Julie National Park, United States 2 Comments

Stretching from the South Pacific, across the United States and into the Caribbean, are 63 national parks. These national treasures are filled with scenic drives, hundreds of miles of hiking trails, wildlife, historic sites, and endless opportunities for adventure. In this guide, we cover 15 of the best national parks in the USA and what makes them so great.

About Our Experience

We are on a mission to visit all 63 of the national parks. Currently, we have been to 49 national parks, with plans to visit three national parks in Alaska in 2023. That gets us to 52 parks, leaving us with just 11 more to explore.

You can see full list of where we have been and what we have in the works in our US National Parks Guide.

I have a hunch that a few of the parks we have not visited yet will make it onto this best national parks list. So, over time, this list may change.

Every US national park has something amazing to offer, but there are a few that really stand out above the rest. These national parks epitomize adventure, wildlife conservation, and are just an all around fantastic experience.

Choosing “the best national parks” is subjective. Many of the parks that we list also make onto the “the best list” of other websites, but there are few here that might surprise you.

The ones we chose are not necessarily the most popular or the most visited national parks. There are a few lesser-known parks that totally amazed us. And there are a few extremely popular parks that we left off of the list, simply because high crowd levels take away from the overall experience.

So, below is our list the best national parks in the USA and why we chose them. In the comment section below, we would love to hear what your favorite national parks are, too.

Most Visited National Parks in the USA

Before we get started with the list of our favorite national parks, below are the top 10 most popular national parks in 2021.

Here are the 10 most visited national parks in 2021, based on visitation numbers from the National Park Service:

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 14.2 million visitors
2. Zion National Park – 5 million visitors
3. Yellowstone National Park – 4.9 million visitors
4. Grand Canyon National Park – 4.5 million visitors
5. Rocky Mountain National Park – 4.4 million visitors
6. Acadia National Park – 4 million visitors
7. Grand Teton National Park – 3.9 million visitors
8. Yosemite National Park – 3.3 million visitors
9. Indiana Dunes National Park – 3.2 million visitors
10. Glacier National Park – 3.1 million visitors

To put these numbers into perspective, the least visited national parks only get a fraction of the what the Yellowstone and Zion get.

In 2021, Gates of the Arctic in Alaska had just 7,400 visitors…Great Smoky Mountains gets five times that in just one day!!

Of course, Gates of the Arctic is the most remote of all of the national parks and one of the hardest to get to. We haven’t been here yet, but we are planning a return visit to Alaska in 2023 (and of the parks we still have left to visit, Gates of the Arctic is the one that I am looking forward to the most).

While exploring the national parks, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

Best National Parks in the USA

In no particular order, here are 15 of the best national parks…our 15 favorites in the US national park system.

1. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park, which is nicknamed the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast,” protects a portion of the rocky coastline of Maine.

Several short, scenic drives lead to beautiful beaches, coastal cliffs and sunrise locations. Short but very thrilling hiking trails lead to some of the best viewpoints of the park. You can also take boat cruises, dine on lobster, and explore the lovely coastal town of Bar Harbor.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: Acadia is a great weekend destination. Explore the park by day and spend time in Bar Harbor in the evenings. This park is great for those who aren’t big fans of hiking, since the scenic drives take you to beaches, viewpoints, and coastal lighthouses. And if you like hiking, don’t miss the thrilling Precipice and Beehive Trails. Go in October to see the park ablaze in fall colors…it is a gorgeous sight!

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Best Acadia National Park Itinerary

Jordan Pond

Jordan Pond | Best National Parks in the USA

Location: Maine

Number of Visitors: 4 million in 2021, making Acadia the 6th most visited national park.

Top Experiences: The best experiences in Acadia include Drive Park Loop Road, watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, go hiking, visit Sand Beach and Echo Lake, bike the carriage roads, and watch the sunset at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Precipice Trail, a short, tough hike that features numerous climbs up metal rungs and ladders and short walks along narrow ledges.

Acadia Itinerary: Acadia National Park makes a great weekend getaway. Two to three days gives you enough time to drive Park Loop Road, do a few short hikes, visit Cadillac Mountain and Jordan Pond, and spend some time in Bar Harbor.

When to Go: Peak season is July and August. Go in mid-October for fall colors. Many park roads are closed from December through April because of snow.

2. Yosemite National Park

Without a doubt, Yosemite is one of the best national parks in the USA to visit. With its iconic landmarks such as Half Dome and El Capitan, its beautiful valley, and long list of hiking trails, this is a park that should go at the top of your list.

We have visited Yosemite several times and we are always finding new things to do. Yosemite is one of the best parks in the USA if you like hiking. It’s also a very popular park for photographers.

But you don’t have to be a big hiker to have a great experience here. Take a stroll through Yosemite Valley, drive to the popular viewpoints like Glacier Point and Tunnel View, and go for a scenic drive on Tioga Road.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: To see Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View is amazing…this view is one of the most famous of the national parks. But I have to say that we love Yosemite for its hiking trails. They are tough but they are some of the best…Half Dome, the Mist and Muir Trails, Yosemite Point…all are incredible experiences.

Yosemite

Tunnel View | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Muir Trail Yosemite

Nevada Fall and Liberty Cap | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Top of Half Dome

View from the top of Half Dome | Best National Parks in the USA

Location: California

Number of Visitors: 3.3 million in 2021, making it the 8th most visited national park.

Top Experiences: Drive or stroll through Yosemite Valley, see Bridalveil Fall, visit the overlooks on Glacier Point Road, hike the Mist and Muir Trails, hike to Yosemite Point for an awesome view of Half Dome, and drive Tioga Road.

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure in Yosemite National Park, hike to the top of Half Dome. This is a massive day hike…17 miles round trip with 5,500 feet of elevation gain. The most thrilling part of the hike is the final climb to the top of Half Dome on the Half Dome cables.

Yosemite Itinerary: Plan on spending at least three days in Yosemite. This gives you one day for a hike in Yosemite Valley, one day for the sights along Tioga Road, and one day for the sights along Glacier Point Road.

When to Go: The best time to visit Yosemite is from mid-May through November, when all of the park roads are open. July, August, and September are the busiest months to be here.

3. Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park is one of the most underrated parks in the USA.

You can zip through this beautiful national park in one day or spend more time, exploring the backcountry hiking trails and filling your camera’s memory card with extraordinary sunrise and sunset photos.

The colorful buttes, spires, and pinnacles of the Badlands create one of the most photogenic landscapes in the country. Bison and bighorn sheep roam the largest mixed-grass prairie in the United States. The hiking trails are short and sweet and the sunrises and sunsets are magical.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: For one thing, this park is a great size. It’s just small enough that you can easily drive through it in one day. But it is just large enough that it feels like you are in the wilderness.
 
One of the best things to do is to drive Badlands Loop Road, which is packed with great viewpoints, so you can see the best of this park without setting foot on a hiking trail.
 
But if you do like hiking, you can do that too. In Badlands National Park, off trail hiking is permitted. Hike into the backcountry and there is a good chance that you will spot bison and bighorn sheep.
 
And did I say that sunrise is amazing?

Sunrise Badlands National Park

Sunrise in Badlands National Park | Best National Parks in the USA

 Badlands NP Photo

Bison

Location: South Dakota

Number of Visitors: 1.2 million visitors in 2021, making it the 22nd most visited national park.

Top Experiences: Visit the overlooks on Badlands Loop Road, watch the sunrise and sunset, hike the Notch Trail, walk the Window and Door Trails, hike the Castle Trail, drive Sage Creek Rim Road.

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure, hike into the backcountry. We did this both at the Sage Creek and Deer Haven areas of the park. We spotted bison, deer, and bighorn sheep and this is a great experience for those who want to go off-the-beaten-path in Badlands National Park.

Badlands Itinerary: With one day in Badlands National Park, drive Badlands Loop Road, hike the Notch, Door, and Window trails, and visit the Sage Creek Wilderness area. With more time, hike the Castle Trail, visit the South Unit of the park, or go backcountry hiking.

When to Go: Spring and fall are the best times to go, when the weather is pleasant and crowds are low. The summer months are HOT and thunderstorms can spring up without warning. In the winter, snowfall is likely.

4. Rocky Mountain National Park

With lofty mountain peaks, hiking trails that lead to alpine lakes and waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and a scenic drive along one of the highest roads in the USA, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best national parks in the United States.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the USA. There are sixty mountain peaks over 12,000 feet and many of these top out over 13,000 feet. Longs Peak, at 14,259 feet, is the only fourteener in the park, but for serious hikers, getting to the top of this behemoth is one of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: For the hiking. We are big hikers and Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best national parks in the USA if you like hiking. There is a very long list of hiking trails in this park and many of them take you to mountain peaks, tranquil valleys, and stunning alpine lakes.

Trail to Chasm Lake

Hiking to Chasm Lake | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Bear Lake

Bear Lake | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Continental Divide Trail

Continental Divide Trail | Best National Parks in the USA

Location: Colorado

Number of Visitors: 4.4 million visitors in 2021, making this the 5th most visited national park.

Top Experiences: Drive Trail Ridge Road, take your pick from the best hiking trails in the park, take a stroll around Bear Lake, visit Alberta Falls, drive Old Fall River Road, and if you are here in the winter, go snow shoeing or cross-country skiing.

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure, hike to the top of Longs Peak. At 14,259 feet, this is the only fourteener in the park. It’s a tough hike and many people who attempt it never make it to the summit, turning around early because of storms or the difficult conditions.

Rocky Mountain Itinerary: Ideally, plan on spending at least three days in the park, so you have enough time to drive Trail Ridge Road and hike a few trails. If you love hiking, you could spend a week here and never run out of things to do.

When to Go: Summer and early fall are the best times to visit. This is when all of the park roads are open and the hiking trails are mostly clear of snow.

5. Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is another underrated park in the USA. Even though it is one of the Mighty 5, a very popular collection of national parks in Utah, this park often gets overlooked by many visitors. Canyonlands is both Utah’s largest and least visited national park.

Those who do visit tend to just spend a few hours driving to the overlooks in the Island of the Sky area of the park. Yes, the views are amazing and well worth the time, but the true beauty, adventure and top experiences of this park are found beyond the Island in the Sky mesa.

You can also explore The Needles, where zebra-striped rocks form one of the most unique hiking destinations in the USA. Explore The Maze in a 4×4 or go rafting in Cataract Canyon.

You can also journey below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa for an unforgettable experience. Drive the twisting Shafer Canyon switchbacks onto the White Rim and then spend a few days driving through remote landscapes. Called the White Rim Road, this is one of the best things to do in the national park system if you crave adventure, rugged landscapes, and low crowds.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: We love Canyonlands for its low crowds, awesome desert landscapes, hiking trails, and backcountry experiences. Driving the White Rim Road is not only our favorite experience in the park, it is also one of our favorite experiences in all of the US national parks.
 
I love it that there is so much to do here. And I find it amazing that a place as beautiful and extraordinary as Canyonlands gets so few visitors. We would much rather spend our time in hiking the trails in Canyonlands than joining the massive crowds at nearby Arches National Park.

Canyonlands NP best national parks

Mesa Arch | Best National Parks in the USA

 

The Needles

The Needles | Best National Parks in the USA

 White Rim Road

White Rim Road | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Shafer Canyon

Shafer Canyon | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Utahs Mighty 5

View over the Colorado River from the White Rim Road.

Location: Utah

Number of Visitors: 910,000 visitors in 2021, making it the 28th most visited national park.

Top Experiences: Visit the overlooks on Island in the Sky, watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch, go hiking in The Needles, drive Shafer Canyon Road, hike below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa, explore The Maze.

Ultimate Adventure: Drive or mountain bike the White Rim Road. This 100-mile dirt road loops around the Island in the Sky mesa. Trips take 2 to 3 days by 4×4 and 3 to 5 days by mountain bike. At night, camp along the White Rim Road and enjoy the awesome views of the night sky.

Canyonlands Itinerary: Plan on spending at least two days in Canyonlands National Park. This gives you one day for Island in the Sky and one day in The Needles. More time allows you to go white water rafting, go hiking, and drive the White Rim Road.

When to Go: Spring and fall are the best times to visit Canyonlands, when the weather is pleasant and crowds are low. During the summer, crowd levels are higher and temperatures soar.

6. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park…this is one of the most popular parks on this list and one that frequently makes the best national parks in the USA list.

Yellowstone National Park is the first national park in the world. It was established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, as land to be set aside to preserve its natural wonders and for the enjoyment of the people. It was the beginning of a movement not only in the USA, but around the world.

People visit Yellowstone to see its wildlife and natural wonders. Hot springs, thermal pools, and bubbling mud pots can be seen throughout the park. Bison, elk, and bear frequently make appearances along the roads. Waterfalls can also be seen throughout the park and hiking trails lead into the wilderness, away from the busy roads.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: We love Yellowstone. Recently, we have been here three times in three years and every time we are here, Yellowstone amazes us even more. The sheer size of this park, with the landscapes and the animals that it protects, is astonishing. Colorful hot springs, herds of bison and elk, geysers and bubbling mud pits, waterfalls and canyons…Yellowstone is a spectacular park.

Lower Falls Yellowstone best national parks

Lower Falls and the Yellowstone River | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Midway Geyser Basin

Grand Prismatic Spring | Best National Parks in the USA

 Yellowstone Bison best national parks

Bison in Hayden Valley | Best National Parks in the USA

Location: Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

Number of Visitors: 4.9 million visitors in 2021, making it the 3rd most visited park.

Top Experiences: Visit Old Faithful, spot wildlife in Lamar and Hayden Valleys, see the Grand Prismatic Spring, visit the North and South Rims of Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, hike the short trails in Mammoth Hot Springs and Norris Geyser Basin.

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure in Yellowstone, venture into the backcountry on a backpacking trip.

Yellowstone Itinerary: It’s possible to race through Yellowstone in one day, but for the best experience, plan on spending three or more days here. Yellowstone is massive and it takes at least three days to just get to the highlights of this park.

When to Go: Summer and early fall is the best time to visit. During this time, all of the park roads are open. It will be crowded, so if you aren’t dependent upon visiting during summer break, the end of September is our favorite time to be here.

7. Katmai National Park

Katmai is one of the least visited national parks in the USA and it is one of our favorites.

Katmai is one of the best national parks for wildlife viewing. This is the place to watch brown bears feasting on salmon.

Every July, the salmon make a run up the Brooks River. Hundreds of brown bears arrive at Brooks Falls to fatten up on these fish, in preparation for the upcoming winter hibernation season. Watching this in action is one of the most unique national park experiences.

While you are here, you can also day trip out to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, the site of the largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century and one of the top five largest eruptions in recorded history.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: The bears. If you visit Brooks Falls in July, there are brown bears everywhere…along the walking trails, near or in camp, and at Brooks Falls, feasting on salmon. This park feels wonderfully rugged and remote. It is a beautiful park to visit but the bears are the highlight.

Brooks Falls

Brooks Falls Katmai

Brooks Falls | Best National Parks in the USA

 Brown Bear best national parks

Katmai Trading Post

Location: Alaska

Number of Visitors: 25,000 visitors in 2021, making it the 6th least visited park in the USA.

Top Experiences: Bear watching at Brooks Falls, day trip to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, go fishing, take a flightseeing tour, visit Naknek Lake, hike to the top of Dumpling Mountain.

Ultimate Adventure: This is one of the most remote US national parks so just getting here feels like an adventure. Most people fly into Brooks Camp on a float plane from King Salmon, but you can also get here by boat.

Katmai Itinerary: With one day, plan a day trip to Brooks Camp from Anchorage or Homer. For the best experience, plan on spending two to three days at Brooks Camp. That gives you the mornings and evenings at Brooks Falls, before and after the day trippers are here.

When to Go: July and September are the best months to see brown bears catching the salmon at Brooks Falls.

8. Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon makes it onto our list of best national parks for several reasons. The views of the canyon are spectacular, the hiking trails are amazing, and this national park makes a great road trip destination.

Grand Canyon National Park is home to one of the most iconic landscapes in the United States. For 5 to 6 million years, the Colorado River has been carving out this canyon, creating an awesome park for photography and hiking.

There are several rims to visit. For first-timers, the South Rim is the best rim to visit. With its hiking trails, long list of viewpoints, visitor center, and lodges, there is a lot to do here.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: The Grand Canyon is one of those places that everyone should see sometime in their lifetime. To gaze across the canyon, witnessing the sheer size of this place, is hard to put into words, and even photographs don’t quite capture the sheer awesomeness of this place. Hiking below the rim really gives you an appreciation for the size and long geologic history of this canyon.

Grand Canyon USA Road Trip

Grand Canyon North Rim

North Kaibab Trail | Best National Parks in the USA

 

South Kaibab Trail

South Kaibab Trail | Best National Parks in the USA

Location: Arizona

Number of Visitors: 4.5 million in 2021, making it the 4th most visited national park.

Top Experiences: Visit the South Rim viewpoints, watch the sunset, hike below the rim on the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail, raft the Colorado River, take a flightseeing tour, visit the North Rim.

Ultimate Adventure: Hike across the Grand Canyon on foot. Called the rim-to-rim hike, this hike is 24 miles long and goes from the North Rim to the South Rim. It typically takes two days with an overnight stay at Bright Angel Campground or Phantom Ranch.

Grand Canyon Itinerary: Spend two to three days on the South Rim. This gives you enough time to visit the overlooks, hike below the rim, and take a helicopter ride. If you only have one day in the Grand Canyon, visit the South Rim viewpoints and do a short hike.

When to Go: You can visit the Grand Canyon all year. Summers are hot and crowded. Spring and fall are better seasons to visit, with cooler weather and lower crowds. In the winter, crowd levels get a bump at Christmas but January and February tend to be quiet here…just be prepared for cold weather and snow or ice on some trails.

9. Virgin Islands National Park

This is one of the most beautiful parks we have visited. With pristine beaches, secluded coves, and snorkeling spots, a visit here really does feel like you are on vacation. Sip on tropical drinks in the shade of a palm tree, go stand up paddle boarding, visit the historic landmarks, or go for a hike.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: I can’t think of another national park where you can sit on a beach, sipping tropical drinks, while sea turtles swim nearby. For beach lovers, this is one of the best national parks in the USA. It’s a beautiful spot to visit and makes an excellent wintertime destination, if you want to escape the cold temperatures that are found throughout much of North America during this time.

US Virgin Islands

Trunk Bay | Best National Parks in the USA

 Denis Bay

Denis Bay

 

Caneel Bay

Caneel Bay

Location: United States Virgin Islands

Number of Visitors: 325,000 visitors in 2021, making it the 18th least visited national park at this time.

Top Experiences: Visit Trunk Bay, spend some time on Maho Bay Beach, visit the overlooks on North Shore Road, hike to Ram Head Point, visit Denis Bay, go snorkeling, visit Honeymoon Beach, tour the Annaberg Sugar Plantation Ruins.

Virgin Islands Itinerary: With two to three days in Virgin Islands National Park, hike one or two of the trails, visit the North Shore Road viewpoints, and spend the rest of your time on the beach. With one week in the US Virgin Islands, you can visit Virgin Islands National Park, St. John and St. Thomas.

When to Go: December, January and February are peak season. This is the dry season and when temperatures are cooler, although the daily highs don’t change that much over the course of the year. Hurricane season runs from July to October and this is also the wettest time to visit the Virgin Islands.

10. Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier is a glacier-capped, active volcano that can be seen from hundreds of miles away. With its forests of evergreen trees, subalpine lakes, and network of hiking trails, this is an outdoor paradise for many travelers.

The hiking is some of the best in the US, but there is plenty here to do for non-hikers. Have lunch or dinner at the Summit House and enjoy one of the most spectacular views of Mount Rainier. Have brunch at the Paradise Inn. Photograph Mount Rainier from Reflection Lake. And enjoy the scenic drives on the roads that circle around Mount Rainier.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: This is one of the best national parks for hikers. The trails range from short, easy trails that most people can handle to longer, more strenuous hikes that lead away from the crowds to jaw-dropping viewpoints and remote locations. No matter where you go in the park, you will have a view of snow-capped Mount Rainier, and it’s quite the sight to see.

Mount Rainier

The Skyline Trail | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Mount Rainier Summit House

The view from the Summit House | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Silver Falls best national parks

Silver Falls | Best National Parks in the USA

Location: Washington

Number of Visitors: 1.7 million visitors in 2021, making it the 18th most visited national park.

Top Experiences: Hike the Skyline Trail, visit Sunrise and hike the Sourdough Ridge Trail, see Myrtle Falls, visit the Grove of the Patriarchs, ride the Mount Rainer Gondola to Crystal Mountain, and hike to a fire lookout tower.

Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile trail that circumnavigates around Mount Rainier. On average, this takes between 9 and 13 days. Or, climb to the summit of Mount Rainier. It takes 2 to 3 days to reach the summit and this is best done with an experienced guide.

Mount Rainier Itinerary: With one day in Mount Rainer, you have enough time to visit one area of the park. I recommend choosing between Paradise and Sunrise. More time is better, and if you can, spend 4 to 5 days here. That gives you plenty of time to explore the different regions of the park and hike the best trails.

When to Go: Summer and early fall are the best times to visit, since all of the park roads and hiking trails will be open. The wildflowers typically bloom from mid-July through mid-August. In Mount Rainier, there are several roads that close in the fall and don’t reopen until spring. These include Stevens Canyon Road, Sunrise Road, and the Chinook Pass and Cayuse Pass.

11. Capitol Reef National Park

Some people may be scratching their heads at this pick.

Where’s Zion? What about Arches?

Both Zion and Arches National Parks are great national parks but in recent years, their enormous popularity makes them feel more like a trip to Disney World than a visit to a national park. With timed entry tickets, 2 to 3 hour waits for hiking trails, a new permitting process for Angels Landing, and on some days at Arches, park rangers closing the park at 7:30 am for crowd control, it’s hard to put these on the best national parks list.

But just down the road is Canyonlands (mentioned earlier) and Capitol Reef.

Capitol Reef National Park is full of many wonderful surprises. With an amazing scenic drive, hiking trails that rival those in Zion, rugged, remote areas to explore by 4×4, short, easy slot canyons, historical landmarks, and even delicious pie, this national park is absolutely amazing.

If you like the idea of leaving leaving the crowds behind and exploring a vast, remote area, Capitol Reef is one of the best national parks to put on your list. Cathedral Valley, with its sandstone monoliths and sweeping desert vistas, is a beautiful, unique way to spend a day in Capitol Reef. Or, you can Loop the Fold, another remote driving day along the waterpocket fold.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: The hiking trails rival those of Zion. You can hike through slot canyons, hike to stunning overlooks, and stand on a massive arch. The 4×4 roads lead to remote, gorgeous areas of the park with just a handful of people. And crowds here tend to be much lower than Zion, Arches, and Bryce Canyon.
 
For those with a sense of adventure, rent a 4×4 and spend a few days on the backcountry roads. Cathedral Valley is a wonderful national park experience to add to your to-do list.

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive best national parks

Capitol Reef Scenic Drive | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Slot Canyon Capitol Reef

Headquarters Canyon | Best National Parks in the USA

 Cathedral Valley best national parks

Cathedral Valley | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Best Hikes Capitol Reef

Cassidy Arch | Best National Parks in the USA

Location: Utah

Number of Visitors: 1.4 million in 2021, making it the 2oth most visited national park.

Top Experiences: Drive the 16-mile round-trip drive along Scenic Drive, drive Capitol Gorge Road, hike to Hickman Bridge, and watch the sunset from Sunset Point. Cassidy Arch is another popular hike to add to the list.

Ultimate Adventure: Explore the backcountry. Drive the 58-mile loop through Cathedral Valley and visit the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon.

Capitol Reef Itinerary: If you want to visit the highlights of Capitol Reef and spend some time venturing into the backcountry, you will need at least three days in Capitol Reef. That gives you a day for Capitol Reef Scenic Drive and nearby sights, a day for Cathedral Valley, and a day to Loop the Fold.

When to Go: The best time to visit Capitol Reef is in the spring and fall months, when the weather is mild. In the summer, expect sweltering temperatures. And in the winter, temperatures can get below freezing and snow is likely.

12. Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is one of those great national parks that offers something for everyone.

Families will love the short, easy, scenic hiking trails, a boat ride across Jenny Lake, plus the possibility to see elk, moose, and bison. Photographers will have a blast capturing the reflections of the mountain range in the lakes and rivers. Active, adventurous travelers can take their pick from the miles and miles of hiking trails that journey into the Teton range. If you enjoy fishing, this park is world-renowned for its trout fishing.

Jackson makes a great place to stay, so you can hike and fish during the day, and in the evening, go shopping and dine at the long list of restaurants in town.

Grand Teton also makes a great road trip destination with Yellowstone, which sits just one hour to the north.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: This is another one of our favorite national parks to go hiking. We love hiking into the Teton Range and heading up the trails to some of the highest peaks, such as Static Peak and Paintbrush Divide. Wildlife sightings are great, too. If you hike away from the crowds, there is a good chance you will see moose or bear. And to hear the elk bugling in September makes the experience even more memorable.

Schwabacher Landing Best National Parks in the USA

Schwabacher Landing | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Delta Lake

Delta Lake | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Hiking in Grand Teton NP Best National Parks in the USA

Location: Wyoming

Number of Visitors: 3.9 million visitors in 2021, making it the 7th most visited national park.

Top Experiences: Drive the 42-mile Scenic Drive, visit Jenny Lake, hike to Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls, visit Mormon Row and Schwabacher Landing, visit Oxbow Bend at sunrise, visit the Laurance S. Rockefeller Preserve, and hike the trails that run in and along the Teton Range.

Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Teton Crest Trail. This point-to-point trail traverses the Teton Range and is typically done as a multi-day backpacking trip. For most of the hike, you will be at or above 8,000 feet.

Grand Teton Itinerary: If you only want to see the highlights, you can do so with one day in Grand Teton. However, if you like hiking, spend more time here. Avid hikers can spend a full week here, hiking a different trail every day.

When to Go: June through October is the best time to visit Grand Teton National Park. During this time, the weather is warm and the park roads are open. The summer months are the busiest months to be here. For fall colors, plan your visit for the end of September and early October.

13. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve

Wrangell – St. Elias National Park & Preserve is one of the best national parks in the USA, and one that many people probably never heard of.

The sheer beauty and size of this national park is astounding.

Take Yellowstone National Park, multiply it by 6, and that’s roughly the size of Wrangell – St. Elias. Throw in four mountain ranges (and some of the tallest peaks in North America), massive glaciers, wildlife, and about 100 miles of road, and you have a rugged, remote, spectacular wilderness to explore.

Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest national park in the United States. It’s bigger than Switzerland! And in its massive 13 million acres, there is only a grand total of 101 miles of roads.

The best way to explore this park is through a combination of driving, hiking, and flying. If you were to ever take a flightseeing tour in a national park, Wrangell-St. Elias is the one I recommend. There’s no better way to appreciate the size of this park, and to see its countless mountain peaks and glaciers, than by airplane.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: I was in awe of this place when I first started reading about it. Its size, its multiple mountain ranges, and its huge number of glaciers is astounding. How do you even begin to explore a place like this?
 
Driving out to McCarthy feels like a adventure. Hiking on glaciers and up to the peaks above Kennecott adds to the awesome experience. But to see this park from the sky is incredible. In terms of grandeur, beauty, and pure “wow factor,” no park comes close to Wrangell-St. Elias.

Wrangell St Elias

Flightseeing in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Alaska Flightseeing best national parks

Another view from the sky.

 Kennecott Alaska Best National Parks in the USA

Kennecott, Alaska | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Bonanza Mine Trail Alaska

Bonanza Mine Trail | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Glacier Hiking in Alaska

Hiking on the Root Glacier.

Location: Alaska

Number of Visitors: 50,000 visitors in 2021, making it the 8th least visited national park

Top Experiences: Visit McCarthy and Kennecott, hike on the Root Glacier, take a flightseeing tour, visit the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark, hike to an abandoned mine, drive Nabesna Road.

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure, explore the backcountry. Take a bush flight to a remote airstrip and explore the park from here. You can also take rafting trips or go mountaineering. For days, you might not see another person.

Wrangell-St. Elias Itinerary: For the best experience, plan on spending 2 to 3 days here. That gives you enough time to explore Kennecott and McCarthy, go hiking, and take a flightseeing tour.

When to Go: End of May through mid-September. That’s a short window of time, but the days are relatively warm, lodges are open, and flightseeing and glacier hiking tours are offered.

14. Death Valley National Park

Death Valley…just the name inspires a sense of wonder and mystery. With barren salt flats, towering mountains, mysterious sailing stones, shifting sand dunes, rainbow-colored mountains, and canyons to explore, there is a lot to do here.

Drive out to Racetrack Playa and learn how the boulders slide across the desert landscape. Stand on the lowest point of the United States at Badwater Basin. Hike on hills of borax, explore twisting canyons, visit a desert oasis, and slide down the sand dunes.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: This is a park that is unexpectedly awesome. And we aren’t the only ones who think so. We frequently receive emails from other travelers that state that this park blew away all of their expectations.
 
The name and the photos depict this park as a barren wasteland. But this park is very diverse and in some places, the landscapes look downright bizarre.
 
In just one national park, you can hike to Telescope Peak (at 11,043 feet it’s the highest mountain in the park), visit Badwater Basin (at 282 feet below sea level it’s the lowest point in the USA), visit Furnace Creek (which holds the record for the hottest spot on Earth), and journey out to Racetrack Playa to see the mysterious sailing stones.

Zabriskie Point Best National Parks in the USA

Zabriskie Point | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Dantes View Best National Parks in the USA

Dante’s View | Best National Parks in the USA

 Racetrack Playa Best National Parks in the USA

Racetrack Playa | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Teakettle Junction

Teakettle Junction | Best National Parks in the USA

Location: California

Number of Visitors: 1.1 million visitors in 2021, making it the 23rd most visited national park.

Top Experiences: Visit Zabriskie Point, drive Artist’s Drive, visit Badwater Basin, enjoy the view from Dante’s View, visit Ubehebe Crater, hike to Telescope Peak, slide down the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and view the night sky.

Ultimate Adventure: Rent a 4×4 and drive out to Racetrack Playa to see the sailing stones.

Death Valley Itinerary: Ideally, plan on spending two days in Death Valley. With this time, you can visit the highlights and drive to Racetrack Playa.

When to Go: Late fall through early spring is the best time to visit Death Valley. Temperatures are pleasant and in the spring, if the weather cooperates, you might just be lucky enough to see the superbloom. Avoid the summer months, unless you like 120°F+ temperatures.

15. Glacier National Park

With glacier-capped mountains, brilliant aquamarine lakes, stunning alpine scenery, and some of the most exciting hiking trails in the country, it’s no wonder that Glacier National Park is called the “Crown of the Continent.”

If you want to see waterfalls, wildlife, and mountain slopes covered in a blanket of wildflowers, put Glacier National Park on your list. This is the type of national park that just begs you to get out of the car and go exploring. Take a boat ride across Lake McDonald, paddle a kayak on Swiftcurrent Lake, or take your pick from epic hiking trails scattered throughout the park.

WHY WE LOVE THIS PARK: Out of all of the national parks, this one is the most beautiful, in my opinion. There are a few other beauties on this list, too (such as the Virgin Islands and Wrangell-St. Elias), but they don’t top Glacier National Park.
 
The hikes that we have done here are incredible…they are fun, they are gorgeous, and the wildlife sightings are some of the best in the national parks. This is a national park that we hope to visit again sometime soon.

Wild Goose Island Best National Parks in the USA

Wild Goose Island | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Highline Trail Best National Parks in the USA

Highline Trail | Best National Parks in the USA

 

Best National Parks in the USA

Hiking to Grinnell Glacier | Best National Parks in the USA

Location: Montana

Number of Visitors: 3.1 million visitors in 2021, making it the 10th most visited national park.

Top Experiences: Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road, visit Many Glacier, hike to Grinnell Glacier and Hidden Lake, visit Logan Pass, visit Two Medicine, see Wild Goose Island, and spend some time at Lake McDonald.

Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Highline Trail. This 12-mile trail takes hikers high above Going-to-the-Sun Road, and along the way, you can see glaciers, wildflowers, wildlife, and great views of the park.

Glacier Itinerary: Two days gives you enough time to drive Going-to-the-Sun road, hike one or two trails, and visit Many Glacier or Two Medicine.

When to Go: Plan your visit from mid-July through mid-October. This is when Going-to-the-Sun Road is open.


So, this concludes our list of the best national parks in the USA. If you have any questions about these national parks, or if you want to write in with your list of best national parks, you can do so in the comment section below.

Have fun exploring the national parks!

More Information about the US National Parks:

LIST OF PARKS: The Complete Guide to the US National Parks
FOR FAMILIES: 10 Best National Parks to Take the Kids
SHORT HIKES IN THE PARKS: 20 Short, Fun Hikes in the National Parks
LONGER HIKES IN THE PARKS: 20 Epic Day Hikes in the US National Parks
ROAD TRIP IDEA: Best USA Road Trips: 18 Ideas for Your Next Big Adventure
ROAD TRIP IDEA: Florida Keys Itinerary: Miami, Key West & the National Parks

 

Best National Parks United States

 

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Comments 2

  1. Avatar for lynda dysievick
    lynda dysievick

    we are looking to travel from las vegas and return to las vegas in sep 2022. we would like to do the mighty 5 and on returning to las vegas go to page az and do antelope canyon. can you give my and idea what my itinerary would be. Thank you Lynda Dysievick

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.