The United States has so many incredible destinations. You can spend your lifetime traveling and still manage to find some place new and interesting.
On our quest to discover the best places on the planet, we now bring you the top-rated national parks in the United States.
Home to an incredible array of national parks, this country offers an array of unique natural beauty and attractions.
Determining the “best” national parks can be subjective, as it depends on personal preferences and interests. However, here are some of the most popular and highly regarded national parks in the United States, known for their stunning landscapes, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities.
1. Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
Famous for its immense size and stunning vistas, the Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic and awe-inspiring natural wonders in the world. Approximately 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and reaching a depth of over a mile. It is a result of millions of years of erosion by the Colorado River and its tributaries, exposing a colorful and layered geological history.
The Colorado River flows through the bottom of the canyon, carving out the majestic gorge over millions of years. Visitors can take rafting trips down the river for a truly immersive and adventurous experience.
Located on the Hualapai Tribe’s land in the western part of the canyon, the Grand Canyon Skywalk is a horseshoe-shaped glass bridge that extends out over the canyon. It provides visitors with a thrilling experience and a unique perspective of the depths below.
Beautiful at all hours of the day. The Grand Canyon is also designated as an International Dark Sky Park, making it an excellent destination for stargazing.
2. Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho)
Yellowstone National Park is the first and oldest national park in the world. It is located primarily in the state of Wyoming, but it also extends into Montana and Idaho. The park is known for its geysers, hot springs, wildlife, and diverse ecosystems.
Beneath Yellowstone lies a massive active volcano known as the Yellowstone Caldera. The park also features the vast Yellowstone Lake, which is one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America.
The Yellowstone River carved a magnificent canyon through the park, known as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Visitors can marvel at the colorful walls and thundering waterfalls, such as the Lower Falls and Upper Falls.
3. Yosemite National Park (California)
Renowned for its towering granite cliffs, waterfalls, ancient sequoia trees, and pristine wilderness. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, Yosemite covers an area of around 1,200 square miles.
The Yosemite Valley is the heart of the park and is famous for its dramatic landscapes, including iconic landmarks like El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall. The park is also home to three groves of giant sequoias, the world’s largest trees by volume.
There are several waterfalls, with some of the most famous being Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America, and Bridalveil Fall, which is easily accessible from the valley.
4. Zion National Park (Utah)
A hiker’s paradise with narrow canyons, towering sandstone cliffs, and stunning vistas. Also stunning 24 hours a day – Zion has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park, making it an excellent place for stargazing and enjoying the night sky.
The main attraction in the park is Zion Canyon, a magnificent gorge carved by the Virgin River over millions of years. The towering cliffs of the canyon, with walls reaching up to 2,000 feet in height, offer breathtaking views.
There’s also The Emerald Pools which are a series of serene pools and waterfalls, located at different elevations along the canyon.
The Narrows is another one of Zion’s most famous and unique attractions. It is a narrow slot canyon where hikers wade through the Virgin River, surrounded by soaring walls that can be only 20 to 30 feet apart in some sections.
5. Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
Majestic mountain views, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife. The park is situated within the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, one of the most iconic mountain ranges in North America. It is characterized by numerous peaks, including Longs Peak, which rises to an elevation of 14,259 feet.
Trail Ridge Road is a scenic highway that traverses through the park, reaching elevations of over 12,000 feet. Some of the popular lakes include Bear Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake.
At the higher elevations of Rocky Mountain National Park, above the tree line, lies the alpine tundra. This unique ecosystem features delicate plants and wildflowers that have adapted to the harsh conditions of high altitude.
6. Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
Adjacent to Yellowstone and covering approximately 310,000 acres of the Rocky Mountains, this park features rugged mountain landscapes, pristine lakes, and a variety of outdoor activities. Jenny Lake is one of the most popular destinations in the park.
The Snake River flows through the park, adding to its picturesque beauty. Visitors can enjoy scenic float trips and various recreational activities along the river.
You can also drive through. Grand Teton National Park offers several scenic routes including the Teton Park Road and the Signal Mountain Summit Road, providing stunning views.
Besides hiking and mountaineering, the park offers opportunities for fishing, boating, camping, birdwatching, and cross-country skiing in the winter months. Fall also offers bright autumn leaves.
7. Glacier National Park (Montana)
Glacier National Park is a magnificent national park located in the U.S. state of Montana, along the border with Canada. It is part of the larger Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which includes Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park. Glacier National Park covers approximately 1.3 million acres of pristine wilderness and features stunning glacial-carved landscapes, rugged mountains, pristine lakes, and diverse ecosystems.
8. Acadia National Park (Maine)
A coastal gem featuring rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, and Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the U.S. Atlantic coast. Acadia National Park is a stunning national park located primarily on Mount Desert Island in Maine.
Acadia National Park is known for its 45 miles of historic carriage roads, constructed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. These car-free roads wind through the park’s forests, offering excellent opportunities for walking, biking, and horseback riding.
The Schoodic Peninsula, located on the mainland, is a quieter and less crowded section of the park. There’s also the Jordan Pond, a picturesque glacial lake with crystal-clear waters and a view of the iconic twin peaks known as “The Bubbles.”
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina / Tennessee)
The most visited national park in the U.S., known for its mist-covered mountains, diverse flora, and historic cabins. Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the park and the highest point in Tennessee.
Cades Cove is a popular destination within the park, known for its scenic valley, historic buildings dating back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, and abundant wildlife. Visitors can drive or bike along an 11-mile loop road to explore the area.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also home to numerous beautiful waterfalls, such as Laurel Falls, Abrams Falls, and Grotto Falls.
The park is renowned for its incredible biodiversity, with more than 19,000 documented species, including plants, animals, and insects.
As a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a cherished natural and cultural treasure.
10. Arches National Park (Utah)
The park is home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, making it one of the world’s most significant concentrations of these unique geological formations. The most famous arch in the park is Delicate Arch, which has become an iconic symbol of Utah. Landscape Arch is one of the longest arches in the park, with a span of about 290 feet.
In addition to arches, the park features various other rock formations, including balanced rocks—large boulders precariously balanced on narrow bases. You can also find ancient rock art here including petroglyphs and pictographs left behind by early Native American inhabitants.
Fiery Furnace is a maze-like area in the park with narrow canyons and fins, offering a more challenging and less traveled hiking experience.
Another 24 hour experience with this park also noted as an International Dark Sky Park, offering superb opportunities for stargazing and night photography.
11. Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
Famous for its hoodoos—tall, thin spires of rock—and vibrant natural amphitheaters. These park entails several lookout points to view this surreal landscape. It’s just like being on another planet.
12. Everglades National Park (Florida)
The largest tropical wilderness in the U.S. covering approximately 1.5 million acres and featuring a unique ecosystem of swamps, marshes, and diverse wildlife. If you want something more tropical, this is the place!
The Everglades is often referred to as the “River of Grass” due to its slow-moving, shallow sheet flow of water that stretches across the landscape, creating vast grassy prairies.
Visitors have the opportunity to explore the wetlands and see wildlife up close through airboat tours.
Everglades National Park is not only a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site but also an International Biosphere Reserve.
Photo: Mariola Grobelska
13. Redwood National and State Parks
Also known as the Redwood Forest, is a vast and magnificent forest located along the northern coast of California. It comprises a collection of state and national parks and preserves some of the most ancient and tallest trees on Earth, the coast redwood. Some are more than 2000 years old and over 350 feet tall.
The Redwood National and State Parks consist of a few different areas including: Redwood National Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, and Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park. Together, they protect over 130,000 acres of redwood forest.
These are just a few examples of the incredible national parks in the United States. Each park offers a different experience and showcases the country’s diverse natural beauty. Whether you’re interested in hiking, wildlife viewing, photography, or simply immersing yourself in the great outdoors, these national parks provide fantastic opportunities for exploration and adventure.
Trying to plan a trip? You may also be interested in these blog posts: 9 of the Best Places to Visit Out West in the United States and The Best Deserts to Visit in the U.S.
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