The 25 Best National Parks in the US
The United States is a magnificent place to head on vacation or for a once-in-lifetime-road-trip – but it can be a little overwhelming to know exactly the best spots to visit (after all, you don’t want to miss anything!) A great way to see some of the most beautiful sites in the states is to visit national parks. Home to over 420 parks, all combining natural beauty, fresh air and exercise. The parks aim to conserve and preserve the nation’s natural beauty. Each park is home to delicate ecosystems that need constant monitoring to ensure they thrive, which is why there is a fee to enter the parks. Not only do the fees ensure the preservation of the wildlife in the area, but also to research to gain a better understanding of the world around us.
When heading to a national park, make sure you pack comfy shoes and layers – as you never know what the weather might bring. Along with this, if you’re planning on visiting multiple national parks, you might want to invest in a National Park Pass. The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is the best way to see over 2,000 federal recreation sites across the entire country. The pass itself costs $80 dollars and will allow you and 15 people (per vehicle) to enter every national park for one year.
Is the pass worth it? Well, if you’re planning to visit more than one park a year, or plan to visit the same park more than three times, then it is certainly worth the investment.
Given that there are over 400 national parks in the US, we have narrowed it down to the top 25 parks to visit.
1. Olympic National Park
Popularity: 2.7 million annual visitors
Great for: Hiking and wildlife spotting
Arguably one of the most diverse national parks in the whole of the United States, the Olympic National Park has everything from mountain ranges to alpine lakes. With over 50 miles of wild coastline, there is plenty to do and see at this national park.
The park itself is so unique because it has four main areas: the coastline, the alpine region, the rainforest and the mountainous region. The diversity of landscapes within the Olympic National Park means it is one of the best parks for hiking and spotting wildlife.
If you are an avid hiker, you will want to hike to the peak of Mount Angeles. Once you reach the top, you can see a 360 degree view of the Olympic National Park, as well as Puget Sound and Mount Rainier.
2. Everglades National Park
Popularity: 1 million annual visitors
Great for: Birdwatchers trying to spot endangered species
In the southern side of Florida, just west of Miami is the Everglades National Park. Stretching across the Gulf Coast near the Florida Keys, you’ll find alligators, panthers and snakes in one of the world’s most famous national parks. The Everglades is one of the best places to have a different sort of sightseeing experience – as you can hop aboard an airboat through the marshlands and see all sorts of different creatures in their natural habitat.
When you’re exploring Florida’s Everglades, be sure to keep your eyes peeled. The park is also well known for being an ideal spot for bird watchers and people come from all over the world to spot the Piping Plover and Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, just to name two of the endangered birds that call this national park their home.
3. Blue Ridge Parkway
State: North Carolina
Popularity: 15.9 million annual visitors
Great for: Road trips
Often referred to as America’s ‘favourite drive,’ Blue Ridge Parkway connects two national parks: the Smoky Mountains National Park all the way to the Shenandoah National Park. It stretches over 469 miles and is one of the most gorgeous drives in the entire country. Designed by Stanley Abbott in 1936, the architect wanted to build a road that was much more than just the destination. He wanted the road to be the destination – and he completely achieved this. People travel far and wide to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway, as you’ll be able to see some of the most sensational views that the state has to offer. Along with this, there are also museums, visitors centres and gift shops all the way along the road, giving you plenty to do and see while you drive – this is ideal for those wanting to keep moving, while also having plenty of rest stops to look at on the way. Make the journey part of the trip and head to Blue Ridge Parkway.
4. Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Popularity: 13.7 million annual visitors
Great for: People looking for a bit of everything
No matter what you’re looking for in a national park, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area will have it. From its walking trails to its historic buildings the Golden Gate National Recreation Area is perfect for those wanting a bit of everything – the hardest thing to do here is work out what you want to do.
Offering spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge, this recreation area offers a natural escape from inner city life. You can find your little slice of peace within ancient trees and even try your hand at whale watching as you explore the Bay Area.
5. Gateway National Recreation Area
State: New Jersey
Popularity: 9.1 million annual visitors
Great for: Seeing the culturally diverse nature of the USA
Situated on 27,000 acres of land from Sandy Hook in New Jersey all the way to New York City is the Gateway National Recreation Area. The Gateway offers beautifully lush green spaces, as well as beaches along culturally diverse landscapes. Every day of the week, the Gateway National Recreation Area is open to the public for you to explore and experience everything the park has to offer.
The Gateway National Recreation Area can be reached by bus, car, ferry or even train, and there are so many activities for visitors all year round.
6. Lake Mead National Recreation Area
State: Arizona and Nevada
Popularity: 7.6 million annual visitors
Great for: Seeing the United States largest manmade reservoir
Lake Mead National Park is home to the largest manmade reservoir in the whole of the United States. Spread over 110 miles in both Arizona and Nevada, Lake Mead is a sight to see. When the lake is at its fullest, it is 532 feet deep and has nearly 250 square miles of surface and a huge 28 million-acre feet worth of water. The lake was formed when the United States Bureau of Reclamation decided to take the Black Canyon site and create the reservoir in the 1930s.
Over 7.6 million visitors from all over the world come and see the deep canyons and colourful rock formations each year and are always surprised and just how vast and beautiful a manmade reservoir can be.
7. George Washington Memorial Parkway
Popularity: 6.8 million annual visitors
Great for: Picturesque drives in Virginia
The George Washington Memorial Parkway is an idyllic drive that runs the length of the Potomac River. It is kept in pristine condition by the National Park Service, and today can be used to travel from Washington all the way to Mount Vernon, which will only take about 30 minutes thanks to the national parkway.
The drive runs from the Capital Beltway in Virginia, through the Old Town Alexandria and then arrives at Mount Vernon, which was the infamous home of George Washington. This parkway is the ideal way to see a lot of Virginia and is the perfect opportunity for people to learn about American history and the natural sights available in the state.
8. Gulf Islands National Seashore
Popularity: 5.5 million annual visitors
Great for: A daytrip dedicated to exploring or relaxing
Home to the largest stretch of federal seashore is Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key which is known as the Gulf Islands National Seashore. There are never-ending opportunities here to relax, or explore more of the islands. Both hiking and cycling can be enjoyed here, as well as spending time on kayaks and other water activities.
The intricate ecosystems that can be found at the Gulf Islands National Shoreline include both marine and land animals. Ospreys and herons can both be seen flying in the local area, and dolphins and sea turtles have been spotted in the waters of the Gulf too.
Whether you’re wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and relax by undisturbed waters, or if you want to try your hand at snorkelling or fishing – there is something here for everyone. We love how dedicated the local community are to ensuring the shoreline stays pristine.
9. Zion National Park
Popularity: 5 million annual visitors
Great for: Anyone of any ability to see a national park
Utah’s immensely popular national park Zion National Park, covers 146,000 acres of land and is one of the most visited places in the whole state. One of the main attractions in the park is Zion Canyon, which is a naturally occurring landmark that runs for 15 miles and is made from Navajo Sandstone. Other incredible landmarks that are found in the national park include the Kolob Canyons, Horse Ranch Mountain and the Twin Brothers Peaks.
The dedicated infrastructure and transportation in the park make it the ideal place for anyone, of any ability, to be able to witness some of the USA’s most breathtaking scenery – along with being able to have easy access to visitor centers and offices on-site.
10. Yellowstone National Park
Popularity: 4.9 million annual visitors
Great for: Seeing natural wonders come alive before your eyes
Yellowstone National Park is located to the northwest of Wyoming. Famous for its impressive volcano system and geyser, which is known as ‘Old Faithful,’ people come from all over the world to see her erupt, like clockwork, every 91 minutes exactly.
Along with the volcanic landscapes, the park is also home to meadows, forests and mountains. Undoubtedly the main attraction in the state of Wyoming, the visitors who come here take away so much wonder and embrace nature in a way they never would have before. Don’t forget, when you visit Yellowstone, don’t just get distracted by one thing – there is so much to see here too. The Grand Prismatic Spring and Excelsior Geyser Crater are also here too and you simply won’t want to miss them.
11. Grand Canyon National Park
Popularity: 4.5 million annual visitors
Great for: Breath-taking views
Let’s be honest, everyone has heard of the Grand Canyon – which is why the Grand Canyon National Park has over 4.5 million visitors each year. This infamous national park is home to the largest canyon in existence and covers a massive 1.2 million acres of Arizona. The canyon has formed over millions of years by the Colorado River, which still runs through the canyon today.
It is easy to see why so many people visit the canyon every year, and with how vast the region is, along with the breathtaking views and unique ecosystems – there is always plenty to do, see and explore here.
12. Rocky Mountain National Park
Popularity: 4.4 million annual visitors
Great for: Anyone seeking some time out in nature
With over 4.4 million visitors each year, Rocky Mountains National Park is one of the most visited parks in the whole of the USA. The Rocky Mountains are arguably one of the most well-known and famous mountain ranges which sit just in the northern region of Colorado. Established in 1915, the park has been named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and consists of a number of mountains, valleys and even glaciers.
Along with the detailed landscape, the park is also home to a diverse range of wildlife including Elk, Bears, Bison and Bobcats – so be careful when hiking this park.
13. Acadia National Park
Popularity: 4 million annual visitors
Great for: Exploring the marine and inland wildlife in Maine
Acadia National Park is one of the very few parks in the whole of the USA that is situated on an island. The park itself can be found in the south of Maine, on Mount Desert Island. Historically, the island was inhabited by the Wabanaki Native Americans, but it was turned into a National Park back in the 1920s.
Acadia has a very varying landscape of woodlands, mountainous regions and shorelines, with landmarks including Jordan Pond, Otter Cove, Thunder Hole and Cadillac Mountain. Given its vast array of different terrains, there is a lot of wildlife that calls this national park home: beavers, deer, bears and even Gray Seals live in this incredible park. Acadia is the perfect place for those looking to see a bit of the natural world up close.
14. Cape Cod National Seashore
Popularity: 4 million annual visitors
Great for: Anyone who loves the ocean
Stretched 40 miles along the Atlantic Ocean is the Cape Cod National Seashore. With six swimmer-friendly beaches, lighthouses and historic buildings and landmarks, this is a must for anyone looking for some fun in the sun, as well as being educational.
Along with the beaches themselves, there are also plenty of hiking and biking trails available to the public, where you can see wildlife and cultural landscapes in abundance. The Cape Cod National Shoreline is ideal for families in the area, as there is always something to see and do for the whole family.
15. Grand Teton National Park
Popularity: 3.9 million annual visitors
Great for: Scenic hiking and driving opportunities
A great landmark in the north of Wyoming is the Teton Mountain Range which is situated within the Grand Teton National Park. The park itself covers around 310,000 acres of land and meets with Yellowstone National Park. Part of the Rock Mountains, which the Tetons belong to, makes up a large part of this Wyoming national park.
Along with the mountain range, there are also other immersive sights to see in this particular national park. Jackson Hole, for instance, is a valley that is home to Jackson Lake, Snake River and the National Elk Refuge. The entire park has many intricate ecosystems, which make it the perfect place to hike and see various different species that live within the park.
16. Yosemite National Park
Popularity: 3.3 million visitors
Great for: Hiking and climbing
One of the most popular national parks in California is Yosemite National Park. This park covers Tuolumne, Mariposa, Madera and even parts of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Along with covering such a vast area, it is also home to the Half Dome, The Three Brothers and El Capitan, which are three natural landmarks in the area.
The park itself was named a World Heritage site in the 1980s and continues to be an extremely popular destination for both locals and tourists alike. Thanks to its array of naturally beautiful sites, it is the perfect place for hiking, or even climbing thanks to its granite cliffs and impressive wilderness spots.
17. Indiana Dunes National Park
Popularity: 3.2 million annual visitors
Great for: Spotting rare species of birds
The Indiana Dunes National Park straddles 15 miles of Lake Michigan. There is so much to see and do here – from looking out for rare species of birds to spending time on the immaculate sandy beach. The national park has over 15,000 acres of land for you to constantly be wowed by.
At the park, hikers have the option of 50 miles worth of trails over the unique and mystical landscape. From rugged dunes to blissful prairies, not to mention the fact that there are over 1,100 native plant species to be seen; the Indiana Dunes National Park is ideal for the adventurers among us.
18. Mount Rainier National Park
Popularity: 1.7 million annual visitors
Great for: Endless hiking opportunities
The most heavily glaciated peak in the USA can be found at the Mount Rainier National Park. The park has so much to offer, given the fact it is so much more than just the mountain. Mount Rainier is surrounded by some of the rarest and most beautiful wildflowers in the whole country, as well as a very old forest, clear rivers and wildlife that roams free within its borders.
The Mount Rainier National Park has so many hiking opportunities, including the Skyline Trail, which is the main walking route found in the park. This walking trail provides the opportunity for hikers to experience the true beauty of Washington’s mountain ranges.
19. Redwood National Park
Popularity: Over 500,000 visitors per year
Great for: Both new and expert hikers as there are loads of different hiking trails varying in difficulty
Home to the tallest trees in the world and situated across 40 miles of wilderness is Redwood National Park. Here you will find an abundance of things to do, from beautiful overlooks to clear blue waterfalls, this park is a slice of paradise in California.
If you’re new to the hiking scene but very interested in giving it a go, the Fern Canyon walk is the perfect 1.1 mile roundtrip for you. Taking you between 1 and 2 hours, this hiking trail will look you around the Fern Canyon, which is right by the Gold Bluffs Beach – perfect for a little break or to set up camp for the evening.
20. Voyageurs National Park
Popularity: Nearly 233,000 annual visitors
Great for: Fishing for as long as you want
The Voyageurs National Park is one unique park – why? Because it is the only national park in the country that is only accessible by boat. Renting a boat and navigating the park is super easy, and there is so much to do and see during your time in the park. In fact, one of the most incredible marvels of the world, the Northern Lights, can be viewed from the Voyageurs National Park. If you head to the park during the colder months, you will have the best chance to see the lights in all of their glory.
Along with this, one of the more obvious activities to partake in when visiting is fishing. The waters of the Voyageurs National Park are full of native fish that can also be taken home and eaten. The Kettle Falls is the best spot for anglers, as you can easily get here to refuel and grab something to eat.
21. Death Valley National Park
Popularity: 1 million visitors per year
Great for: Backpacking for breath-taking views
Think towering mountains, mystical sand dunes and canyons to explore. Death Valley National Park is the ideal place to visit for things to do and see. Although some see Death Valley as a bit of a wasteland, others see it as a place full of endless possibilities. Death Valley became a national park in 1994 and is the fifth largest US National Park.
One of the best viewpoints to see when visiting Death Valley is Dante’s View. Once you have hiked to Dante’s View, you will be faced with the heart of Death Valley. Backpackers from all over the world take this hiking route up to see this view.
22. Great Sand Dunes National Park
Popularity: Over half a million visitors annually
Great for: Sand sledging and sleeping under the stars
One of Colorado’s best kept secrets is the Great Sand Dunes National Park which is home to the highest sand dune in the whole of Northern America.
At the Great Sand Dunes National Park, you can go sledging (no matter the time of year). Sand sledging is a fantastic activity for kids and adults alike who want to experience the thrill of sand dunes. If this doesn’t take your fancy, you can also backpack within the national park and spend the night sleeping under the Milky Way.
23. Kenai Fjords National Park
Popularity: Over 321,000 visitors every year
Great for: Kayaking in front of huge glaciers
If hiking to one of the biggest icefields in North America, or kayaking in front of glaciers are activities you are interested in, then Kenai Fjords National Park is a must visit. This national park is one of the very few parks you can drive to in Alaska. The best way to truly experience the park is to hike or kayak.
The park is great for anyone seeking adventure, or for those who might want to try their hand at ice climbing. There are also so many walking trails, such as the Glacier View Loop Trail and the Glacier Overlook Trail, which are two of the most popular walks within the national park.
24. Arches National Park
Popularity: 1.5 million visitors yearly
Great for: Shorter hikes with great views
The Arches National Park is a spectacular desert full of both long and short hiking trails, unique rock formations and, of course, infamous natural arches. In the national park, you will find over 2,000 arches, as well as hoodoos, sandstone and balanced rocks too.
There are plenty of short hikes up for offer at the Arches National Park. One of our favourite short hikes is the Balanced Rock hike. This famous rock formation is an absolute must for anyone visiting the park. It’s easily walkable and it won’t take you long at all. In fact, if you don’t fancy walking, it’s possible to drive through the park to see the balancing rocks.
25. North Cascades National Park
Popularity: Fewer than 40,000 visitors each year
Great for: Hiking and seeing incredible mountainous views
The North Cascades is an extremely underrated national park which makes it the perfect place for a solitary camping escape. There is only one main road within the national park, so make sure to pack your walking boots. The Sterling Munro Trail is a 300-foot hike that takes you to the Picket Range viewpoint. Here, you can see the best views of the jagged mountain range, without having to hike up the tall mountains.
The North Cascades National Park isn’t one of the most popular parks, ideal for those looking for peace and quiet.