Top 10 National Parks to visit in the United States
There are 62 National Parks in the United States. These areas of natural beauty exhibit some of the most outstanding landscapes and areas of wilderness in the whole of the US.
The parks are spread throughout the country with 14 boasting UNESCO World Heritage status. With so many to choose from, it’s hard to know which to visit.
We wanted to save you some time, so we put together our list of 10 of the best parks to visit after COVID or when you're craving some fresh air and open spaces.
Yosemite – California
California is the state with the highest number of National Parks, 9 in total, with Yosemite being one of the most magnificent. Riding the wave of the Beat Generation, rock climbers and hippies flocked to the park to call it their home from the 1960s onwards. With its precipitous granite cliffs, sweeping glacial-carved valleys, and sky-high waterfalls, it’s a favourite from the world over. Don’t miss the outstanding features of Half Dome and El Capitan which are both key highlights.
Yellowstone – Wyoming, Montana, IdahoPhoto by Angry Monkey on Unsplash
Saddling the border of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho is the first US-designated National Park now nearly 150 years old. The park is particularly famed for the out-of-this-world geothermal features which range from explosive geysers to multi-coloured Martian hot springs and bubbling mud pots. In addition to this, Yellowstone exhibits some of the best wildlife in the country. There are over 60 mammal species that call this region their home including timber wolves, black and grizzly bears, lynxes, elk, and the majestic herds of bison.
Grand Canyon – Arizona
Legend states this deep gouge in the landscape was formed by the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan when he strolled across Arizona, accompanied by Babe the Blue Ox, dragging his axe through the earth behind him. What’s certain is that this is one of the most impressive canyons in the world at 277 miles long and at points 1 mile deep. The surrounding mesas have been eroded over the years to reveal layer upon layer of red rock and at its depths, the ferocious Colorado River flows fast and white-tipped through the basins. If you’re in the area be sure to visit the nearby Monument Valley too!
Rocky Mountains - Colorado
At the source of the mighty Colorado River is a stunning alpine National Park known fondly as the Rockies. Marking the North American Continental Divide, the Rockies are beloved by hikers and campers due to the range of mountain ridges, glacial lakes, and forested slopes that brim with wildlife. So significant are the ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains that UNESCO designated the area as one of the world’s first Biosphere Reserves. Today the park holds host to elk, moose, cougar, coyote, and over 300 species of birds.
Zion - Utah
Choosing just one national park in Utah is hard enough as both Bryce Canyon and Arches National Park deserve a special mention. However, as Utah’s first National Park, Zion is a standout beauty due to its immense sandstone formations. The canyons, rock towers, and Virgin River Narrows have carved out such a unique landscape that the wilderness can be divided into a multitude of ecosystems. Make sure you spend a few days exploring the trails that weave through this area including Angel’s Landing.
Grand Teton - Wyoming
There are few sites more iconic than the Teton Range; straw coloured grass punctuated by grazing bison, layers of pine forest and towering, craggy mountains cloaked in snow. Astonishingly, the history of this land stretches back 11,000 years to when the first nomadic Paleo-Indians wandered into this region during a warming inter-glacial period in search of food. Later, the area was swamped by frontiersmen and trappers gathering pelts for the lucrative fur trade. Today it’s an enormously popular area for hiking, camping, mountaineering, and fishing.
Glacier - Montana
Aptly named due to the 26 glaciers in the region, this National Park stretches across 1 million acres and is so valued for its pristine ecosystems that it has been referred to as the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem”. One of Glacier’s key features is that despite holding all the beauty of other parks, it has fewer visitors. If you’re looking for peace and isolation, this is the place!
Olympic - Washington
Pressed up against the border of Canada and situated on the verge of the Pacific coastline is one of the wettest areas in the US. In fact, the trees and verdure that pack these mountain slopes are so entrenched with water that they are considered to be temperate rainforests. Visit Olympic National Park to see the spectacular Mount Olympus and to walk through its dripping, green forests.
Death Valley – California, Nevada
Death Valley is an apt name for a variety of reasons. It is record-breaking and extreme to the max as it’s the hottest, lowest, and driest place on the North American continent. With its surreal deserts and shimmering salt flats, those who venture into this wilderness could be forgiven for believing they’d just entered another world. In addition to this, Las Vegas, the city of hedonism and sin, is only a stone’s throw away from the National Park adding to the allure of this extraordinary place!
Denali - Alaska
If you want wilderness and lots of it, Alaska has more than its fair share. This area is outstandingly remote and all the more beautiful for it. Denali National Park is also home to the highest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley/Denali, which is a must-see feature. At 20,310 feet this mountain is so enormous it’s said to be one of the best mountains to practice climbing before you summit Everest.
As you may have noticed, a vast majority of these National Parks are on the western, Pacific side of the United States. If you’re looking for eastern areas of beauty, you have to visit the Arcadia National Park in Maine. This park lines the Atlantic coastline and boasts idyllic lighthouses, rocky coves, and wind-swept beaches.
In addition to this, down in Tennessee is one of the most visited National Parks in the US, the Great Smoky Mountain range. This area is a haven for hikers with 800-miles of trail for the avid adventurer to explore including sections of the famous long-distance hiking path, the Appalachian Trail.
Wherever you choose to go, stay safe out there and always make sure you're prepared for any situation.