It’s National Park Week everybody! As I looked at people sharing their favorite photos of national parks on socia media, I realized that Dave and I have been to a lot of the best national parks in the United States. And, since Dave is such an amazing photographer, I thought I’d share a photo story of the national parks with the reasons why we think you should visit. National Park Week takes place from April 17 to 25 so there is still plenty of time to get outside and enjoy the fresh air. To help motivate you to visit a national park in the US here you, here are some of our favourites.
Best National Parks – United States Edition
Table of Contents
There are 63 national parks in the United states with 423 National Parks sites. (meaning national historic sites, national memorials and other national monuments). This list could go on forever, but today we are going to focus on the best protected areas of land that are officially dedicated as National Parks.
We can thank early settlers of the US for protecting these beautiful lands. The first National Park in the world was in the United States. Yellowstone National Park, dedicated by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872 was the birthplace of the national park and after that many countries and state followed suit. The national parks system in America covers 84.6 million acres of land.
Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is the coolest of the cool. Located 2 hours East of Los Angeles, Joshua Tree NP is where the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet. The park came by its name from the early settlers in the 1800s who named the strange looking trees that graced the landscape after a bible story. The trees reminded them of Joshua raising his hands to the sky in prayer. These slow growing trees are hundreds of years old and fascinating to look at. But there is a lot more to do in the park with some fantastic hikes, scrambling through rock formations and climbing and bouldering.
- 11 Best Hikes in Joshua Tree National Park
- Read more: 25 Best Things to Do in Los Angeles
- Location: California, 2 hours East of Lost Angeles
Oh Yosemite, what can say about this mother of all US national parks. It’s got it all. It was first put on our radar in college when we bought an Ansel Adams print and said “I want to go there one day.” His black and white images of Yosemite inspired Dave’s photography and when we finally did visit, Dave recreated many of his favourite scenes by Adams. With iconic rock faces like El Capitan and Half Dome, and impressive waterfalls, backcountry hikes and gorgeous lookouts, this US national park is worth spending a few days exploring.
- Location: California – 3 hours east of San Francisco.
Where to stay near Yosemite National Park
- Curry Village has a range of canvas tents and wooden cabins plus hotel rooms. Accommodation range from basic tents with shared bathrooms to private hotel rooms with bathrooms. Check out TripAdvisor for prices.
- Yosemite Valley Lodge is a great location to make a base in Yosemite. There’s free parking, free Internet and a pool.
Grand Canyon National Park
It’s the most famous of all the national parks in the United States, and it lives up to the hype. I didn’t expect it to take my breath away but the Grand Canyon truly did. Standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon felt like looking at a huge photograph. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Grand Canyon ecompasses 1,218,375 acres and is 6000 feet deep at its deepest point. It is massive. With the Colorado River running through it, it is a mecca for whitewater rafting. But there is also hiking, horseback riding, waterfalls and the Grand Canyon Skywalk for panoramic views.
- Read more: Arizona Road Trip – The Ultimate 10 Day Itinerary
- The 17 Best Hikes in Arizona
- Location: Arizona – 3 hours north of Pheonix
Death Valley National Park
It is the hottest and driest national park on earth. With an elevation fo 282 feet below sea level, it is also the lowest point in all of North America. It is beautiful, but man it is hot! Make sure you have plenty of water and stay covered when visiting this park where 110 degrees is the norm. But it certainly goes higher reaching 127 degrees. With a lunar landscape spanning 3000 square miles (7800km). Read more: The Ultimate California Road Trip Itinerary
- Location: Nevada and California
Denali National Park
Alaska is the final frontier of the United States, and Denali is that final frontier of Alaska. With a whopping 6 million acres of preserved wilderness, this park also houses the highest peak in the Americas. Its as rugged as it gets with some of the coolest wildlife spotting in the US where grizzly bears rule the land, as Denali sheep look on from high mountains and caribou roam the open plains. This is one national park for the bucket list. Take a helicopter tour over Denali to see the mammoth 6190 meter high (20,310 feet) mountain from above. Read more Things to do in Alaska
- Location: Alaska
Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park is a spectacular park spanning 3.3 million acres of untamed wilderness, massive glaciers, and temperate rainforest. Seeing this beauty by ship is something everyone should add to their bucket list. With an abundance of wildlife, whale and bald eagle spotting is a daily occurence. And being surrounded by fjords and mountains as grizzly bears walk along the shore is truly a once in a lifetime experience. Read more: Uncruise Alaska – The Ultimate Alaskan Cruise Through Glacier Country
- Location: Alaska
Haleakala National Park
Moving from one remote American destination in Alaska, to the center of the Pacific Ocean, we take you to Haleakala National Park on Maui. Meaning, House of the Sun in Hawaiian, this 47 sq mile park is a little slice of heaveng. From hiking to the top of Haleakala crater for sunrise, to hiking to the bamboo forest and high waterfalls on the Pipiwai Trail, this national park is one of the main reasons to visit Maui. Read more: 17 of the Best Road To Hana Stops – With Video
- Location: Maui, Hawaii
Dry Tortugas National Park
While we are on the subject of remote national parks in the United States, Dry Tortugas in Florida, just might be the most isolated. Located (113km) 70 miles from Key West in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, The Dry Tortugas can only be reached by boat or sea plane. It was used as a fort between 1845 and 1876 to defend during the Spanish American War. You can take a day trip out to explore the island and beautiful sandy beaches and you can even camp overnight on Garden Key. Read more: Things to do in Key West Story
- Location: Off the coast of Key West, Florida
Everglades National Park
Want to spy the elusive Florida panther? The cute as a button manatee? Or what about the American Crocodile? I said it, not an alligator, a crocodile? This 1.5 million acre wetland preserve is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and International Biosphere. The best way to explore it is by paddling, but there are hiking and biking trails too. High speed jet boat tours are offered in the Everglades, but why whizz through it when you can take a week long canoe trip in silence to see the animals up close. You’ll find everything from flamingoes to dolphins in this protected habitat. Read more: the Best Places to Visit in Florida
- Location: South Florida
Badlands National Park
Located in South Dakota, the Badlands are a spectacular sight. With an area of 242,756 acres this national park is one of the most photogenic in the country. Filled with sharp pinnacles and blunt buttes, the landscape is like something out of this world. The great thing about this national park is that you can see a lot of it by road. Follow the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway to take you through some of the best scenery in the area. But to truly appreciate it, you must get out of the car and take a hike to the scenic lookouts. Read more: Things to do in South Dakota – 10 Not to Miss Attractions
- Location: South Dakota
Sequoia National Park
Welcome to the land of giants at Sequoia National Park. The world’s largest trees grace the scenic groves of this park. You can drive through the park via the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, but to get out and walk among the giants is awe inspiring. But there are other things to see here too. Go underground to see the Crystal Cave or take the high ground to the top of Moro Rock for views of the Western Divide.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park in Montana shares a border with Alberta’s Waterton Lakes National Park. Together, they are very unique. Glacier National Park (along with Waterton) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an International Peace Park, and a Biosphere Reserved rolled all in one. It’s the only one of its kind in the world. With more than 700 miles of hiking trails, this is an outdoor lover’s paradise. Check out some of the top hikes here.
- Location: Montana
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is Utahs the first national park. But there are five in the state known as the Mighty Five. The others being, Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches NP, Capitol Reef, and Canyonlands.
If you only have a short time in Zion (as we did) take the free shuttle bus to stops along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. But it this a park that requires more time that we wish we had. From canyoneering to rock climbing and horseback riding to hiking, Zion has plenty to keep the adventurous busy.
Some of the main attractions to see in Zion are the Weeping Rock and the Lower Emerald Pools. Be sure to take a scenic drive along the hair-raising Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.
- Location: Utah
Learn More About the Great Hiking Trails in Zion National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
Nothing beats the Rocky Mountains in North America so we saved the best for last. Until you have seen them with your own eyes in real life, you won’t know just how beautiful they are. Rocky Mountain NP is located in Colorado with all the usual mountain scenes of alpine lakes, waterfalls and jagged peaks. It is one of the most popular national parks in the United States with 3 million visitors flocking to see the views inside this 415-square-mile protected high-country. Here’s a cool fact, the continental divide runs directly through the national park.
- Location: Colorado
And these are the best national parks in the US that we’ve been to. What park do you suggest we go to when we can cross the border again?