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The Ultimate Guide to 59 U.S. National Parks in 2023 [Map Included]

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Amar Hussain

Amar Hussain

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Offering everything from ice-age glaciers to sun-soaked beaches, the North American continent has some of the most extreme landscapes in the world.

From the famous towering cliffs of the Grand Canyon to the vast and desolate ice fields of Alaska, the 59 National Parks scattered throughout the U.S. are some of the most iconic and inspirational places you will ever see.

Scroll down to explore the parks from “least visited” to “most visited” on 2017 visitation figures.

Gates of the Arctic, Alaska

Official Website

Established: December 2, 1980

Area: 7,523,897.74 acres (30,448.1 km2)

Visitors: 11,177 in 2017

Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve straddles the Arctic Divide in the Brooks Range, America’s northernmost chain of mountains. The size of Switzerland and situated in a very remote location, the park has only 1 road (the Dalton Highway) and 1 village (Anaktuvuk Pass).

The remoteness of this huge expanse of parkland is part of its attraction to intrepid adventurers from the U.S. and further afield. With a wealth of glaciated valleys and rugged mountains, 6 rivers, many miles of valleys, and tundra slopes, there is plenty to hike and explore.

Both the park and preserve provide a natural habitat for grizzly bears, Western Arctic caribou, wolves, Dall sheep, moose, muskoxen, wolverines, and more than 145 species of birds. Fishing in the area is also superb; the long, clear streams provide perfect fishing for grayling, Arctic char, and large trout.

Because Gates of the Arctic is a natural wilderness park, it is not easy to access. You would need to fly in or hike over many miles of rough terrain. If you can put in the planning to get there, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most stunning scenery North America has to offer. You can enjoy hiking, fishing, or rafting in the summer, as well as cross-country skiing and dog mushing during the winter months.

✈ How to get there: Fly into the park and reserve from Fairbanks, Alaska to one of the small gateway community airstrips at Bettles, Anaktuvuk Pass, or Coldfoot

🏨 Stay at: There are no facilities within the camp, but there are small communities dotted around the perimeter.

Hot Tip: Find out how much it will cost to fly with your gear in our piece outlining 70+ airline skii/snowboard baggage policies

Kobuk Valley National Park, Alaska

Official Website

Established: December 2, 1980

Area: 1,750,716.50 acres (7,084.9 km2)

Visitors: 15,500 in 2017

Situated just inside of the Arctic Circle, Kobuk Valley National Park is a 1.7-million-acre park in northwest Alaska, and is home to the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes. A remote and fascinating wilderness, Kobuk Valley offers a truly unique glimpse into the complex climates of Alaska.

Despite its northerly location, the sun does not set from early June to early July, and summer temperatures can reach as high as 100 degrees.

The 25-square-mile Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, Little Kobuk Sand Dunes, and the Hunt River Dunes cover much of the southern Kobuk Valley and constitute the largest active sand dunes found in the Arctic. These giant dunes that can reach as high as 100 feet would not look out of place in the Sahara.

The dunes are only accessible by hiking along Kavet Creek from the Kobuk River, which also runs through the park. In contrast to the soft dunes of the Arctic, the river bluffs can reach 150 feet, holding permafrost ice wedges (and even some Ice Age mammal fossils) in their icy grip.

The park is also home to the largest Western Arctic caribou herd in Alaska, who can be seen traveling through the park during their migration season. This migration is one of the last and most spectacular movements of wild animals anywhere in the world. What was once home to Woolly mammoths over 15,000 years ago is now a magnificent natural habitat for iconic Arctic animals like grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, foxes, porcupines, and moose.

✈ How to get there: Commercial airlines fly from Anchorage to Kotzebue, or from Fairbanks to Bettles. Once in Kotzebue or Bettles, you can only fly to the park using authorized air taxis. In the summer you may be able to reach areas of the park by boat.

🏨 Stay at: There are no facilities within the camp, but you can find motels in the larger towns including Kotzebue or Bettles. You will still need to cover the 70-100 mile journey by road.

Lake Clark National Park, Alaska

Official Website

Established: December 2, 1980

Area: 2,619,733.21 acres (10,601.7 km2)

Visitors: 22,755 in 2017

Close to the city of Anchorage and with beautiful scenery all around, Lake Clark National Park is an absolute gem. Offering a heady mix of all that is great about the Alaskan landscape, it’s home to a fine array of mountains, glaciers, granite spires, thundering waterfalls, rugged coastline, and the largest lake in the state.

Lake Clark itself is a 42-mile-long body of water surrounded by mountains on all sides. The park is also home to Mount Iliana and Mount Redoubt, 2 active volcanoes that were seen tossing ash into the air as recently as 1990.

The park is also a popular pilgrimage for those looking to visit the famous hand-built cabin of naturalist Richard L. Proenneke, who first visited in 1962 and stayed for 30 years. Proenneke became famous for his advocacy and journals, but his humble cabin is only reachable by hiking from the park or using a small plane that can land on the lake itself.

Remote, beautiful, and truly breathtaking, Lake Clark National Park is also home to a full complement of subarctic wildlife species including brown and black bears, moose, the Mulchatna caribou, Dall sheep, and wolves. The water offers a safe habitat for Harbor seals, beluga whales, Steller sea lions, and sea otters, as well as salmon, Arctic char, Arctic grayling, Dolly Varden, northern pike, lake trout, and rainbow trout.

Lake Clark National Park is a stunning example of the Alaskan landscape at its finest and a once-in-a-lifetime destination.

✈ How to get there: You can fly from Anchorage in less than an hour, or hop on a plane from Port Alsworth and be there in as little as 30 minutes.

🏨 Stay at: There are a variety of lodging options within the park itself (including public lodges available for hire), and there is basic camping within the park or just outside. You can also stay in the nearby towns of Anchorage or Port Alsworth.

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Official Website

Established: April 3, 1940

Area: 571,790.11 acres (2,314.0 km2)

Visitors: 28,196 in 2017

This truly unique and remote island archipelago is located in the northwestern portion of Lake Superior. The park consists of 1 large island surrounded by over 450 smaller islands and is home to the largest freshwater lake in the world.

The Isle Royale National Park is only accessible by sea vessel or float plane, and it offers a wild experience for anyone who ventures there. In fact, it is so hard to access at certain times of the year that it’s the only National Park in the U.S. to be closed entirely during the winter season.

The park is home to wolves and moose, as well as the longest continuously running predator/prey study in the world. During the early and late seasons you may also be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis as the sky dances with color.

Isle Royale’s unique ecosystem led to it being designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. When you visit, you’ll realize just how remote and undeveloped the entire area is: it’s just you and the lake with no land in sight, and makes for the perfect wilderness experience.

The park has 165 miles of scenic hiking trails and 36 campgrounds for backpackers and recreational boaters. In addition, you’ll find excellent fishing, historic lighthouses and shipwrecks, ancient copper mining sites, and plenty of spots to observe the wildlife.

✈ How to get there: Visitors traveling to Isle Royale must arrive by boat or seaplane. There are a variety of transportation services available that depart from Houghton, Michigan; Copper Harbor, Michigan; and Grand Portage, Minnesota. Parking is available at all departure locations.

🏨 Stay at: The Rock Harbor Lodge complex is located on the Northeast side of the Park and is the only full-service lodging facility on the island. There are other hotels and motels available in nearby Houghton.

North Cascades National Park, Washington

Official Website

Established: October 2, 1968

Area: 504,780.94 acres (2,042.8 km2)

Visitors: 30,326 in 2017

North Cascades National Park is a picture perfect national park that combines many of nature’s most amazing feats. Deep blue mountain lakes, evergreen expanses, rocky mountainous peaks, and cascading waterfalls all come together to transform the North Cascades into an adventurer’s paradise.

Situated in northern Washington state, the park is a vast wilderness that is home to grizzly bears, grey wolves, and more than 200 species of birds.

The park consists of 2 sections called units, with the North unit extending to the Canadian border, and the South unit stretching southeast as far as the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. Situated between the 2 units is the fjord-like Ross Lake, perfect for kayaking on the intensely green alpine waters.

The park offers challenging but rewarding terrain and is great for those looking to push the boundaries of their backpacking capabilities. Many of the hiking routes in the North Cascades bring you to pristine waterfront locations on Ross Lake, Thornton Lake, and Monogram Lakes. The rough going hiking will be well worth it when you set up camp for the night overlooking the most amazing Alpine landscape. There are over 400 miles of hiking trails in North Cascades National Park — you never have to take the same route twice!

The park is also famous for its abundance of beautiful waterfalls. Breaking up the landscape in the most serene way, the waterfalls of the North Cascades are too numerous to count. Ladder Creek Falls are the most popular as they are easily accessible, but there are plenty of other water features to be found throughout the park.

✈ How to get there: There is only 1 paved road that goes through the park complex (Washington State Route 20, or SR20), and a few unpaved side roads including the Cascade River Road and the Stehekin Valley Road. The nearest airport is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

🏨 Stay at: There are a number of camping facilities at the park including Goodell Creek Campground, Newhalem Creek Campground, Gorge Lake Campground, and Colonial Creek Campground.

Katmai National Park, Alaska

Official Website

Established: December 2, 1980

Area: 3,674,529.68 acres (14,870.3 km2)

Visitors: 37,818 in 2017

Katmai National Park covers over 4 million acres across the southern stretch of Alaska and is home to about 2,200 bears. The park also offers hundreds of miles of unique and dynamic landscapes formed by the eruption of the Novarupta Volcano back in 1912.  Katmai remains a stunning wilderness landscape with little development having taken place since its inception.

Visitors come to Katmai to see the well-protected bear population in their natural habitat. At the peak of the bear viewing season in July, the Brooks River is the place to watch bears snagging salmon in midair from just 30 yards away.

Katmai is also home to the Naknek Lake, which supports 5 species of Pacific salmon as well as rainbow trout, Arctic char, Arctic grayling, and northern pike, making the park a very popular destination for sport anglers.

It’s not just the bears and the fishing that make Katmai such a unique parkland location. Visitors can hike in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, camp in the backcountry, or kayak their way through the lakes and rivers known as the Savonoski Loop. Remote and challenging to get to, Katmai Park is unconnected to any towns by roads, although bear viewing can be arranged as a one-day tour from the nearby towns of Kodiak, Homer, and Anchorage.

Vast and uncompromising, Katmai National Park offers a unique view of the Alaskan wilderness at its finest.

✈ How to get there: Katmai is almost exclusively accessed by plane or boat, or via air taxi flights from Anchorage, Dillingham, Homer, King Salmon, Kodiak, and other nearby Alaskan towns and villages.

🏨 Stay at: The Brooks Campground sits on the shore of Naknek Lake and has a 60-person capacity. The campground’s location is perfect for seeing the bears close up. If you cannot get a spot booked in the camp, there are lodges around the park as well as hotels and motels in surrounding towns.

Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West, Florida

Official Website

Established: October 26, 1992

Area: 64,701.22 acres (261.8 km2)

Visitors: 54,281 in 2017

Nearly 70 miles west of Key West lies the remote but beautiful Dry Tortugas National Park. This 100-square-mile park is mostly made up of water, with 7 small islands dotted within its boundaries.

Accessible only by boat or sea plane, Dry Tortugas is home to the magnificent and world-famous Fort Jefferson, as well as stunning deep blue waters, cool reefs, and a wide assortment of marine life. The park may be one of the least well-known or visited in America, but its rich history and stunning scenery make it one of the most amazing.

You can arrange to stay overnight in the park, although part of the draw of the islands is that you can explore pretty much all of it on a 1-day excursion. That day will be time well spent — the landscape is changing so rapidly that the park may not even be accessible within just a few years. As climate change forces the seas to continue to rise, the land on the islands continues to vanish, so you should probably see it while you still can.

If you do get to visit, take a tour of Fort Jefferson, which is just 1 of a series of coastal forts constructed after the War of 1812 to protect the country’s Eastern border. A magnificent building, the fort contains over 16 million red bricks and was the most advanced military building project of its time. At its height, the fort housed 1,729 people and was more densely populated than Manhattan.

Beyond troops, the fort also served as an island prison — like a Florida version of Alcatraz. It mostly housed army deserters, but its most notable inmate was Dr. Samuel Mudd, the man who assisted and housed John Wilkes Booth for 2 days after he assassinated Abraham Lincoln. There are also over 200 sunken ships dating as far back as the 1600s submerged around the islands.

Dry Tortugas is famous for its coral reefs, with some of the best-preserved coral heads growing so large that it’s no longer possible to swim over them. Activities here include snorkeling, swimming, camping, and of course just taking in the exceptional natural beauty of the islands while soaking up the hot Florida sun.

✈ How to get there: You can only reach the Dry Tortugas by sea plane or boat, and most visitors book a 1-day excursion that includes travel and a tour of Fort Jefferson. The Yankee Freedom III Dry Tortugas Ferry departs daily from Key West and is a more affordable way of reaching the islands.

🏨 Stay at: The park has a campground located in Garden Key right outside Fort Jefferson. If you are looking for lodges or hotels, you would need to book into any of the many that are available in Key West.

Image Credit: 272447 via Pixabay

Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, Alaska

Official Website

Established: December 2, 1980

Area: 8,323,147.59 acres (33,682.6 km2)

Visitors: 68,292 in 2017

This vast parkland is as famous for its sheer size as it is for its diverse landscapes. By far the largest park in America, Wrangell–St. Elias National Park is almost 6 times the size of Yellowstone alone.

Offering mile upon mile of mountains, glaciers, river, and tundras, the wide expanse of stunning Alaskan scenery still holds remnants of the gold- and copper-mining towns that thrived in the early days of the 20th century.

Today it’s not mining that draws visitors to Wrangell–St. Elias, but instead the amazing opportunities to go hiking, rafting, kayaking, and climbing through this magnificent part of Alaska.

The 4 major mountain ranges converging within the park all add to its beauty. The volcanic ranges of the Wrangells, the Alaska, the Church and the St. Elias all rise from the ground, and are the tallest coastal mountains in the world. Together they contain 9 of the highest peaks in the United States, with 4 of them rising as high as 16,000 feet above sea level.

Of the many glaciers within the National Park, the Malaspina Glacier alone is larger than Rhode Island. The park is a United Nations World Heritage site and is the perfect place to explore the untamed wilderness of Alaska.

Within its boundaries, you’ll find the ghost town of Kennecott (a remnant of the copper-mining days), as well as the town of Yakutat, which is a traditional fishing village of the indigenous Tlingit people. The park is also home to one of the largest herds of Dall sheep in America (around 13,000!).

There are 2 roads that travel into the park, and it is also accessible by boat or plane. Drivers beware though — fuel options are limited, and the vast and rugged landscape means conditions can change quickly at any time.

The winter months offer cold and challenging conditions, but in summer you can see wildflowers and warm skies. Autumn brings no mosquitoes and a dusting of new snow on the mountain peaks, while March and April offer excellent cross-country skiing for those who want to traverse the great open spaces on foot.

✈ How to get there: You can take the McCarthy Road or the Slana-Nabesna Road into the park, but a 4-wheel-drive vehicle may be required. Alternately, you could charter a plane into a remote part of the park and hike your way back to the river.

🏨 Stay at: There are a selection of lodges within the park including Currant Ridge, Ultima Thule Lodge, Kennicott Glacier Lodge, and McCarthy Lodge & Ma Johnson’s Hotel

American Samoa National Park

Official Website

Established: October 31, 1988

Area: 9,000.00 acres (36.4 km2)

Visitors: 69,468 in 2017

American Samoa National Park is in the heart of the South Pacific, and is unlike any other of the United States national parks. As an island group south of the equator, American Samoa is a protected parkland tucked within an exotic paradise that offers mile upon mile of beautiful beaches, tropical rainforests, and preserved unbleached coral reefs.

This park was the first to be established in the Southern Hemisphere and resides across 3 islands: Ta’ū and Ofu offer miles of sandy beaches, while Tutuila is home to the park’s headquarters.

For all its beauty, the park is not a tourist resort — reaching the islands can be arduous. It can get incredibly hot and humid, and there are very few modern conveniences on any of the islands. However, if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure, American Samoa is a wilderness paradise that preserves the unique culture of the South Pacific Islands.

On Ta’ū you can enjoy bushwhacking your way through the wilderness in the back of a pickup truck, exploring the jungle landscape among ruins, or taking in the incredible views across the vast Pacific expanse. The 3,000-foot Lata Mountains are among the world’s tallest sea cliffs, and the rugged, wild, untamed wilderness stretches out as far as the eye can see.

On the main island of Tutuila lies the Mt. Alava Adventure Trail, where ladders fixed to the side of mountain ridges help visitors scale jungle walls to reach the 1,600-foot peak. The island’s mountainous regions, beaches, coral reefs, World War II relics, and sporting activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling, and hiking make it a truly wonderful place to explore.

✈ How to get there: Fly from Faleolo Airport in Samoa and Pago Pago, or if you are feeling adventurous take the ferry, The Lady Naomi, that makes the 8-hour voyage between Pago and Apia at least once a week.

🏨 Stay at: There are a few B&B’s and lodges scattered across the park, including the Moana O Sina Lodge, Tee’s Place B&B, Tisa’s Barefoot Bar, and the Vaoto Lodge.

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Official Website

Established: November 10, 2003

Area: 26,545.86 acres (107.4 km2)

Visitors: 159,595 in 2017

Congaree National Park is 26,000 acres that houses the largest old-growth hardwood forest tree remaining in the United States. Know locally as Harry Hampton after the man who began lobbying to protect the land in 1954, the tree is fiercely protected.

The park also contains some of the tallest trees in Eastern North America with one of the highest canopies in the world and a broad range of biodiversity. It is recognized as an International Biosphere Reserve, federally designated Wilderness Area, and Globally Important Bird Area.

The park is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week, and visitors are encouraged to see firsthand the magnificent scenery and extensive maze of park trails at any time of the year. Hiking, walking, and camping are available in the park all year round.

More intrepid visitors may want to try canoeing or kayaking down Cedar Creek, all while sharing the water with other local residents including river otters, deer, turtles, wading birds, and even the occasional alligator. Many different species of birds call the park home, and you’ll have a rare opportunity to see several species of woodpeckers (including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker).

If you really want to get back to nature, the Bluff Campground has plenty of room for tents, but has no electrical hookups, access for RVs, or toilet facilities. Picnic tables and fire rings are provided, but visitors must bring their own water. Congaree is a quintessentially American park that offers fabulous scenery and picture-perfect campsites. From summer camps to day hikes or bike rides, Congaree will not disappoint.

✈ How to get there: You can reach the park on Interstate 77 from Charlotte and Augusta, or Interstate 26 from Spartanburg or Charleston. The nearest airports are Columbia Metropolitan Airport (located approximately 30 minutes from the park) or Charlotte Douglass International Airport.

🏨 Stay at: You can stay at either the Bluff or Longleaf camping sites, although they both operate on a first come first serve basis and have limited facilities. Alternatively, there are lodges, RV sites, and hotels available in the nearby town of Hopkins.

Great Basin National Park, Nevada

Official Website

Established: October 27, 1986

Area: 77,180.00 acres (312.3 km2)

Visitors: 168,028 in 2017

The largest national park in Nevada, Great Basin is filled with a wide array of natural treasures including magnificent alpine lakes, limestone caverns, and even a small natural glacier. With so much to see, it’s surprising that this park is one of the least visited in the region, even though it offers ample opportunities for hours and hours of backcountry trailblazing without ever having to pass another soul.

The dramatic cave formations are one of this park’s outstanding features. One cavern, Lehman Caves, is a geologic remnant of an ancient, shallow inland sea — which seems completely out of context in the arid desert location. Two guided cave tours of the Lodge Room and Grand Palace give visitors a chance to see stalagmites, stalactites, and rare cave formations such as helictites and calcite features that seem to defy gravity with their curves.

The park’s namesake Great Basin measures roughly 200,000 square miles and is home to over 800 species of plants and 61 species of mammals. Amazingly, the entire area drains internally — no streams, creeks, or rivers reach the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.

The park is popular with those looking to snag a catch in the variety of creeks and rivers that are well stocked with brown, brook, and Bonneville cutthroat trout. With open plains affording magnificent views of the night sky, this park really comes alive at night.

Wheeler Peak is said to provide the best visibility of the Milky Way anywhere in the continental United States, and the 8.6-mile hike to the summit its well worth it to take in the stunning views both day and night. You can also find out more about the park and the stars up above at the Great Basin Observatory.

✈ How to get there: The nearest commercial airports are Cedar City, Utah and St. George, Utah. Both fly to and from Salt Lake City only and have no rental cars available. Major airports can be found in Salt Lake City, Utah and Las Vegas, Nevada. The town of Baker is the entrance to the park and offers limited facilities.

🏨 Stay at: The small town of Baker has some lodges and B&Bs that are within a short drive of the park. There is also the Whispering Elms Campsite nearby.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Official Website

Established: October 15, 1966

Area: 86,415.97 acres (349.7 km2)

Visitors: 225,257 in 2017

In the heart of Texas lies Guadalupe Mountains National Park, home to Guadalupe Peak, which at 8,749 feet is the highest point in the Lone Star State. It is famous for its bright white Salt Basin Dunes, wildlife-rich grassland, and fossilized reef mountains.

Visitors can take the Guadalupe Peak Trail that weaves its way through a conifer forest to the peak, offering amazing views as far as El Capitan peak to the South. The McKittrick Canyon Trail in the north of the park makes a great hike all year round, but is most famous for its stunning autumn foliage.

The park is also home to over 300 species of birds that either migrate or nest in the park. Depending on the season, avid birdwatchers gather to see a rare glimpse of western bluebirds, violet-green swallows, white-throated swifts, or red-naped sapsuckers.

Sight-seeing may seem a misnomer in the sun-bleached desert, but there are plenty of landmarks to see in the Guadalupe Mountains. The park itself is rich in historical importance and was once home to the Mescalero Apache tribes.

A stainless steel pyramid on Guadalupe Peak serves as a memorial to the Butterfield Overland Mail, which ran through the parklands from 1858 until 1861 as it carried mail from St. Louis to San Francisco.

The West Texas scenery is stunning, and even though the hot sun makes for hard trekking, there are plenty of opportunities to try out mountain climbing and hiking throughout the park.

✈ How to get there: The closest large commercial airline service is in El Paso, Texas. The park is located in far West Texas on U.S. Highway 62/180. The driving distance is 110 miles east of El Paso, Texas, or 56 miles southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico.

🏨 Stay at: There is no lodging inside the park. However, if you are planning on staying in the Guadalupe Mountains, you can choose from the Pine Springs Campground or the Dog Canyon Campground. Both operate a first come, first served policy. Lodges and hotels can be found in various nearby towns including Carlsbad and White City.

Pinnacles National Park, California

Official Website

Established: January 10, 2013

Area: 26,605.73 acres (107.7 km2)

Visitors: 233,334 in 2017

California’s newest national park is home to cliffs, crags, and cave formations that were all formed by an ancient volcano. The park is located in the Salinas Valley and is a picture perfect representation of the very best of the California landscape.

Visitors can explore a multitude of deep winding caves or scale the rocky pinnacles. Keep your eyes on the skies for a rare view of the California condors, or simply hike among the wildflowers. In the summer months, temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees during the day, but by nightfall you’ll have a perfect view of the stars in the cool night sky.

The park is divided into 2 sides (east and west), and the only way to travel from one to another is by foot on a 5-mile hike through the wilderness. Its unique geology makes this park a perfect home to a diverse range of flora and fauna.

Pinnacles National Park has around 149 bird species, 69 butterfly species, and 400 bee species inhabiting its boundaries; 14 of California’s 24 bat species also call the park their home. The California condor, big-eared kangaroo rat, Gabilan slender salamander, Pinnacles shield-back katydid, and Pinnacles riffle beetle can also all be found here.

Pinnacles National Park has over 30 miles of trails, ranging from very easy to advanced. You can take off for a just few hours, or immerse yourself in a 10-day hiking tour; the park has plenty to offer every kind of walker.

Unlike many other National Parks in the U.S., Pinnacles offers a good selection of facilities. There is a campground, picnic tables, fire rings, communal barbecue pits, showers, and even a swimming pool for visitors to enjoy.

✈ How to get there: Monterey Regional Airport is 75 miles from the center of the park, while San Jose Airport offers international flights and is 85 miles away from the park. You can also reach the park by road from San Francisco using Hwy 101.

🏨 Stay at: You can stay in the park itself in one of the 2 campgrounds, or choose from a variety of motels and B&B’s in Salinas, King City, and other surrounding towns.

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Official Website

Established: January 8, 1971

Area: 218,200.17 acres (883.0 km2)

Visitors: 237,250 in 2017

Voyageurs National Park is located in northern Minnesota. It spans 218,054 acres (including 84,000 acres of water) and offers many miles of undeveloped shoreline and hundreds of unique islands.

The northernmost 55-mile boundary is the international border between the United States and Canada. It includes an important segment of the “transcontinental highway” first traversed by French-Canadian voyageurs during the late 1700s and early 1800s.

The park is home to some of the oldest exposed rock in the world (more than 2.8 billion years!), as well as glaciers more than a mile high. With its lakes and vast forests, Voyageurs is an example of the North American landscape at its finest. Southern boreal forests seamlessly blend into northern hardwood forests, making the park the perfect place to see a wide variety of wildlife.

The Park is 1 of only 2 national parks in the continental United States with an indigenous population of the Eastern timber wolf. It is also a great place to see bald eagles, loons, pelicans, osprey, turkey vultures, otters, or a herd of moose, as well as experience some first class fishing.

As you would expect from this corner of the country, there are plenty of activities to enjoy in the park. There’s a wealth of family-friendly activities including kayaking, boating, fishing, sailing, or swimming from one of the many sandy beaches. You could even boat up to the famous Kettle Falls Dam to visit the Kettle Falls Hotel that sits on the boundary between the U.S. and Canada.

To complete your experience, there are over 200 developed campsites within Voyageurs National Park. These sites are “boat-in” and cannot be reached by car, and you would need to reserve your space before arrival.

✈ How to get there: Most flights pass through Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and go on to Falls International Airport; Fort Frances, Ontario is the closest airport on the Canadian side. You can drive to Voyageurs National Park via Minneapolis-St. Paul by using I-35 and Highway 53.

🏨 Stay at: If you don’t want to camp in the park itself, there are a wide variety of different lodges and resorts close by on both the U.S. and Canadian boundaries.

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Official Website

Established: December 2, 1980

Area: 669,982.99 acres (2,711.3 km2)

Visitors: 303,598 in 2017

Kenai Fjords National Park spans 601,839 acres at the foot of Seward and was created to protect some of the most incredible and impenetrable wilderness in Alaska. With over 60% of the park being covered with snow and ice all year round, a visit to Kenai is the ultimate ice age experience.

The park is home to massive icefields, countless tidewater glaciers, carving valleys that fill with seawater to form stunning fjords, and icebergs the size of small houses.

Kenai Fjords consists of 3 main areas: Exit Glacier, Harding Icefield, and the coast. Exit Glacier, a half-mile wide river of ice, is the easiest section of the park to access. The 700-square-mile Harding Icefield is one of only 4 remaining icefields in U.S., and the largest icefield entirely within U.S. borders.

The park’s rugged coastline includes beautiful tidewater glaciers and abundant marine wildlife. Visitors come to explore the coastal fjords and view the wide array of wildlife including black and brown bears, beavers, coyotes, mountain goats, river otters, moose, gray wolves, and wolverines. The glacial waters are also home to sea otters, porpoises, sea lions, harbor seals, and whales.

Activities in the park include kayaking, camping, fishing, beach combing, cycling, hiking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, dog sledding, boat tours, ranger programs, and mountaineering. More experienced hikers or mountaineers equipped with skis, ice axes, and crampons can explore the Icefield crossings, which can take up to 2 weeks to complete.

✈ How to get there: Seward is 130 miles south of Anchorage and can be reached via the Seward Highway or the Alaska Railroad during the summer months. Tour boats and air services can be chartered to provide transport deeper into the Kenai Fjords National Park.

🏨 Stay at: You can stay at the Exit Glacier Campground or in one of the 3 public-use cabins along the fjords. Alternative accommodation can be found in Seward.

Virgin Islands, UVI

Official Website

Established: August 2, 1956

Area: 14,688.87 acres (59.4 km2)

Visitors: 304,408 in 2017

The Virgin Islands are situated about 40 miles east of Puerto Rico and lie between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. This park covers more than half of Saint John Island and Hassel Island, and it’s home to beautiful quiet coves, tranquil blue-green waters, and white sandy beaches fringed by lush hills. The Virgin Islands are a tropical paradise protected by national park status.

This exquisite landscape is an ideal backdrop for some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Hawksnest Bay, Trunk Bay, Cinnamon Bay, Saltpond Bay, and many of St John’s other sheltered coves are highly sought after destinations for visitors from around the world.

Though the island is most famous for its white sands, the park also offers a plethora of natural coral reefs and marine wildlife, as well as early Carib Indian relics and the remains of Danish colonial sugar plantations.

The Virgin Islands National Park is also part of the biosphere reserve network designated by the United Nations. The goal of the Biosphere Reserve Project is to establish a network of representative ecosystems, conserve genetic diversity, monitor changes, and develop techniques to restore the land. It is also the only biosphere in the Lesser Antilles.

You can only reach the islands by plane or boat, and camping is available on Cinnamon Bay Campground, including tent sites, sites with tent-covered platforms already set up, and cottages.

✈ How to get there: There are no airports on St. John, so you will need to fly to St. Thomas Cyril E. King Airport and travel by boat from there.

🏨 Stay at: You can stay on the Cinnamon Bay Campground on the island of St. John, which offers basic camping facilities and cottages. Villas, lodges, and hotel resort destinations can be found on the neighboring island of St Thomas.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado

Official Website

Established: October 21, 1999

Area: 32,950.03 acres (133.3 km2)

Visitors: 307,143 in 2017

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of Colorado’s most distinctive natural landmarks. The dramatic landscape will leave you speechless as you explore Colorado’s very own Grand Canyon, which is home to some of the world’s oldest exposed rock at nearly 2 billion years old.

Colorado’s gorgeous scenery offers the perfect backdrop for long drives, where you can peer 2,000 feet below the edge to see the Gunnison River. The river itself is one of the fastest descending bodies of water in North America, and navigating it is not for the fainthearted.

This park is a playground for experienced rock climbers, but it also offers plenty of additional activities for those who prefer to keep both feet on the ground. Hiking, nature trails, drives, and award-winning fishing can all be found at Black Canyon.

Gunnison Point Overlook is located close to the visitor center and offers the most spectacular views out across the canyon. If you are lucky, you may even spot a Peregrine falcon as it jets across the canyon at over 200 miles per hour, or see mule deer grazing on the ledges below.

If you want to try a hike through the park, the 1-mile Rim Rock Nature Trail follows a relatively flat path along the rim of the canyon. For the more experienced hiker, try the 2-mile Oak Flat Loop Trail, which offers a peek at the landscape below the canyon’s rim.

There are 3 camping grounds within the park:

  • South Rim Campground — Impressive views of the 2,250-foot Painted Wall (the highest cliff in Colorado)
  • North Rim Campground — Smaller, shady camping spots
  • East Portal Campground — Adjacent to the national park in beautiful Curecanti National Recreation Area

✈ How to get there: The nearest regional airport is Montrose Regional Airport, and the closest international airport is in Grand Junction, Colorado. The town of Montrose is the gateway to the park and offers easy access along Colorado Hwy 347.

🏨 Stay at: You can choose to stay at any of the 3 campgrounds in the park, or select from a variety of lodging options in Montrose or Gunnison County.

Channel Islands National Park, California

Official Website

Established: March 5, 1980

Area: 249,561.00 acres (1,009.9 km2)

Visitors: 383,687 in 2017

This park consists of 5 islands off the coast of Southern California, and it’s one of America’s most remote national parks. Described as the “Galapagos of North America,” this far-flung destination offers no lodgings, no shops, and nothing but the sheer beauty of the ocean sanctuary around it.

With plentiful wildlife and abundant plant life, a visit to Channel Islands National Park is the perfect opportunity to enjoy nature at its finest.

The islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara are all close to the California mainland, yet they remain remarkably undeveloped. They are also home to over 2,000 plant and animal species, of which 150 are found nowhere else in the world.

In the Santa Barbara Channel, you can find over 30 marine mammal species including whales, dolphins, and elephant seals, as well as marine life ranging from tiny sea stars and anemones to blue whales (the largest animals in the world).

The islands are rich in history and were home to the first maritime Paleoindian peoples, who settled there at least 13,000 years ago. Archaeologists have discovered approximately 148 historic village sites, including 11 on Santa Cruz Island, 8 on Santa Rosa Island, and 2 on San Miguel Island.

Each island offers a unique experience. Anacapa Island is great for wildflower enthusiasts, birdwatchers, picnics, and short hikes. Santa Cruz Island is perfect for adventure seekers who want to try sea cave kayaking or snorkeling, long hikes, birding, and camping. Santa Rosa Island is great for secluded white sand beaches, hiking, and backcountry camping.

For an idyllic slice of peaceful island life just a short journey from downtown Los Angeles, Channel Islands National Park offers everything you’re looking for and more.

✈ How to get there: Los Angeles International Airport is the nearest international airport, while Santa Barbara Airport offers small internal flights and is closer to the park. Once you reach the Ventura Visitors Center, you can only access the park by boat.

🏨 Stay at: Primitive camping is available year-round on all 5 islands in National Park Service-managed campgrounds. There are no other lodgings on any of the islands, but hotels, motels, and B&Bs are widely available in Ventura.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Official Website

Established: June 12, 1944

Area: 801,163.21 acres (3,242.2 km2)

Visitors: 440,276 in 2017

Big Bend National Park covers over 801,000 acres of West Texas. For more than 1,000 miles, the Rio Grande River forms the international boundary between Mexico and the United States. Named after the “big bend” in the river where the southeasterly flow abruptly turns northward, the park is culturally and historically important to the state of Texas as a whole.

A diverse parkland where countries and cultures meet, Big Bend offers visitors the chance to explore the rivers, deserts, and mountains that dominate this corner of the country.

There are some truly remarkable communities to explore throughout the park region. Marathon, Study Butte, Terlingua Ghost Town, and Lajitas can all be found within its boundaries; they offer endless possibilities for your very own Texan adventure.

Over 1 million acres of public land encompassing Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park offer hiking, camping, river running, horse riding, mountain biking, jeep touring, and abundant sightseeing opportunities on paved and improved roads. Explore the vast portion of the Chihuahuan Desert that is situated within the park, or trek up the Chisos Mountain ranges to overlook the desert on 3 sides.

Get to know the flora and fauna that can be found in Big Bend National park, and see if you can identify all 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, and 76 amphibian and reptile species that now call the park home.

There are plenty of accommodations across the park, ranging from basic camping to luxury lodges. Whether you are looking for a peaceful break in the desert or an action-packed adventure, you will find it all in Big Bend National park.

✈ How to get there: The nearest commercial airport is Midland-Odessa, although the closest international airport would be San Antonio (which is still many hours away from the park driving on Interstate 10).

🏨 Stay at: The park itself offers a variety of lodging options, from camping and cabins to motel rooms or 4-star luxury resorts.

Image Credit: David Mark via Pixabay

Redwood National Park, California

Official Website

Established: October 2, 1968

Area: 112,512.05 acres (455.3 km2)

Visitors: 445,000 in 2017

Redwood National Park offers a wealth of protected forests, beaches, and grasslands all stretching along the Northern coast of California.

The park has many miles of trails through the dense old-growth woods, which are perfect for hiking or riding in the warm California weather. Redwoods State Park is home to Fern Canyon and its high, plant-covered walls, where Roosevelt elk can be seen playing on the nearby Elk Prairie.

Redwood’s rivers are world-renowned for providing excellent fishing opportunities. The Smith River starts high in the Siskiyou Mountains and flows through the park’s most northerly section. It is now California’s last major free-flowing river and is famous for salmon and steelhead. If you’re visiting the park to fish, you can also try your luck in the Klamath River or the Redwood Creek.

Acres of stunning California forests full of redwood trees and redwood furls give the park its name. It is also a natural habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species including black bears, sea stars, bald eagles, Roosevelt elk, pelicans, ospreys, bears, mountain lions, chipmunks, raccoons, and rabbits.

There are 16 miles of national park trails and 40 state parks available to walk or cycle, all perfect for exploring the forests, lakes, and open prairie surrounded by stunning Californian scenery.

✈ How to get there: Eureka-Arcata Airport is the nearest regional airport, while San Francisco and Sacramento are the closest international airports. The park can also be accessed by road using a variety of highways.

🏨 Stay at: There are no campgrounds within the park, but camping, lodges, hotels, and cabins can be found in the surrounding towns of Orick and Klamath.

Biscayne National Park, Florida

Official Website

Established: June 28, 1980

Area: 172,924.07 acres (699.8 km2)

Visitors: 446,961 in 2017

Biscayne National Park is situated in South Florida, and over 95% of the park is underwater. This makes it the largest marine park in Northern America and the perfect destination for those looking to enjoy some water exploration.

The park is only accessible by boat from the Dante Fascell Visitors Center in Homestead, less than an hour’s drive from the Florida Turnpike. Once you reach the island by boat, you’ll be taken aback by the lush tropical paradise that awaits you. The convergence of 4 distinctive ecosystems, the mangroves, Biscayne Bay, and the Florida Keys offers a wealth of natural vegetation and marine life for you to explore.

Leafy green mangrove trees along the shoreline will welcome you into the park — the longest stretch of mangroves anywhere on the Floridian shoreline. They play a significant role in the nesting and breeding habitats of juvenile fish and birds, as well as help stabilize Florida’s shoreline by collecting sediment.

One of the very best ways to explore the park is by taking a kayak or canoe trip along the coast. You can bring your own, or climb aboard one of the guided tours. Keep your eyes peeled for manatees, dolphins, cassiopeia upside-down jellyfish, juvenile nurse sharks, and stingrays, as well as plenty of tropical migratory birds.

The boundary of Biscayne National Park includes the National Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary, which offers 2,800 square nautical miles of protected waters and the third largest coral reef in the world. Teeming with more than 200 species of tropical fish, it’s considered one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. You can see parrotfish, blue tang, sergeant majors, and loggerhead sea turtles in their natural environment.

✈ How to get there: You can catch a boat from Homestead over to the park. The nearest airports are Miami International Airport and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, both less than 50 miles from the park.

🏨 Stay at: There is no lodging inside the park, but you can camp on Boca Chita Key or Elliott Key campgrounds. Because the park is close to Miami, there are many accommodation options available on the mainland.

Great Sand Dunes, Colorado

Official Website

Established: September 13, 2004

Area: 42,983.74 acres (173.9 km2)

Visitors: 486,935 in 2017

Great Sand Dunes National Park is a huge dune field that encompasses 30 square miles with dunes that reach as high as 750 feet. The park contains the tallest sand dunes in North America and is estimated to contain over 5 billion cubic meters of sand, effectively turning the park into a giant sandbox for all to enjoy.

You can slide down the sand all year round and plunge into the tracks of those who have climbed before you. This ever-changing landscape offers plenty of room for fun in the soft sands of Colorado.

There are numerous campgrounds within the park, which make the perfect home base for enjoying many activities, including:

  • Challenging four-wheel scenic drives on Medano Pass
  • Horseback riding trails
  • The mysteriously appearing and disappearing Medano Creek
  • Ranger-led nature walks
  • Climbing the 13,000-foot peaks at Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Cleveland Peak, and Mount Herard

This park’s elevated position also makes it a popular destination for those who wish to enjoy long nights spent stargazing. The park even hosts special astronomy programs for those wanting to learn more, and there is a Junior Ranger program offering activities for kids 3–12 years old.

The spine of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains stretches the length of the national preserve, and you can find a wide variety of flora and fauna that have made their home in this beautiful parkland full of contrasting landscapes.

✈ How to get there: There is a small airport in Alamosa (38 miles from the park), and larger international airports are available in Colorado Springs, Denver, and Albuquerque (New Mexico).

🏨 Stay at: You can stay in the park itself in a campground, lodge, or RV — or even sleep in a tent on the sand dunes themselves. Alternatively, the towns around the park all offer varied accommodation.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Official Website

Established: August 9, 1916

Area: 106,372.36 acres (430.5 km2)

Visitors: 507,256 in 2017

The Lassen Volcanic National Park is a fascinating area in the northeast corner of California. With steaming sulfur vents, splattering mud pots, and boiling springs aplenty, the park introduces visitors to the magnificent world of the volcanic activity within the region.

Lassen Peak is the park’s biggest volcano, which last blew its top in May 1914 (although volcanic outbursts continued for a further 3 years). Today, the volcano is no longer likely to blow anytime soon, and the natural trails that cover the park allow visitors to safely see and learn about volcanic activity.

The park offers a variety of hydrothermal areas with established trails and boardwalks. These have been designed with visitor safety in mind, and visitors are reminded to remain on the trails at all times.

You can experience the 16-acre bowl of plopping mudpots, bubbling pools, and the super hot Big Boiler at Bumpass Hell, or enjoy a more moderate hike through the Warner Valley leading to the bubbling cauldron that is the Devils Kitchen.

“Fart Gulch” is a chalk-colored hillside on the north side of the road near Little Hot Springs Valley, which is heavily laden with the smell of sulfur. Boiling Springs Lake, Pilot Pinnacle, and Cold Boiling Lake are also interesting trails to explore on your visit. In addition to these unique features, the park also offers many miles of lush forests and sparkling lakes for you to enjoy.

✈ How to get there: Access to Lassen Volcanic National Park depends heavily on the weather, and vehicular access is available via Highways 36 and 44. The nearest airports are in Mineral or Red Bluff, while the closest major airport is in Reno, Nevada.

🏨 Stay at: Campsites and cabins are the primary form of accommodation at Lassen Volcanic National Park. You can choose from Drakesbad Guest Ranch, Manzanita Lake cabins, or Crags campground.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Official Website

Established: May 14, 1930

Area: 46,766.45 acres (189.3 km2)

Visitors: 520,026 in 2017

Set deep in the canyons of the Guadalupe Mountain range is one of the oldest and most famous cave systems in the world. Carlsbad Caverns include several vast underground chambers (some up to 250 feet high!) filled with amazing formations of many colors and shapes.

A trip to the Caverns is a full day’s drive from many of the other attractions in the Southwest, but is also one of the most memorable and magnificent. Almost half a million visitors travel to Carlsbad Caverns each year for a rare glimpse of the underground world beautifully preserved beneath the desert.

When you visit the caves, you can either hike the steep 1.25-mile paved trail through the natural entrance or simply take the elevator. Either way, you will arrive at the start of the 1.25-mile Big Room trail that offers access to some of the most amazing cave formations in the world.

The Big Room is a unique cave formation that allows self-guided tours, giving visitors the opportunity to explore the caves at their own pace. It also makes for the most amazing photographic opportunities to capture the formation’s detail and beauty. Stalactites, stalagmites, and many other natural formations can be found within the caves, making the day-long drive very much worth it.

✈ How to get there: Carlsbad is served by Greyhound and TNM&O bus lines. Major airports nearby include Roswell and Albuquerque, New Mexico, as well as El Paso, Lubbock, and Midland, Texas. Rental cars and taxi services are available from the airport in Carlsbad.

🏨 Stay at: There is no overnight lodging or campground in the park, but primitive camping is allowed in the backcountry. There is an overnight RV campground 7 miles from the visitor center, and the town of Carlsbad has numerous lodging and campground options.

Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Official Website

Established: December 2, 1980

Area: 3,224,840.31 acres (13,050.5 km2)

Visitors: 547,057 in 2017

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve contains some of the world’s most impressive tidewater glaciers. Together with Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and the Tatshenshini-Alsek Park in British Columbia, this 24 million-acre wilderness is a World Heritage Site and the world’s largest internationally protected area.

At Glacier Bay, you’ll get a unique glimpse into the fascinating glacial advances that have taken place over the last few centuries; the park also serves as an outdoor research laboratory. The mountainous regions rise up from the tidewater as high as 3 vertical miles, and Mount Fairweather can be found within the park.

The park also offers a wide variety of plant communities that vary dramatically, from barren terrains and glacial retreats to lush temperate rainforests.

Within the park, there are more than 50 named glaciers, as well as 2 major arms: East Arm and West Arm. Most visitors to the park travel up the West Arm on cruise ships to see the magnificent Margery glacier and the Grand Pacific glacier. Other well-known glaciers include Johns Hopkins, Reid, Carroll, and Lamplugh.

The wildlife in the park is pretty impressive too: you can spot seals resting on the jutting ice chunks, as well as brown and black bears, mountain goats, moose, whales, eagles, and more than 200 other species of birds.

✈ How to get there: The park can be accessed by commercial cruise ship, tour boat, aircraft, or by scheduled air or boat service from Juneau and other southeastern Alaska communities. There is no road access to Gustavus, but you can find convenient air connections from Juneau, Skagway, or Haines via daily commuter air taxi services. Juneau is easily accessible from Seattle and Anchorage.

🏨 Stay at: The Glacier Bay Lodge offers the only hotel accommodations within the park.

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Official Website

Established: July 1, 1941

Area: 52,830.19 acres (213.8 km2)

Visitors: 587,853 in 2017

Mammoth Cave National Park is located in the state of Kentucky, and is home to the world’s largest network of natural caves and underground passageways.

Characteristic examples of natural limestone formations can be found throughout the park, as well as over 560 km of passageways filled with varied flora and fauna (including a number of endangered species).

The park is geologically important and illustrates a number of stages in the Earth’s evolutionary history. Nearly every type of cave formation can be found within the site, with Mammoth Cave a fine example of some of the richest cave-dwelling wildlife in the world.

Mammoth Cave is the longest cave system in the park (and the world!). The passages have huge chambers, vertical shafts, stalagmites, and stalactites; you’ll also see a variety of beautiful gypsum flowers, delicate gypsum needles, rare mirabilite flowers, and other stunning natural features.

Over 45 species of mammals can be found in Mammoth Cave National Park, including pygmy shrew, white-tailed deer, possum, bats, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, muskrats, grey squirrels, flying squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, beaver, mink, weasels, groundhogs, chipmunks, moles, voles, mice, and woodrats.

A perfect example of the magnificent natural world beneath our feet, the Mammoth Cave National Park offers stunning scenery both above and below the ground.

✈ How to get there: The park can be reached by taking Interstate 65. The nearest airports are Louisville International Airport and Nashville Airport.

🏨 Stay at: You can enjoy the Mammoth Cave experience in the Mammoth Cave Lodge or camp at the Mammoth Cave Campground.

Image Credit: Mike Goad via Pixabay

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Official Website

Established: June 29, 1906

Area: 52,121.93 acres (210.9 km2)

Visitors: 613,788 in 2017

Mesa Verde National Park can be found in southwest Colorado and is best known for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings (including the famous Cliff Palace). Currently Mesa Verde has over 4,700 archaeological sites: they include 600 cliff dwellings as well as pithouses, pueblos, masonry towers, and farming structures, with many more yet to be revealed.

These sites are some of the most notable and best-preserved dwellings in the United States and a major draw for visitors from all over the world. The cliff dwellings have been used in many films and videos, and are exquisitely unique.

You can explore the Cliff Palace, the Long House, the Spruce Tree House and the Step House as well as the Balcony House with over 40 rooms, a maze of tunnels and passages, and a modern 32-foot entrance ladder.      

The Chapin Mesa Archeological Museum is also situated within the park. It hosts exhibits on the ancient Native American culture and has lots of information on the dwellings themselves.

Take the winding Mesa Top Loop Road past archaeological sites and overlooks like Sun Point, which offers stunning panoramic canyon views. Petroglyph Point Trail has several rock carvings and gives visitors an opportunity to see the beautiful wildflowers that grow across the region.

✈ How to get there: The nearest airports are in Cortez or Durango, Colorado, and Farmington, New Mexico. The closest bus terminal is located in Durango. You’ll need to rent a car to get from the bus terminal to the park; the entrance to Mesa Verde is 35 miles from Durango.

🏨 Stay at: You can stay directly in the park at the Fair View Lodge, or the Morefield Campground offers camping in a beautiful canyon setting.

Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Official Website

Established: January 9, 1903

Area: 28,295.03 acres (114.5 km2)

Visitors: 619,924 in 2017

Wind Cave was the first cave in the United States to be designated a national park, and it features the world’s largest concentration of rare box work formations. Above ground, the park also offers 28,295 acres of South Dakota wildlife sanctuary.

The box work formations are an uncommon structure of honeycomb patterned projecting calcite that form the cave walls, making wind cave the finest example of box work in the world.

Above the ground, the park also has a wealth of rich Dakota landscape to be enjoyed. Its unique ecosystem is home to elk, buffalo, antelope, deer, prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets, and a herd of 400-450 bison that inhabit the grasslands.

Visitors can really get back to nature at Wind Cave. Choose from hiking, walking, cycling, guided tours, backcountry camping, or horse riding, and take a break from the daily grind in the beautiful and laid back parklands of South Dakota.

✈ How to get there: The nearest airports are Rapid City Regional Airport or Chadron Municipal Airport, both of which receive direct flights from Denver International Airport.

🏨 Stay at: You can stay Elk Mountain Campground on the park prairie or any of the lodges and motels available in the nearby towns of Hot Springs or Custer.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Official Website

Established: December 9, 1962

Area: 93,532.57 acres (378.5 km2)

Visitors: 627,757 in 2017

Petrified Forest National Park is situated in northeastern Arizona and is a rainbow forest full of unusually colorful petrified wood. Although the trees are no longer standing, the flat log sections can still be seen in a wide array of colors. The park also contains the scenic Painted Desert, which is unlike any landscape you will find anywhere else in the world.

The eroded rocks are transformed into colorful natural creations by hematite (red), limonite (yellow), and gypsum (white), and are even more striking at sunset.

Petrified Forest has no maintained trails in the park, but there are plenty of opportunities for off-trail hiking; backcountry camping is permitted within the park.

The main visitor destinations are the Black Forest and the Devils Playground, an area of badlands and hoodoos near the west edge of the park. The Painted Desert extends about 150 miles across northeast Arizona, from the Petrified Forest toward the Little Colorado River, Tuba City, and beyond.

An unusual and unique destination, the Petrified Forest is the perfect place to camp out and enjoy this strange and diverse desert environment.

✈ How to get there: The closest airports to the Petrified Forest are Phoenix, Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico. There are also smaller airports in Flagstaff, Arizona and Gallup, New Mexico, as well as a small airport located in Holbrook, Arizona.

🏨 Stay at: You can camp in the backcountry, but there are no facilities nearby. Alternatively, there are motels and lodges in the nearby towns of Holbrook and Sun Valley.

Denali National Park, Alaska

Official Website

Established: February 26, 1917

Area: 4,740,911.72 acres (19,185.8 km2)

Visitors: 642,809 in 2017

Denali National Park and Preserve encompasses 6 million acres of Alaska’s vast interior wilderness. Taiga forests give way to high alpine tundras and snowy mountains, transforming the landscape into a truly stunning example of the Alaskan scenery.

Between late May and early September, visitors flock to the park to see this ethereal beauty for themselves. The park’s outdoor center offers a wealth of organized actives including eco-tours, dog sled tours, freshwater fishing, kayaking, rafting, and zip-lines. You can also try hiking, backpacking, and cycling through the park.  Perfect for the outdoor adventurer in all of us, Denali’s winter activities include skiing and snowboarding.

Because of the park’s location, you may even be able to spot the fantastic Northern Lights at certain times of the year too. Only visible from specific parts of the planet, the best time to see this amazing light display in Denali is from roughly mid-August through mid-April, although it can never be guaranteed.

If you’ve come to get up close to nature, the diverse range of wildlife in the park will not disappoint. You can catch a glimpse of large mammals like grizzly and black bears, wolves, caribou, moose, and Dall’s sheep, as well as the smaller arctic ground squirrels, red squirrels, foxes, and marmots.

Whatever you come to see and do, it will be the breathtaking scenery that pulls you into the outstanding natural beauty that is Denali National Park.

✈ How to get there: Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and Fairbanks International Airport are the nearest major airports, while Palmer Municipal Airport and Kenai Municipal Airport are the nearest regional airports.

🏨 Stay at: There are 6 camping grounds located within the park. If you’re looking for lodges or motels, the nearby town of Healy has further accommodation options.

Kings Canyon National Park, California

Official Website

Established: March 4, 1940

Area: 461,901.20 acres (1,869.2 km2)

Visitors: 692,932 in 2017

Located next to Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon promises dramatic landscapes with huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and some of the world’s largest trees. These parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada and offer an amazing insight into the geography of the Californian Mountain ranges and lush deep valleys.

The main attraction in Kings Canyon is the scenic valley surrounded by huge areas of backcountry. The environment is pretty much unspoiled and undeveloped, giving visitors a rare chance to explore a landscape that has remained the same for millions of years.

Kings Canyon itself can only be accessed from 1 end, and there is only 1 road within the 462,000 acres of the park.

There are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in the park, including hiking the Pacific Crest Trail that passes through, which is part of a 2,640-mile footpath stretching from Canada to Mexico.

Wildlife within the park is rich and plentiful. You won’t have to go far to spot coyotes, badgers, black bears, sheep, deer, possums, wolverines, and beavers. There are plenty of birds that call Kings Canyon home too, making it a great place for birdwatchers.

With so much all-American beauty around, Kings Canyon park offers an authentic taste of the backcountry for all to enjoy.

✈ How to get there: Fresno Yosemite International Airport and Visalia Municipal Airport are the closest international airports to Kings Canyon. Both are a good few hours’ drive from the park entrance.

🏨 Stay at: There are 7 camping grounds situated throughout the park. Lodges, motels, and hotels are available in the nearby towns of Big Pine and Independence.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Official Website

Established: November 10, 1978

Area: 70,446.89 acres (285.1 km2)

Visitors: 708,003 in 2017

Theodore Roosevelt National Park lies in western North Dakota and is a natural habitat for bison, elk, and prairie dogs. The park converges where the Great Plains meet the Badlands and has 3 sections all linked by the Little Missouri River.

In the park, you can find the colorful Painted Canyon with a variety of different rock formations, and the Maltese Cross Cabin where President Roosevelt once lived.

You can also visit the small Badlands town of Medora, which is an Old West cowtown with horseback rides, modern museums, the state-of-the-art Burning Hills Amphitheatre, luxury lodging, and primitive camping. Another major feature of the South Unit is the paved 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive that takes visitors through the most impressive areas of the park.

Throughout the park are all kinds of wildlife, including a Prairie Dog Town — a community of native prairie dogs that communicate with each other using a collection of barks and yelps.

The park has direct historical links to President Roosevelt, as the Badlands were where he returned to in 1884 following the deaths of his wife and mother on the same day. Looking for solitude, he started a second ranching site and named it the Elkhorn Ranch, an isolated site deep in the Badlands.

✈ How to get there: The nearest airports are Bismarck or Dickinson, which are within driving distance of the park.

🏨 Stay at: There are 4 camping grounds within the park, as well as lodges and motels available in the town of Medora.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Official Website

Established: May 22, 1902

Area: 183,224.05 acres (741.5 km2)

Visitors: 711,749 in 2017

Crater Lake National Park is located in Southern Oregon — it is the deepest lake in America and one of the deepest on Earth. The deep blue water of the lake is surrounded by cliffs reaching almost 2,000 feet high, creating a unique and wonderful landscape.

Deep in the Cascade Mountains, Crater Lake was formed by the now collapsed volcano Mount Mazama, and it remains a testament to the region’s volatile volcanic past.

Wizard Island is a cinder cone near the western edge of the lake that can be accessed via boat or trail for daytime hiking expeditions. The lake is renowned for its amazing deep blue color, and the park offers plenty for visitors to see and do on the water or on dry land.

You can explore the park by hiking up mountain peaks, or cruise through the volcano area on daily boat tours. There are daily guided walks that explain the park’s rich history, as well as a network of trails to explore on your own. Check out Sun Notch Trail with views of the Phantom Ship. You can also travel the Rim Drive, a road surrounding the lake, to see fantastic views of the park’s volcanic formations.

The wildlife in the park is typical of the animals you would find living in the Cascades: antelope, black bears, grizzly bears, beavers, bobcats, coyote, elk, deer, mountain lions, and wolves.

✈ How to get there: Medford, Oregon is the nearest major airport and is approximately a 90-minute drive away from the park.

🏨 Stay at: You can stay at the Mazama camping ground within the park, though it is only open during the summer season. Alternative accommodation can be found in the nearby towns of Prospect with it’s Historic Hotel, or at the Edgewater Inn at Shady Cove.

Image Credit: David Mark via Pixabay

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Official Website

Established: September 12, 1964

Area: 337,597.83 acres (1,366.2 km2)

Visitors: 742,271 in 2017

The Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah is a dramatic desert landscape carved out of redrock by thousands of years of geological changes. A vast natural parkland, it offers a diverse selection of scenery that varies at every turn. Located just a short from distance from the town of Moab, the park has 4 separate “districts,” each with their own distinct characteristics and landscapes.

The Island in the Sky is a high mesa wedged between the Colorado and Green Rivers. Acting as a natural observation platform, the views from here are among the finest in the world. There is a system of trails and tracks on the Island that offer a variety of challenging day hikes or overnight backpacking trips.

The Needles District is a high desert paradise dominated by a series of distinctive sandstone spires called The Needles, and offering an extensive trail system that includes endless hiking opportunities.

The Maze is a remote network of twisted sandstone canyons with no gas stations or facilities for 50 miles in each direction. Meanwhile, the Canyonlands Rivers make up the fourth District with their lush, green river corridors perfect for visitors looking to take to the water for kayaking or canoeing.

As you would expect from such a varied landscape, there are a wide variety of creatures that call the Canyonlands home too. Mule deer, coyotes, porcupines, desert cottontails, black-tailed jackrabbits, packrats, skunks, ringtails, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, bats, and owls all live in the park.

✈ How to get there: The nearest airports are Canyonlands Airport in the town of Moab, which receives flights from the larger Salt Lake City international airport.

🏨 Stay at: Canyonlands has 2 campgrounds: one at Island in the Sky and the other at The Needles. Lodges and hotels can also be found in and around Moab.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Official Website

Established: October 14, 1994

Area: 91,439.71 acres (370.0 km2)

Visitors: 964,760 in 2017

Saguaro National Park can be found in southern Arizona, and it takes its name from the large saguaro cactus that is native to the arid desert environment this region is so famous for.

The park is made up of 2 separate sections located on either side of the city of Tucson. Sitting at just under 2,400 feet above sea level, Tucson is 60 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border and about 100 miles south of the state capital, Phoenix.

On the west, the Tucson Mountain District (TMD) boasts large stands of saguaro cactus that create a breathtaking saguaro forest. Meanwhile, the Rincon Mountain District (RMD) is home to a magnificent sky island where you can find bears, cougars, and the elusive coati.

The TMD offers orientation programs about the Native American perspective on the saguaro cactus, which are shown daily at the Red Hills Visitor Center. Visitors can also enjoy the many picnic areas surrounded by stunning desert landscapes.

Offering incredible views of the Rincon Mountains, the RMD is perfect for vehicle or motorbike tours around Cactus Forest Loop Drive. More adventurous visitors can really get away from it all by making a trip to the Manning Cabin, set deep in the Saguaro Wilderness Area.

The park is home to a diverse selection of wildlife, including those that can live in the very hot Arizona climates such as roadrunners, horned lizards, Gila monsters, kangaroo rats, and collared peccaries. This arid wonderland is a great place to live out your desert dreams just outside the city of Tucson.

✈ How to get there: The nearest airport to the park is Tucson International Airport, which is only 18 miles from the entrance.

🏨 Stay at: There are 6 designated campgrounds within the Saguaro Wilderness Area. Alternatively, there is a full range of accommodation to choose from in the city of Tucson.

Everglades National Park, Florida

Official Website

Established: May 30, 1934

Area: 1,508,537.90 acres (6,104.8 km2)

Visitors: 1,018,557 in 2017

The Everglades is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and an important natural habitat for many rare and endangered species. This sawgrass prairie covering the southern third of Florida’s peninsula is a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, Wetland of International Importance, and a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty.

Not only is Everglades National Park well protected, but it’s also a diverse and beautiful wetland area that is immensely fun to visit. Take a walk along one of the boardwalk trails or a tram ride through Shark Valley to see the very best of the Floridian parkland. Alternatively, jump on a boat tour of Florida Bay or the Ten Thousand Islands for an authentic Everglades experience.

If you’ve come to see the wildlife, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the wading birds, deer, or even an alligator or 2. There’s a huge variety of activities to take part in during your visit to the Everglades, and something for everyone to enjoy.

Walking, hiking, birdwatching, boating, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, geocaching, trail walking, slough slogging, ranger programs, and wildlife spotting are just a selection of the fun that can be had in the Everglades!

Whatever your plans, remember that the Everglades is an expansive area of land in south Florida, consisting of over 1.5 million acres of wetland. There are 3 entrances to Everglades National Park, which are not connected and can only be accessed in different areas of south Florida. Where you plan to visit will affect how you travel and where you stay, so you should definitely plan your visit before you leave.

✈ How to get there: The nearest airports to the Everglades are Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, Miami International Airport, or the smaller Everglades Airport.

🏨 Stay At: Because of the unique location of the Everglades, you can find a wealth of accommodation options within easy reach of the park areas in Florida City and Homestead.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Official Website

Established: November 10, 1978

Area: 242,755.94 acres (982.4 km2)

Visitors: 1,054,325 in 2017

Badlands National Park offers a dramatic landscape dotted with layered rock formations, steep canyons, and towering spires. Located in southwestern South Dakota, the Badlands are home to the largest protected mixed grass prairie in the United States. The park can sometimes feel like a desolate place, but it’s also a truly beautiful one.

The Badlands preserves the world’s greatest fossil beds of animals from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals, and the skeletons of ancient camels, three-toed horses, saber-toothed cats, and giant rhinoceros-like creatures are among the many fossilized species found here.

With this in mind, everything within the park is heavily protected — anything you find during your own Badlands adventure must remain in the park (including rocks, plants, and fossils).

The park is also the home to a diverse range of wildlife including bison, pronghorn, mule and whitetail deer, prairie dogs, coyotes, butterflies, turtles, snakes, bluebirds, vultures, eagles, and hawks.

For keen adventurers, there are many miles of trails and day hikes suitable for visitors of all abilities. There are also adventures to be had via cycling, camping, and ranger programs…plus the Badlands even offers a night sky observation experience complete with telescopes and an experienced ranger.

If you’re visiting the Badlands by vehicle, the Loop State Scenic Byway winds around a 38-mile stretch of the park and is considered to be one of the nation’s most scenic drives.

✈ How to get there: The nearest airport is in Rapid City, South Dakota, which is 88 miles west of Badlands National Park.

🏨 Stay at: There are 2 camping grounds in the Badlands, as well as backcountry camping opportunities. If you would prefer lodge or motel accommodations, there are plenty to be found in the nearby town of Wall.

Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii

Official Website

Established: August 1, 1916

Area: 29,093.67 acres (117.7 km2)

Visitors: 1,112,390 in 2017

The stunning island of Maui in Hawaii is home to this unique national park. Also referred to as the “house of the sun,” the park is home to a huge, dormant volcano that last erupted in 1600AD.

For those wishing to see the volcano up close, a well-maintained road will lead you right up to the summit, where there are facilities and an observation area. Trails then lead down into the 7-mile-wide crater, and lodges can be booked through the park to stay within the crater itself.

Haleakalā National Park isn’t all volcanoes though; you can follow the winding coastal road and come to Kipahulu Park. This beautiful place is home to many “secret” freshwater pools and streams that house various species of fish. Visitors can swim in these pools or hike along the trails and weave through the lush scenery.

Wildlife isn’t in abundance in Haleakalā like in other national parks, but there are some unique species that call the crater home, including more types of tardigrade than anywhere else on Earth. For those interested in flora, the park offers a massive variety of plant species from around the world, including Japanese sugi trees, pines, firs, and even eucalyptus from Australia.

The biggest draw in the park, however, is arriving early to watch one of the most impressive sunrises anywhere. The Haleakalā Visitor Center offers advanced reservations for the best spots from which to see the sunrise.

✈ How to get there: From Kahului Airport, follow Hwy. 37 south, 377, and 378 — follow that up the mountain to the summit.

🏨 Stay at: Nearby Kula has many hotels to choose from, but there are some basic campsites available within the park itself too.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Official Website

Established: December 18, 1971

Area: 241,904.26 acres (979.0 km2)

Visitors: 1,150,165 in 2017

Capitol Reef National Park is in Utah’s south-central desert, offering miles of golden sandstone, deep canyons, and striking rock formations. The stunning and diverse landscapes offer a glimpse into how the planet might have been like millions of years before life appeared, when nothing existed but earth and sky.

The park preserves the 100-mile Waterpocket Fold, a huge buckling of the earth’s surface (“waterpocket” refers to the potholes that dot the sandstone and fill with rainwater). The park is also known for its enormous sandstone domes, one of which echoes the dome on Washington, D.C.’s capitol building.

Among the park’s other intriguing sights are the Chimney Rock pillar, the Hickman Bridge arch, and Capitol Reef, known for its white sandstone domes. In the north you’ll find the towering monoliths of Cathedral Valley. Throughout the park there are fantastic hiking trails, rugged 4WD roads, and the 1,000-year-old Fremont petroglyph panels.

The park also contains the shady orchards of Fruita, a Mormon settlement dating back to the 1870s. A park with such a diverse landscape is unsurprisingly also home to a wide range of wildlife including elk, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain lions, bobcats, bears, coyotes, and foxes.

Utah has some of the most unusual and fascinating natural landscapes in the world, and Capitol Reef is just another example of how amazing our planet really is.

✈ How to get there: The nearest airport to Capitol Reef Park is in Salt Lake City.

🏨 Stay at: There are 4 camping grounds within the park, and backcountry camping is allowed with a permit. If you’re looking for motel or hotel accommodations, there are plenty to be found in the nearby town of Torrey.

Sequoia National Park, California

Official Website

Established: September 25, 1890

Area: 404,051.17 acres (1,635.1 km2)

Visitors: 1,291,256 in 2017

In central California about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco lies Sequoia National Park. Home of the world-famous General Sherman tree (the largest in the world), this park has plenty to offer nature-lovers.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon are 2 separate parks run as 1, and they sit back-to-back in California’s most dramatic landscape. Visitors can gaze in awe at the Sierra Nevada Mountains or tread carefully along huge rocks that end in inviting swimming holes far below.

Wildlife is in abundance here, with black bears, coyotes, bighorn sheep, deer, foxes, turtles, and many others roaming freely about the park.

There are a vast number of trails to explore within the park, including one that has a road cut through a massive, fallen log. Beautiful meadows and stunning views also await adventurous explorers who want to soak up some of the finest natural landscapes that California has to offer.

In the winter months, visitors can enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, while the warmer months are perfect for fishing, camping, hiking, walking, and birdwatching. The park offers a variety of camping grounds and lodges for visitors on all budgets.

✈ How to get there: Fly into Fresno Airport and take Hwy 180 east to get to Kings Canyon Park. Alternatively, you can fly into Visalia and head east on Hwy 198 to Three Rivers for access to Sequoia Park.

🏨 Stay at: There are 2 lodges within the park itself: Wuksachi Lodge sits at an elevation of 7,200 feet and is nestled deep in the heart of Sequoia Park, while John Muir Lodge and Grant Grove Cabins sit at a respectable 6,600 feet in Kings Canyon.

Death Valley National Park, Nevada

Official Website

Established: October 31, 1994

Area: 3,372,401.96 acres (13,647.6 km2)

Visitors: 1,294,827 in 2017

Perhaps one the most famous natural landscapes in all of North America, Death Valley National Park contains much more than just the road to Vegas. Ongoing drought conditions and record summer temperatures make Death Valley a land of extremes.

Surprisingly, you can also find towering peaks frosted with winter snow, and rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers to the arid heat of Death Valley. There are also plenty of other life forms in abundance throughout the park, with bighorn sheep, deer, and foxes all at home here.

Death Valley National Park has some of the darkest skies in the United States, making it a magnificent place for stargazing. If you head to the northwest region of the park, less light pollution here than in other areas will give you the greatest views of the night sky.

There is plenty of history to be found in the park too, as the gold rush brought thousands of prospectors to the area all looking to find their fortunes. While some thrived, many others failed to strike gold in the soaring temperatures, leaving abandoned mines and ghost towns behind. Rhyolite and Death Valley Junction are 2 of the most famous ghost towns in the region and definitely worth a visit.

Death Valley is the hottest, driest, and lowest National Park in the U.S., and it offers mile after mile of iconic desert landscapes for visitors to enjoy all year round.

✈ How to get there: LAX in Los Angeles and Harry Reid in Las Vegas are both nearby airports for the park. From Vegas, take US-96N and CA-190W, which will take you right into the park.

🏨 Stay at: The Oasis At Death Valley offers lodging accommodation for visitors to the park, and there are plenty of camping options at Furnace Creek Campgrounds. If you’re feeling brave, you can even spend the night at Amargosa Opera House and Hotel at Death Valley Junction, a ghost town retreat with vast cultural significance.

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Official Website

Established: March 2, 1899

Area: 235,625.00 acres (953.5 km2)

Visitors: 1,415,867 in 2017

Containing the tallest peak in the Cascade Mountain Rage, the iconic Mount Rainier National Park is a 369-square-mile reserve southeast of Seattle.

Mt. Rainier, the tallest peak and the park’s namesake, dominates the entire area. It has many trails and routes winding over and around it, including some that lead up as far as the peak’s snowy summit. From all the trails and parkland, you can take in the views of the surrounding majestic glaciers and stunning mountain vistas.

At the base of the slopes is an area known as Paradise, famous for its glorious views and wildflower meadows. This is the most visited part of the park as people come to take in the stunning vistas or take part in year-round activities.

In the winter you can enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and tubing, while in the warmer months there is fishing, hiking, walking, cycling, and a wealth of other natural pursuits to enjoy.

The northeastern region of the park is home to an area called Sunrise, which is the highest accessible point in the park, making it the perfect spot to look out over the vast mountain ranges.

A whole host of creatures call the park their home, including bats, mountain lions, bobcats, red foxes, coyote, black bear, raccoon, skunks, weasels, deer, elk, and mountain goats.

✈ How to get there: The nearest airport is SeaTac in Seattle, which is an 85-mile drive from the park.

🏨 Stay at: You can book any of the 3 camping grounds within the park, stay at The Village Inn at Crystal Mountain, or reserve a room at the Basecamp Cottages.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Official Website

Established: May 22, 1926

Area: 199,045.23 acres (805.5 km2)

Visitors: 1,458,874 in 2017

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is one of America’s most beautiful and instantly recognizable regions, covering over 200,000 acres of stunning Virginia scenery. The Skyline Drive runs its length, and its vast network of trails includes a section of the famous long-distance Appalachian Trail.

The park comprises wetlands, waterfalls, and rocky peaks like Hawksbill and Old Rag Mountains, and it’s home to many different species of birds as well as deer, squirrels, and the elusive black bear.

Packed full of trails that wind through the forests, wetlands, and waterfalls, getting back to nature is easy and appealing in Shenandoah. Dark Hollow Falls Trail is one of the most challenging trails in the park, and visitors have great fun scrambling up its slippery slopes.

Overall Run is the tallest waterfall in the park at 93 feet high, and a 10-mile round trip from the visitor center will reward you with the amazing sight of these falls at their finest.

Being such an established park, Shenandoah has multiple facilities and organized actives for visitors to enjoy, including a ranger program, backcountry campgrounds, and a variety of options for dining and lodging within the park itself.

Visitors to Shenandoah National Park come to experience the endless wilderness and breathe in the fresh mountain air. The park is perfect for a short visit or a weeklong camping trip. Whatever you want to find in the great outdoors, Shenandoah delivers it and more!

✈ How to get there: Washington Dulles is the nearest international airport and is about 50 miles away, while Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport is the closest regional airport (just 25 miles away).

🏨 Stay at: The Skyland Resort is a luxury lodging facility nestled in the heart of the park, and the Big Meadows Lodge offers rustic cabins and lodges on Skyline Drive. Alternatively, there are a variety of camping grounds within the park, as well as hotels and motels aplenty in the neighboring towns.

Image Credit: Pexels via Pixabay

Arches National Park, Utah

Official Website

Established: November 12, 1971

Area: 76,518.98 acres (309.7 km2)

Visitors: 1,539,028 in 2017

Arches National Park is one of the most American things you could ever hope to see. The desert views and natural sandstone arches instantly conjure up thoughts of Westerns and adventure movies. In fact, many have been filmed here, including portions of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The Delicate Arch is probably one of the world’s most recognizable natural rock formations; it’s well worth the visit on its own. Arrive at sunrise or sunset, and you’ll be rewarded with views usually reserved for the cover of National Geographic magazine. The whole park is loaded with stunning and breathtaking vistas, and visitors can explore the scenery in comfort year-round thanks to Utah’s warm and sunny climate.

Animal lovers can expect to see a wide array of creatures ranging from frogs and toads to cougars, rattlesnakes, and bighorn sheep. Plants are in abundance too, with many varieties of cactus plus other species of unusual desert flowers and shrubs.

The park offers both guided and unguided driving tours, walking tours, and ranger-led tours highlighting its most beautiful areas. Arches is also an excellent location from which to see the sky at night. Warm desert days lead to clear nights, and the park is popular with stargazers from all over the country.

If you want to explore Arches in more detail, you can spend your time hiking, camping, or biking through a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures. With over 2,000 natural stone arches, hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks, this red-rock wonderland will amaze and inspire you.

✈ How to get there: The nearest international airport is Denver, which has daily connecting flights to Moab’s airfield. From there it’s a short drive to the park itself.

🏨 Stay at: For a high-end safari experience, stay at Under Canvas or relax at the Red Cliffs Lodge. Camping is also available in the park.

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

Official Website

Established: March 4, 1921

Area: 5,549.75 acres (22.5 km2)

Visitors: 1,561,616 in 2017

Tucked away in Garland County, Arkansas, Hot Springs National Park plays host to some fascinating hot springs, as well as a large unexplored forest area perfect for long hikes and trail walking.

Set just on the outskirts of the park is the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas itself. This historical town became known as The American Spa, bringing visitors from all over the U.S. to heal and relax in the soothing thermal waters.

Hot Springs National Park surrounds the north end of the city and offers a 5,500-acre area of preserved land. Its thermal springs are the primary natural resource for the park, and they are heavily managed to conserve the production of uncontaminated hot water for public use.

The mountains within the park are also managed by a conservation order to preserve the hydrological system that feeds the springs. Visitors can enjoy a dip in the thermal waters before taking a stroll through the rich forest wilderness that surrounds the town.

Everything in the town is considered part of the park’s heritage, so this is definitely one national park where you can eat, drink, and stay in comfort. You can even pay a visit to Bathhouse Row, which consists of 8 historic bathhouse buildings that were constructed between 1892-1923, and have been a National Historic Landmark District since 1987.

There is also plenty of wildlife to see in the area. The park is home to turkeys, coyote, mink, and armadillo, while the trees themselves date back over 130 years (with many over 200 years old).

✈ How to get there: The nearest international airport is 200 miles away in Memphis, while the closest regional airport, Memorial Field Airport, is just 5 miles from the center of Hot Springs.

🏨 Stay at: Because some of the park is in an urban area, accommodation can best be found in the town of Hot Springs. The Arlington Resort & Hotel offers fine dining and upscale rooms, while The Alpine Inn offers a more budget-friendly stay.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Official Website

Established: August 1, 1916

Area: 323,431.38 acres (1,308.9 km2)

Visitors: 2,016,702 in 2017

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island in Hawai’i is an amazing, one-of-a-kind experience. The park mostly consists of 2 volcanoes. The first, Kilauea, is one of the planet’s most active volcanoes and regularly puts on an amazing show, creating brand new landscapes every time its lava reaches the ocean and cools off.

The second volcano, Mauna Loa, is probably the more famous one – it’s the world’s largest shield volcano. Like its sister, Mauna Loa is a monument to Earth’s volatile origins.

This park is home to a huge diversity of wildlife and plants, since it has elevations from sea level right up to the peak of the tallest volcano (an incredible 13,679 feet in the air!). Here you can find many rare and unusual creatures that are native to the islands including carnivorous caterpillars, the largest dragonfly in the United States, endangered sea turtles, and crickets that live on lava flows.

The climate in the park varies from tropical rainforest to arid desert (the Kaʻū Desert) and offers a wide variety of activities for visitors. One of the highlights is walking the raised Devastation Trail, which takes you through a blasted and dead landscape that is barren and rocky, like a scene from another planet.

Everything in this park is a reminder of just how awesome the power of nature can be. Visitor centers in the park are educational and informative, and they include plenty of information about the history of the area and its volcanoes.

✈ How to get there: Hilo International Airport on the Big Island will be your gateway to the park. From there, it’s a 45-minute drive to the park itself along some stunning coastal roads and ever-changing scenery.

🏨 Stay at: The historic Volcano House is the only lodging available inside the park’s mystical landscapes, while the Volcano Forest Inn can be found at the edge of the rainforest.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Official Website

Established: October 11, 2000

Area: 32,950 acres (133.3 km2)

Visitors: 2,226,879 in 2017

Covering over 50 square miles of land and river in northeastern Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is home to some stunning woodlands and fascinating waterways.

One of the most popular attractions in the park is the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, which takes visitors along a 21-mile hike that passes many historic locks along the way. You’ll find many trailheads as well as a myriad of places to rest, eat, and drink. All this makes the trail one of the more accessible ones in the National Park system.

There are many caves and waterfalls for visitors to explore and over 125 miles of hiking and biking trails to enjoy throughout the park. Just a short drive from urban Cleveland, Cuyahoga is a world away from the daily bustle of everyday life in the city, making it easily accessible for short visits.

The Cuyahoga River that flows through the park is unique: it empties into Lake Erie not far from its own source. For wildlife spotters, there are a host of animals to look out for including otters, Canada geese, muskrats, bats, bald eagles, coyotes, and falcons.

You can also pay a visit to Beaver Marsh, a wetland that has been created entirely by beavers that moved in amongst the remnants of the Ohio & Erie Canal.

✈ How to get there: Cleveland airport is the nearest international airport, just a 2-hour drive from the park.

🏨 Stay at: There are several camping options in and near Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as well as nearby hotels like Oaks Farm Bed & Breakfast or The Inn At Brandywine Falls.

Image Credit: Pete Linforth via Pixabay

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Official Website

Established: February 25, 1928

Area: 35,835.08 acres (145.0 km2)

Visitors: 2,571,684 in 2017

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is home to the world-famous Bryce Canyon, which despite the name isn’t a canyon at all. In fact, it’s a collection of natural amphitheaters, arches, and hoodoos. The entire park is extremely photogenic; much of it looks like you’ve landed on another planet. It is this unusual landscape that makes Bryce Canon so popular with visitors from all over the world.

Such a fascinating environment can only be handled by the hardiest wildlife. The Utah prairie dog and the California Condor (both endangered species) make their homes in the park, and are joined by various other animals including cougars, bears, bobcats, eagles, and owls. All these animals migrate up and down the elevations seasonally.

If you want to explore the park at your own pace, you can take a scenic drive around the amphitheater, stopping at 13 different viewpoints along the way. There are many clearly marked and well-maintained hiking trails, as well as more challenging climbs for advanced adventurers. For an authentic Wild West experience, you can also book a horseback tour that takes you through the park cowboy style.

There are even a few nighttime hiking trails so you can enjoy the clear night sky over the eerie landscape. Night skies in this park are some of the darkest in America. (In the city, a lucky stargazer can see about 2,000 stars with the naked eye; 7,500 can be seen in the park!)

✈ How to get there: Salt Lake City and Harry Reid (Las Vegas) international airports are the nearest ones, but are both about 270 miles away from the park itself.

🏨 Stay at: Bryce View Lodge and Bryce Canyon Resort both offer luxury lodging accommodation next to Bryce Canyon. For a more authentic experience, you can pitch a tent at the North or Sunset camping grounds within the park itself.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Official Website

Established: October 31, 1994

Area: 789,745.47 acres (3,196.0 km2)

Visitors: 2,853,619 in 2017

Located at the bottom end of California, Joshua Tree National Park contains some truly astonishing scenery. Named after the region’s twisted, bristled Joshua trees, the park looks out over the famous Coachella Valley.

Joshua Tree straddles 2 different deserts: the Colorado and the Mojave. Both deserts are different from each other and exist at entirely different elevations. The higher desert, the Mojave, is home to the Yucca tree, also known as the Joshua Tree, from which the park takes its name. Its unique landscape gives the Mojave desert an otherworldly feel, but the cool temperatures make it a comfortable and fascinating place to visit.

The lower desert, the Colorado, is a more traditional example of a North American desert region. Its distinctive altitude and unique characteristics make this sandy, cactus-clad desert home to some unique plants and animals including the rare Agassiz’s desert tortoise, lizards, snakes, coyotes, and jackrabbits.

Coachella Valley is overlooked by the desert mountains and situated in the southeastern portion of the park. Resplendent with sand dunes and grasslands, Coachella is famous for its annual music festival that takes place in the hot Californian sun.

These desert landscapes make for some of the best stargazing in the country, with thousands of stars to be seen with just the naked eye. Other activities in the park include hiking, backpacking, horse riding, birdwatching, rock climbing, mountain biking, ranch tours, and ranger programs.

✈ How to get here: Palm Springs International Airport is a short 45-minute drive from the park.

🏨 Stay at: There are 8 different camping grounds within the park boundaries and a wide variety of accommodation options outside including 9 Palms Inn or Sunnyvale Garden Suites.

Glacier National Park, Montana

Official Website

Established: May 11, 1910

Area: 1,013,572.41 acres (4,101.8 km2)

Visitors: 3,305,512 in 2017

Glacier National Park is a natural wilderness area in Montana that runs all the way up to the border with Canada. The park is utterly stunning and offers the best Montana has to give, with amazing mountains, glacier-carved peaks, and beautiful lakes and valleys.

The park offers over 1 million acres of towering peaks, cascading waterfalls, wild meadows, and sparkling waters. The glacial-carved terrain is unlike any other place on earth; you can actually climb high enough that you really can get a view as far as the eye can see.

Glacier’s sheer beauty and vastness are what draw visitors in time and time again. The park is crossed by the mountainous Going-to-the-Sun Road, a scenic road in the world-famous Rocky Mountains. It also offers over 700 miles of hiking trails and is home to the very photogenic Hidden Lake.

You can find grizzly bears, lynx, and mountain goats living in the park. Hiking here affords fantastic views of the amazing scenery, and the trail from the entrance to Two Medicine Lake takes you through an area of outstanding natural beauty.

If you don’t want to walk, local tours on old 1930s coaches (called Red Jammers), are a fun and comfortable way to see the sights.

Montana also offers some of the finest fishing in the country. Glacier is a popular location for sport anglers, with its pristine waters fully stocked with blue-ribbon trout and many other prize-winning species.

✈ How to get there: Kalispell Airport is the nearest one to the park at just 30 miles away from the West Entrance.

🏨 Stay at: Lodging in the park varies, from rooms in historic grand hotels to cozy cabins, and comfortable motels to backcountry chalets. The West Glacier Hotel and the Belton Chalet are just 2 of the park’s most popular lodging destinations.

Grand Teton National Park

Official Website

Established: February 26, 1929

Area: 309,994.66 acres (1,254.5 km2)

Visitors: 3,317,000 in 2017

Grand Teton National Park straddles the famous Jackson Hole Valley and is just 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park. Not to be overshadowed by its more famous neighbor, Grand Teton offers stunning views of the nearby mountains and plenty of history of its own.

The park is a big draw for mountain climbers, hikers, and skiers, with long trails that offer amazing views across the alpine terrain. With extraordinary wildlife and pristine lakes, you can explore over 200 miles of trails throughout the park.

Visitors who enjoy cross-country skiing will be in paradise here, as they aren’t restricted to marked routes and can explore wherever they like. There is also plenty of river rafting, biking, lake cruising, and horseback riding on offer throughout the park.

Animal enthusiasts will be happy here too. Wildlife that call the park their home include moose, bison, elk, bears, coyote, wolverines, and many varieties of wolves.

The rivers and lakes are also well stocked with trout and other fish, making Grand Teton a popular designation for fishermen.

This park has a rich cultural history, with old homesteads and cattle ranches to explore and photograph dotted throughout its boundaries. Many of the trails you’ll walk on were originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Native Americans, or the fur trappers of the 1820s.

✈ How to get there: Jackson Hole Airport is located within the boundaries of the park itself.

🏨 Stay at: There are plenty of accommodations to choose from in Jackson Hole, ranging from fancy hotel suites to down-home lodges.

Olympic National Park, Washington

Official Website

Established: June 29, 1938

Area: 922,650.86 acres (3,733.8 km2)

Visitors: 3,401,996 in 2017

Sitting proudly on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, Olympic National Park offers visitors breathtaking terrain to explore — from the rugged Pacific Ocean coastline through dense forests and up into delightful alpine areas.

The coastal regions have 60 miles or so of unbroken, unspoiled beaches. Some are all sandy, while others have fascinating rock formations on and around them. All are well worth exploring, as they really are stunning areas of natural beauty in this vast national park landscape.

Further inland, there are glaciers to visit too. On the slopes of Mount Olympus, for example, the Blue Glacier slowly makes its way down the side of the imposing mountain, dropping nearly 4,000 feet as it does so.

Two temperate rainforests are also located within the park. Both rich in red cedar, spruce trees, and plenty of other vegetation, their lush canopy is the perfect example of old growth forests.

Animal lovers can expect to see many species in the park, including elk, deer, cougars, goats, and black bears.

Hiking within the park offers some challenging routes. The most popular trails are along the beach, where visitors can spend days walking from one end to the other with overnight stops to camp.

Inland trails are definitely trickier, but they will eventually reward you with stunning views over the vast park landscape. Winter in the park offers skiing and snowboarding, with an entire area dedicated to ski and snowboard lessons so everyone can enjoy.

✈ How to get there: The closest international airport is Seattle-Tacoma, which is roughly 2 hours away from the southeastern corner of the park.

🏨 Stay at: The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is popular, as is the Lake Quinault Lodge at the far end of the park. Alternatively, you can camp in any of the RV parks or campgrounds offered in the park itself.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Official Website

Established: February 26, 1919

Area: 47,389.67 acres (191.8 km2)

Visitors: 3,509,271 in 2017

Located in the stunning state of Maine, Acadia National Park covers many islands along the Atlantic Coast. The park comprises of 47,000 acres of land on Mount Desert Island, Isle au Haut, and the Schoodic Peninsula, and is the only national park in Maine.

You can explore the rugged cliffs and coastlines or venture inland to spot wildlife in the dense forests here. Hop from one island to another to explore every inch this northern landscape: climb Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island, or visit Jordan Pond, a lake near the city of Bar Harbor.

The Bass Harbor Head Light, a 19th-century lighthouse nestled on a sea cliff, is also a popular place to visit. Its rocky paths provide perfect photography vantage points, and there are a wealth of tide pools to explore.

Because of its location, you can delve between ocean shorelines, islands, mountains, and forests to catch a glimpse of raccoons, bears, bald eagles, hawks, and even seals. With 158 miles of hiking trails, the best way to fully immerse yourself in the rich surroundings is on foot. (Though the park contains 45 miles of carriage roads as well.)

The city of Maine is part of Arcadia, meaning you can immerse yourself in the New England lifestyle during your visit to the park — from lobsters to windjammers and everything in between.

✈ How to get there: Boston’s Logan International Airport offers direct flights to Hancock County Airport, which is 10 miles from the park.

🏨 Stay at: There are plenty of accommodation options both inside and outside the park, but the beautiful Asticou Inn and the unique Lighthouse Inn & Restaurant are 2 of the most popular resorts for park visitors.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Image Credit: Chris Leipelt via Unsplash

Official Website

Established: March 1, 1872

Area: 2,219,790.71 acres (8,983.2 km2)

Visitors: 4,116,524 in 2017

Arguably one of the most famous parks in the world, Yellowstone National Park has so much to offer visitors. Straddling Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, the park hosts some of America’s most popular and famous features, like Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts on schedule (much to the delight of visitors).

Yellowstone Lake is another big draw. Sitting on top of the Yellowstone Caldera — the largest supervolcano on the American continent — the lake is roughly 20 miles long and 14 miles wide, with 141 miles of shoreline and a surface area of 132 square miles. The whole area is alive with fascinating volcanic activity. In fact, half of the world’s geothermal features can be found in Yellowstone Park.

Animal enthusiasts will love spotting hundreds of species ranging from deer to bison, buffalo, bears, wolves, and everything in between. Bird watching is excellent here also, with over 300 species regularly nesting in the park. Fly fishing and catch-and-release fishing is permitted within the park, although hunting is not allowed — this helps keep the animal population balanced and abundant.

Yellowstone attracts millions of visitors each year, and with good reason. There are easily accessible roads leading right into the heart of the park, as well as a myriad of visitor centers and facilities dotted throughout the area.

Hiking and trail walking are popular pastimes here, and all the trails are clearly marked. Wherever you travel within the park, you will be rewarded with stunning views and amazing plant and animal life to photograph and experience.

✈ How to get there: Many major carriers fly into Jackson Hole Airport, which is easily accessible at the southern end of the park.

🏨 Stay at: There are a total of 12 camping grounds to choose from within the park, plus a wide variety of hotels and cabins including the Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins or the Grant Village Lodging.

Yosemite National Park, California

Official Website

Established: October 1, 1890

Area: 761,266.19 acres (3,080.7 km2)

Visitors: 4,336,890 in 2017

Rising high over Northern California, Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular national parks in America. With towering mountains and rich meadows and forests, the park has everything you could ever want from the Californian landscape.

Set in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite is famed for its giant ancient sequoia trees, as well as for Tunnel View: the iconic vista of towering Bridal Veil Falls along with the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome.

Wildlife in the park is varied and plentiful. Along with the giant California trees, you can expect to see foxes, otters, cougars, and bears. Activities in the park are numerous as well. Trail difficulty varies to suit all kinds of hikers, while many of the trails come with cables attached to help hikers up some steeper inclines.

The park is open year-round and is fully accessible by car, although it does get congested in the summer months. To combat this, park rangers now offer free shuttle buses that ferry visitors from area to area. This makes it much easier to get around, as parking deep within Yosemite can be difficult.

California’s oldest downhill skiing area exists at Badger Pass Ski Area and is a popular draw in the winter months. Climbing is very popular all year round, with many levels available for climbers of all types. More gentle activities are available too; rafting and biking are among the more popular.

Yosemite Village offers shops, restaurants, and lodging alongside the Yosemite Museum and Ansel Adams Gallery.

✈ How to get there: Both LAX and Oakland airports run regular flights to Merced Airport, which is just 2 hours away from the park.

🏨 Stay at: There are 15 camping grounds within the park itself, as well as hotels and lodges. The White Wolf Lodge is a popular option for many visitors.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Official Website

Established: January 26, 1915

Area: 265,828.41 acres (1,075.8 km2)

Visitors: 4,437,215 in 2017

Located 76 miles northwest of Denver, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty to offer visitors. From the Continental Divide that runs through the center of the park to the source of the mighty Colorado River, this diverse landscape is awe-inspiring. The park offers stunning views from all angles, including snow-capped mountain ranges, lush thick forests, deep blue lakes, and tranquil rivers.

Because the park is so vast, it has multiple climates at different elevations. This makes the park the perfect home for a variety of wildlife, with over 300 species of birds and nearly 70 types of mammals wandering about ready to photograph. On any given day you could easily see elk, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain lions, bobcats, bears, coyotes, foxes, pica, and marmots.

During the summer months there are many activities for visitors to enjoy, including a trail surrounding Bear Lake that offers gorgeous views of the peaks. If you want to explore the park using a vehicle, The Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road pass aspen trees and rivers. The Keyhole Route is a steeper climb crossing vertical rock faces, and it leads up Longs Peak (the park’s tallest mountain).

For those on foot, the trails range from easy paved routes suitable for wheelchair users, to challenging off-route trails for the more experienced hiker. Rock climbing is also extremely popular in the park thanks to some amazing and diverse geology. Fishing is another popular pastime; the lakes and rivers here are bursting with prize-winning catches.

The winter months are perfect for skiing and snowboarding. Snow shoe tours and other snow-based fun activities are plentiful, and the scenery takes on a whole new life as winter sets in.

✈ How to get there: Denver International Airport is a 2 hour drive from the park.

🏨 Stay at: There are 5 different camping grounds within the park, or you can enjoy a bit of luxury in resort destinations like Estes Park Resort or Woodlands On Fall River.

Image Credit: Adam Derewecki via Pixabay

Zion National Park, Utah

Official Website

Established: November 19, 1919

Area: 146,597.60 acres (593.3 km2)

Visitors: 4,504,812 in 2017

Located in southern Utah, Zion National Park boasts some amazing and awe-inspiring sights. The most popular attraction is Zion Canyon, a 15-mile-long tear in the landscape that runs up to half a mile deep in places. Gorgeous sandstone rises up on either side of a lush and fertile river valley, making the canyon a must-see for any visitor.

For those looking to check out the wildlife, Zion has all the creatures one might expect in a desert surrounding: various snakes, bobcats, ring-tail cats, cougars, and coyotes. During the daytime, visitors are likely to see lizards, jackrabbits, and deer as well. The plant life in the park is second to none, with cacti and hundreds of other species scattered around the area.

There are many exciting and rewarding trails to hike within the park, ranging from a short 30-minute walk to a challenging 12-hour trek. Climbing is popular in Zion, as are horseback trail tours and evening camp activities. Being a desert park, the weather will mostly be on your side, and Utah always offers warm skies and plenty of sunshine.

Breathe in the history of this national park as you trace the steps of ancient native people and pioneers. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs that soar out of the earth, and experience the wilderness of the narrow slot canyon.

✈ How to get there: Fly from Salt Lake to Cedar City, or drive a little over 3 hours from Vegas on I-15 to reach the park.

🏨 Stay at: There are 3 campgrounds within the park; you can also stay at Zion Lodge or the luxurious Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens.

Hot Tip: Fourth-graders and their families have access to a free 1-year National Parks pass through the Every Kid Outdoors program.

Image Credit: Free-Photos via Pixabay

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Official Website

Established: February 26, 1919

Area: 1,217,403.32 acres (4,926.7 km2)

Visitors: 6,254,238 in 2017

Arguably one of the most famous natural wonders on the planet, Grand Canyon National Park is a major draw for visitors to the U.S. Located in Arizona, the park has lots to see and do for those who make the journey.

The park consists of the canyon’s 2 rims: North and South. The North Rim has many driving routes and tours that take careful motorists along the edge of the canyon to various lookout points, all offering stunning and life-changing views. Walking tours and hiking trails are also available along the North Rim, again offering non-stop amazing vistas.

The South Rim has fewer routes, but those that do exist reward visitors with utterly amazing views down into the canyon far below, with the raging Colorado River slicing through the rock. Flights over the canyon are also available from many airports, including nearby Las Vegas.

While wildlife in this park isn’t as abundant as in some of the other national parks, there are still plenty of desert-dwelling creatures to keep an eye out for, including canyon bats, bighorn sheep, coyotes, cottontail rabbits, elk, mountain lions, mule deer, and raccoons.

There are also many activities for park visitors to enjoy: walking, hiking, climbing, ranger programs, visitors centers, museums, and orienteering.

Whatever you plan to do in the Grand Canyon, it will be the views that keep you transfixed throughout your visit!

✈ How to get there: The 2 nearby international airports are in Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada. Both are a pleasant drive of a few hours to get to the park itself, which is heavily signposted all the way.

🏨 Stay at: There are a variety of campgrounds and lodgings available inside the park, including the El Tovar Hotel and the Thunderbird Lodge that sit on the very edge of the canyon rim.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Official Website

Established: June 15, 1934

Area: 521,490.13 acres (2,110.4 km2)

Visitors: 11,338,893 in 2017

Straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in North America. At the summit of the park’s highest peak, Clingmans Dome, there is a modern observation point structure where brave visitors can walk out over the edge for unprecedented vistas 6,500 feet up.

Ranging from mountain altitudes all the way down to nearly sea level, the park has many different climates and extremely varied wildlife as a result. Expect to see bears, cougars, bobcats, elk, and chipmunks. There are also over 200 species of birds within the park, which should satisfy even the most ardent birdwatcher.

There are more than 80 different trail routes through the park, and all offer stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The rich, lush valleys below also contain many buildings from days gone by. What was once a successful logging area now has much of its architecturally important infrastructure open to the public to showcase the historical importance of the area.

For those looking to go exploring, the Laurel Falls Trail takes you into Tennessee; it’s popular with hikers looking to find the 80-foot Laurel Falls waterfall that awaits you at the end.

The cool mountain air and temperate climate will invigorate visitors as they surround themselves with some of the finest nature America has to offer.

✈ How to get there: Knoxville Airport is the closest international airport and is a few hours from the park.

🏨 Stay at: There are plenty of campgrounds to choose from throughout the park that cater to primitive camping, group camps, and even those camping with horses. If you want to stay in luxury, the Cherokee Grand Hotel is the ultimate Smoky Mountains experience.

Final Thoughts

The U.S. is fortunate to have so many protected areas of natural beauty for millions of people to enjoy each year. Whatever your interest or style of travel, there’s a national park out there perfect for you.

The only question is: which national park are you visiting next? Let us know in the comments below!

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Frequently Asked Questions

National Parks in the U.S. charge an entrance fee of anywhere between $10 – $35 per vehicle or $30 – $70 for an annual pass. On a few days scattered throughout the year, national parks will have free entrance days.

Both the states of Alaska and California have the most national parks with 8 in each followed by Utah with 5 national parks and Colorado with 4.

Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska is the biggest national park in the U.S. with an area of approximately 8,323,146.48 acres or 33,682.6 km2.

Yellowstone National Park is the oldest national park in the U.S. and was established in 1872. The park spans the states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.


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