27 Picture-Perfect National Parks in the USA

What to explore the most beautiful scenery on the planet? Then you’ve got to check out the top national parks in the US. From the brilliant wildflowers of the Great Smoky Mountains to the dramatic drops in the Grand Canyon, there is an incredible array of beautiful national parks in the US.

In fact, there are 63 (and growing) national parks across the US. You’ll even find parks in territories such as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa. Stretching virtually every landscape across the US, you can find the perfect national park to suit your style.

With over 84 million acres of park space to explore, you’ll be spoiled for choice with this list of the top national parks in the US.

As an outdoor blogger and full-time freelance writer for the outdoors, I’ve become an expert at visiting national parks. It’s not uncommon for me to explore the most beautiful national parks in the USA without any people around. 

So if you’re looking to travel like a seasoned outdoor pro to the best parks in the US, then you’re in the right place.

You’ll get awesome insider information about how to visit each of the top national parks in the US from expert bloggers. Of course, I’ve got you covered for the parks I’ve visited multiple times. But for the ones I have yet to explore, I’ve enlisted the help of local experts.

About this Guide to the Top National Parks in the US

Inside this guide to the top national parks in the US you’ll find…

  • The best time to visit national parks in the US
  • Insider’s look into the history of national parks in America
  • Tips to beat the crowds at the best national parks in the USA
  • A mega list of the most beautiful national parks in the USA

When is the Best Time to Visit the Most Beautiful National Parks in the USA?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret about visiting the most beautiful national parks in the US. You can visit most of these iconic landmarks at any time. In fact, I’d recommend visiting a lot of the top national parks in the US during the low seasons. 

You’ll still get plenty of beauty, but you won’t have to contend with continual record-breaking crowds at these spaces. 

Of course, if there’s a particular way in which you want to see a park, visit during a specific time of year. Another big pro tip is to check local conditions at the national park you’d like to visit. Some parks, especially in mountainous areas that are subject to bad weather, can close during the winter seasons. 

If you’re looking to visit, certainly check the best times of the year at the specific park. Don’t forget, if you want to skirt the crowds, consider visiting right before or right after that time.

Pro Tip: Planning to visit a few parks or a park for multiple days within a 12-month period? Snag an America the Beautiful Annual Pass and save. 

A Note About the History of National Parks in the US

You can’t mention the most beautiful national parks in the US without bringing up their troubled histories. It’s important to recognize that the American government has systematically committed genocide against the Native American cultures.

Wars, slave camps, forced migration from homelands, re-education camps, and forced sterilization have been a part of the American government’s agenda for centuries. Some of these atrocities are still going on today. Unfortunately, the country’s national parks were created using many of these methods.

Yeah, so it’s pretty depressing to think about how the Hopi were forcibly removed from their Grand Canyon home to create a spot for you to watch a breathtaking sunrise, but that’s what happened. 

Most of the national parks are rooted in armed conflict and war crimes against Native Americans. It’s important to recognize and ponder this history to truly understand the complexity of national parks in the US.

Pro Tip: Before you visit any national park, take some time to Google around and learn about Native American history. Educate yourself and pass that knowledge on.

Tips and Tricks for Beating the Crowds the Best Parks in the USA

If one thing is certain about every beautiful national park in the US, it’s that crowds are on the rise. Of course, in an increasing digital world, the urge to get outdoors and explore is increasing, but if you don’t like hanging out in throngs of people, then use these quick tips for beating the crowds in national parks.

Arrive before the sun rises.

This is single-handedly the best way to beat crowds at national parks. Plan a sunrise hike, visit an epic sunrise viewpoint (or go to an alternative one that you think would be neat to see). You’ll be one step ahead of 80% of the people in the park and can certainly find solitude this way.

Visit during the off-season.

An off-season or mid-week visit is a great way to experience a quieter national park. Of course, parks that have big crowds will be busy during the week, but an off-season or shoulder season visit will cut the line of cars down.

Check out lesser-known areas.

Check out areas of the park that doesn’t get a lot of press. Hit the highlights for sunrise, then visit a lesser-known area of the park. For example, did you know that the North Rim of the Grand Canyon sees 90% fewer visitors than the South Rim?

Go further.

90% of national park visitors never go more than 2 miles from the road. Plan a longer excursion to get away from crowded trailheads.

Get permits.

Going on a permitted adventure such as an overnight backpack or a secluded campsite usually gives you plenty of privacy. Plan well in advance to snag coveted spots.

Pro Tip: Always treat parks with respect and practice Leave No Trace. Pick up your trash (and the trash of others), follow signage and ranger instructions, and don’t feed wildlife. Respect nature and leave it better than you found it.

The Top National Parks in the US

From desert landscapes to lush forests the top national parks in the US deliver big on scenery. With plenty of adventure, views, and wildlife, there are countless reasons to visit US national parks. Here’s a look at some of the most beautiful national parks to add to your bucket list.

1. Death Valley National Park

national parks usa

Eerie-looking rock formations, expansive salt flats, and other-worldly landscapes are what make Death Valley one of the most uniquely beautiful national parks in the USA. Don’t let the name fool you – there’s actually plenty of life teeming in Death Valley if you know where to look. 

One of the things about it that no one really expects to see are the striking colors splattered all over the place (its real name is “Tumpisa”, which translates into “land of red paint rock”.)

Even though it’s the largest national park in the Lower 48, one day is just enough to get to do the best activities in Death Valley if you’re short on time or want to make the most of a day trip out of Las Vegas

To get things rolling, start by driving down the Artist’s Scenic Drive to see the most wonderful display of colors splattered all over the rocks. If you want to get more close and personal, put those hiking shoes on and test your skills at some of the best hikes in Death Valley

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 per vehicle
  • When to visit Death Valley: Death Valley is a desert, which means summers get excruciatingly hot. The ideal time to visit is during the early months of spring or, if you want to avoid huge crowds, Death Valley is also one of the best national parks to visit in winter.
  • Where to stay in Death Valley: Even though a day is enough to see most of the highlights on your Death Valley itinerary, you can actually overnight here if you want to explore further afield. There are four lodges within the park (and they come with AC, yay!). These are Stovepipe West Village, The Oasis at Death Valley, the Ranch at Death Valley, and Panamint Springs Resort. Camping is also an option if you’re up for the challenge, but make sure you’re ready for the challenges that come with camping in the desert first!

2. Bryce Canyon National Park

best national parks USA

Think gravity-defying hoodoos, bizarre-looking rock formations, and striking sandstone pillars and you’ll get a pretty good picture of what this tiny national park in Utah is all about.

One of the aspects that makes Bryce Canyon so special is that it can be explored in a day if you start early to make the most out of your visit. Even though it’s pretty compact, there are so many wonderful things to do in Bryce Canyon for every type of traveler.

If you’re feeling up for an outdoorsy day, you can follow the Queen’s Garden Trail, which is one of the best hikes in Bryce Canyon. If you’d rather not break a sweat, though, you can pretty much see the best of the park by going on a scenic drive to tick off all the main viewpoints.

For an epic sunrise and sunset, head to Sunset Point and Sunrise Point (yep, the names are pretty descriptive!). Here’s a tip, though: visit them the other way around to avoid the crowds (i.e. visit Sunset Point for sunrise and Sunrise Point for sunset – the views are just as grand and you’ll get to share the views with fewer people). 

Another must is to visit the park at night to do some seriously epic stargazing and catch a sight of the silhouettes of hoodoos piercing through the Milky Way!

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $35 per vehicle
  • When to visit Bryce Canyon: For relatively pleasant weather and fewer crowds, the best time to visit Bryce Canyon is during March, April, October, and November (in fact, it’s one of the best national parks to visit in the fall!)
  • Where to stay: Even though you can visit Bryce Canyon in a day, there are plenty of lodging options in the nearby town of Bryce. If you’d like to stay inside the park, there are two campgrounds available, but keep in mind they fill up quickly, so book well in advance to guarantee a spot.

3. Arches National Park

Top national parks usa

Known for its mind-bending arches and fascinating desert vistas, Arches National Park is arguably the best national park in Utah to visit if you want to cover a ton of ground in just a day or two. Not to mention, it’s home to many of the best hikes in the USA!

While visiting arches, make sure you go on a hike along its otherwordly landscapes to check out its insane-looking rock formations, quirky hoodoos, and tick off as many views of arches as you can (it boasts over 2000 of em!). Three must-do hikes in Arches include the Devils Garden Trail, Delicate Arch, and Landscape Arch.

If you’d rather not break a sweat, you can get a pretty darn good introduction to the best viewpoints and things to do in Arches. Simply hop in your car and making your way down the Arches Scenic Drive.

As one of the easiest national parks in Moab to visit, Arches tend to get darn pretty crowded. Try visiting the park early in the morning or late in the afternoon (the park looks even more stunning at sunrise and sunset anyway!). 

Avoid visiting between 9 am and 2 pm as it tends to get pretty crowded around this time. Don’t worry – there are plenty of other things to do in Moab to keep you entertained for a few hours.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 per vehicle
  • When to visit Arches: Spring and early fall are ideal as they offer moderate weather to fully enjoy the scenery. If you want to beat the crowds and don’t mind getting a little cold, winter is another lovely time to visit Arches if you pack properly for hiking in the desert during winter.
  • Where to stay: Most people choose to stay in the nearby town of Moab, where you’ll find plenty of accommodation options for your travel style. If you want to stay within Arches, you’re in for a magical experience, but note that there is only one campground (Devil’s Garden Campground) and you’ll need to reserve as far in advance as possible in order to snag a spot.

4. Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park

Lined by towering sandstone spires and sweeping views of red rock canyon systems, Canyonlands is one of the best national parks to visit if what you’re after is to dive deep into the desert of Moab.

Canyonlands covers a whopping 330,000 acres. This means you can pretty much visit it countless times and never do the same thing twice. Because Canyonlands is so huge, it’s divided into three sections: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. 

If you only have a day, I recommend exploring Island of the Sky by starting off with an epic sunrise at Mesa Arch, traveling to Mars (okay, just to Grand Viewpoint, but the scenery is as close as it gets!), and visiting Thelma and Louis Point via Shaffer Canyon drive. 

For a multi-day adventure, snag overnight permits for the iconic White Rim Trail. Mountain bike and drive the road to experience the stunning views of White Rim Canyon.

If you’d rather skip the crowds and have a few extra days for your Canyonlands bucket list, head over to the Needles District for quieter hiking trails in Canyonlands (Druid Arch is a must) and remote backpacking adventures if you’re feeling up for the feat.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 per vehicle
  • When to visit Canyonlands: The best time to visit Canyonlands is during the spring and fall for the best weather and fewer crowds. Avoid summers as temperatures can rise above the hundreds! Winter in Canyonlands is another lovely time to visit if you want to pretty much get the entire park to yourself and you don’t mind colder temperatures.
  • Where to stay: Canyonlands is a Dark Sky Park, which means spending a night here is an absolutely magical experience. For Island in the Sky, stay at Willow Flat (first-come, first-served) or Gooseberry Campground A (permit and high clearance vehicle required). for incredible sunset views. head to The Needles District for backcountry campgrounds, where you’ll find plenty of options to suit your adventurous heart. For more information and a full list of campsites, check out this guide on backpacking Canyonlands.

5. Grand Canyon National Park

Beautiful US National Park

Visiting Grand Canyon in Arizona might sound a little cliché, but seriously – this national park is probably the most iconic one in the entire USA! It’s also arguably one of the top US national parks for hiking too!

Despite the fact that it’s visited by a whopping 6 million people every year, the national park is so vast that it’s easy to find solitude here. Experience some of the best things to do in the Grand Canyon with virtually no one around.

The Grand Canyon is divided into two sections – the South Rim and the North Rim. The South Rim is where things can get pretty darn crowded (don’t miss out on the Desert View Drive to catch some phenomenal viewpoints like Navajo Point!). 

To avoid the crowds and experience some seriously epic Arizona hikes, head to the North Rim instead – even though you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to backcountry hikes, some of the best ones to get started with are the Bright Angel Point and the Cape Royal trails.

Pro Tip: Psst…wanna miss the crowds? Consider visiting the Grand Canyon in winter.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $35 per vehicle
  • When to visit the Grand Canyon: The best time to visit the Grand Canyon depends on what you want to do while there. In order to beat the crowds of the South Rim, winter is ideal, but if you want to tackle some of the hikes in the North Rim, you’ll want to plan your trip between May 15th and October 15th as they close the section for the rest of the year. 
  • Where to stay: Because the Grand Canyon is so vast, staying inside the park is recommended. There are plenty of lodging spots on the South Rim (Tovar Hotel and Phantom Ranch are great options). If you’re feeling up for a night spent camping in the desert, here’s my best-kept secret: hike to Cape Final in the North Rim. At the end of the trail, you’ll find the most amazing campground that offers one of the best viewpoints of the Grand Canyon!

6. Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Love the outdoors and alpine settings? If an epic escapade filled with crystal-clear mountain lakes, wildlife viewings, and stunning hiking trails sounds like your jam, look no further and head to Rocky Mountain for some of the best landscapes Colorado has to offer.

As a rule, I usually recommend visiting Rocky Mountain for at least three days. With so many activities to do in Rocky Mountain, you’ll want to make sure you have enough time to see a few of the highlights. 

While here, make sure you hit a few of the best hiking trails in Rocky Mountain (Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, and Sky Pond are all musts!), check out two of the most scenic drives in Colorado, and tackle a few of the hikes in Estes Park. If you’re feeling up for an adventure, you can try your hand at rock climbing or summit a Colorado 14er during your visit!

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $25 per vehicle
  • When to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park: Mid-June through mid-October is the best time to visit Rocky Mountain for pleasant weather. Moreover, this is the time of the year when the scenic Trail Ridge Road is usually open. Summers are crowded, but they’re also the best time of the year to visit to experience some of the best wildflower hikes in Colorado. Winter is another great time to come in order to beat the crowds as long as you’re used to winter hiking and you understand avalanche safety if you plan on venturing far from the road.
  • Where to stay: There are many lodging options around Rocky Mountain in the nearby Estes Park and Grand Lake, but they’re not very easy on your wallet. For more budget-friendly options, you can drive a bit further away to towns like Lyons, Nederlands, or Boulder. Camping is also an option – in fact, Rocky Mountain is considered some of the best camping in Colorado. There are 5 campgrounds to choose from: Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, and Moraine Park (which you can reserve in advance), and Timber Creek and Longs Peak Campground (first-come-first-serve).

7. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree NP

Set near Palm Springs in California, Joshua Tree National Park is where the Mojave and the Colorado deserts meet. A visit is a perfect way to experience the California desert and you’ll hardly run out of things to do in Joshua Tree no matter what your travel style may be. 

Even though most visitors to Joshua Tree usually treat it as a day trip, it’s worth spending at least two days here to fully soak up the beauty of the place by going on a few hikes in Joshua Tree.

There are a bunch of ways to experience the desert magic of Joshua Tree, including hiking through trails that wind through the 800,000 acres that make up the park, spend a night camping under the stars, hire a climbing guide and get up high, or even exploring its alluring landscapes by going on a horseback riding adventure! 

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 per vehicle
  • When to visit Joshua Tree: If you plan on hiking in Joshua Tree, the best time to visit the park is between March or April as these months see cooler temperatures. October and November are also good times to visit, especially if you want darker skies for stargazing!
  • Where to stay: Joshua Tree boasts eight campsites (Black Rock, Cottonwood, Indian Cove, Jumbo Rocks, Ryan, Belle, Hidden Valley, and White Tank). These campsites are super unique and definitely an experience of their own. If you want more comfort, there are also a few glamping spots within Joshua Tree’s boundaries or you can opt to stay in the nearby town of Yucca Valley, where you’ll find plenty of hotels and amenities.

8. Redwood National Park

By Julia Jennings from Well Planned Journeys

redwood national park

Tucked away in northern California, Redwood National Park is filled with photogenic redwood trees. It takes roughly 6 hours to reach Redwood from both San Francisco, California, and Portland, Oregon. The best way to see the park’s redwood trees is on a hike or scenic drive. Explore the world’s tallest trees on a hike through Tall Trees Grove.  Plus, don’t miss exploring ancient ferns on the Fern Canyon trail!

The best way to see the park without crowds is by starting your day early. Redwood National Park partners with 3 nearby state parks to form one huge scenic park: Redwood National and State Parks, which means there’s plenty to keep you entertained during your visit. For the best experience, plan to spend at least 2 days in Redwood National Park to see the highlights.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: Free, but there’s $5 entry fee to access the adjoining parks.
  • When to visit Redwood National Park: Spring is a wonderful time to visit the weather is temperate and mild and you’ll get to enjoy wildflowers in bloom without many crowds around!
  • Where to stay: There are no lodging facilities inside the park, but there are several campgrounds available. You can find plenty of options in towns like Crescent City, Klamath, and Orick that are adjacent to the park.

9. Big Bend National Park

By Sophie and Adam from We Dream of Travel

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is tucked away in Southwest Texas and its remote location has allowed this beautiful national park to remain a bit of a hidden gem. However, if you undertake the journey, you’ll discover a treasure trove of stunning desert and mountain landscapes.

Within the park, there are over 200 miles of hiking trails to explore, from short day hikes to longer multi-day trails.  Some of the top sights include the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Santa Elena Canyon, Hot Springs, Chisos Mountains, and the Rio Grande. While exploring, you’ll discover dramatic vistas and postcard-perfect scenes throughout the park allowing you to capture some incredible Big Bend pictures.

While you could spend weeks uncovering this vast park, at least three days is recommended in Big Bend to see the top sights. This will allow you to get to the main sights and undertake a few day hikes. Of course, the longer you have, the more of this picture-perfect national park you’ll get to see! 

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 per vehicle
  • When to visit Big Bend National Park: Spring provides a wonderful time of year to visit Big Bend. During this time the wildflowers are in bloom, the weather is typically more comfortable and the Milky Way will be visible at night.
  • Where to stay: One of the best things about Big Bend National Park is its night skies.  It boasts the darkest skies in the lower 48 states and is an International Dark Sky Park. This makes it the perfect place for camping under a blanket of stars. There are three front-country campgrounds within the park or you can camp in the backcountry with a permit.

10. Shenandoah National Park

By Kat Weiss ButlerFounder from World Wide Honeymoon

Best national parks

When looking for picture-perfect national parks in the USA, hands-down, a visit to Shenandoah National Park is a must! This national park, located in Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains, offers stunning mountain views everywhere you turn. A long weekend is the perfect amount of time to experience many of the amazing things to do in Shenandoah National Park.

Driving the 105-mile Skyline Drive that traverses through the park is always a must-do activity while there, as is the Old Rag hike if you’re feeling up for something more challenging. Some hidden gems within Shenandoah National Park include the stunning basalt columns off of the Compton Peak summit and Doyles River Falls. 

Dark Hollow Falls, while very popular, is another great waterfall to see in the park, and while you’re in the area, definitely check out the delicious wineries in the nearby Shenandoah Valley! 

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 per vehicle
  • When to visit Shenandoah National Park: Visiting during April or September is a great time to go to before the summer crowds and leaf peepers show up, respectively. 
  • Where to stay: As far as where to stay, there are ample cute B&Bs nearby, like the always-charming The Mimslyn Inn, located in Luray. Moreover, there are three lodges inside Shenandoah (Big Meadows Lodge, Skyland Lodge, Lewis Mountain Cabins) as well as four designated campgrounds.

11. Biscayne National Park

By Martin Soto from Travel Explorator

top national parks

Biscayne National Park is one of Florida’s most-visited national parks for its beauty and everything it has to offer. It’s considered one of the best destinations if you want to snorkel or scuba dive in South Florida, since 95% of it is set underwater. If you’re staying in Miami, it’s only an hour away, so be sure to add it to your itinerary.

To move around the park, you’ll need to explore its water, so you can either rent a boat or kayak, or book a tour to see the most highlights in one go.

The highlight of Biscayne is getting up close with all sorts of animal life, including sea turtles, jellyfish, spotted eagle rays, and various fish and bird species. Highly recommended is a visit to the Dante Fascell Visitor Center in order to help you understand the ecosystem of the park better.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: Free, but you’ll need to rent a boat or book a tour in order to be able to fully explore the park.
  • When to visit Biscayne National Park: The best time to visit is during the December and April months as this is the dry season and yet still relatively warm.
  • Where to stay: There are two campsites within the park (Elliot Key and Boca Chica). For hotels, you can find lots of options in Homestead or Miami.

12. Mesa Verde National Park

By James Ian from Parks Collecting

Mesa Verde National Park

The Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are some of the most incredible historic sites in the world. Built by the Ancestral Puebloan people around 900 years ago on the side of steep cliffs, they are fascinating to see and visit. 

Highlights include Cliff Palace, which is the largest of the dwellings and also one of the easiest to visit, and Balcony House, which is accessed by climbing down and up ladders and crawling through a narrow tunnel. Keep in mind, though, that you will need to climb on ladders to get into the dwellings, so a reasonable degree of mobility is required. You can also see many of them from overlooks on top of the mesa if you prefer to take things easy during your visit.

Mesa Verde National Park is in the southwest corner of Colorado. Two or three days will give you enough time to see all the main dwellings and even do a hike or two. Be sure to buy your tour tickets online before heading to the park so you can visit as many of the dwellings as possible.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: The park entrance fee is $20 per vehicle in summer and $15 in the colder months when one of the two mesas is closed and tours are not available. 
  • When to visit Mesa Verde National Park: Summer is the best time to visit, as this is when the whole park is open and tours are offered, but you’ll see significantly more crowds. If you don’t mind missing out on a few tours, spring and fall are ideal for pleasant weather and fewer crowds. 
  • Where to stay: Staying inside the park is highly recommended and there are two options: The Morefield Campground at the bottom of the mesa and Far View Lodge at the top, closer to the cliff dwellings.  

13. Glacier National Park

By Stephanie from Travanie Travels

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park is one of the most incredible and beautiful national parks in the United States. Located in Montana right in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, this park is filled with incredible mountain views, glaciers, alpine lakes, waterfalls, and a variety of diverse landscapes. 

Its biggest attractions include the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Logan Pass, Lake McDonald, and Avalanche Lake. It’s the perfect destination for hiking, with over 700 miles of trails. It’s also a prime destination to spot wildlife, with regular sightings including grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, or mountain goats.

In order to have enough time to truly experience the park, a 3-4 day stay is recommended. However, seeing the main highlights on the Going-to-the-Sun Road can be done in one day if you’re short on time.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $35 per vehicle
  • When to visit Glacier National Park: The best time of year to visit Glacier National Park is in the summer between the months of June, July, and August when the full park is open between the spring snowmelt and the first snowfall of the year.
  • Where to stay: Accommodation can be found both inside and outside the park in the form of both public and private campsites or hotels and rental properties. Additional information about where to stay and other resources can be found in this Glacier National Park Guide.

14. Everglades National Park

By Stéphanie from Bey Of Travel

Beautiful national parks

If you are a nature lover and an adventure seeker, Everglades National Park must be on your National Park bucket list. The Everglades is located in the southwest of Florida and has been designated as a world heritage site by UNESCO. The park is home to numerous rare and endangered species like the West Indian manatee, American crocodile, and the elusive Florida panther.

Most people visit the Everglades on a day trip. However, with so much to see (it’s made up of 1.5 million acres of diverse landscapes), spending a couple of days here is highly recommended to fully soak in the beauty of this stunning place. You can go on a hike along the Everglades or take a boat trip in order to go alligator-spotting, see a wild array of birds in their natural habitat, or get at adventurous as it gets and canoe to one of its wilderness campsites.

Pro Tip: Don’t forget to bring bug spray, you will need it, as there are thousands of mosquitos in the park.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 per vehicle
  • When to visit Everglades National Park: The best time to visit Everglades National Park is from November to March. November is a rainy season in Florida, and you can expect to sight alligators during this time. In the winter months, you can check out a variety of birds, and wildlife is at its best. 
  • Where to stay: There are two easy-to-reach campgrounds inside Everglades National Park. If you’re up for an adventure, you can hike or canoe to the Wilderness Campgrounds that are spread all over.

15. Virgin Islands National Park

By Theresa from Fueled By Wanderlust

Beautiful National Parks USA

Virgin Islands National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world, being located on the Caribbean island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This mountainous land is full of breathtaking scenery, idyllic white-sand beaches, and crystal-clear water in many shades of turquoise.

Time at Virgin Islands National Park is best spent by enjoying the stunning natural scenery. This includes long days spent at the beach for relaxation, snorkeling, or renting a stand-up paddleboard.  

The most popular (and busy) beaches are Maho Bay for sea turtle sightings. Visit Trunk Bay for snorkeling in gorgeous surroundings. Those seeking lighter crowds will love Oppenheimer Beach, Jumbie Beach, or Denis Beach. Their limited parking and amenities keep them from getting too crowded.

There are also numerous hiking trails in the Virgin Islands National Park. Many of which leads to a beach or deliver one-of-a-kind views over the Caribbean Sea. Two favorites are the Reef Bay Trail, which follows an old colonial path past Danish Plantation ruins. As well as the Ram Head Trail, which offers views of glittering blue water against St. John’s rocky south shore.

A week is the perfect amount of time to spend in the Virgin Islands National Park. This allows enough days to check out several beaches, hike once or twice, and join a snorkel charter.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: Trunk Bay charges $5 to enter, but there are otherwise no fees to enter the national park.
  • When to visit Virgin Islands National Park: The best time to visit the Virgin Islands is from April to June for mild weather and little rainfall. The peak season is December through March.
  • Where to stay: Most people rent a villa in either Cruz Bay or Coral Bay, but The Westin hotel near Cruz Bay is also a popular choice.

16. Haleakala National Park

By Jen Bourbon from Glasses and Boarding Passes

Top national parks USA

Hawaii’s Haleakala National Park is one of the most uniquely beautiful national parks in the USA. Located on the island of Maui, it’s named after the volcano that created the eastern half of the island. 

The most popular thing to do in the park is to watch the sunrise from the volcano’s summit. At 10,000 feet above sea level, you’ll be above the clouds as you watch the sun slowly light up the sky. It’s otherworldly and unlike sunrise anywhere else! To get the best spot, arrive at least an hour before sunrise.

Sunrise reservations are required in advance and are capped at 50 per day. You can reserve your spot here for $1.50. If you can’t get a ticket, sunset is a good second option!

Another popular park activity is hiking the Pipiwai Trail. This 4-mile trail will take you past a giant banyan tree, through a bamboo forest, and end spectacularly at a 400-foot waterfall!

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 per vehicle
  • When to visit Haleakala National Park: Maui’s temperate climate means any season is a good time to visit. Temperatures at the summit can be up to 30 degrees lower than sea level, so dress warmly for sunrise! For fewer crowds, visit during shoulder season, avoiding summers and the holiday season.
  • Where to stay: Given the island’s small size, you can stay anywhere in Maui to visit Haleakala. If you want a shorter drive, consider staying in the upcountry. 

17. Crater Lake National Park

By Debbie Fettback from World Adventurists

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake, the only National Park within Oregon, is one of the most beautiful and clearest lakes in the world. The lake is fed only by rainwater and snowmelt. Because there are no streams flowing into the lake, the water is kept pure.

Check out the caldera of Mount Mazama. You will be amazed as you drive the 33-mile Rim Road, known as one of the most scenic byways in the United States. There are several areas to pull over and enjoy views from different perspectives. 

You could drive Rim Road in one day. However, allow more time to explore outside of your vehicle. Three days will give you a good feel for the park. Several hikes will show you views of Crater Lake that you cannot see from the road level. For example, the Watchman Peak Trail is a 1.6-mile moderate journey that gives one of the best vantage points of the famous Wizard Island.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 in the summer (May 22-October 31) and $20 in the winter (November 1-May 21).
  • When to visit Crater Lake National Park: To beat the crowds, spring and fall are great times to visit. Though it is open year-round, some of the roads close during winter weather conditions. 
  • Where to stay: There is camping available in the park. If camping is not your style, the historic Crater Lake Lodge is an excellent choice, especially with its views of Crater Lake. 

18. Channel Islands National Park

by Olivia from the Girl With Blue Sails

Channel Islands National Park
Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park is one of the most picture-perfect and underrated national parks in the USA. Located off the coast of Southern California, this national park contains 5 different islands: Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Anacapa. 

All islands offer wonderful hiking, kayaking, and wildlife viewing opportunities. One of the most iconic viewpoints is Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island.

Visiting the Channel Islands can only be done by boat. There is only time to see one or two islands in a day due to the limit of the ocean tides. So if you want to see more of them, make sure you stay for at least three days.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: There are no park entrance fees, but visitors will have to pay for the boat tickets, which vary per island and per time of year.
  • When to visit Channel Islands National Park: The best time to visit the islands is in the summer when the weather is sunny and beautiful. June is a great month to try and catch some whale watching from the boat. April and May are great times to visit if looking to avoid crowds and also catch the beautiful island wildflowers in spring.
  • Where to stay: Camping on the islands is an option, or the cities of Ventura or Oxnard have plenty of great hotels. 

19. Great Sand Dunes National Park

Melissa from Parenthood and Passports

Sand Dunes National Park

One of America’s lesser-visited national parks and an easy addition to any southwest USA road trip, Great Sand Dunes, in southern Colorado provides both fun and a fascinating science lesson.

Home to the tallest sand dunes in North America, this national park sits at the bottom of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. While the dunes which give the park its name account for 30 square miles of the protected lands, the park spans 232 square miles.

Over thousands of years ago, the unique wind patterns in the San Luis Valley created the massive piles of sand at the base of the mountains. The park is great for sledding, sand surfing, and hiking on dunes that reach heights of 700 feet.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $25 per vehicle
  • When to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park: Great Sand Dunes National Park is best experienced from late spring and early fall for pleasant weather and fewer crowds. Campgrounds are open from May to October only.
  • Where to stay: Certified as an International Dark Sky Park, Great Sand Dunes is the perfect place to camp out under the stars. Choose either a designated camping spot at Pinon Flats Campground within the park or obtain a permit to camp out directly on the dunes. 

20. Mount Rainier National Park

By Victoria from Guide Your Travel

Top national parks in USA

Mount Rainier National Park is an incredible National Park located south of Seattle. As one of the most beautiful national parks in the US, you’ll get snow-capped mountains, lush forests, waterfalls, and native wildlife. Come to Mount Rainier for hiking, camping, and exploring.

Mount Rainier can be explored on foot by one of the many popular hikes around the park. Or by car along the Scenic Byway which has incredible views and lookout points. Take the gondola up to the peak of Crystal Mountain if you enjoy some adventure and aren’t afraid of heights.

Mount Rainier National Park also has a fantastic selection of beautiful waterfalls, some of which you can even swim in if you don’t mind the cold water. Bike paths are also available around the park so you can choose how you want to see this incredible place.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 per vehicle
  • When to visit Mount Rainier National Park: Make sure to visit during the warmer months to avoid harsh weather conditions. In the winter parts of the park may be inaccessible so always check guidelines before you go.
  • Where to stay: There are two hotels inside the park. The National Park Inn and the Paradise Inn. There are also three drive-in campgrounds (Cougar Rock, Ohanapecosh, and White River) as well as several backcountry campsites accessible by foot spread all over the park.

21. Yellowstone National Park

By Jürgen & Martina from PlacesofJuma

top US national parks

Named after the largest park river, the Yellowstone River, this national park is one of the most beautiful in the USA. Not to mention, it’s a must-see if you’re keen to visit a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yellowstone National Park is especially famous for its breathtaking thermal springs and the 3,000 hissing geysers – like the Old Faithful. Make sure not to miss the Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest thermal spring in the USA.

Another highlight of Yellowstone is that it’s home to hundreds of animal species, including grizzly bears, moose, wolves, and bison. All of which you can try your chances at spotting while on a hike or a scenic drive.

Fun fact: Yellowstone National Park was founded in 1872 and is, therefore, the oldest national park in the world!

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $35 per vehicle
  • When to visit Yellowstone National Park: The best times to visit Yellowstone National Park are from April to May and September to October, both for mild weather and fewer crowds.
  • Where to stay: There are a plethora of lodging options inside Yellowstone ranging from modern hotels to rustic cabins as well as twelve campgrounds and over a hundred primitive backcountry campsites.

22. White Sands National Park

By Alanna Koritzke from Periodic Adventuresc

Stunning national parks to visit

White Sands National Park, located just 35 minutes from Las Cruces, New Mexico, is one of the smallest national parks and one of the easiest to cover if you only have a day to spare. But don’t let the size fool you, it’s certainly one of the beautiful national parks in the USA.

The whole main road is only 8 miles in length, yet there’s still so much to discover. Walk along the Interdune Boardwalk to get a peek at some of the beautiful plant life that is unique to the area. At the visitor center, buy a sled and some wax so you can sled down the parks’ picturesque sand dunes! You can go very fast with the wax so make sure you do so safely since many dunes face the road.

Lastly, don’t miss sunset at White Sands National Park. It’s truly one of the most beautiful times at the park. Head farther into the park to avoid crowds, climb a dune, and watch the sunset across mountains in the distance.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $25 per vehicle
  • When to visit White Sands National Park: Late October and early November are probably the best time to visit to avoid the scorching heat of summer and to get to see the Cottonwoods changing color. Avoid visiting during spring as this is when the wind peaks and it can really ruin the experience. For virtually no crowds, winters are ideal if you don’t mind cold nights.
  • Where to stay: Inside the park, the only option is primitive camping. For hotel options, stay at the nearby Alamogordo. There closest campgrounds to the park are available in Oliver Lee State Park and Aguirre Springs Recreation Area.

23. Olympic National Park

Corinne Vail from Roving Vails

Olympic national park

If you’re looking to spend a few days exploring completely different landscapes without having to move much, then Olympic National Park is your go-to. Cover almost one million acres of wilderness, this stunning national park celebrates three different ecosystems: rainforest, coastline, and glacier-capped mountains.

There are enough outdoor things to do and to see to last at least three to four days, and even though there are some fantastic lodges the best way to experience it is to camp. 

It’s imperative that you have a car to explore Olympic. There are multiple areas to venture to, so you’ll want to make sure you can easily move from one place to the other. Some favorites are the Sol Duc encampment hot springs. The Kalalock area with all the coastal charms of wide, sandy beaches great for driftwood finds. And the Hoh rainforest with its amazing wonderful trees.

There are plenty of hiking trails all over the park, from very short ones to much longer ones. While hiking, look for wildlife. With three ecosystems, you will likely see all kinds from otters to bears to newts!

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 per vehicle
  • When to visit Olympic National Park: Olympic National Park is open all year long, but some roads over the mountains close during the winter. If you want to get the full experience, summer and fall are favorites.
  • Where to stay: There are four lodges inside the park as well as three campgrounds. Moreover, there are plenty of backcountry campsites available if you want to go on a backpacking adventure.

24. Sequoia National Park

By Alice from Adventures of Alice

sequoia national park

Sequoia National Park is one of the most visited parks in California, and for good reason. It’s home to some of the country’s oldest living trees – including the General Sherman Tree. This 275 feet tall giant has a circumference near 40 feet. You can actually drive right through it!

This natural wonderland offers stunning waterfalls and beautiful scenery. You’ll feel like you’re walking through a fairy tale. Sequoia National Park also houses more than 800 miles of hiking trails. Different hikes take you on breathtaking treks through beautiful forests and streams or up into the mountains where you might catch a glimpse of deer grazing in meadows.

This park has been designated as both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. This means it has an international significance that provides habitat for many different species of plant life, animals, and insects.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $35 per vehicle
  • When to visit Sequoia National Park: Weather-wise, the best time to visit Sequoia National Park is June through August. If you don’t mind the chances of snow and would prefer to avoid crowds, April through mid-June is another lovely season to visit, especially for wildflower hikes.
  • Where to stay: There are four lodges within Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks and fourteen campgrounds.

25. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

By Sarah from CosmopoliClan

Top national parks

One of the top national parks to visit if you’re looking for a thrilling adventure is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The highlight? It encompasses two active volcanoes: the Mauna Loa and the Kilauea.

The scenic Chain of Craters Road allows you to discover the versatile landscape by car up until the point where the lava reaches the ocean. For a more active exploration, hike your way down to a crater floor to see the cracks in a solidified lava lake or the steam coming from the vents.

Finally, visit the Thurston Lava Tube before enjoying a well-earned break on the sparkling black sand of Punalu’u beach.

Spending one or two nights will enable you to make the most of your visit. If your Hawaii Big Island itinerary doesn’t allow for this, then you could just as well take a day trip from Hilo (preferred option) or Kailua-Kona (a bit further away) to see the highlights.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $30 per vehicle
  • When to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Spring is the best time to visit as the weather tends to stay cool and wet and you’ll get to avoid the summer and Holiday season crowds.
  • Where to stay: Volcano House is the only lodge located within the park’s boundaries. For more options, there are many vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts in Volcano Village, which is set just outside the park. There are also two campgrounds available, one of which offers rustic cabins, but make sure to book ahead of time.

26. Grand Teton National Park

By Sean Lau from LivingOutLau

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is one of the most underrated national parks in the United States. Located in the northwestern part of Wyoming, Grand Teton neighbors the famous Yellowstone National Park. In fact, part of the reason why Grand Teton is so overlooked is that people only come to Grand Teton National Park when they have run out of things to do in Yellowstone National Park.

The Grand Teton National Park is most famously known for the stunning snow-capped Grand Teton Mountain Range. Most of the attractions in the park revolves around getting the most scenic views of those alpine peaks that surround the area.

There are many vantage points in Gran Teton National Park, but the most popular one is the one at Mormon Row Historic District. Visitors will find the iconic rustic barn standing alone with the towering giants of the Grand Teton Mountain Range in the background! There are other places to observe the Grand Tetons, such as Schwabacher Landing and Snake River Overlook.

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $35 per vehicle
  • When to visit Grand Teton National Park: The best time to visit Grand Teton is in the summer when all of its roads and attractions are open for guests.
  • Where to stay: There are tons of lodging options inside the park, ranging from modern hotels to motels and rustic cabins. Moreover, there are plenty of campgrounds and backcountry campsites available.

27. Zion National Park

By Dymphe from Dymabroad

zion national park

One of the most picture-perfect national parks in the United States is Zion National Park, especially if what you’re after is a desert-filled adventure.

The start of this national park is, of course, Zion Canyon. However make sure to check out other sights after you’re done getting mesmerized by the canyon in order to get to fully soak up this gem of a park in Utah. Test out your skills on a desert hike. Check out the beauty of Emerald Pools, and seeing Angel’s landing, which is a really cool rock formation that you can hike up to!

Additional planning info:

  • Price to enter for the day: $35 per vehicle
  • When to visit Zion National Park: The best time to visit Zion National Park is during spring and fall, as the weather is most comfortable then.
  • Where to stay: There are three campgrounds available inside the park’s boundaries. For more options, a good place to stay for exploring the park is Springdale, where you can find lots of hotels. The closest large city is Las Vegas, which is also a picture-perfect place. There are many Instagrammable places in Las Vegas.

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Looking for bucket list travel ideas? If you're keen to explore a few more national parks in the US, but not sure where to go next, here is a list of the most gorgeous national parks in the USA that you have to visit at least once!
Is exploring more national parks in your bucket list? If you're excited to start planning your next USA adventure, but not sure where to go next, here is a super inspirational list of the most beautiful national parks in the USA!

 


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Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure. She'd rather be dirty than done up.