25 Best National Parks in the United States
The United States was the first country in the world to establish a national park, and today, there are more than 60 remarkable parks dotted across the nation.
Bryce Canyon National Park spans 56 square miles in southern Utah and is best known for its unique broken-arch rock spire formations.
The United States was the first country in the world to establish a national park, and today, there are more than 60 remarkable parks dotted across the nation.
Hawaii is home to many spectacular parks, reserves and recreation areas from the molten magma flowing from Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park to the green rainforests of the Hamakua Coast.
There are 41 state parks in the state of Colorado, all of which are outdoor playgrounds for residents and visitors.
Experience Iowa’s incomparable natural beauty and their varied array of outdoor activities by visiting any of the state parks and recreation areas on our list.
Great National Parks in the United States
Boasting more than 60 national parks that host more than 300 million people visit every year, America’s national parks system is home to some of the most beautiful, diverse and breathtaking landscapes in the world. From the ancient layered rock formations of the magnificent Grand Canyon and the massive natural sandstone arches of the Moab desert to the crystal-clear glacial waters of Crater Lake and the winding cave systems and subterranean passageways of Mammoth Lake, here are some of the best national parks in America.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a U.S. National Park that straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee and encompasses the Great Smoky Mountains, and part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which make up the Appalachian Mountains Chain. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to lush forests, year-round blooming wildflowers, rivers, streams, and waterfalls that attract visitors throughout the year to hike, mountain bike and enjoy the natural scenery. There is an observation tower at the top of the highest peak in the park known as Clingmans Dome, which offers spectacular scenic views of the surrounding mist-covered mountains.
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is a 47,000-acre recreation area on Maine's Mount Desert Island along the Atlantic coast. Located southwest of Bar Harbor, the park was established to preserve half of Mount Desert Island, along with many adjacent smaller islands, and part of the Schoodic Peninsula on the coast of Maine. The 49,075-acre park features pristine landscapes ranging from rocky beaches and dense woodlands to grand granite peaks, the highest point on the United States’ East Coast and is home to a wide variety of wildlife such as bears, moose, whales, and seabirds. The bayside town of Bar Harbor features many restaurants and shops and a popular gateway into the park, and recreational activities include hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, rock climbing, kayaking and canoeing, swimming, sea kayaking and guided boat tours on the ocean.
Canyonlands National Park
Famed for its dramatic desert landscapes carved by the Colorado River, the southeastern Utah preserve of Canyonlands National Park is home to breathtaking rock formations, remote canyons, and towering rock pinnacles. Notable features in the park include the vast, flat-topped mesa with panoramic overlooks known as Island in the Sky, the remote canyons of the Maze, the white-water rapids flowing through Cataract Canyon, the soaring pinnacles known as the Needles, Horseshoe Canyon’s Native American rock painting. Canyonlands National Park is a popular recreational destination offering a wealth of activities such as hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, camping, climbing, four-wheel driving, kayaking, canoeing, and white-water rafting.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park is a national park next to the Colorado River just north of Moab that features more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the world-renowned Delicate Arch. The aptly named park spans 76,679 acres also boasts a wealth of significant geological resources and formations, hoodoos, gargoyles, craggy sandstone towers and turrets, and spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding wilderness and distant snowcapped mountains. A notable feature in the park is Landscape Arch, which measures 306 feet with the second-longest span in the world. Activities in the park include exploring the Visitor’s Center, which features a wealth of information on the history of the area and the formation of the unique arches, hiking, mountain biking, climbing, scenic drives, camping, and photography.
Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park is a national park that is renowned for its dramatic rock formations, towering spires, steep canyons, and sprawling grasslands teeming with bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs. Located in southwestern South Dakota, the 242,756-acre park features several attractions, including the Fossil Exhibit Trail, a boardwalk displaying fossils uncovered in the park; the Badlands Loop Road (Highway 240), which winds past numerous scenic lookouts; and interesting hiking trails near the Ben Reifel Visitor Center. The Badlands National Park protects 64,144 acres of a designated wilderness area, which is home to the black-footed ferret, one of the most endangered mammals in the world. The park also administers the nearby Minuteman Missile National Historic Site.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is a sprawling reserve in southern Utah that is famous for its crimson-colored, spire-shaped rock formations known as hoodoos, which are formed by frost weathering and stream erosion, as well as other unusual geological formations. Bryce Canyon is the main feature of the park, which is a collection of several giant natural amphitheaters found along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Spanning 35,835 acres, the park has several excellent lookout points, including Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point, which offers unique photographic opportunities, with prime viewing times at sunrise and sunset. Activities in the park include hiking, backpacking, camping, scenic driving, stargazing, and cross-country skiing in the winter.
Crater Lake National Park
Resting on the crest of the Cascade Range in southern Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the country with a depth of 1,942 feet. Created over 7,500 years ago when the top of Mount Mazama collapsed, Crater Lake is renowned for its clear, deep blue water, which can be viewed from one of several hiking trails around the park. The centerpiece of Crater Lake National Park has two islands within the lake that can be visited and explored on sightseeing boat tours during the summer between June and September. Visitors to the lake can enjoy swimming, scuba diving, and fishing on the lake, as well as camping, hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife viewing in the surrounding Crater Lake National Park.
Death Valley National Park
Straddling the border between eastern California and Nevada, Death Valley National Park is a land of extremes. Set in a below-sea-level basin, Death Valley experiences extreme heat and steady drought in the summer and snow and rare rainstorms in the winter, creating a vast diversity of fauna and flora in one of the harshest landscapes in the world. Established as a national monument in 1933 and as a national park in 1994, Death Valley National Park is the most significant U.S. National Park outside Alaska, spanning 3.4 million acres with more than 1000 miles of paved and dirt roads. The Park is made up of a variety of landscapes, ranging from low valley floors crusted with barren salt flats, deep and winding canyons, spring-fed oases that teem with wildlife, rolling dunes, and high, rugged, snow-capped mountains. Famous attractions in the Park include Titus Canyon, Badwater Basin’s salt flats, Telescope Peak Trail, the Devil’s Golf Course, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Denali National Park
Encompassing six million acres of Alaska’s rugged interior wilderness, Denali National Park is and centered around and named for the 20,310-foot-high Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, North America’s tallest peak. Bisected by a single road, the vast wilderness attracts thousands of visitors each year who come to enjoy the beauty and solace of the wild activities like hiking, biking, backpacking, and mountaineering in the summer, along with cross-country skiing, dog-sledding, and snowmobiling in the winter. Denali National Park and Preserve is also home to a diverse range of wildlife, including caribou, grizzly bears, wolves, and Dall sheep.
Dry Tortugas National Park
The Dry Tortugas National Park is a national park in the Gulf of Mexico that preserves the seven Dry Tortugas islands, which are most isolated of the Florida Keys, as well as Fort Jefferson. Located about 68 miles west of Key West, the park is part of the Everglades & Dry Tortugas Biosphere Reserve and a UNESCO site and boasts beautiful coral reefs that are abundant with sea life, several tropical bird breeding grounds, and legends of shipwrecks and sunken treasures. The massive but unfinished fortress of Fort Jefferson is the centerpiece of the park and is the brick masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. The seven islands of the Dry Tortugas are a unique and undisturbed tropical ecosystem with significant historical artifacts and are only accessible by seaplane. Activities in the Dry Tortugas National Park include swimming, kayaking, saltwater fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, birdwatching, camping, and picnicking.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is a U.S. National Park on the southern tip of Florida that consists of 1.5-million-acres of beautifully preserved wetlands made up of coastal mangroves, sawgrass marshes, and pine woods. The most significant tropical wilderness of its kind in the world, these wetlands are home to a wealth of animal and bird species, including 40 species of mammals, over 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, and 350 species of birds. The marshlands are also home to endangered species of animals such as the leatherback turtle, West Indian manatee, and the ever-elusive Florida panther. The Everglades National Park has been declared a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is a vast national park that rests on the United States-Canada border, encompassing over 1 million acres, two mountain ranges, over 130 lakes, and thousands of plant and animal species. This natural wonderland is at the center of what is referred to as the "Crown of the Continent Ecosystem" and is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, with a range of recreational activities to enjoy, from hiking, biking, mountain climbing, and wildlife watching. The Park is home to the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, an engineering marvel that spans 50 miles through the park's wild interior, and boasting some of the most spectacular sights and views in Montana. Other unique locations to explore in the Park include the Goat Haunt, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier, where visitors can discover Native American history, historical homesteading sites, and soak up spectacular natural landscapes. Glacier National Park is open every day of the year.
Grand Canyon National Park
Home to the world-famous natural wonder, the immense Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park is the best place to soak up the breathtaking beauty of the 277-mile long, 18-mile wide and one-mile deep canyon. Comprised of unique and unusual erosional forms and geologic color, the canyon attracts millions of visitors every year to see this spectacular gorge. Located at the South Rim, the National Geographic® Visitor Center offers an exciting and informative overview of Arizona’s famous landmark and is an excellent starting point to begin any visit to the Grand Canyon National Park. The Center provides a variety of brochures, maps, park entrance tickets, and information on various tours in and around the Grand Canyon and has a team of knowledgeable local representatives that can help with any questions about guided trips, programs, and special events happening in the area. The National Geographic® Visitor Center also houses the IMAX theater and ticket desk, a selection from exhibits, a store, and a casual café.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is a 310,000-acre national park and reserve in northwestern Wyoming that features several significant attractions like the Jackson Hole Valley and the 40-mile-long Teton Range. Surrounded by dense national forests, the Yellowstone National Park, and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, the park forms part of the 18,000,000-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is one of the world's largest mid-latitude temperate ecosystems. The magnificent landscapes within the park are ideal for outdoor recreational activities such as camping, hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, bird and wildlife watching, and mountaineering.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Located on Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two active volcanoes - Kilauea and Mauna Loa and offers some of the best volcano viewing in the world. One of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea has been erupting since 1983 and stands at more than 4,000 feet high and is still growing. The much older and larger Mauna Loa has been active for some 700,000 years, and stands at 31,700 feet from the seafloor, making it the largest mountain on the planet. In addition to the two volcanoes, the park is also home to awe-inspiring landscapes of cinder cones, gaping pits, rough lava trails, and other volcanic wonders.
Joshua Tree National Park
Located 140 miles east of Los Angeles in the Southern California desert, Joshua Tree National Park is an expansive park that features more than 4,500 established rock-climbing routes, natural springs, human-made reservoirs, and many overnight camping areas. Named after the yucca that grows in the park’s northwestern section, the park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers, rock climbers, hikers, and mountain bikers, and photographers. Places of interest in the park include Native American rock art, an old cattle rustler’s hideout, and a natural overlook with spectacular sweeping views of the landlocked Salton Sea.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is a U.S. National Park in the Green River Valley in south-central Kentucky and is home to an extended cave system of chambers and subterranean passageways, including the famous Mammoth Cave. Renowned as being the world's longest known cave system, with over 400 miles of underground chambers, intricate labyrinths, and vast caverns to explore, the Park features favorite sites such as the Frozen Niagara section, which boasts incredible waterfall-like flowstone formations, and Gothic Avenue, whose stone ceiling is covered in 19th-century visitors’ signatures. Outdoor hiking trails around the park lead visitors to other appealing sites such as the sinkholes of Cedar Sink, and the Green and Nolin rivers.
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park is a small, 369 square-mile reserve southeast of Seattle in Washington state that surrounds and is named for the 14,410-foot, glacier-capped Mount Rainier. Forming a spectacular snowcapped backdrop to Seattle and Puget Sound, Mount Rainier is surrounded by beautiful landscapes of subalpine meadows, lush forested valleys and old-growth forests, cascading waterfalls, and cloud-shrouded glaciers. Mount Rainier is a famous peak for mountaineering and rock climbing, while other activities in the park include hiking, camping, geocaching, and wildlife watching. The best views of Mount Rainier and other nearby volcanoes like Mount Adams are from the nearby 6,400 foot-high Sunrise Peak, which is accessible by car.
North Cascades National Park
Located in northern Washington State, North Cascades National Park is a vast wilderness of densely forested mountains, deep valleys, tranquil lakes, and ice-clad glaciers. The park makes up one-third of the North Cascades National Park Complex, along with the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, which protect several national forests, reserves, and wilderness areas. The park is home to an array of bird and wildlife species, including gray wolves, grizzly bears, and over 200 bird species, and activities in the park range from hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, camping, mountain climbing, and rock climbing.
Olympic National Park
Set on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park is a national park with World Heritage status that spans nearly a million acres with 73 miles of park coastline covering several different ecosystems from old-growth forests to the dramatic peaks of the Olympic Mountains. Visitors to the park can explore rocky shorelines and sandy beaches, towering cliffs boasting breathtaking views, soaring sea stacks, and tidal pools filled with marine creatures. The park is also home to the towering, glacier-clad Mt. Olympus, which attracts mountain climbers, while other activities in the park include hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, geocaching, and wildlife watching.
Rocky Mountain National Park
Spanning the Continental Divide and encompassing the protected mountains, forests, and alpine tundra of northern Colorado, the Rocky Mountain National Park is a United States National Park in north-central Colorado. Situated between the towns of Grand Lake to the west and Estes Park to the east, the Rocky Mountains National Park is bisected by the Continental Divide and features spectacular natural scenery of wooded forests and alpine lakes, rugged snow-capped mountains and rocky tundra, and an abundance of fauna and flora. Famous attractions in the Park include the Trail Ridge Road and the Old Fall River Road, the Keyhole Route, Longs Peak, and Bear Lake and the Park have five visitor centers, including the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center where the park headquarters are situated. The Rocky Mountain National Park offers an array of outdoor and recreational activities, including 355 miles of hiking trails, scenic drives, mountain biking, camping, backpacking, horseback riding, mountaineering, climbing, fishing in over 50 lakes and streams, and birding. Winter offers snow sports such as cross-country skiing, snowboarding, and skiing, and snowshoeing and there are plenty of wildlife watching and photography opportunities.
Shenandoah National Park
Extending along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is home to pristine landscapes and breathtaking natural terrain ranging from densely forested valleys, cascading waterfalls, rocky peaks like Hawksbill and Old Rag mountains, the rolling hills of the Virginia Piedmont, and the vast, meandering Shenandoah River. The 200,000-acre designated wilderness is home to a wealth of bird and mammal species and can be explored on the 105-mile Skyline Drive that runs the entire length of the long and narrow park and offers spectacular panoramic vistas and views.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is a world-renowned wilderness recreation area atop a volcanic hot spot that spans for more than 3,500-square miles across three states and features spectacular natural scenery made up of hot springs and gushing geysers, lush forests and alpine rivers, majestic mountains, and dramatic canyons. Established by the U.S. Congress in 1872 as the first national park in the country and a UNESCO World Heritage Site today, the park is home to the famous gushing geysers known as Old Faithful, as well as a wealth of fauna and flora, ranging from bears and wolves to elk, bison, and moose.
Yosemite National Park
Nestled in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is a 748,436-acre park that spans four counties and is a designated World Heritage Site. Visited by more than 3.5 million people every year, Yosemite National Park is renowned for its spectacular landscapes and terrain, its giant, ancient sequoia trees, the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome, and the iconic vista of towering Bridalveil Fall known as Tunnel View. Discover Yosemite tours visit these major attractions, including Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, Royal Arches, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Three Brothers, Glacier Point, Leaning Tower, Cathedral Spires, and more.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is a nature preserve and national park distinguished by the magnificent steep red cliffs of the Zion Canyon. Located in southwestern Utah near the city of Springdale, the 229-square-mile park surrounds the Zion Canyon, a 15-mile long and 2,640-foot deep gorge with steep reddish and tan-colored walls of Navajo Sandstone that have been eroded by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Due to its unique location at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert regions, the park is home to a diverse range of life zones, ranging from desert and coniferous forests to riparian and woodlands. The park can be explored by the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which boasts beautiful views of the Virgin River and Emerald Pools, which have waterfalls and a hanging garden. Popular activities include fishing, boating, swimming, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, and camping.