Best National Parks In the US: America's Greatest
Updated: May 24, 2022
Looking for the best National Parks in the US? You’ve found the right place! In this article, we break down our favorite parks in America. As avid travelers and explorers, we love the US for its natural landscapes and diversity. You don’t need to cross international borders to explore mountain scenes, beaches, deserts, and meadows in some of the best national parks in the world.
I grew up in Washington State and have visited a large number of these US National Parks myself. For the ones I haven’t visited, I’ve pulled expert analysis from fellow travelers who have had the privilege to see these wonderful parks.
If you're looking for more US destinations and travel inspiration, download our FREE 100 bucket list destinations and check off the destinations as you go!
Top 20 Best National Parks In The US
US National Parks are some of the best on the planet. With world-class amenities and great infrastructure, US National Parks are the gem of America. They bring joy to anyone who visits them (including us). When you see these majestic landscapes for yourself, you open yourself up for life-changing moments that you will remember forever. Without further ado, let's count down our top 20!
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone is our #1 US National Park due to its sheer uniqueness and otherworldly beauty. The colors and magic that comes from visiting this pristine park are second to none. Geysers shoot up out of the ground like clockwork, surrounding the air with steam. I remember visiting the park as a child and being in awe at the natural beauty. I also learned that Yellowstone was the first national park ever to be founded in the US. Many believe it to even be the first official national park in the world. What a world wonder!
Mount Rainier National Park, Washington
This is one of the most spectacular US National parks around. Centered around the famous Mount Rainier volcano, the park features stunning mountain views, alpine meadows, camping, and fantastic hiking trails. At over 14,000 feet (4,260m), Mount Rainier towers above the Washington landscape and stands as an icon that can be viewed clearly from the city of Seattle. John Muir, one of America’s great “mountain men” had endless adventures in this national park and fought to preserve it for many years. His trips inspired some of our favorite adventure quotes. My dad has ventured on many climbs up Mount Rainier and I’ve had the privilege to hike alongside him and my mom in some of the less extreme day hiking areas. My favorite day hike is Wonderland Trail to Camp Summerland and the lake above it. Nisqually Vista Trail is also a great short route for beginner hikers.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite is one of the most popular National Parks in the entire US with over 4 million people visiting on average each year. People love this park due to its amazing waterfall views and tall valleys. The rock formations are truly unique and home to some of the best rock climbing in the world. One of my favorite movies, Free Solo, was filmed here. The wilderness area is vast within this national park and accessibility is world-class. There’s something for everyone at Yosemite and any visit is sure to leave an impression for a lifetime. It’s recommended to visit the park in April / May or September / October. This is because the weather is milder and there are fewer people in the park in general. There will be more space to enjoy the truly unique landscape all around you away from the crowds.
Arches National Park, Utah
Sitting next to the Columbia River, Arches National Park has some of the most stunning natural land formations on the planet. Sandstone has been shaped over millennia into giant archways and smooth, flowing rock. The wind and elements have cut these formations into structures found nowhere else. Being in a high desert region, the park itself is home to over 2,000 natural arch formations. You can also ride your bike on any of the paved or unpaved roads within the park for an exhilarating adventure! Since the rock formations flow so smoothly, it can make for one of the best rides of your life.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
This is one of my most memorable US National Park experiences of my life so far. Nestled on the rim of (and within) an active volcano, I had the unique experience of seeing the volcano erupting right before my eyes. There are many hiking trails around the rim of the volcano where you can step inside old lava tubes, feel the steam coming up from the openings below, and really immerse yourself in the power of Hawaii’s wondrous nature. I recommend hiking during the afternoon and then gazing at the volcano opening when the stars come out. That’s when you can really see the lava at its full brightness. This National Park can be dangerous due to the varying weather conditions and potential for volcanic activity. For the most up-to-date information, check out the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park website.
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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
This US National Park is a hikers' paradise. With over 350 miles (563km) of hiking trails, giant snow-capped mountains, and icy lakes that shine in the summer sun, it’s no wonder this park draws people from around the world. Since the Rocky Mountain National Park has such a high elevation, it’s definitely best to visit between July-September if you want to enjoy the unfrozen lake views. Pack your best mountain gear and be prepared for long day-hikes full of wildflowers and some of the best views in all of the US. Once you’re finished hiking, go for a soak in one of the nearby hot springs and relax those muscles after a great day of adventuring.
Sequoia National Park, California
Two years ago, I was lucky enough to visit this National Park on a road trip. After driving along the highway for many miles and then finally pulling up to the park entrance, I was shocked by how tall these trees were! Standing next to them I felt like a boy among giants. The Sequoia trees are some of the tallest in the world’s biggest trees in the world by volume. The largest one is “General Sherman” at 52,508 cubic feet (1,487 cubic meters). Do yourself a favor and go for a quiet walk amongst these gentle giants. Immerse yourself in the wonder and vastness of these unique trees. It’s a once in a lifetime experience!
Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park is another one of the all-time best parks in the US. I may be biased because the park is located in my home state of Washington, but I truly believe it’s one of the most beautiful and diverse parks in the country. At 2,320 square miles (3,734 square km), it is host to a vast array of wildlife and plant species. One of my favorite spots in the whole park is the Hoh Rainforest. Stepping out of the car, you are instantly immersed in shades of green, brown, and blue. With the Hoh river cascading down from Mount Olympus and the ferns dripping dew from the morning rain, you can’t help but feel a part of nature here. The name “Hoh” comes from the Native American language and although it can’t be confirmed what the name means, I definitely feel an air of respect for the woods when I enter this park.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Located in northwestern Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is filled with unique mountain shapes that will leave you speechless. Another outdoor adventurer's haven, this park has something for everyone. From wildlife spotting to kayaking, photography, hiking, biking, and fishing, Grand Teton National Park has it all. It’s also one of the best parks for visiting at any time of the year. In the spring, you can witness the wildlife migration where bison, moose, and deer start moving to their summer feeding areas. In the summer you can hike for days on end. Fall brings splendid orange and red colors to the trees and Winter hosts a plethora of snowshoe routes and cross-country skiing options!
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
This is one of the most unique National Parks in the US due to the fact that it is located on the rim of an old volcano that blew up about 7,700 years ago. Besides its sheer beauty with an island located in the center of the lake-filled volcano, there are so many wild facts about this place. First, it hosts the deepest lake in the US at 1,943 feet (592 meters). Second, it usually gets over 40 feet of snow per year, making it one of the snowiest areas in America. Third, there are 30 viewpoints along the road up to the top. Make sure to visit Crater Lake during the summer so you can ensure there is no snow getting in the way of your drive to the top viewpoints!
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion is a true hiker's paradise! Most of these hikes start from the valley floor where you are surrounded by breathtaking canyon views. With red, orange, green, and brown all around, your senses will explode with excitement and joy. The best part is, there is a hiking route for everyone. From the easier treks of Pa’rus trail (3.5 miles, 5.6km) to the harder and even more rewarding Hidden Canyon trail (2.4 miles, 3.8km). Many of the more difficult hikes include chains on the sketchier parts. So be prepared!
Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park is considered the “crown of the continent” for its utter beauty. Towering mountain peaks and emerald-green lakes will take your breath away. In the summer, you can enjoy hiking and biking. In the winter, ski some of the deepest powder in the country (nearly 300 inches of snow annually) at Whitefish Mountain Resort. In the summer, hike 700+ miles of sprawling trails from the valleys to the mountain tops.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Utah has so many amazing National Parks. Bryce Canyon is one of the best. That’s because they are home to thousands of “hoodoos”! Hoodoos are tall formations with soft rock in the middle and generally harder rock on top. Over time, the rock is weathered by the elements and forms unique structures that look like something from another planet. You can view these hoodoos from numerous angles along the hiking trails within the park, each stop offering a new spectacular vista.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic landforms in the entire world. People from across the globe visit this stunning area to view the immense size and grandeur of the canyon. The Colorado River runs through the 1 mile (1.6km) deep and 18 miles (29km) wide canyon. There are thousands of layers of color that run from the base of the canyon to the top, showing off millions of years of history. Make sure to read all of the explanatory signs along the rim of the canyon when you visit. Understanding the story of how the canyon formed is just as rewarding as the endless vistas from above. Teddy Roosevelt once said that the Grand Canyon is something every American should see in their lifetime. I agree!
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
This National Park is one of the most popular in the entire US. Did you know that it gets more visitors than the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone combined? It gets its name “Smoky Mountains” from the smoky haze that is known to surround it. There are many waterfalls and hiking trails within the park. Tons of wildlife also live within the park, roaming the diverse landscapes and scaling the 7,000 foot (2,130m) mountain tops. Check out some of the best hiking trail inspiration in this vast park!
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Denali National Park, Alaska
Alaska has the most breathtaking mountain views in America. The size and height of these mountain peaks will leave you in awe. In fact, Mount Denali is North America’s tallest peak, standing at 20,308 feet (6,190m). There are tons of other mountain peaks and glaciers within the park as well, where wolves and Dall sheep make their home. Grizzly bears roam the fields below the mountain in the spring and summer, grazing on berries and fish. Make sure to bring your bear spray in case you encounter a grizzly!
Saguaro National Park, Arizona
Another one of the top National Parks in the US is Saguaro. If you’ve never seen cactus before, this is the place to visit! The park boasts over 30 different cacti species and has a classic desert landscape filled with scattered bushes, fine sand, and reddish-brown colours. One of the great things about this park is that it is so accessible. Being only 15 minutes from the city of Tucson and running through several public highways, it is easy to find new and exciting adventures. Once you choose your adventure of choice, make sure to bring LOTS of water! The desert is generally very hot and dry, so dehydration can be a real problem if you’re not careful.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, North Dakota
Mount Rushmore is one of the most unique areas in America. Although it’s not an official “National Park”, I believe it should be considered amongst the great parks in America because of what it represents. It represents some of the most historically relevant presidents in US history with carvings of Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington. Nearly three million people visit this memorial each year, gazing at the 465-foot statues carved into the sides of the cliff. Make sure to read the literature along the viewpoints to understand why these presidents were the ones chosen to be memorialized forever in the land.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
This park is one of the scenic wonders of the world. There are many sand dunes on this planet, but this one is unique due to its proximity to the Sangre de Cristo mountains. When you visit, you will have amazing views of rolling sand dunes in the foreground and giant mountain peaks in the background. The dunes started forming about 440,000 years ago when a large lake started to dry up due to climate change. That, combined with strong winds over time started to create a sandy flow to the land. And now, these sand dunes have piled high. One of the coolest activities to enjoy in the park is sandboarding!
Death Valley National Park, California
Last but not least, Death Valley rounds out my top 20 US National Parks! The park is one of the biggest in the US with 3.3 million acres. Sprawling across southern California, it is the hottest place in the states. Reaching temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celsius), there is almost no rainfall all year round. However, one of the strangest facts is that it sits 282 feet (86 meters) below sea level! The amazingly unique rock formations were formed after shifting fault activity caused the valley to sink lower and lower into the earth.
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That’s it for our top 20 best National Parks in the US! To get an in-depth knowledge of each park, check out the official US National Parks website. You can also find a specific national park here, which will tell you of any closures or things to be aware of in the area currently.
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