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25 Top-Rated National Parks in the USA

Written by Lana Law and Michael Law
Mar 6, 2020

America has some of the most amazing parks in the world right in its own backyard. From snowcapped mountain peaks and glaciers to the world's oldest, largest, and tallest trees, America's national parks are home to global treasures.

These natural areas are perfect places for hiking, camping, sightseeing, learning about cultures and natural history, or simply contemplating the wonders of the universe.

The national parks in the United States are, for the most part, easily accessible and well set up for visitors. Many are just a few hours' drive from major cities. Informative visitor centers help you learn about the features, and park staff are there to make your visit easy and enjoyable.

Pack up the car for a day trip, weekend getaway, or weeks-long adventure and be sure to check with the National Park Service website for possible closures or to book camping reservations. Hit the road with our list of the best national parks in the USA.

1. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Grand Canyon National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

As one of the top natural wonders of the world, this is also one of the most visited parks in America. No matter how many times you visit the Grand Canyon, it's impossible not to be amazed.

The sheer size and complexity of the canyon defies description. The multicolored rocks, exposed by the mighty Colorado River raging over a mile below, are a photographer's dream. The canyon is immense, measuring more than one million acres in size, and it follows the river for an impressive 277 miles.

Viewpoints along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon allow you to get the best views and pictures. The colors of the canyon change throughout the day, but early morning or late afternoon are the best times to visit.

If you are in good shape and want to drop down into the canyon, the Bright Angel Trail is one of the best hikes in the park. It winds its way down to the river. This hike or any portion of it should not be undertaken lightly.

Accommodation: Best Hotels at the Grand Canyon

2. Yosemite National Park, CA

Yosemite National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Yosemite contains some of the most iconic natural sites in America. From Half Dome and El Capitan to Yosemite Falls, these landmarks, along with incredible drives to stunning viewpoints, hiking trails leading to plunging waterfalls, and giant sequoia trees will forever cement Yosemite in your mind.

Yosemite National Park is spread out over 1,200 square miles, but a majority of the main sights are in the Yosemite Valley. With four million annual visitors, this can lead to congestion and crowds, so be sure to plan your day and start early.

If you want to make the trip truly memorable, try camping in Yosemite. But, be sure to book well in advance.

3. Zion National Park, UT

Zion National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The sheer cliff walls, narrow canyons, enormous waterfalls, and Virgin River flowing along the canyon floor, create a diverse landscape that makes Zion stand out among Utah's parks.

One of the most popular activities in Zion National Park is hiking. Some of the most famous trails in the USA are located here, including the frighteningly spectacular Angel's Landing hike. If you're scared of heights, stay away from this one. You can find fabulous hiking trails to suit all abilities throughout the park.

Other things to do include canyoning, horseback riding, birding, and rock climbing. Keep an eye out for climbers perched precariously on the stone walls as you ride the shuttle along the main road through the park.

Auto touring is amazing here. The access road leading into the park from the east is a switchback descent that also includes the narrow and historic Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel, literally hacked right out of the sandstone and virtually unchanged from when it was completed in 1930.

Note that vehicle size limitations are in effect, and a permit is required for motor homes to go through the tunnel.

Accommodation: Where to Stay near Zion National Park

4. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is known for its unique geological features. Bubbling mud pots; colorful pools; steaming vents; and of course, geysers, including Old Faithful, are some of the main attractions. Yellowstone National Park has one of the largest collections of geysers and thermal features in the world.

Covering more than two million acres, Yellowstone offers more than just thermal activity. The park is home to herds of bison, and these massive, shaggy beasts can easily be seen from the park roadways. If you are camping in Yellowstone, you may hear the eerie sounds of the wolves howling at night.

Most of Yellowstone National Park is within Wyoming, but sections also extend into Montana and Idaho.

Accommodation: Where to Stay Near Yellowstone NP: Best Areas & Hotels

5. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park, CA

Sequoia National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

These two parks protect some of the oldest and largest trees on the planet. Other parks may be more popular for their hiking and camping, but standing in front of a 3,200-year-old giant sequoia tree is an experience like none other. Here, it's easy to imagine a time when nature ruled the Earth, and mankind was not an influence.

These massive trees grow to this size only in a few specific areas in the world, and the USA is lucky to have the largest and best collection. Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks are about four hours away from either San Francisco or Los Angeles.

Both parks offer hiking trails, some of which are just short strolls past these ancient giants. Others are long hikes that will take you back into remote areas.

You can find camping in Sequoia NP, as well as Kings Canyon NP. Road closures in winter limit access to some of the campgrounds and a large section of Kings Canyon.

6. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Sulfurous steam, orange bubbling lava, and impossibly black landscapes are an assault on your senses. The world here is alive under your feet. The volcano is unpredictable, and the park can close at any time due to safety concerns. In 2018, the park was closed due to an eruption, and many attractions were damaged, including the famous Thurston Lava Tube, which remains closed.

For the best experience possible, consider staying at the rim of the caldera at Volcano House. This is the only accommodation in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

7. Death Valley National Park, CA

Sand dunes in Death Valley National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The lowest point in North America is found in Death Valley, but that's just the beginning of fantastic things to explore here. This heat-blasted valley is full of great hikes, expansive viewpoints, drifting sand dunes, and scenic drives.

The extreme harshness of Death Valley is part of what makes it so intriguing for visitors. Unique and beautiful sights are found sprinkled around the park. One of the most unexpected delights in this seemingly desolate place is the spring wildflower display. Catch it at the right time, and you'll see a rocky desert floor transformed into a riot of color.

Death Valley is a popular day trip from Las Vegas, only a two-hour drive away.

8. Denali National Park, AK

Denali National Park

If you thought the mountains in Colorado or Montana were big, you'll be amazed when you get to Denali National Park. Denali Mountain towers an incredible 20,304 feet high.

This is truly wild country. Backpacking trips, camping expeditions, mountaineering adventures, river rafting, and wildlife viewing are all popular adventures in the park. Note that private vehicles are not allowed on the single park road, however a variety of bus options are available.

9. Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park offers a close-up look at some of America's most spectacular cliff dwellings. These structures, more than 700 years old, are precipitously perched in hollows of a massive canyon wall. To get a real appreciation, take the tour of the White Cliff Palace or the Balcony House.

In addition to the cliff dwellings, the park protects an additional 5,000 ancient archaeological sites. Some of the largest and best are located a short walk off the main park road.

10. Olympic National Park, WA

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park is made up of rugged coastlines, mountains, and old-growth forests. Whatever the adventure you have planned, you can probably do it in Olympic National Park. Along the coast, you'll find ocean adventures like beach walking and tide pool exploring. Just inland, the old-growth forests beckon with hiking trails winding among moss-draped trees, and beyond, the mountains start, and climbing opportunities begin.

Olympic National Park is a popular day trip from Seattle, and just over two hours from the city center.

11. Canyonlands National Park, UT

Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

If you want the Grand Canyon without the crowds, this is a great alternative. Just down the road from Arches National Park near Moab, Canyonlands National Park offers an incredible landscape of immense pinnacles, buttes, arches, and deep canyons.

The park has several sections. For canyons and spectacular views, head to the Island in the Sky district, the most popular area of the park.

The Needles area, which is a little more remote, is a where you'll find buttes, hoodoos, and unique rock formations. This is a great place for hiking and camping around Moab.

Four-wheel driving is a popular pastime in the park, particularly in The Maze. This section lies to the west of the other two and is truly for off-grid explorers. If you crave solitude, this is the place to come.

If you are on your way to the Islands in the Sky area, be sure to also stop in at Dead Horse State Park along the way.

12. Redwood National and State Parks, CA

Redwood National and State Parks | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

While sequoia trees claim the title as the world's largest, the redwood trees claim the title as the world's tallest. Contained within the patchwork of Redwood National and State Parks is the most amazing collection of tall trees in the world.

These trees rise to more than 300 feet, the height of a 28-story building. Quiet trails wind their way through coastal forests, with giant trees around each bend. Giant ferns and other strange plants cover the forest floor, while clear streams burble their way to the coast.

Redwood National and State Parks are, as the name implies, a series of parks spread out along U.S. Highway 101. Many of the largest trees are found on hiking trails and often only a short walk off the highway.

13. Arches National Park, UT

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

For a glimpse into what Mother Nature can do to sandstone with wind and water, head to Arches National Park. Located just outside of Moab, Utah, and set up high on a rocky plateau above the Colorado River, this park is a fantasy-land of rock formations. The latest arch count came in with more than 2,000 arches of various shapes and sizes.

Some of the most impressive formations include Delicate Arch, North Window, South Window, and the Park Avenue area of sandstone monoliths.

This is an easy park to explore, as most of the main sights are right along the main road, just follow the well-marked and generally easy walks. Base yourself in the nearby town of Moab, an area with countless things to see and do.

14. Acadia National Park, ME

Acadia National Park

Located on the Maine seashore, Acadia National Park preserves the rugged beauty of the Atlantic coastline. This park's 47,000 acres also include granite outcroppings and pine forests bordering clear lakes.

Hiking here is spectacular. Trails lead to high, rocky headlands, and the views out over the North Atlantic are incredible. Other popular activities in Acadia National Park include camping, biking, and horseback riding.

The park is home to a diverse and interesting assortment of wildlife. Watch out for the harbor seals sunning themselves on the rocks, falcons and hawks soaring overhead, and deer and other small creatures in the forest.

The main town in the vicinity of the park is Bar Harbor. This makes a good base for exploring the park.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bar Harbor

15. Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Joshua Tree National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, strange furry trees grow out of the rolling desert landscape, punctuated by bizarre rock formations. Scenic drives throughout the park take you to impressive overlooks and past fields of cholla cactus glowing in the late day sun.

Joshua Tree National Park is a hot spot for climbers. You'll frequently see them attempting to scramble up the underside of massive boulders. Hiking is also popular, and trails range from short and easy to long and demanding.

Camping here among the rocks and trees under a desert sky filled with a million stars has to be experienced to be understood. Several campgrounds are located in the park.

16. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Bryce Canyon National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Bryce Canyon National Park features the world's largest collection of hoodoos. The best vistas are from viewpoints along an 18-mile stretch of scenic highway.

The best way to truly experience the park is to venture off the road and wander through the maze of hoodoos on one of the hiking trails. Trails wind down through strange formations, looping around and through the huge hoodoos on either side.

Camping at Bryce Canyon is fantastic. Owing to the high elevation, the night skies are clear and perfect for star gazing. The elevation can also mean cool nights, even on hot days.

17. Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Rocky Mountain National Park

For mountain scenery, this is the place to come in Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park is home to 100 peaks over 10,000 feet high, including the highest, Longs Peak, capping out at an impressive 14,259 feet.

Visitors come to this park to see the alpine scenery, spot wildlife, and enjoy some outdoor activities. Wildlife is plentiful here, with bighorn sheep, moose, elk, and other smaller animals like yellow-bellied marmots and pikas. Black bears and mountain lions are also resident in the park but are a bit more elusive.

Rocky Mountain National Park is located only 1.5 hours from downtown Denver, and the access road makes getting here fast and easy.

18. Glacier National Park, MT

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park, located in northern Montana, is a land of towering mountain peaks, shimmering blue lakes, and expansive green forests. This UNESCO World Heritage Site extends to the Canadian border and is jointly managed with Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park.

Glacier National Park has one of the most spectacular scenic drives in the United States: the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Built throughout the 1920s, the road opened in 1933 and has been an engineering marvel ever since. The road's 51 miles traverse the Continental Divide and provide stunning viewpoints at almost every turn.

Off the road are impressive hiking trails that will take you to glaciers, waterfalls, alpine plateaus, lakes, and other beautiful sights. Nature lovers may also enjoy spending a night or two camping in Glacier National Park.

19. Big Bend National Park, TX

Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

One of the lesser visited national parks, Big Bend is a haven for those with an adventurous spirit. Mountains, gorges, historic structures, archaeological sites, and the Rio Grande River come together in this area of West Texas.

One of the most interesting things to see in the park is the incredible Santa Elena Canyon, carved by the Rio Grande. Wade up the river along the shallow bottom or paddle through the canyon to fully appreciate the setting.

Big Bend has numerous hiking trails, including one through Santa Elena Canyon. Up near the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, take an adventurous hike along the Window Trail to a cut in the cliff wall for expansive views out over the desert.

Camping at Big Bend is a special experience — the Chisos Basin campground is surrounded on all sides by immense hills, and the skies are filled with a billion stars at night. If you are set up for dry camping, take a dusty road to find your perfect patch of sand in the wide-open desert.

Accommodation: Best Places to Stay near Big Bend National Park

20. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the United States. Located along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, the park encompasses the ancient Appalachian mountain range and is home to clear mountain streams, tumbling waterfalls, and a riot of biodiversity.

Some of the most popular activities in the park are hiking, camping, fishing, horseback riding, and cycling. Sections of the renowned Appalachian Trail fall within the park.

One of the most beautiful times to visit the Great Smoky Mountains is in the fall, when the hills turn an amazing mixture of orange, yellow, and red.

21. Shenandoah National Park, VA

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is another beautiful natural area to explore in the East. Enjoy views over the Blue Ridge Mountains from stops along Skyline Drive. Alternatively, get out on the hiking trails in the park to enjoy the vistas and waterfalls.

In the spring, the waterfalls are roaring, and in the fall, the hills turn to vibrant shades as the leaves change colors. Summer is always beautiful and is also a good time for camping in the mountains.

22. Everglades National Park, FL

Sunrise in Everglades National Park

Located in the far southwest of Florida, Everglades National Park is the state's most famous and popular park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a river of grass and water, known for a strong diversity of flora and fauna. Most notably, the everglades are home to alligators and American crocodiles.

The best time to visit the park is in the dry season, November through April. At this time, you'll have the best chance of seeing animals as they visit reliable water holes.

While most visitors drive to the visitor center near Homestead, the park is not limited to the land-based area. Just offshore are countless mangrove islands and shallow water, and the fishing here is legendary.

23. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park has the longest explored cave system in the world. The best sections of the 400 miles of the cave system are open to the public, allowing you to drop deep underground into a maze of incredible sights. One of the most notable areas in the cave is called Frozen Niagara. This formation of rock looks eerily like its namesake.

Tours to suit all abilities are available, and it's best to book ahead when possible. Since the cave is the same temperature all year, consider a trip in the winter when the crowds are smaller.

Other things to do in the park include camping, horseback riding, canoeing, and hiking. Admission to Mammoth Cave National Park is free, but there is a cost to tour the cave.

24. Crater Lake National Park, OR

Crater Lake National Park in spring | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

A drive up to Crater Lake National Park (at an elevation of 7,000 to 8,000 feet) will reward you with views out over the impossibly blue waters, a small island in the middle, and surrounding steep crater walls. If you come in the spring, you can often find winter-like conditions due to the elevation.

One of the most popular things to do at Crater Lake in summer is to take a boat tour. The tour passes by Wizard Island and offers views up from lake level to the crater rim above. It's hard to believe that the lake is nearly 2,000 feet deep.

Come winter, the park transforms. The area receives an incredible 43 feet of snow per year. Buildings are covered in snow, and access is restricted to only the south entrance.

25. Voyageurs National Park, MN

Loon in Voyageurs National Park | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

This immense area of pristine lakes, old-growth forests, ancient rocks, and Indian legends draws those with an adventurous spirit. Black bears, deer, moose, beaver, wolves, fox, and various other critters thrive here. Spread out over nearly 220,000 acres, the park has four large lakes and 26 smaller ones, all interconnected via portages.

The most popular activity here is canoeing, and generations of families have been following in the footsteps of the great Voyageurs who traversed this area in the 17th century. Beautiful campsites are located throughout the park, allowing for multi-day canoe camping trips. After a day's paddle, sit around the campfire and gaze up at the stars or trade stories while the loons call eerily across the placid waters.

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