While we can’t take that coveted road trip just yet, we can set our gaze on these 16 incredible national parks and start planning for when we can travel again. This list of must-see US national parks features some of the most inspiring views you’ll find anywhere on the planet.
Our top must-see national parks in the US are:
- Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
- Glacier National Park, Montana
- Yosemite National Park, California
- Denali National Park, Alaska
- Mount Rainer National Park, Washington
- Zion National Park, Utah
- Cumberland Gap National Park, Kentucky
- Badlands National Park, South Dakota
- Acadia National Park, Maine
- Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Nebraska
- Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
- Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
- Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- Devils Tower, Wyoming
- Everglades National Park, Florida
- Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
1. Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona
President Teddy Roosevelt once said the Grand Canyon is “the one great sight which every American should see” — and it’s hard to argue with him. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was forged by the Colorado River carving through this portion of Arizona that’s just a 3 ½-hour drive north of Phoenix. Not a bad spot to take an incredible photo.
2. Glacier National Park – Montana
With a name like Glacier National Park, you’d expect to see some actual glaciers. And you can still see some within the area, but there’s only about two dozen left. They’re not as obvious as you would think, but you can see them mostly through hiking.
Most of the glaciers in the park have receded by an average of 39 percent due to climate change. Thankfully, there are still some spectacular views. Make sure to visit Lake McDonald, the largest body of water in the park and a beautiful, essential landmark to see.
3. Yosemite National Park – California
Towering sequoia trees, Glacier Point, Half Dome, and the Yosemite Falls make Yosemite National Park worth the drive from San Francisco and all other points in California. But sometimes you just want to sit near the water and soak in the granite monoliths that Mother Nature was kind enough to put up for us.
4. Denali National Park – Alaska
Any trip to Anchorage has to include a must-see stop at Denali National Park. Denali is a great winter destination for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and a myriad of other fun outdoor activities. It’s also picturesque — although a bit wet — during the summer season. But to see Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, is a once-in-a-lifetime moment everyone should experience. If you’re taking the trip up to Alaska, make sure to rent a car and explore the state’s hidden gems, in addition to Denali.
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5. Mount Rainier National Park – Washington
Never has sightseeing around a volcano been so beautiful. Mount Rainier cuts a memorable image when you look at the Seattle skyline. But sometimes, when you’re at the park you won’t see it at all, thanks to cloud banks that can hide it for days and weeks at a time.
The best views of this Decade Volcano are in an area called Paradise, where meadows of wildflowers, large snowfalls, and the sight of Mount Rainier come together beautifully.
6. Zion National Park – Utah
For those looking to get lost in unique plant life, wild creatures, and massive sandstone cliffs, then you’ll want to visit Zion National Park in Utah. Just a couple hours’ drive from Las Vegas, this park is a hiker’s paradise. One of the most incredible hiking trails, The Narrows, follows a slot canyon that’s 2,000 feet deep. It ranks among the best journeys available in a national park today.
7. Cumberland Gap National Park – Kentucky
Native Americans, buffalo, and pioneers have all made their way west through this stretch of Kentucky wilderness. Modern travelers get spoiled with hiking trails and awe-inspiring scenery that enhances 20,000-plus acres of this lush national park.
8. Badlands National Park – South Dakota
The rugged beauty of the eroded buttes is so striking that people from all over the world come just to see them. But there’s much more to Badlands National Park like the bison, bighorn sheep, and black-footed ferrets that inhabit the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the country. Experience this popular national park during the fall for the best weather.
9. Acadia National Park – Maine
You can see a sunrise anywhere, but there’s just something about coming to the eastern tip of the United States to get the day started. From early October to early March, Acadia National Park in Maine is the first place in the US to see the rising sun. And the best spot to experience daybreak in the area is at the summit of Cadillac Mountain.
10. Chimney Rock National Historic Site – Nebraska
It was a long, hard road to travel for immigrants heading west. Yet they all knew they were going in the right direction at the moment they saw Chimney Rock.
Many people actually climbed up to the 326-foot high, needle-shaped formation and carved their names into the soft sandstone. It served as a notice to travelers that the mountains were right around the corner for them.
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11. Crater Lake National Park – Oregon
It took a volcano to erupt, collapse upon itself and create a caldera in southern Oregon’s Cascade Mountains to create one of the coolest places in the world: Crater Lake National Park. Make sure to stop at Watchman Peak for an amazing picture of this must-see national park. It’s a three-quarter-mile hike to the peak, so make sure you stretch before you head out onto the trail.
12. Great Smoky Mountains – Tennessee, North Carolina
You could go to nearby Dollywood for some fun, but the Great Smoky Mountains are a sight to behold all by itself. Take a hike up to the summit of Clingmans Dome and you’ll be rewarded with hills that look like they’re carpeted by lush forestry. It’s no wonder this is one of the most popular national parks in the country.
We highly recommend combining a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains with a few days in Asheville! Search flights below 👇
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13. Grand Teton National Park – Wyoming
When you arrive, you’ll swear that the clouds are getting caught on the 13,770-foot peak of Grand Teton. So, it’s no surprise why the nine mountains that make up the Teton Range had spiritual meaning for the local Native Americans who lived in the area. As one of the best national parks in the US, there are loads of trails to hike around the peaks if you don’t want to climb the mountains that are just 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park.
14. Devils Tower – Wyoming
Drive three hours from Casper, Wyoming, to find one of the most inexplicably cool formations in the world today. Jutting 1,267 feet from the surrounding flatlands near the Belle Fourche River is the first declared US National Monument, Devils Tower. Regional Native American tribes still hold rituals and ceremonies as its a very spiritual and sacred site.
15. Everglades National Park – Florida
If you’re planning on spending your vacation in South Florida, then you have to stop by Everglades National Park. The Everglades spans 1.5 million acres and gives you several ways to enjoy the area – from hiking and camping to tram and boat tours. You can even rent a bike or kayak to see this subtropical paradise at your own pace.
16. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Last but far from least, Yellowstone National Park is home to the mother of all geysers, Old Faithful (along with 300 more). Hundreds of animal species also call this park home, and you can find them throughout the lush forests and around the largest high-altitude lake in North America: Lake Yellowstone.
Close to 300 waterfalls cut through the landscape and you can also find one of the world’s largest petrified forests. (We told you Yellowstone is far from the least.)
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