The United States has some of the most stunning national parks globally. With at least one in most states, choosing which one to visit first or next can be challenging. Each park has something different to offer, and each one varies in the landscape and scenery.
21 of the Best National Parks in the USA
There are 63 national parks in the USA, ranging from the world-famous and highly popular tourist attractions to the more remote and lesser-known ones that don’t get as many visitors annually.
While all national parks have their beauties, there are some that everyone should visit if given the opportunity. So, as you begin planning your national park trip, check out the following best national parks you’ll find across the United States.
1. Yosemite National Park
One of California’s most famous national parks is Yosemite. Located within the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite covers 1,200 square miles and is renowned for its waterfalls and giant sequoia trees. This beautiful national park became a protected area in 1864 but wasn’t officially a national park until 1890.
Most people head to Yosemite to hike some of the 750 miles of trails within the park. These trails range from very easy to more complex, so planning ahead of time is crucial. There are mountains, valleys, and varying terrains you’ll want to prepare for.
The park also features plenty of campsites and lodges if you want to stay overnight. You’ll find restaurants within Yosemite Village that are perfect when you want to be in nature but still feel somewhat connected to civilization.
Read Next: Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park
2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the most famous parks in the USA, and you’ll find it on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. The central mountain range within the park is where the name came from, and there are park entrances in both states. The entrance near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is the most visited.
This national park is great to visit anytime throughout the year. But, fall and spring are when most people think the park is at its peak beauty. When you visit this park, you can participate in various outdoor activities.
The various hiking trails are popular, and many are suitable for people of all ages and skill levels. You can also hit the bike trails, see historic buildings, go horseback riding through the park, and camp under the stars.
3. Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and there’s no better way to experience it and the surrounding areas than visiting Grand Canyon National Park. The park spans over 1.2 million acres and is truly something out of this world.
You can visit the north or south rim of the park or plan a more extended stay to make time for both. Most people flock to the south rim because the north rim is a little more rugged. One of the most amazing things you can do here is to book a river rafting tour down the Colorado River through the canyon.
Other notable attractions within the park are Lipan Point, Mary Colter’s Lookout Studio, Mather Point, and Yavapai Observation Station.
4. Yellowstone National Park
This 2.2 million-acre park is arguably the most famous in the United States. Yellowstone is known for its geothermal areas and Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in the country. This massive national park spans Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Since it stretches through three states, you’ll find several different ecosystems here. The South Central Rockies house black bears, grizzly bears, bison, elk, and wolves. The hiking trails in Yellowstone are unmatched since you can span varying terrains.
Besides Old Faithful, other beautiful areas you’ll want to try and see if you visit include Grand Prismatic Spring, Lamar Valley, Artist Point, where there are massive waterfalls, and Uncle Tom’s Trail.
5. Zion National Park
You can’t miss Zion National Park if you’re heading to Utah. This fantastic park is ideal for thrill-seekers who love hiking more challenging trails. The most notable thing about this park is Zion Canyon which is surrounded by the red cliffs.
You have to consider trekking through The Narrows for those who love hiking. This path extends for ten miles through the thinnest area of Zion Canyon. It’s a long trail where you’ll walk upstream, but it’s worth it. Another great hike is Angels Landing, where you’ll follow a 1,500-foot natural staircase.
Even though the most famous hikes in the park are more challenging, less experienced hikers can still enjoy the park. A favorite amongst travelers is to drive Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which is 60 miles long and takes you by almost all the park’s famous spots.
6. Olympic National Park
Nestled on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State is Olympic National Park. Everything people love about the Pacific Northwest can be seen in this park throughout its various ecosystems. You could spend at least a week exploring the different areas of the park.
Several park entrances throughout the peninsula, but some of the most popular places to visit are Hurricane Ridge, the Hoh Rainforest, Lake Crescent, and Rialto Beach. The hiking throughout the park is pretty easy unless you’re trying to summit the mountains.
You’ll be able to see the iconic Tree of Life on the coast, snow-capped mountains in Hurricane Ridge, a beautiful glacier lake, and plenty of waterfalls throughout the park.
7. Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is another popular one in Wyoming. It’s a beautiful park that has plenty of woodlands and mountains surrounding the valleys. The prominent peaks in the park are the Grand Tetons, hence the name.
Over 200 miles of hiking trails throughout the park offer you the best views possible. Hiking Inspiration Point is popular for travelers. Besides hitting the trails, people love heading to the various lakes for fishing, swimming, and other water activities.
Jenny Lake is an excellent area of the park for a scenic drive where you can appreciate the park’s beauty without tiring your legs. Jackson Lake is another spot you need to check out if you’re visiting during the warm months. It’s famous for water sports and fishing.
Read Next: Best Time to Visit Grand Teton National Park
8. Arches National Park
In eastern Utah, just north of Moab, Arches National Park covers nearly 77,000 acres. This large national park is famous for the uniquely shaped sandstone monuments that occupy almost every viewpoint throughout the park.
As the name may suggest, arches are prominent here. You’ll find about 2,000 arches in the park, and every arch is just as beautiful as the next. If you’re looking for the most famous of the 2,000 arches, you need to see Landscape Arch, Double Arch, and Delicate Arch.
Arches National Park is a must-see whether you’re an experienced hiker or simply enjoy a beautiful view. The visitor centers can offer you plenty of history and knowledge of the park’s geological history if you visit.
Read Next: The Best & Worst Times to Visit Arches National Park in 2023
9. Crater Lake National Park
The one and only national park in Oregon is Crater Lake National Park. No matter your experience with national parks and hiking, you can’t miss Crater Lake, which is the park’s namesake. It’s now a collapsed volcano turned into a stunning lake that can’t be missed.
The park is in the southern Cascade Mountains and offers beautiful views. Since most people visit the lake, you may want to try to visit Wizard Island. This small island is a cinder cone on the western edge of the lake that’s another incredible sight.
Other notable areas of the park include Rim Drive, the main road that circles the lake. If it’s too cold to go boating, swim, or be on the water, this needs to be on your list of things to do.
10. Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park is yet another great national park in California. The park is named after sequoias, some of the most beautiful and giant trees globally. Most travelers come to this park to admire the large trees and rivers that run through the park.
If you make it past the giant trees and rivers, you’ll also find stunning meadows and wildlife throughout the park. Whether you’re spending an hour or 24 hours in the park, your trip to Sequoia National Park isn’t complete without going to Giant Forest’s General Sherman Tree.
The tree is 275 feet tall and over 36 feet in diameter. It’s the largest tree by volume in the world. Besides hiking to the largest trees in the world, you can go horseback riding, fishing, and rock climbing.
Read Next: The Best Time to Visit Sequoia National Park in 2023
11. Denali National Park
Alaska is the state with the second-most national parks in the USA, and Denali National Park is one you have to visit at some point. It’s one of the few in the state that’s accessible year-round, offering visitors various activities and guided tours.
If you want to visit Denali, the most popular and warmest time is from May through September. These months are ideal for hiking, seeing wildlife, and experiencing the area without several feet of snow on the ground.
Something unique about Denali is that not only is it the tallest peak in the United States, but it’s one of the only places in the country where you may get to see the Northern Lights. If you want to experience this phenomenon without leaving the USA, you’ll need to go in the winter.
12. Shenandoah National Park
One of the best national parks in the Eastern United States is Shenandoah National Park. This Virginia national park encompasses almost 200,000 acres of forest. While the park is open 12 months of the year, it’s incredibly popular in the fall due to the beautiful colors of the trees and foliage.
Several miles of hiking trails in the park extend through the Blue Ridge Mountains, including several along the Appalachian Trail. Some of the best hikes you can choose are the Shenandoah River Cataracts, Skyline Drive, and Hawksbill Mountain.
You can stay in nearby cities, but if you want a genuine experience, the lodges and campsites within the park are the best options.
Read Next: The Best & Worst Times to Visit Shenandoah National Park in 2023
13. Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is not only a stunning mountain peak you can see on a clear day from Seattle, Washington but one of the three national parks in the state. Mount Rainier National Park is about 369 square miles, and the mountain it’s named after sits over 14,400 feet tall.
If you’re not booking a tour to summit Mount Rainier, the highest point you can reach as an individual is about 6,400 feet. Asheville, Washington, is the best entrance point for the park and offers you several hiking trails.
The trails allow you to see nearby volcanoes like Mount Adams, and the most popular post is Paradise overlook. This spot offers a mountain view and beautiful wildflowers in the summer.
Read Next: The Best & Worst Times to Visit Mount Rainier National Park
14. Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is the best in Montana and is a 1,583 square mile park throughout the Montana Rocky Mountains. The glacier peaks and valleys run throughout the state and into the Canadian border.
The park encompasses a large area, features over 700 lakes, and spans two mountain ranges. One of the best hiking trails is the Trail of the Cedars and Iceberg Lake Trail. For those who prefer to drive scenic areas of the park, the Going-to-the-Sun Road is fantastic.
Glacier National Park hosts plenty of free ranger-led activities that are ideal for visitors of all ages. You might see animals like grizzly bears and cougars throughout your time there.
15. Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is in Southern California and is one you must see, even if you can’t make it to the other nine in the state. The park is a barren wilderness that features rock formations, cactus gardens, and rock-climbing areas.
For those who love camping in national parks, this one features around 300 campgrounds worth looking into. Some require permits. The park is far away from the major California cities, which helps eliminate light pollution, allowing you to see all the stars.
Regardless of where you venture to in the park, Joshua Tree is the best town if you need a place to stay. It has restaurants, shops, and lodging options for everyone’s budget.
16. Big Bend National Park
In southwest Texas is Big Bend National Park. The park includes the whole Chisos mountain range and much of the Chihuahuan Desert. There are several hiking trails, scenic drives, and other things to see if you’re in Big Bend.
One of the best scenic drives is the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. It leads you through the ruins of Sam Nail Ranch, one of the park’s best sights. The Santa Elena Canyon is carved from the Rio Grande and is beautiful for the hikers.
This canyon features steep cliffs that are photogenic. Another thing you need to see close to the Mexican border of the park is Langford Hot Springs. You can soak in the baths and see the old bathhouses.
Read Next: The Best & Worst Times to Visit Big Bend in 2023
17. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places in the United States, and if you have the chance to visit the main island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park needs to be on your list. The park protects two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea.
Sometimes parts of the park will close due to volcanic eruptions and clouds of gas and ash, but many aspects remain open. You can check their website for closures. There’s a world heritage site within the park you need to see that showcases rare flora and fauna.
A scenic drive that you should consider is the Crater Rim Drive. It passes steam vents and the famous Jaggar Museum that teaches you about volcanoes and the ones in the park.
18. Rocky Mountain National Park
We can’t talk about the best national parks without mentioning Rocky Mountain National Park. This Colorado national park spans the famous Continental Divide and is something you need to see within your lifetime.
The Continental Divide showcases protected mountains, alpine tundra, and forests that are untouched by man. Rocky Mountain National Park features hundreds of miles of trails, but Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road are some of the best ones.
For the climbers, Keyhole Route is a vertical rock that goes to Longs Peak, which is the tallest mountain in the park. If you want something easy, the trails along Bear Lake are ideal and still offer beautiful views.
Read Next: The Best Time to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park in 2023
19. Acadia National Park
Most people don’t think of the northeastern United States as a national park, but Acadia National Park is perfect for couples, individuals, and families. Sitting on Maine’s Mount Desert Island and encompassing about 50,000 acres, this park is one you need to visit.
Most people who visit the park stay in Bar Harbor, which is famous for the Atlantic Coastline and seafood. The park is less than 30 minutes from the city center and features stunning lakes, forests, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails.
Some of the best things to see in the park include Jordan Pond, Thunder Hole, Cadillac Mountain, and Echo Lake.
20. Dry Tortugas National Park
One of the most remote and tropical national parks in the United States is Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s just west of Key West and can be reached by boat or seaplane.
The park comprises seven islands that include protected coral reefs that people love snorkeling at. The main sight of the park is on Garden Key, which is home to several beaches and Fort Jefferson from the 19th century.
Most people venture to Loggerhead Key, which features a lighthouse, plenty of sea turtles, and a stunning reef. If you snorkel, the 1875 Windjammer Wreck is a ship below the surface that’s worth seeing.
21. Redwood National Park
A world-famous national park in California is Redwood National Park. The park is over 138,000 acres large and features some of the most beautiful redwoods in the nation. While it’s no secret that people come to this park for the redwoods, there’s much more to see.
Some other notable things to see in Redwoods National Park include the tide pools, prairie lands, meadows, and protected coastlines. If you’re lucky, you may get to see migrating whales off the coastline. Other wildlife you may see include black bears, seals, river otters, cougars, and coyotes.
Things to Consider
Visiting a national park is a genuinely exciting experience. You get to see some of the most beautiful nature in the country and maybe even some wildlife. Before you head to any of the USA’s national parks, here are some things you’ll want to consider:
- Know what trails you want to hike
- Check the weather and dress accordingly
- Always carry a physical map
- Bring plenty of water
- Plan ahead to make sure you have all necessary permits (if applicable)
- Follow the “leave no trace” rule
Frequently Asked Questions
There’s a lot to learn about the USA’s national parks. Here are some of the most burning questions about these parks and their answers if you still have some questions.
Which state has the most national parks?
California is the state with the most natural parks. This state has nine stunning national parks, followed closely by Alaska with eight.
How many national parks are there in the USA?
According to the National Parks Service, there are currently 63 national parks in the United States.
What is the most visited national park?
For several years in a row, Great Smoky Mountain National Park has taken the lead with most annual visitors. In 2020, it had 12.1 million visitors annually.
What is the largest national park in the USA?
The oldest of all 63 national parks is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the largest by area. It’s in Alaska and encompasses over 13 million acres.
What is the oldest national park in the USA?
The oldest national park in the United States is Yellowstone National Park. It was designated a national park in 1872 and was the first in the USA and the first national park globally.
So, What Are the Best National Parks in the USA?
Whether you’re looking for a national park in California, Alaska, Hawaii, or even Maine, there’s a great park almost everywhere for you to visit.
You can explore the various hiking trails and see glaciers, volcanoes, geysers, and more throughout the nation’s most beautiful national parks. No matter where you choose to go, you’ll be glad you were able to experience the natural beauty of the park.