Top 16 US. National Parks
You might believe that people flock to the US to take in the sights and sounds of big cities like New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas, but there are millions more who make the trip to see some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the world. We are of course talking about the National Parks that dot the countryside from coast to coast. Let’s take a look at 10 of the most popular National Park destinations in the United States.
1. Sequoia National Park in California
During winter, especially if there was some snowfall recently, Sequoia National Park requires all vehicles to have snow chains. This deters a huge number of people who all expect to encounter a wall of snow in the middle of California. Contrary to popular belief, there is usually very little snow and you will most likely not need the chains, but pick up a cheap pair at Walmart before your visit and enjoy being the only person walking among the towering redwoods.
2. Arches National Park in Utah
Parking is pretty limited in Arches National Park and during the summer months, it can take hours of waiting to finally be allowed into the Delicate Arch parking area. When you visit the national park in winter though, it’s normal to have a popular arch all to yourself and you can drive right up and start your hike. Plus, the contrast between the red stone and a sprinkle of snow can look amazing.
3. Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas
I prefer hiking in cooler temperatures and since Guadalupe Mountains National Park offers a number of great hiking trails, winter is the perfect time to visit. The park is also stunning to photograph, so don’t forget to bring plenty of batteries and memory cards!
4. Joshua Tree National Park in California
While the park is already pretty underrated, Joshua Tree is one of the best national parks to visit in winter. Temperatures in Joshua Tree National Park average around 15°C/60°F in the colder months, but nights are freezing due to it being located in the Mojave Desert. This deters most campers and you’ll be able to admire the thousands of name-giving yucca brevifolias, who to some Mormon settlers apparently looked like Joshua praying, in complete solitude. Now if that isn’t a religious experience, I don’t know what is.
5. Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado
Mesa Verde National Park hosts the fascinating archeological cliff dwellings built and inhabited by the Pueblo People between 550 and 1300 AD. Due to being built under overhangs in the canyon walls, these dwellings were and are, comfortably cool in summer and warm in winter.
6. Zion National Park in Utah
The fact that Zion National Park now has to issue permits via a lottery to restrict visitors to the subway and the mystery canyon sections is indicative of how crowded it can get there. In winter, you have a much better chance of scoring one of the few permits and with a wet suit, those parts of the parks are even a lot of fun in the colder months. But also the rest of the park, such as the popular Angel’s Landing hike, will be much more pleasant during a visit in winter.
7. Death Valley National Park
They often say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and you would have to believe that there would be very little to love in the desolate landscape that is Death Valley, National Park. Yes, it’s a hot and dusty stretch of land that is split between California and Nevada, and which contains parts of the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert. What you may be surprised to learn is that the landscape is not all sand dunes and heat shimmering off the roasting tarmac.
While the area is in a state of permanent drought, it is also subjected to some torrential rainstorms that produce a beautiful selection of lush flora and fauna. The park is also home to some stunning lakes, with the most surprising part being that you are likely to see snowcapped peaks reflecting back off the surface of the water.
Hiking and camping are incredibly popular in Death Valley National Park, as are other outdoor activities such as biking and fishing. Accommodations and campgrounds are plentiful, so you should never really have difficulty finding a place to stay. One piece of advice that everyone should heed is that it is incredibly hot, so make sure to pack plenty of sunscreens, whilst also making sure that the air conditioning in your car is in perfect working order.
8. Yosemite National Park
California is home to more than its fair share of natural beauty, with almost 1,200 square miles of that devoted to the stunning Yosemite National Park. Located in the central-eastern portion of the state, Yosemite is great in that it can offer something completely different depending on which season you decide to visit. It is worth noting that some areas of the park may be rendered inaccessible depending on when you go, even though the park is open 24/7/365.
If you are looking for some of the spectacular waterfalls that the park is famous for, plan a trip during the summer months. Fall is when the colors really start to change in the park, but it’s also the start of some of the limitations in where you can go or park overnight. Accessibility to certain areas is really limited during the winter months, but the views then are absolutely incredible. It is likely to still be snow in some areas with the arrival of spring, but the waterfalls also begin then as the winter runoff starts to hit.
The one thing to remember is that each season comes with some very different types of weather. Be sure to check out what to expect from the climate and pack accordingly for your trip.
9. Grand Canyon National Park
As far as natural wonders go, they don’t come more breathtaking than the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The sheer scale of the Grand Canyon really is something that needs to be seen to be believed, and a visit to Grand Canyon National Park will allow you to do just that. There really isn’t such a thing as a bad vantage point, as it almost seems that the massive canyon seems to stretch as far as the eye can see.
If you are planning on visiting the Grand Canyon Nation Park, it is probably best that you plan on visiting and setting up accommodations in the vicinity of the South Rim. It is that area of the park that is open year-round, with other sections either closing or having limited access during certain times of the year. You should also think about making reservations if you plan on visiting during the busy spring and summer seasons.
There is plenty to do in Grand Canyon National park, both up on top and down at the bottom of the canyon. There are guided tours, hiking, camping, and even the chance to do a little bit of whitewater rafting with the towering walls of the canyon on either side of you. A visit to the Grand Canyon doesn’t just have to be a one-day event.
10. Yellowstone National Park
Every National Park in the United States has one or two spectacular sights included that make them a place that must be visited. In the case of Yellowstone National Park, that would be the world’s largest collection of geysers. The granddaddy of them all is Old Faithful, which is one of the main reasons why the area was given National Park status back in 1872.
The 3,468 square miles of Yellowstone National park are mostly located in Wyoming, although some parts of it touch Montana and Idaho. It’s an area of stunning natural beauty that brings in millions of outdoor lovers each and every year. There are plenty of ranger-led hikes and tours available for those that are not comfortable hitting the nature trail alone.
Outdoor enthusiasts have plenty of space to roam, with camping, fishing, hiking, and biking all popular activities. Visitors who are taking to the wilds alone are warned that the area is very much home to a number of animals, which includes bears. If you are not sure, it’s always a good bet to learn more about how to protect yourself and stay safe out in the country where you are basically in the living room of bears and other beasts.
11. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Visitors to the Big Island of Hawaii have all kinds of different activities at their disposal, but perhaps none as dramatic as those on offer at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The name of the park pretty much tell you all you need to know about what you might expect to see there, but it’s not till you get up close and personal with the wrath of Mother Nature that you get an idea of how beautiful she can really be, even when she seems angry.
The park is always open, but the Kilauea Visitor Center and the Jaggar Museum only operate at certain hours of the day. Both are well worth visiting, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead so that you are able to take in both during your visit.
The highlight of the park for most is the Halema’uma’u Crater, which has been active since 2008. There are a number of spots in the park where you can get great views of the activity, which actually looks pretty different in day and night. A quick stop-off at the visitor center will get you all the information you need about the best spots to get as close to the action as you can.
12. Glacier National Park
Don’t let the name fool you, Glacier National Park is not the frozen tundra that you might expect it to be. Instead, what you will find is a stunningly beautiful area made up of lakes, snowcapped mountains, and lush forests that is an absolute joy to behold. Glacier National Park is a nature lover dream come true, with all sorts of great outdoor activities available to those that just want to load up the backpack and get away from it all.
The park is located in the northern part of Montana and sits right on the border with British Columbia and Alberta on the Canadian side. That makes the park a perfect destination for those that would like to take in a little bit of both countries while on vacation. As mentioned already, though, the park is a big hit with outdoor types, especially those who live to hike. That is down to the more than 700 miles of hiking trails that wind through Glacier National Park, as well as all the fantastic camping and lodging options.
The park is open to visitors year-round, but the fall and winter months see a lot of the facilities close for the season, so just keep that in mind if you plan on visiting during those seasons.
13. Rocky Mountain National Park
At 415 square miles, Rocky Mountain National Park may not be one of the biggest in the country, but it is definitely one of the most scenics. There will be times when you will literally feel as though you have been granted a seat on the rooftops of the world; such is the grandeur of the views that lay before your feet.
Perhaps the best part of the park for stunning views is to be found along the Trail Ridge Road, which tops off at a dizzying 12,000 feet. There are plenty of other great places to take in the vistas bellows as the Rocky Mountain National Park is home to no less than 300 miles of hiking trails. It’s a nature lover’s dream come true, as wildlife and beautiful plant life are to be found throughout the park.
This magnificent area of Colorado is open to the public year-round and offers plenty to see and do whether you choose to travel by car or see the sights on foot. Visitors are free to come and go as they please, but if you are planning on putting up a tent to sleep under the stars, you will need to do so in a designated camping area.
14. The Great Smoky Mountains
You don’t have to be a big fan of country music in order to make a trip to Tennessee. If you would rather get away from it all than listen to the twang of a country guitar, there may be no better place to do so than in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There really is nothing quite like the peaceful solitude that you can find by spending a few days in and around the Great Smoky Mountains.
The park straddles the line between Tennessee and North Carolina and is part of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. What may come as a surprise to many is that the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited in the United States, but that surprise will quickly disappear the moment you get a look at the beautiful surroundings. The area has become incredibly well known for the amazing amount of wildlife and plants on display, as well as for the charm of the Southern Appalachian culture.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is open to visitors year-round, but some of the secondary roads and campgrounds are forced to close during the winter months. If you are planning on visiting during that time of year, it’s a good idea to check ahead to see which areas of the park will be accessible.
15. Acadia National Park
The rugged main coastline has always been an area of the country that has drawn a large number of visitors. A big reason that many people make that trek is to visit Acadia National Park and all that it has to offer. When this particular area of land was first designated as a National Park back in 1919, it was known as Lafayette National Park, with the current name coming a decade later.
Somewhere in the region, 2 million people make the trip to Acadia National Park each year, with many going simply to soak up the tranquility of the ocean views. Many more come to engage in all the great activities that are available throughout the park, which includes a grueling hike up the granite peaks that are found there. Included within the confines of the designated park area are a number of islands, each of which is worth a visit in its own right.
The park is pretty much fully operational May through October, but as the winter months begin to roll in, you will find that there is limited access to certain areas, which include such things as museums, campgrounds, roads, and even the visitor center. Check in advance if you plan on visiting outside of those months.
16. Everglades National Park
Florida is perhaps best known for its theme parks, but the southern part of the state is home to one of the most iconic National Parks in the country. The Everglades National Park, which is sometimes referred to as the river of grass, is an area of subtropical wilderness that encompasses about 1.5 million acres of land. In order to get an idea of the sheer scale of the area, you should know that Everglades National Park is only a mere 20% of the massive tract of land.
One of the major attractions of the park is the stunning array of wildlife and plant life that is constantly on display. You can take tours that will highlight many of these, including the chance of catching a glimpse of an alligator in the wild. If you are truly lucky, you might just get to see the elusive and almost extinct Florida panther.
The sheer size of the park is a bonus for visitors, as it has 4 different access points within Florida. That makes it easy to include Everglades National Park in your vacation, even if you are located in another part of the state. The park is open year-round, but when the rainy season comes in, you might just find that some areas are closed or inaccessible.