Between the lush forests, seemingly endless mountains, and diverse wildlife, It’s easy to see why more than 12 million people visit the Smokies each year. The area is known for its beautiful waterfalls and amazing hiking trails. In fact, 71 miles of the famous Appalachian Trail run through this popular park.
As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, this 277-mile long canyon wows visitors with its millions of years of geologic history. From mountain lions to rattlesnakes to bighorn sheep, there’s no shortage of interesting wildlife in this iconic park. Visitors can enjoy whitewater rafting on the Colorado River or descend over a mile to the canyon floor on foot or on a donkey tour.
With over 300 miles of hiking trails, Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of opportunities to enjoy the area’s stunning alpine lakes, jagged peaks, and aspen forests. Trail Ridge Road is a must-see that will make you feel like you’re on top of the world. The awe-inspiring drive crests at over 12,000 feet above sea level and includes many overlooks to take in the beauty of the wilderness.
Zion is a relatively small national park but doesn’t compromise on beauty. Take in the towering Navajo Sandstone cliffs and 270 million-year-old rock layers as you pass through the 15-mile-long Zion Canyon. You can also try one of the park’s popular hikes - wade through the Virgin River as you hike The Narrows or ascend to the top of Zion’s cliffs on the adrenaline-inducing Angels Landing trail.
Yosemite is an adventure lover’s paradise. This wilderness area is at the top of many hikers’ and rock climbers’ bucket lists and includes a spectacular 77-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The park is famous for its gorgeous waterfalls, gigantic sequoias, and soaring granite rock formations known as El Capitan and Half Dome.
Established in 1872, Yellowstone is America’s oldest national park and continues to be one of the most visited parks in the country year after year. The area’s unique geothermal features, including geysers and hot springs, earned Yellowstone UNESCO protection in 1978. The high-elevation park is home to pine forests, meadows, waterfalls, canyons, and wildlife such as bison, elk, wolves, and grizzly bears.
Spread across Mount Desert Island, Acadia offers some of the most stunning scenery on the Atlantic coast. Filled with picturesque sea cliffs, calm lakes, and pine forests, Acadia is a wonderful place to hike, camp, canoe, kayak, and relax in nature. You can explore the quaint Bar Harbor community, watch the first sunrise in the US from the top of Cadillac Mountain, and test your fear of heights on the thrillingly exposed Precipice Trail.
Situated just south of Yellowstone and north of iconic Jackson Hole ski resort, Grand Teton features a stunning array of alpine lakes, lush meadows, and rocky peaks. Wildlife viewing and outdoor activities are possible in all seasons. From biking, hiking, and rock climbing in the summer to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter, the park has amazing things to offer no matter when you visit.
Olympic National Park’s dense, ancient forests are some of the most beautiful woodlands in the US. The park is spread across nearly a million acres of diverse environments, including temperate rainforest, alpine highlands, rocky shores, and sandy beaches. This stunning park is the perfect spot for a hiking and camping adventure.
Glacier National Park boasts over 700 miles of trails, making it a dream destination for hikers. The turquoise glacial lakes and lofty mountains provide an incredible backdrop to the park’s diverse flora and fauna, including mountain goats, moose, grizzly bears, and bighorn sheep. Most of the park is closed in the winter due to heavy snowfall, so plan accordingly on your visit.
Joshua Tree marks the convergence of two unique desert ecosystems - the Colorado and the Mojave. This otherworldly landscape is known for its interesting boulders and rock formations, brilliant night sky, and spiky, twisted Joshua Trees, also known as the Yucca brevifolia. This rugged environment is the perfect place to camp, hike, climb, and unwind.
With its stunning series of natural amphitheaters, Bryce Canyon is truly a magical place to visit. These amphitheaters are filled with red rock spires called hoodoos, which formed through erosion over millions of years. From horseback riding to mountain biking to hiking, there are plenty of adventurous ways to take in the scenery.
Cuyahoga Valley features dense forests, rolling hills, and numerous rivers. The park also contains ample farmland and showcases the area’s agricultural heritage. After checking out the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, you can explore some of the park’s 125 miles of hiking trails and observe wildlife like bald eagles, otters, and beavers.
Established in 2019, Indiana Dunes is one of America’s newest national parks. The park stretches 15 miles along the southern shore of Lake Michigan and includes rugged dunes, winding rivers, sandy beaches, and marshes. Although the park is relatively small, it ranks seventh in biodiversity out of more than 400 National Park Service units.
While many national parks attract visitors because of their natural beauty, Gateway Arch’s primary draw is its interesting history and role in American westward expansion. The park is located in St. Louis, Missouri, close to the starting point of Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition and features the iconic arch known as the “Gateway to the West.”
Death Valley is a place of superlatives - it is the hottest, driest, and lowest of all US national parks and the largest park in the lower 48 states. Temperatures during the day often pass 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38C), and the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded was a whopping 130 degrees (54.5C). Part of the valley extends 282 feet (86m) below sea level, making it one of the lowest places on Earth.
With more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, this park is one of the most gorgeous desert landscapes in the world. Arches National Park is an excellent place for outdoor activities, with opportunities to enjoy hiking, biking, rock climbing, and camping. As you explore the park, you’ll witness millions of years of geologic history exposed in the unique rock formations.
At 14,410 feet (4,392m) above sea level, Mount Rainier is the highest mountain in Washington State and the most glaciated peak in the contiguous US. Between its subalpine meadows, gorgeous waterfalls, numerous glaciers, and sweeping valleys, this park has plenty of beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife. It’s an excellent place to explore the wilderness, especially through activities like backcountry hiking and camping.
Located in Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountain range, this park’s main attractions are its historic bathhouses with hot spring waters said to have incredible healing properties. The park also includes mountain vistas, dense forests, thermal springs, and even a thermal waterfall. Enjoy a nice soak after your hike and experience the water’s restorative powers.
With more than 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail contained within its borders, Shenandoah National Park is an outstanding hiking destination. For a more relaxed visit, explore the park by driving along the famous 105-mile-long Skyline Drive with scenic overlooks and panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The park is home to extensive wildlife including black bears, deer, racoons, songbirds, and other forest dwellers.
As the name suggests, this national park includes two of Hawaii’s largest volcanoes - Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, one of the largest shield volcanoes. Lava flows, volcanic craters, rainforests, tide pools, and deserts are all a part of this intriguing landscape.
Located just next to Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia is home to some of the world’s tallest trees, including General Sherman - the largest tree in the world. In addition to admiring these giants in the forest, visitors can enjoy mountain views, deep canyons, gorgeous hiking trails, and abundant wildlife.
Capitol Reef is filled with interesting geologic features, including slot canyons, domes, cliffs, and bridges. This remote desert landscape and exposed rock layers provide a glimpse into the Earth’s past. The park is less crowded than the other two parks in Utah on this list and offers excellent opportunities for hiking, camping, mountain biking, and canyoneering.
The Everglades is the largest subtropical wilderness in the US and an important refuge for 16 endangered species, including the Florida panther, manatee, and American crocodile. The park’s 1.5 million acres include diverse flora and fauna and contain North America’s largest sawgrass prairie and mangrove ecosystem. Visitors can explore the park by kayak, canoe, airboat, or bike.
Home to the US’s largest cacti, Saguaro National Park in Arizona provides visitors with iconic landscapes of the American West. Take in the towering cacti silhouetted against a stunning sunset in the Sonoran Desert and enjoy activities like camping, horseback riding, mountain biking, and hiking on 165 miles of trails. Visitors can choose between the park’s two distinct areas - the Rincon Mountain District and Tucson Mountain District.