The United States was the first country in the world to establish a national park Today, there are more than 60 remarkable parks dotted across the nation. The array of natural beauty is truly astounding; it's hard to believe that a single country can be home to the extraordinary colorful rock formations of the Badlands, the swampy marshland of the Everglades, and the dazzling glaciers of Mount Rainier National Park.
With so many parks to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start, so here's a list of the 25 best national parks in America.
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Laying across the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its magnificent mountains and its incredible diversity of plant and animal life. It's the most visited national park in the country, and it's easy to see why. Visitors can hike for miles through old growth forests and past rushing waterfalls. Blooming wildflowers can be seen year-round.
The Sugarlands Visitor Center offers informative exhibits for people who want to learn more about the park, and if you want to minimize your hiking time, you can drive along the scenic Newfound Gap Road. More info
2. Arches National Park
© Björn Alberts/stock.adobe.com
Famed for its spectacular red rock formations, Arches National Park is a wondrous place unlike anywhere else in the world. The park is best known for its 2,000 rock arches, but there are plenty of other incredible formations as well, including rock spires and enormous balanced boulders. A scenic 18-mile road makes it easy to access many of the biggest and best-known rock formations in the park, but if you want to get off the beaten track, there are also hiking trails for people of all ability levels. Ranger-led hikes are offered throughout most of the year.
3. Badlands National Park
Despite its intimidating name, Badlands National Park is one of the best parks in the entire country. It boasts a rugged landscape dotted with colorful layered rock formations and plunging canyons, and while you'll see plenty of unforgettable views simply by driving along the Badlands Loop Road, hikers will find some excellent trails starting at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. The park is also home to one of the richest fossil beds in the world, and visitors can stroll along the Fossil Exhibit Trail boardwalk to see some incredible examples of fossils that have been uncovered in the park.
4. Bryce Canyon National Park
Yet another park known for its otherworldly rock formations, Bryce Canyon National Park is centered around a jawdropping canyon filled with dramatic orange hoodoos. The highlight of the park is the Bryce Amphitheater, which can be seen from four different viewpoints; the landscape is breathtaking no matter what the time of day, but the colors are best at sunset and sunrise. Spectacular views can also be had by hiking along the Navajo Loop, the Fairyland Loop, and the Bristlecone Loop. A complimentary shuttle service is available between the middle of April and the middle of October, but visitors can also drive their own vehicles.
More ideas: Bryce Canyon hiking ideas
You are reading "25 Most Beautiful National Parks in the United States" & Fun trips close to me
5. Canyonlands National Park
© TS Schofield/stock.adobe.com
Just outside the town of Moab, Canyonlands National Park encompasses a rocky, colorful landscape that has been carved into majestic rock formations by the Colorado River. The park is divided into four distinct sections, each with its own character, and visitors can also boat or whitewater raft down the river and its many tributaries. The Island in the Sky features easy to moderate hiking trails and a scenic driving route that makes it the best choice for most first-time visitors, but anyone seeking a more rugged, remote experience can head to the Needle or the Maze.
6. Crater Lake National Park
Founded in 1902, Crater Lake National Park is home to the deepest lake in America, which was formed by a volcanic eruption approximately 7,700 years ago. A scenic 33-mile driving route runs around the rim of the crater, providing plenty of spectacular views, and visitors can also hike down to the lake to fish and swim. Between early July and early September, narrated boat rides take visitors around the entire lake.
The park is open during the winter as well, and although the lake is frozen over, visitors can cross-country ski, snowmobile, and participate in ranger-guided snowshoe tours. More info
7. Death Valley National Park
© JFL Photography/stock.adobe.com
Death Valley National Park might not sound like the most pleasant place to visit, but contrary to what you might expect, it's a vibrant destination filled with plants and animals that have adapted to living in one of the driest, hottest places on Earth. There are plenty of hiking trails, but many of the top sights can be reached by car, including the salt flats of Badwater Basin and the colorful hills of Artists Drive. If you need to escape the heat, you can tour the underground tunnels of Scotty's Castle or watch the park film in the Visitor's Center.
8. National Parks Near Me: Denali National Park
Located in the middle of Alaska, Denali National Park isn't the easiest national park to get to, but it's certainly one of the most rewarding. The centerpiece of the park is the 20,310-foot Denali Peak, but the entire landscape is truly spectacular, and there are plenty of hikes starting from the Visitor's Center and from the many of the places the park's tour bus stops at. If you want a serious challenge, you can even try to summit the mountain, but be aware that all hikers are required to register with the Denali National Park and Preserve at least two months before attempting the climb.
9. Dry Tortugas National Park
© Varina Patel/stock.adobe.com
Only 70 miles away from Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park encompasses seven small islands dotted across the Gulf of Mexico. One of the islands is home to Fort Jefferson, and the rest are excellent for birdwatching and picnicking. As more than 99% of the park is covered by water, there are also some truly incredible opportunities for snorkeling, including the Little Africa Reef and the Windjammer shipwreck. The islands themselves can only be reached by boat or by seaplane, and if you don't have your own vessel, public ferries leave from Key West on a regular basis. More info
10. Everglades National Park
© Irina Schmidt/stock.adobe.com
Sitting at the southern tip of Florida, Everglades National Park encompasses an incredibly diverse range of terrain, including marshland, pine flatlands, and mangrove forests. Contrary to popular belief, visitors can't take airboat rides in the park itself, but there are all sorts of other things to do, including birdwatching, fishing, and exploring the waterways with your own boat or as part of a ranger-guided tour.
There are also plenty of different hiking trails, many of which have boardwalks that lead right over the marshes, and the Visitor Center also offers guided two-hour tram tours. More info
11. Glacier National Park
Tucked up right against the Canadian border in northwest Montana, Glacier National Park offers more than 1,500 square miles of pristine wilderness dotted with sparkling lakes and soaring mountains. There are dozens of fantastic day hikes, but if you want to take a longer trip, backcountry camping is permitted in most places as long as you get a permit. The scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road bisects the entire park and is the best way to access most trailheads, but the most of the road is closed during the winter and whenever the weather makes it unsafe to drive. More info
More ideas: Places to Stay Near Glacier National Park
12. Grand Canyon National Park
© goncalo rosarioEyeEm/stock.adobe.com
The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic natural attractions in North America, and if you've never been, the Grand Canyon National Park is certainly a place that needs to be on your bucket list. The breathtaking canyon stretches for 277 miles, and there are two distinct areas for visitors to explore: the South Rim and the North Rim. The South Rim offers the most amenities and easily accessible viewpoints, and a complimentary shuttle bus runs between April and November. However, if you want to escape the crowds, you can head to the remote North Rim for some excellent hiking.
13. Grand Teton National Park
© Peter Adams Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
Stretching from the border of Yellowstone National Park to the northern part of the Jackson Hole valley, Grand Teton National Park protects the major peaks of the awe-inspiring Teton Mountain Range. The park has four distinct seasons, and while summer is by far the most popular with visitors who want to hike and fish, the other three seasons have plenty to offer as well. Fall brings a colorful show of leaves, and spring is when an impressive animal migration occurs. Options in the winter are more limited, but visitors can cross-country ski, snowshoe, and spend the night in a cozy cabin.
14. Acadia National Park
© Stan Dzugan/stock.adobe.com
The only National Park in Maine, Acadia National Park was established to protect the natural beauty of the Atlantic Coast. Most of the park lies on Mount Desert Island, where visitors can relax on Sand Beach, fish in the Great Long Pond, and see impressive sights like the rocky inlet known as the Thunder Hole. Many of the most popular attractions can be reached by car, but tf you're feeling particularly ambitious, you can even hike the majestic Cadillac Mountain, the first place in the country where you can see the sunrise between October and March.
You are reading "25 Most Beautiful National Parks in the United States" & Weekend Getaways
15. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
One of the country's most unique national parks, Hawai?i Volcanoes National Park is located on Hawaii's Big Island. Two of the most active volcanoes in the world can be found here, and visitors can hike across hardened lava beds, past colorful crystals that have been formed by volcanic gasses, and even into the caldera of one of the active volcanoes. If you'd rather explore the park by car, you can drive along the Chain of Craters Road or take a trip around the Crater Rim Drive. Visitors with an interest in stewardship are also invited to help cut invasive himalayan ginger in the forest.
16. Joshua Tree National Park
Nestled in southern California, Joshua Tree National Park gets its name from the unique, bristly trees that dot the stark landscape, but it's also known for its striking rock formations, its former gold mines, and its fiery sunsets. Some of the most impressive landscapes and hiking trails can be found in Black Rock Canyon, but other popular areas in the park include the Cottonwood Spring Oasis, Indian Cove, and Covington Flats. Hikers can also climb up to Keys View for some incredible panoramic views of the San Andreas Fault, the Coachella Valley, and even a far-off mountain in Mexico.
17. Mammoth Cave National Park
Home to the longest cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave National Park protects more than 400 miles of limestone caverns hidden under the rolling hills of Kentucky. All visitors are required to purchase a tour ticket if they want to enter the caves, but there are a variety of different options to choose from. The easiest tour requires only half a mile of walking, but other options include a half-day historic tour and a challenging six-hour tour that requires squeezing through tight spaces. Reservations are strongly suggested for all tours in the summer and on weekends.
18. Mount Rainier National Park
Established in 1899, Mount Rainier National Park is one of the oldest national parks in the entire world, and it boasts some truly impressive mountains and glaciers. The park is divided into five different areas, but one of the most accessible is Sunrise, which also boasts many of the best hikes. Some of the trails have snow on them until the middle of July, but if you want to see some beautiful wildflowers in bloom, July and August are the best times to come. If you'd rather snowshoe or cross-country ski, check out Paradise, which can be found on the mountain's south side. More info
19. North Cascades National Park
© TS Schofield/stock.adobe.com
Although it's not as well-known as some of the other national parks in America, North Cascades National Park is home to some of the country's most spectacular wilderness, and it's only three hours away from Seattle. The park has traditionally attracted more serious hikers and mountaineers who want to explore the rugged backcountry, but with almost 400 miles of trails to choose from, there's something for everyone. The easiest trails can be found around the North Cascades Visitor Center, and the beautiful Sterling Munro Trail features a fully accessible boardwalk perfect for families and anyone who wants a gentle stroll.
20. Olympic National Park
Occupying a significant chunk of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park is known for its incredibly diverse range of ecosystems. The park's temperate rain forests beckon hikers and photographers who want to capture the lush green landscape on film, while water lovers should head to the Pacific Coast, where they can stroll along the sandy Kalaloch Beach, admire the sea stacks on Rialto Beach, and paddle around on the glistening waters of Lake Ozette. If you feel more at home in the mountains, consider visiting Hurricane Ridge, where you'll find old growth forests and fantastic mountain views. Where to stay nearby
21. Rocky Mountain National Park
© Nelson Sirlin/stock.adobe.com
Spanning the Continental Divide in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain National Park is another of the country's most magnificent mountain destinations. The charming town of Estes Park is the gateway to the park, and it's the perfect place to stop if you want to take a cable car up to the top of Prospect Mountain before heading deeper into the wilderness. Driving along the Trail Ridge Road is the best way to see as much of the park as possible, but visitors can also hike along a section of the Continental Divide Trail or to the fascinating ghost town of Lulu City.
22. Shenandoah National Park
© jeff norman EyeEm/stock.adobe.com
Tucked in between the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont region of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park encompasses more than 100 miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A 105-mile road known as the Skyline Drive runs the entire length of the park, and many visitors spend their time in the park simply driving along and admiring the views, perhaps stopping at some of the viewpoints and picnic areas along the way.
If you want to hike, you can explore the old growth forest along Limberlost Trail, marvel at the six waterfalls along the Whiteoak Canyon Trail, or climb to the summit of Old Rag Mountain.
23. Yellowstone National Park
Spread out over approximately 2 million acres of one of the most geothermally active spots in the world, Yellowstone National Park is known for its spectacular geysers, mudpots, and hot springs. You've almost certainly seen iconic photos or paintings of iconic sights like Old Faithful and Yellowstone Lake, but seeing them in person is a truly unforgettable experience, and convenient raised boardwalks lead past many of the park's top attractions. After covering the must-see geothermal attractions, visitors can also go fishing, take a guided horseback ride, or go hiking in one of the park's more remote areas.
24. Yosemite National Park
Created to protect the majestic Yosemite Valley, whose granite cliffs are more than twice as tall as the Empire State Building in some places, Yosemite National Park offers endless opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and simply soaking in the beauty of nature. The park is perhaps best known for its waterfalls, which include the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls and the picturesque Bridalveil Falls, but there are plenty of other things to see as well. Marvel at the awe-inspiring EL Capitan from Cathedral Beach, stroll through the ancient sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove, or visit the Ansel Adams Gallery to see some incredible photos of the area.
25. Zion National Park
The oldest of the "Big Five" national parks in Utah, Zion National Park is known for its abundance of striking red sandstone cliffs, which often make visitors feel like they've been transported to a movie set. The park is only 229 square miles, but don't let its relatively small size fool you; it offers just as many things to see and do as other larger parks. Ambitious hikers can descend into the 2,000-foot-deep canyon, but other popular sights include the sparkling Emerald Pools, the easily accessible Weeping Rock, and the imposing Crawford Arch, which can be seen from the Human History Museum.
The 25 Most Beautiful National Parks in the United States & Fun things to do near me today: