, explore the backcountry, and spot animals like gray whales in the sea and black bears on land. All this diversity makes Redwood National Park the best on the planet.
2. Best National Park on the East Coast: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountain National Park is America’s most visited national park, but that doesn’t mean you should stay away. It brings together the human world and the natural one with both precision and beauty.
Come here for the quintessential American mountain scenery and stay for fantastic wildlife viewing.
3. Best Middle Country Park: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park is America’s quintessential national park. Nothing compares with the awe-inspiring Rocky Mountains and the surrounding forests, lakes, and grasslands.
Rocky Mountain makes our list because it’s accessible to families with small children, those with mobility requirements, and committed hikers. Between organized activities and the backcountry trails, you can spend a lifetime here and not see it all.
Bonus: Rocky Mountain National Park is the perfect choice year round.
4. Best National Park to Escape the Crowds: Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Some individual national parks boast millions of visitors each year. Those parks offer stunning nature, but you also become immediately aware that you have to share it with thousands of other visitors.
Voyageurs National Park, in northern Minnesota, offers waterscapes that rival the best-known views found in Acadia or Olympic, but with a fraction of the visitors. Its remote location means only 237,000 visitors. A day here might not include encountering any other visitors.
Will Shafroth, the CEO of the National Park Foundation, says that even after living in California and adventuring in Alaska, Voyageurs is his favorite park.
5. Best National Park on a Budget: Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Great Basin National Park is one of the newest in the country, and the average cost of a week’s vacation for two people is $1,715. Nightly lodging sits below $100 on average, and entry is free.
A visit here offers the chance to see one of the last true dark skies in the United States. Astronomers consider the park to be an “endangered resource.” During your week here, you’ll enjoy views of the Milky Way, Andromeda Galaxy, meteor showers, and no less than five planets – all with the naked eye.
6. Best National Park for a Luxury Experience: Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite is the most expensive national park by far. Average nightly lodging here costs $257 for a week’s total of $2,870 all in.
You’ll spend a bomb here, but it won’t be for naught. A trip to the park means taking in some of the most iconic vistas in America: the Wawona Tunnel, Half Done, and the infamous El Capitan.
7. Best National Park for Hikers: Glacier National Park
With meadows, forests, mountains, lakes, and 700 miles of trails winding around them, Glacier National Park is paradise for serious hikers and those out for a long walk.
Some trails open for only short seasons, and others become even more beautiful off-peak.
Don’t leave the park without walking these trails:
- Highline Loop
- Swiftcurrent Pass
- Siyeh Pass Loop
- Piegan Pass
- Ptarmigan Tunnel
- Iceberg Lake
If you don’t fancy any of these, know there are plenty more day and over-night hikes awaiting you.
8. Best National Park for Adventure: Wrangell-St Elias National Park, Alaska
If you want to get lost – and we mean truly lost – then Wrangell-St Elias in Alaska is your best bet.
The park is not only the nation’s largest; it’s also one of the most remote. There is one road: a 60-mile dirt road suitable for 4x4s during the summer only.
While here, you can wander, climb mountains, or raft the river. The peaks here are some of the highest in North America, and the only other person you might encounter is your guide.
We like Wrangell-St Elias because its remote, but compared to other national parks, it’s still accessible for those of us who want an adventure without going entirely off the grid.
9. Best National Park in Alaska: Denali National Park and Preserve
Denali is perhaps the most famous of the U.S. national parks because its name is both the continent’s tallest mountain and a global pseudonym for adventure.
Although Alaska is packed with state and national parks, Denali is the one you can’t miss if you find yourself in these latitudes. It is one of the more accessible parks in both summer and winter, and of course, offers unbeatable views of Denali.
10. Best National Park in Hawaii: Haleakala National Park
Haleakala National Park is the essence of Hawai’i. Located on Maui, it cares for the islands’ endangered animals, observes the volcanic landscapes, and etches ancient and contemporary Hawaiin culture into the land.
Make sure you arrive – or stay – for the sunrise, but plan in advance. You can receive a permit up to 60 days before you travel.
Ten of the Best National Parks
North America is home to a thriving national park system that thrills and beguiles hundreds of millions of people each year. These are just ten of the best national parks in the United States, but dozens more could easily make the list.
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