The must-see national parks in the United States feature some of the most inspiring views you’ll find anywhere on the planet. Now it’s time to set your gaze upon 16 incredible U.S. National Parks that everyone must visit before shuffling off this mortal coil.
Our top must-see national parks in the U.S. 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 in the area to take an epic 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 you have to act fast to see them as ecologists estimate they’ll be reduced to a trickle by 2020.
While that’s a sad fact of climate change, the area has no shortage of spectacular views like Lake McDonald, the largest body of water in the park.
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 must include a stop at Denali National Park. Denali is a great winter destination for some cross-country skiing and things you never thought to try, like dog-sledding. It’s also picturesque, and a bit soggy, during the summer season. But to see Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, is an once-in-a-lifetime moment everyone should experience.
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 looks at this Decade Volcano is in the area called Paradise, where meadows full of wildflowers, large snowfalls, and views 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. Just a couple hours away from Las Vegas, this park is a hiker’s paradise. Just hiking along the Virgin River in a slot canyon that’s 2,000 feet deep 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 the park with bison, bighorn sheep and black-footed ferrets inhabiting the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the country.
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 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, pictured above.
10. Chimney Rock National Historic Site – Nebraska
It was a long, hard road to travel for immigrants heading to all points west. Yet they all knew they were going the right way 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.
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. Watchman Peak is the place to go for an amazing picture of the area. It’s a three-quarter mile hike to the peak, so make you stretch before you head out to 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!
13. Grand Teton National Park – Wyoming
You’ll swear that the clouds are getting caught on the 13,770-foot peak of Grand Teton. The nine mountains that make up the Teton Range have been used by Native Americans for various vision quests. 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. And you might even see some wildlife grazing like in the photo above.
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 hold rituals and ceremonies at this treestump-like tower where you just sit back and wonder how this structure came to be in the first place.
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.)