The United States has some of the most beautiful and pristine national parks in the world. Because of the country’s large size, you have access to a wide variety of different kinds of ecosystems. From deserts, to mountains, to sequoia tree forests, to even snorkeling through coral reefs, you can find it all in the U.S.
Here are the top 10 national parks you should see if traveling to the United States.
Table of Contents
- 1. Yosemite National Park
- 2. Grand Canyon National Park
- 3. Yellowstone National Park
- 4. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
- 5. Zion National Park
- 6. Mount Rainier National Park
- 7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- 8. Dry Tortugas National Park
- 9. Joshua Tree National Park
- 10. Grand Teton National Park
- Get outdoors!
1. Yosemite National Park
Located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is one of the most recognized. It is also one of the most-visited national parks in the United States, with an average of over 4 million visitors per year.
If you visit Yosemite, be sure to check out its abundance of breathtaking waterfalls, as there are more than 25 in the park. The most notable waterfall is Yosemite Falls, which towers an impressive 2,425 feet, and is the biggest waterfall in the park.
Another incredible must-see at Yosemite is the Mariposa Grove trail, which is lined with the infamous giant sequoia tree, which is the largest tree you can encounter in the world.
2. Grand Canyon National Park
If you want to see one of the most precious gems of national parks in the United States, make sure to visit Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. You can marvel at the amazing expanse of landscape and canyons in the park, known for their distinct and vibrant orange color.
There is no scarcity of things to do and see in Grand Canyon National Park, with nearly 130 hiking trails. You can also camp overnight at the park in the various campgrounds that are available. At night, enjoy the amazing lack of light pollution and 7,000-foot altitude from the Grand Canyon for some of the best stargazing in the country. Don’t forget to bring a jacket, though, as the temperatures can drop to below freezing at night due to the park’s high altitude.
3. Yellowstone National Park
If you want to see some of the most amazing hot springs in the United States, don’t hesitate to travel to Yellowstone National Park.
Located in the state of Wyoming, one of the most popular tourist attractions at the park is the Grand Prismatic Spring. It is a larger-than-life hot spring that is actually the third largest in the world. The spring is most known for its multi-color rings which are actually caused by bacteria.
Yellowstone is also a great place to observe some of the most unique wildlife in the United States. The park has about 5,000 native bison, the largest land mammal in the country. It is truly breathtaking to see bison in their native habitat, but be careful, and stay at least 25 feet away if you see one.
4. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Did you know that you can find two of the most active volcanoes in the world in the United States? For the adventurous National Park traveler, look no further than Volcanoes National Park in Big Island, Hawai’i.
For some of the most unique views, check out Crater Rim trail, which takes you to the base of a giant crater in the park. The endless layers of lava rock will make you feel like you are walking through Mars.
If you are lucky, you may be able to witness active lava flow from a volcano when visiting Volcanoes National Park. Some of the best views are at night when the pitch-black Hawaiian sky allows you to see the glow of the lava inside of one of the volcanoes in the park. Make sure to bring binoculars and a jacket, as it can get chilly at night.
5. Zion National Park
Whether you are a rock enthusiast or not, the bright red and orange cliff sides of Zion National Park in Utah are sure to impress. If you plan to visit the park, be sure to bring your car or rent one, as the park is known for its scenic, winding highways. You can find some of the best views by car through Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. If you can’t drive, no problem. The park also offers a shuttle bus that can drop you off at the most scenic sites and hiking trailheads.
Zion National Park is also a mecca for rock climbers, and it has some of the best climbing and canyoneering in the world. For people with no experience, the park has an abundance of tour and outfitting companies that can provide you with all the instruction and support that you may need. Even if you don’t climb, watching the rock climbers as you pass on the trails is a unique and exciting experience.
6. Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park, located in Washington state, was the fourth National Park ever established in the United States. The largest mountain in the entire park, Mount Rainier, is actually an active volcano. The last time it erupted was 1894.
If you want the most scenic views, definitely visit Paradise, on the southern slopes of Mount Rainier. Aptly named, it connects to the Skyline Trail, with some of the best views of the park and waterfalls. If you are staying overnight in the park, try going to Paradise for sunrise or sunset, and you will not be disappointed.
If the views by foot weren’t good enough already, the Mount Rainier National Park also offers an aerial gondola ride. It takes you over 2,400 feet in the sky, with incredible 360° views of the park. Before getting on, get a quick bite to eat at Summit House Restaurant, the highest elevation restaurant in the entire state.
7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The East Coast of the U.S. definitely does not disappoint with Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Maintaining the record since 1944, the park is the most visited in the entire country, with an average of nearly 14 million visitors per year. The park is located in Tennessee, and the forest stretches all the way to the North Carolina border.
Because the Smoky Mountains National Park is characterized by its abundance of deciduous trees, one of the best times of the year to visit is during the fall. During this time, you can experience cool temperatures perfect for hiking and biking, as well as the immaculate display of the changing leaves stretching for miles, which will leave you in awe.
Early summer is also a great time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains, as this is the season when all of the wildflowers of the park are in full bloom, with more than 1,500 flowering species in the park.
Another plus of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is its proximity to local towns and attractions. If you want to take a break from hiking, visit the nearby town of Pigeon Forge. It is home to Dollywood, an amusement park owned by renowned country singer Dolly Parton.
8. Dry Tortugas National Park
If you prefer palm trees to pine, you’ll be in luck at Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys. In comparison to other U.S. National Parks, it is small. It is about 100 square miles, but it does not disappoint.
Dry Tortugas is unique amongst the rest due to its combination of history and marine landscape. Its most notable feature is Fort Jefferson, a 16-acre coastal fortress dating back to the 1860s.
Less than 1% of the national park is actual dry land, so make sure to pack your bathing suit and flippers. It has some of the best swimming and snorkeling in the country, with pristine coral reefs and an abundance of marine wildlife. The best thing about the park is that it is tropical all year round, so you can dip in the crystal blue water in the middle of January.
Dry Tortugas National Park is not accessible by car, and you can only enter by boat or seaplane. The most common option is the Yankee Freedom Ferry, which is about a 2.5-hour scenic ride to the island.
9. Joshua Tree National Park
In Southern California, you will find Joshua Tree National Park, which has some of the most unique trees and plants in the country. The park is characterized by its native Joshua trees, which are twisted and spiky trees that don’t look real.
Located in the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree National Park has an abundance of desert trails and unique rock formations. One of the most popular hikes in the park is the Hidden Valley Nature Trail, which is beginner-friendly. It is only a one-mile loop and gives you excellent views of the Joshua trees and large boulders which were once inhabited by cattle rustlers.
If you prefer scenic views from a higher altitude, the park also has trails with great viewpoints. One of the most notable is Keys View, where the overlook gives you a great view of the Santa Rosa Mountains and Palm Springs. It is a very easy hike – from the parking lot, it is about a 0.2-mile loop.
Another must-see attraction in the park is Skull Rock, which is the most photographed rock in the park. Based on its name, the giant rock resembles a human skull. It is located in the Skull Rock Trail, a 1.7-mile loop trail.
10. Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is an immaculate and picturesque national park located near Jackson, Wyoming. In this park, you can enjoy the best of both scenic trails for hiking, and pristine lakes for swimming and kayaking. It has over 200 miles of trails and 310,000 acres of valleys, mountains, and alpine lakes.
In order to fully enjoy Grand Teton National Park, it is best to stay overnight and experience it for several days. Luckily, the park is one of the best in the country for backpacking, as it has multitudes of scenic trails and campground sites.
You cannot leave Grand Teton National Park without renting a canoe or kayak on Jenny Lake. This is the landmark lake of Grand Teton and is the most visited spot out of all of the park. If paddling isn’t your thing, you can hop on one of the shuttle boats that the lake provides to get across, while you sit back and take in all the views.
Another great attraction in the park is its abundance of unique wildlife. Some of the most notable are moose, elk, grizzly and black bears, and pronghorn. If you are lucky, you may spot one of these animals, but always remember to keep a safe distance and not feed them.
The National Park Service in the United States is dedicated to preserving the country’s scenic land for visitors to enjoy for generations to come. Whether you are visiting from another country, or are American yourself, consider trading your summer vacation to the city for a hiking trip to a U.S. National Park. The country has a wide variety of parks to choose from in all different parts, great for travelers with diverse interests.