Top 10 US National Parks
Updated: Feb 14
The United States is home to some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world. From the majestic mountains of the Rockies to the stunning coastline of the Pacific Northwest, there is no shortage of breathtaking landscapes to explore.
And what better way to experience all that nature has to offer than by visiting one of the many national parks that dot the country? These treasured places are not only home to some of the most stunning scenery, but also offer a wealth of opportunities for recreation, education, and wildlife watching.
So if you’re looking for a new place to explore, check out our list of the top 10 US national parks!
1. Yosemite, California
Yosemite National Park, one of California's most challenging natural settings, is roughly 1,200 square miles of pure awe, with towering waterfalls, centuries-old sequoia trees, stark, intimidating cliff faces, and some of the country's most unusual rock formations. But despite its huge expanse, Yosemite Valley's 8 square miles are where most tourists congregate. Half Dome and El Capitan, two of the park's most well-known landmarks, are located here, along with top-notch hiking paths that wind through the natural wonders.
Yosemite is accessible to hikers of all skill levels thanks to the availability of local adventure outfitters' guided tours and climbing instruction (such as those featured on our list of the best California tours). Just don't expect to go through it alone. Yosemite receives over 4 million visitors annually, which makes it one of the most crowded tourist sites in the United States. However, if you go at the correct time (and begin your day a bit earlier than usual), Mother Nature's wonders will miraculously and peacefully show themselves to you.
2. Yellowstone, Montana & Idaho
Yellowstone National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts with its stunning peaks and clear lakes. Hot springs are surrounded by colorful pools, lush woods wind through wide-open meadows, and erratic geysers shoot streams of scorching water into the air. It's understandable why everyone thought John Colter, a scout for explorers Lewis and Clark, was exaggerated when he first described Yellowstone's geothermal oddities in 1807. With so much unspoilt natural beauty. Today, there is no denying the park's exceptionality. Be prepared to share the trails with year-round dwellers like buffalo, elk, and occasionally even grizzlies as you trek through its more than 3,000 square miles of mountains, canyons, geysers, and waterfalls.
Even though Yellowstone has more than 4 million people each year, you probably won't see many of them unless you spend the entirety of your trip at Old Faithful. There is a lot of uncharted land to explore on Yellowstone's 2.2 million acres, which extend from the northwest corner of Wyoming towards the borders of Idaho and Montana. Set aside a day or two to enjoy the scenery at Mammoth Hot Springs and Yellowstone Lake. But set aside some time for the paths that lead through less well-known areas, such as the West Thumb Geyser Basin's hot springs and the Lewis River Channel and Dogshead Loop's untamed fauna. Even though the sheer quantity of routes and opportunities for animal viewing may initially appear overwhelming, keep in mind that you can always return.
3. Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park is situated on the border of Canada and Montana and is named for the ice age glaciers that still remain there. Because of the breathtaking variety of its natural beauty, it is frequently referred to as the "Crown of the Continent." The park is a popular destination for hikers and offers a choice of trails for all abilities, from the simple Trail of the Cedars (which is lined with majestic cedar trees) to the difficult Grinnell Glacier (which offers sweeping views). Additionally, the park's more than 1 million acres, more than 700 lakes, several waterfalls, and two mountain ranges provide as a haven for a diversity of wildlife.
In addition to its stunning geological characteristics, it has a significant quantity of history. The Going-to-the-Sun Road, a picturesque 50-mile journey across the park that is a National Historic Landmark and an engineering wonder, provides access to well-liked hiking routes as well as breathtaking views. In addition, the Great Northern Railway built several of the lodges, chalets, and hotels in the park in the early 20th century, and they are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
4. Grand Canyon, Arizona
Grand is an inadequate description of this canyon. This enormous gap in northern Arizona, which is up to 18 miles wide and a mile deep, is definitely a natural wonder. It is around 277 river miles long. The Grand Canyon has grown with the assistance of the powerful Colorado River for 6 million years, and for ages, visitors from all over the world have come to take in its magnificent red and orange splendor. The Grand Canyon, which is under the management of the National Park Service and is a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site, astounds its roughly 6 million annual tourists.
However, if you're looking for a remote getaway in Mother Nature, you should be ready: There can be a ton of people at the Grand Canyon. Visitors and hikers favor the South Rim, which is home to Grand Canyon Village and the well-traveled Bright Angel Trail. The majority of the amenities are on this side. Go to the North Rim to escape the crowds. Hardcore hiking and backcountry camping are available here. Take a helicopter tour for a once-in-a-lifetime look at the canyon.
5. Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park, located in the southwest corner of Utah and named after the Hebrew word for "refuge," is no longer the peaceful haven it once was. With more than four million visitors a year, the park is currently among the most popular in the nation. Travelers can admire the apricot-colored Zion Canyon while wading in its Virgin River or climbing Angels Landing, with each bend in the river or turn in the path providing an even more spectacular vista. It's as if they've discovered a hidden gem and can't get enough. The night sky's canopy of stars is also a wonderful nightcap to a day full with energetic activities.
6. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park is home to Wyoming's spectacular Teton Mountains, which rise sharply above Jackson Hole Valley with snow-capped peaks. The photo opportunities are abundant, from the dazzling Jenny and Jackson lakes to the 13,770-foot Grand Teton, which reflects the mountains in its depths. But only mountaineers and photographers should visit the park. In the height of summer, the region's trails beckon hikers of all levels and provide treasures like undiscovered waterfalls and spectacular Tetons views. The Snake River, meanwhile, draws kayakers, rafters, and people who just like to float. History buffs who are interested in this section of the Western Frontier's past in the 19th century are drawn to historic areas like Menors Ferry and Mormon Row.
In addition to a variety of species, the almost 500 square mile park is home to black bears, grizzlies, moose, antelope, and bison. Visitors may also see the park turn golden in the autumn. Travelers can drive the few miles north to Yellowstone, which is close to Grand Teton, if they wish to visit two national parks in one trip.
7. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
A dozen amphitheaters, or horseshoe-shaped canyons, make up the alien scenery of Bryce Canyon National Park in southwest Utah. These canyons are situated on an eroded escarpment of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Visitors who enjoy exploring the slot canyons, windows, fins, and, most notably, the tall, thin spires known as hoodoos, find the fanciful limestone rock formations produced by erosion and rain to be mesmerizing. In actuality, Bryce Canyon National Park has the greatest number of hoodoos in the entire globe. Bryce, whose heights can exceed 9,115 feet, has a visibility range of around 150 miles on a clear day. Plus, the park provides the best observing circumstances because it receives relatively little light pollution. In fact, Bryce Canyon was named an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association in 2019.
8. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park is neither the largest national park in the US (it has about 265,000 acres), nor is it the busiest (4 million people per year versus over 12 million for Great Smoky Mountains National Park). But the RMNP, which soars 14,259 feet into the Colorado sky at its highest point, Longs Peak, has undeniably magical qualities. The park's 350+ miles of hiking trails weave through pine and spruce woods, sparkling alpine lakes, patches of wildflowers, and, if you're lucky, some elk or bighorn sheep. Hiking these routes is the main draw. Even the most jaded visitors report emotions of amazement and wonder after spending a day or two breathing in that reviving alpine air, which may be due to the thinner atmosphere.
9. Arches National Park, Utah
It's like traveling to another planet when you visit Arches National Park, which has thousands of naturally occurring sandstone arches, red rocks and other landforms arranged in breathtaking ways, and light that seems to change constantly. The park is particularly alluring for photographers, who are compelled to capture its lovely landscapes in particular at dawn and twilight because of the way the shadows dance across the arches. However, Arches National Park is more than just a photographer's haven.
The park, which is 5 miles northwest of Moab, Utah, has 26 miles of scenic road and treks for people of all fitness levels. Hikers have a wide range of routes to select from, ranging in length from short 20-minute strolls to Balanced Rock and the Double Arch to longer, more difficult hikes through the Fiery Furnace and up to Delicate Arch. The Colorado Plateau has among of the darkest sky in the contiguous United States, making for stunning views of the Milky Way when you need to return to Earth.
10. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee
The 522,427-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located in both Tennessee and North Carolina, with the state line running through its middle. From the Paleo Indians of prehistory to the European settlers of the 19th century, humans have inhabited the highlands for a very long time. As one of the few free national parks in America, the park is now visited by more than 10 million visitors annually who take part in outdoor activities including hiking, biking, and fishing as well as beautiful drives to Cades Cove and along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Bring a lunch if you plan to cycle the Cades Cove Loop on Wednesdays between May and September when the road is closed to traffic or go on one of the breathtaking treks to Abrams or Rainbow Falls.