The 63 national parks in the United States stand as a testament to the nation’s commitment to safeguarding its diverse and awe-inspiring landscapes and natural wonders. Established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916, the National Park Service protects the country’s wildest expanses, from soaring mountain ranges and lush wetlands to panoramas evocative of classic Westerns.
With 312 million visitors in 2022—a 5 percent increase from the prior year—national parks continue to captivate the hearts and minds of those yearning for adventure. These cherished bastions of nature, ensconced under the protective wing of the federal government, serve as invaluable strongholds for conservation, providing refuge to an astonishing array of wildlife and flourishing ecosystems.
For those with a thirst for adventure or a yearning to reconnect with the natural world, these national parks extend an open invitation to traverse hiking trails, explore scenic drives, camp beneath star-studded canopies and marvel at celestial displays. In anticipation of the warm embrace of summer, venture forth to discover America’s finest natural treasures, each deserving of a prominent place on your must-visit list, especially if you’re planning a road trip this season. Read on for 17 of the most majestic national parks in the USA, from sea to shining sea.
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The Best U.S. National Parks
Below, the bucket list-worthy best national parks in the United States.
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, West Virginia
New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, America’s newest national park, spans 70,000 acres along the New River in West Virginia. Rich in history, this destination serves as a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, featuring world-class whitewater rafting, hiking and rock climbing opportunities. The park’s sandstone cliffs rise 1,000 feet above the river and provide over 1,600 established climbing routes, attracting hikers and climbers from all around the world.
Yosemite National Park, California
There’s one particular U.S. national park that graces the top of numerous travelers’ must-see lists, and that’s the UNESCO-designated Yosemite. This vast expanse, which holds the distinction of being the nation’s third oldest national park, attracts a staggering four million visitors every year, many of whom are drawn by the presence of the El Capitan summit, the mist-enshrouded Bridalveil Falls waterfall and Hetch Hetchy Valley, in addition to the stunning rock formations, of course.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
Upon signing the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act on March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant initiated the establishment of the entire national park system. Today, America’s very first national park is celebrated for its bison and elk herds, as well as the geysers, hot springs and fumaroles that hiss and gurgle from glacier-sculpted valleys. The aptly named Old Faithful remains a must-see stop for first-timers, though with 10,000 geothermal features, escaping the crowds for lesser-known (but equally as impressive) attractions like Lone Star Geyser is encouraged.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park, adjacent to Yellowstone, showcases an impressive mountain range and ancient gneiss formations, making it a must-see destination. The Snake River, which flows through the American national park, offers world-class trout fishing and paddling opportunities. Visit in spring for a peaceful trip floating down the river, or witness bull elk rutting amid the first snowfall in fall. If you go later in the winter, there’s also skiing and snowshoeing.
Acadia National Park, Maine
Acadia National Park, the only national park in the Northeast, epitomizes all things New England, with a rugged coastline dotted with storybook harbors and fishing villages. This expanse is home to the tallest coastal mountains on the eastern seaboard, and it’s one of the best options for experienced hikers, as it’s crisscrossed with challenging trails, including Precipice and Beehive, that scale granite rock faces. Book a room at the Claremont Hotel—the grand dame of Southwest Harbor—or The Salt Cottages, for a glamping-inspired stay.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
If you want to escape the crowds, venture out to Isle Royale National Park, a remote island in Lake Superior. Accessible only by water or air, Isle Royale is a dream for the most intrepid explorers. Traverse the 43-mile Greenstone Ridge Trail for an unmatched backpacking experience with gorgeous viewpoints of the surrounding scenery, or paddle along the rugged coast, where you can also rent canoes or kayaks. This secluded national park is composed of a 206-acre main island over 450 smaller isles, for truly tranquil experience.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Located a stone’s throw from Seattle, Olympic National Park is host to an incredible diversity of ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountain peaks, Pacific coastlines and old-growth rainforests. Explore the remote shorelines during low tide at Hole in the Wall rock faces, or ascend through lush rainforests to alpine peaks for a thrilling adventure.
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Located nearly 70 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park, a part of Everglades and Dry Tortugas Biosphere Reserve, is an underwater paradise. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, this 100-square-mile park is home to seven small islands and so much marine life, including 30 different coral species. Tour the historic Fort Jefferson and go snorkeling or diving to immerse yourself in the vibrant underwater ecosystems. Remember that there aren’t any hotels or restaurants here (there are campgrounds, though), so prepare for a self-sufficient adventure.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Situated in the remote eastern Nevada landscape, Great Basin National Park is especially lovely after sunset, as it’s one of 27 International Dark Sky Sanctuaries. During the day, hike the Glacier Trail, marvel at the ancient Bristlecone pines and explore the remarkable Lehman Caves. Stargazer Inn in Baker serves as a convenient home base for your escapades in this lesser-known gem.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Nestled in northern Minnesota near the U.S.-Canada border, Voyageurs National Park is a pristine aquatic playground. Over a third of the 218,000 acres are actually waterways, and this park also features 655 miles of undeveloped shoreline, in addition to over 500 smaller islands.
Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Katmai National Park and Preserve, home to the world-famous Brooks Falls in Alaska, gives visitors a rare chance to observe brown bears, often feasting on salmon. This remote park contains a lunar-like volcanic landscape and abundant wildlife, making it a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts. Take a guided tour or participate in a bear-watching expedition for a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the Alaskan wilderness. Elsewhere in Alaska, there’s also Kenai Fjords, which is a bit easier to access.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
The most visited national park in the U.S., the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. Encompassing over half a million acres, the park is known for its stunning morning fog, majestic ridgelines and rich Southern Appalachian history, as well as being one of the largest protected areas in the eastern U.S. for black bears to live in the wild. Hike Clingmans Dome, tour the historic structures at Cades Cove and Cataloochee, or take in the vibrant fall foliage during October and November. This is also one of the best spots for those that want to see wildflowers; it has the most flower species of any U.S. national park.
Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park, with its striking red sandstone cliffs and labyrinthine slot canyons, is a geological masterpiece. The park’s most famous hike, the potentially vertigo-inducing Angels Landing, offers unparalleled views of the canyon, while the enchanting Narrows provides an aquatic adventure through the park’s inner sanctum. For an easier (yet still picturesque) hike, try Zion Canyon Overlook. This park is also great for biking, as bicycles are allowed on all paved roads.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park, aptly often called North America’s “Crown of the Continent,” spans over a million acres of pristine wilderness, showcasing glacier-carved peaks and crystal-clear lakes. It’s typically less crowded than Yellowstone, and there are also over 60 backcountry campgrounds. The park’s iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road provides a breathtaking journey through the heart of the park, revealing wildlife and alpine meadows in all their glory.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Just a short drive from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is an idyllic haven for nature lovers seeking respite from the bustling city. The park features over 500 miles of trails, including a section of the Appalachian Trail, with ample opportunities for hiking and wildlife spotting. The picturesque Skyline Drive meanders through the park; you can expect epic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley, all from the comfort of your car. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Luray Caverns or partake in a local winery tour.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is where you’ll find two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Explore the Crater Rim Drive, hike the Kīlauea Iki Trail, and venture into the depths of Nahuku (also known as Thurston Lava Tube). In addition, the park offers a glimpse into the rich cultural history of the Native Hawaiian people.
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Located in northeastern Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park showcases a fascinating and colorful array of petrified wood and other geological wonders. The park’s surreal landscapes boast jaw-dropping vistas of the Painted Desert, the Teepees and the Blue Mesa. Wander through the Crystal Forest to admire the striking patterns and hues of the petrified wood, or delve into the history of the ancient Pueblo people at the Puerco Pueblo archaeological site.