National Parks

63 Best National Parks in the USA

There isn’t a National Park in the United States that’s NOT worth visiting, which means (you guessed it)- every single US National Park is featured on this list.

We’ve ranked them from best to worst, taking into account each park’s popularity (annual visits), accessibility, and grandiose, while leaving plenty of room for editorial selection.

Here are 63 Best National Parks in the US worth adding to your Bucket List.

1 Yellowstone National Park

It’s not the most visited but Yellowstone National Park deserves to officially be ranked #1: it was the very first to be designated a National Park, way back in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant.

Yellowstone sits atop a dormant volcano and is home to half of the world’s geysers, most notably Old Faithful, which erupts every 2 hours, blasting boiling hot water 100+ feet in the air for several minutes at a time.

There are nearly 3,500 square miles packed within Yellowstone’s borders, attracting visitors to the mountains, lakes, canyons, and rivers that an abundance of wildlife calls home.

2 Grand Canyon

The most iconic National Park in the United States – the Grand Canyon – is also considered one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

It took the Colorado River millions of years to carve through the land, gradually creating a canyon that’s 1 mile deep, 277 miles long, and 15 miles wide. Views from the canyon are stunning, exposing the colorful layers of rock below the earth’s surface, and trails that descend into the canyon exhibit its geological wonder.

Perhaps President Teddy Roosevelt said it best in 1903 when checking the Grand Canyon off his bucket list, “It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled through-out the wide world”.

3 Great Smoky Mountains National Park

It’s not the most iconic, but you may be surprised to learn that the Great Smoky Mountains are the most visited National Park in the United States, more than doubling the annual visitor count of the next closest (Grand Canyon).

Located within North Carolina and Tennessee’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain Chain and contain some of the highest peaks on the East Coast of the United States.

Known for it’s 800 miles of hiking trails, dozens of historic sites, beautiful vistas, and abundant waterfalls, the Great Smoky Mountains are partially so popular due to their accessible location: Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati, Washington DC, Baltimore, and Jacksonville are all a comfortable drive away.

4 Zion National Park

Red and tan sandstone canyons dominate the landscape of Zion National Park, but its beauty is spread across 147,000 acres that contain four separate ecosystems: desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest. This diversity allows an unusual range of creatures and wildlife to call Zion home.

The majority of Zion’s highlights can be found along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, including one of the most dangerous hikes in the United States: Angels Landing. Those willing to make the final risky ascent are rewarded with dramatic views of Zion Canyon that are perhaps the best in the park.

5 Grand Teton National Park

Only 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park is named after the tallest mountain in the Teton Range and its 310,000 acres include the valley below known as Jackson Hole.

The contrast between colorful, lake-filled valleys and rocky, glacier topped peaks make Grand Teton National Park one of the best parks for enjoying breathtaking views. Add 200 miles of trails and fishing you can’t find elsewhere and it’s easy to see why Grand Teton attracts millions of people each year.

6 Yosemite National Park

The most impressive views of any National Park are arguably found in Yosemite, where waterfalls cascade over towering granite walls, plummeting into the 7-mile long canyon of the Yosemite Valley below.

You’ll find the tallest waterfall in North America (Yosemite Falls, 2,425 foot drop), the largest granite monolith in the world (El Capitan), ancient forests of giant sequoias, and mesmerizing activities for every age and activity level.

7 Acadia National Park

Home to the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast (Cadillac Mountain) and covering numerous islands off the shore of Maine (including half of Mount Desert Island), Acadia National Park has it all- huge mountains, coastal cliffs, crashing ocean waves, sandy beaches, woodlands, lakes, ponds, and wetlands.

The stunning beauty and visual diversity of Acadia’s many highlights, 27-miles of Park Loop’s scenic roads and overlooks, charm of nearby Bar Harbor, and world-famous lobster are a few of the reasons Acadia National Park is one of the best in America.

8 Olympic National Park

Over 12 feet of rain every single year makes Olympic National Park (Hoh Rainforest, Quinault Rainforest) the wettest area in the continental United States. Visitors liken it to strolling through an enchanted forest from a fairy tale.

Elsewhere in the park are spectacular vistas (Hurricane Ridge), crystal clear lakes (Lake Crescent), beaches brimming with wildlife (Kalaloch Beach), and trails winding through dense forests of Douglas Firs (Staircase).

9 Glacier National Park

There are 26 glaciers and 130+ lakes in Montana’s Glacier National Park, surrounded by the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Sadly many of these glaciers are melting and rapidly receding, so visiting the park sooner rather than later may be in your best interest.

Nicknamed the “Crown of the Continent” (with the glaciers as its jewels), Glacier National Park is located on the United States border with Canada; together with Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park the duo represent “Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park”- the first designation of its kind in the world.

Highlights include the scenic 50-mile 2-hour drive on “Going-to-the-Sun Road”, dozens of gorgeous hikes through monstrous mountains, and the majestic serenity of Glacier’s many lakes, rivers, and frozen ice masses from which the park gets its name.

10 Bryce Canyon National Park

Oddly enough, Bryce Canyon – the focal point of Bryce Canyon National Park – is not a canyon at all. It’s a geological amphitheater surrounded by gigantic totem-pole shaped rocks called hoodoos (or fairy chimneys). The rich red and oranges of the rock combined with the sharp geometric shapes of these massive objects results in a visual delight that inspires unique and relatable imagery (ex: “Thor’s Hammer”)

The 38-mile Scenic Drive carves a (round-trip) route through the park with 13 amazing viewpoints, many of which double as hiking trailheads. Popular lookout points include Inspiration Point, Bryce Point, and Sunrise Point, offering some of the most breathtaking views in the United States.

Bryce Canyon National Park is located only 62 miles from Zion National Park, making it common practice to visit both of these parks in one trip.

11 Death Valley National Park

The hottest place in the United States is Death Valley National Park where temperatures exceed 130 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also the driest place in the country (but still has lakes and fish) and the lowest place in the country (282 feet below sea level).

Highlights of this dramatic region include the salt flats of the Badwater Basin, sweeping Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, steep clay slopes of the Badlands, 9-mile scenic drive on Artists Drive, the crackling salt of Devil’s Golf Course, and Death Valley’s most famous view: Zabriskie Point.

12 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Two of the world’s most active volcanoes (Kilauea, Mauna Loa) can be found on the Big Island of Hawaii, home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where hardened black lava rock appears to stretch endlessly across the terrain until its sharp cliffs meet the rich blue sea.

Two impressive scenic drives lead to numerous hiking opportunities: Chain of Craters road passes numerous craters and continues all the way to the ocean while Crater Rim Drive wraps around the summit of Kilauea.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is surely a geological spectacle, but the region is also incredibly rich in human history as illustrated by trails like the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs Trail. In fact, its 23,000 petroglyphs make it the largest concentration of rock art in all of the Hawaiian Islands.

13 Arches National Park

Thousands of enormous natural sandstone arches dominate this aptly named National Park, making it home to the highest density of natural arches on earth. Each arch is like its own piece of art in Mother Earth’s gallery. Among her most popular works are Balanced Rock, Courthouse Towers, Delicate Arch, and Devils Garden.

These unique rock formations may entice visitors to climb them, but don’t! It’s illegal to climb any arch in the park with an opening larger than 3 feet. Instead, take a tour by car, hike or bike a trail, go camping, or request a permit for backpacking, canyoneering, or rock climbing.

14 Mount Ranier National Park

The snowiest place on earth can be found in Mount Ranier National Park (Paradise area) and is also home to many glaciers. The park covers all of Mount Ranier, an active volcano with a height of 14,000+ feet, making it the highest point in the Cascade Range of mountains.

You can circumnavigate Mount Ranier via the 93-mile Wonderland Trail or join 10,000 others who attempt to reach the top each year (only 50% are successful). Less daring but still adventurous travelers will find plenty of options to quench their thirst including hiking, skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.

Fantastic views can be enjoyed at an even slower pace from the Sunrise area- the highest point of Mount Ranier accessible by car.

15 Sequoia National Park

This California park contains the Giant Forest, home to some of the largest trees on earth including “General Sherman”, the largest single stem tree (by volume) in the world. Several other Sequoia trees make the Top 10 list in this forest.

It isn’t just Sequoia National Park’s towering trees that stand tall: the park’s own Mount Whitney is the highest point in the continental United States at 14,505 feet above sea level.

The 50-mile Kings Canyon Scenic Byway (Highway 180) passes by all the highlights as it curves through groves and forests, with hiking trails, caves, and photo spots (Tunnel Log!) along the way.

16 Canyonlands National Park

The labyrinth of canyons known as Canyonlands National Park is divided into 4 distinct areas:

  1. Island in the Sky: an elevated area in the park’s north that seems to float high above the rivers.
  2. The Needles: named for the colorful spires that stand tall in this area – is the most accessible, with 70+ miles of trails along a network of well-paved roads.
  3. The Maze: further away and desolate- perfect for more adventurous folks who are okay with planning ahead and following maps (4×4 vehicle required).
  4. The Rivers: refers to the Colorado River and Green River which carved out these marvels.

Offering some of the most remote areas in the United States for hiking, biking, backpacking, four-wheeling, rafting, and kayaking, the National Park System now requires permits for many activities to limit the number of daily visitors and protect the wilderness.

Be sure to see sunrise at Mesa Arch, Grandview Overlook, and Elephant Hill!

17 Rocky Mountain National Park

Just 2 hours from Denver you’ll find a collection of 76 mountains topped with the highest paved road in the United States (Trail Ridge, 12,000+ feet) and bisected by the Great Continental Divide.

People flock to the Rockies for sweeping 360-views, picturesque snow-capped mountains, wildlife-engulfed lakes, and enough hiking trails and outdoor activities to last a lifetime.

18 Shenandoah National Park

It’s proximity (less than 75-miles from Washington DC) isn’t the only reason Shenandoah National Park is among the nation’s most accessible: it’s 105-mile Skyline Drive carves atop the Blue Ridge Mountains, boasting 75+ scenic overlooks on a 35 MPH road.

If you’re open to exploring, Shenandoah offers 500 miles of hiking trails, 100 of which are part of the Appalachian Trail. Nearly all of the park’s top trails (except Old Rag) can be easily accessed from Skyline Drive and strategically placed campgrounds, cabins, and entrances help make trip planning convenient.

In addition to spectacular vistas and numerous waterfalls, Shenandoah is known for its mesmerizing fall foliage which attracts “leaf peepers” each autumn.

19 Crater Lake National Park

When a volcano erupted and collapsed 7,000+ years ago, it left behind a deep crater that eventually filled with rainwater and is known today as Crater Lake. It’s nearly 2,000 feet deep at its deepest point and 1,000+ feet deep on average, making it one of the deepest lakes in the world by both metrics.

Take a 30-mile ride around Crater Lake National Park on Rim Drive for the most magnificent overlooks or take a boat to Wizard Island in the center of the lake, which is a volcanic cinder cone left behind by a separate eruption.

Other highlights include Pumice Castle, Cloudcap at Sunset, Phantom Ship Overlook, Mount Scott hike, and Pinnacles Overlook.

20 Badlands National Park

If you like big buttes than we cannot lie, Badlands National Park in South Dakota is the place to go. These steep rocky formations, actually pronounced “byoot”, stand strikingly alone amongst the parks many desert canyons.

Loop Road (Highway 240) is a scenic route that everyone can enjoy, taking you through the park’s top sites, attractions, and views including Yellow Mounds Overlook.

The most famous trail in the park (Notch Trail) is a 1.5 mile hike that includes a ladder climb to the top of a cliff for an amazing view- it’s short but strenuous and should be avoided if you’re scared of heights. Castle Trail is just the opposite: at 10-miles it’s the longest trail in the park but it’s also one of the flattest, easiest, and least traveled.

Keep an eye out for Prarie Dogs (Roberts Prarie Dog Town) on your way to and from popular points in the park such as Panorama Point, Cliff Shelf Nature Trail, and Door Trail.

21 Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Named after the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt National Park covers 3 areas of badlands in North Dakota known as the North Unit, South Unit, and Elkhorn Ranch Unit.

The North and South units each have a scenic drive (14-miles and 36-miles, respectively) with optional hikes to enjoy along the way. Keep your eyes open for bison, wild horses, bighorn sheep, deer, prarie dogs, and other wildlife along the way!

The Elkhorn Ranch unit between the North and South units is a location President Roosevelt personally selected for its solitude: he picked this place for peaceful reflection following the death of his wife and mother on the same day.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only national park named after a single person- add seeing his Maltese Cross Cabin to your bucket list as well.

22 Lassen Volcanic National Park

The largest lava dome volcano in the world (Lassen Peak) can be found alongside shield volcanoes, cinder cone volcanoes, and composite volcanoes at Lassen Volcanic National Park. That’s all 4 types of volcanoes for those keeping score at home.

The area is visibly active: see boiling mud pots at Sulphur Works, find hot springs on the Bumpass Hell Trail, cool off with a walk past Lake Helen, admire the 30-foot Kings Creek Falls, or take a refreshing dip in Summit Lake.

Hiking to the top of a volcano on Cinder Cone Trail and the 5-mile round trip hike to Lassen Peak are both bucket list worthy. If you’ve got limited time, take a few hours to drive the 30-mile Lassen Volcanic National Highway for epic vistas, where many hiking trails begin.

23 Biscayne National Park

The best way to explore Biscayne National Park – 95% of which is under water – is by boat. Start at the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, about an hour north of Miami, where you can book all types of tours to explore the largest marine sanctuary in the United States and the 3rd largest offshore coral reef in the world.

Even better if you get into the water: Kayaking in Adams Key, Stand Up Paddleboarding on Jones Lagoon, snorkeling above Florida’s protected coral reefs, and snorkeling around sunken ships on the Maritime Heritage Trail are all top choices. Stingrays, turtles, sharks, eels, and a variety of outrageously colored fish are amongst the creatures that await you.

If you’d rather stick to land, consider making your way to one of the park’s islands, which are part of the northernmost Florida Keys. The most popular are Boca Chita Key with its iconic 65-foot lighthouse and Elliott Key, the largest of Biscayne’s islands, with camping, hiking, and other recreational activities.

24 Glacier Bay National Park

What it lacks in accessibility, Glacier Bay National Park makes up for in raw beauty: it can only be reached by boat or plane but you’ll likely see whales, bears, mountain goats, and of course glaciers along the way.

Once you’re there, you can explore the land through 12-miles of trails in Bartlett Cove, tracing the shoreline and weaving through rain forest. See the glaciers up close and personal on a catamaran tour, do it yourself with kayaks, visit the Huna Tribal House that tells the story of the local people and their land, and learn about these protected arctic resources that have been slowly receding for at least 200 years.

25 Great Sand Dunes National Park

The tallest sand dunes in North America can be found at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. They reach a height of 750 feet, cover 30 of the park’s 167 square miles, and were first established as a national monument in 1932 to protect the dunes from gold mining and commercialization.

Climbing the dunes is a must! It’s a 5-hour romp up Star Dune (the largest) and the views from its peak are stunning. Equally fun is watching the gaggles of sledders taking the quick way down. If you visit between late May and early June you’ll get to see Medano Creek, a seasonal stream with unusual properties in a truly unique setting.

Elsewhere in the park you can hike through grasslands and forests, relax at serene alpine lakes, and climb overlooks on 14,000 foot mountains for a look down at the dunes previously towering over you.

26 Petrified Forest National Park

The fallen trees in Petrified Forest National Park are 225 million years old, surrounded by land where dinosaurs once roamed and humans eventually settled. Wind and water covered the fallen trees with sediment, they crystallized into quartz over time, and have become shiny, brilliant fossils that sparkle in Arizona’s desert sun.

Dead trees aren’t the only thing to see: hike through the Painted Desert, see colorful badlands in the Blue Mesa area, drive Historic Route 66, and check out the Rainbow Forest Museum to name a few.

The park is filled with plant and animal fossils but it’s rich in human history as well: the park is filled with archaeological sites and petroglyphs from Navajo, Apache, and Puebloan origin.

27 Saguaro National Park

Named after the Saguaro Cactus which grows nowhere else in the world, Saguaro National Park is distinctly split between an East and West Region, separated by the city of Tucson.

Saguaro National Park is largely desert, with cactus that can live 200 years and reach 50 feet high, but it also features mountainous terrain reaching 8,000 feet above sea level. You’ll find more cactii in the West Region draw larger crowds than the mountains of the East Region but both sides have their fair share of trails, activities, and points of interest.

Top sites include Valley View Overlook, Signal Petroglyphs, Desert Discovery Nature Trail, Cactus Forest Loop Drive, and Mica View Loop.

28 Capitol Reef National Park

Named for its white sandstone cliffs that resemble the domes of US capitol buildings, Capitol Reef National Park features a warp in the earth’s crust that locals refer to as a “reef”- where it gets the balance of its name.

The majority of the park is protected desert land filled with canyons, cliffs, towers, domes, and arches with activities include auto touring, hiking, backpacking, camping, bicycling, horseback riding, canyoneering, and rock climbing.

Drive Highway 24 along the Fremont River, enjoy jaw-dropping sites along the 7.9 mile Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, capture spectacular views at Panoramic Point, and spot unique rock forms like Hickman Bridge.

29 Haleakala National Park

The Haleakala volcano on the Hawaiian island of Maui is the main attraction of Haleakala National Park. It’s now dormant, having last erupted hundreds of years ago.

Take a 2 hour drive to the summit of the volcano, catch an awe-inspiring sunrise or sunset on Sliding Sands Trail, speed down Haleakala on a bike, and find a Silversword- a threatened plant that only grows in Haleakala National Park.

The Silversword is one of many… Haleakala is home to more endangered species than any other National Park in the United States.

30 Joshua Tree National Park

Named for the tree-like plants that populate its nearly 800,000 acres, Joshua Tree National Park combines parts of the Mojave Desert and Colorado Desert in California.

Smooth desert dunes contrast the rugged Little San Bernadino Mountains and the area between them fosters a wide variety of interesting plants and wildlife.

The otherwordly landscape at Joshua Tree has inspired sci-fi dream worlds (Tatooine in Star Wars), attracted UFO seekers, and been an artistic haven for creative minds.

31 Wind Cave National Park

One of the longest and most complex caves in the world is Wind Cave in South Dakota, the namesake of Wind Cave National Park, where the unusually small and numbered cave openings cause gusts of wind to blow through the cave.

Touring the cave you’ll see a unique geological formation called Boxwork that is uncommon elsewhere in the world: 95% of the world’s discovered boxwork is in Wind Cave.

Atop the caves sits 30-miles of hiking trails through the largest natural mixed-grass prarie in the United States, where elk, bison, coyote, ferrets, cougars, and bobcats roam.

32 White Sands National Park

Containing the largest field of gypsum white sand dunes in the world (275 square miles), White Sands National park in New Mexico is a stunning sight to behold.

The best way to see the park is by Dunes Drive, a glorious 8-mile road through the dunefields along which you’ll find 9-miles of hiking trails and plenty of places to camp.

Sledding is among the most popular activities in Whites Sands National Park, even in the warm summer months. Purchase a waxed plastic snow saucer from the park’s gift shop and explore this national park like no other!

33 Kings Canyon

Carved by a glacier that left the mile-deep Kings Canyon behind, Kings Canyon National Park has 2 main sections: Grant Grove in the west and vast wilderness in the east.

Grant Grove is home to the world’s 2nd largest tree (named General Grant), and at 1,700 years old, he may still have plenty of growth ahed of him: Sequoias can live to be 3,500 years old. Admire these towering giants, visit Panoramic Point, drive Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, and enjoy simple stop offs like 75-foot Grizzly Falls.

Cedar Grove and Zumwalt Meadows in the West are less explored, offering several less popular but still impressive hikes to keep you connected with nature (without the crowds).

34 Denali National Park

The word Denali means “the high one” in the native Athabaskan language, directly referring to this mountain in Denali National Park that is the highest peak in North America at 20,310 feet above sea level.

There is only 1 road through Denali National Park, the 91-mile Denali Park Road, of which only the first 15 miles is accessible to the public. Beyond that you’ll need to be part of an official tour that’s licensed to traverse Denali’s harsh conditions.

The trouble is well worth it: Denali’s 6,000,000+ amazing acres provide a wide array of unforgettable sights and wildlife that you have to enjoy at least once.

35 Mesa Verde National Park

More than 600 cliff dwellings built 700+ years ago can be found in Mesa Verde National Park, making it the largest archaeological preserve in the United States with more than 5,000 sites.

Among the massive ruins most noteworthy for visitors are the Balcony House (45 rooms), Cliff Palace (150 rooms), Long House (150 rooms), and Square Tower House (tallest structure in Mesa Verde).

Although the cliff dwellings are Mesa Verde’s highlight there is so much more to do and see. The six-mile drive on Mesa Top Loop Road and hike to Far View Sites Complex should be on your list.

36 Mammoth Cave National Park

The world’s longest known cave system is Mammoth Cave with more than 400 miles of passageways (2X the next closest, Sac Actun underwater cave). The name refers to the mammoth size of the rotunda at the cave’s entrance and has nothing to do with wooly mammoths as often assumed.

A variety of cave tours show off Mammoth Caves top features and highlights, including the sheet of dripping rock known as Frozen Niagara, Grand Avenue,and Fat Man’s Misery.

Above ground the Green and Nolin Rivers run through Mammoth Cave National Park, providing an entirely different world of adventurous options including hiking, biking, boating, and fishing.

37 Redwood National Park

The tallest trees on earth can be found in Redwood National Park along 40 miles of California coast. The tallest tree in the park, named Hyperion, has an undisclosed location, kept secret to protect it from damage.

There are seemingly endless options to enjoy these vertical monstrosities but two of the most popular hikes are Lady Bird Johnson Grove and Fern Canyon.

Lady Bird Johnson Grove is an enchanting patch of Redwoods at a higher than usual altitude, causing fog to mystically float through the dense green vegetation. Fern Canyon feels pre-historic, and not coincidentally, was a filming location for Jurassic Park 2.

38 Everglades National Park

This fragile network of tropical wetlands and forests is the 3rd largest protected area in the United States (2,400 square miles) and contains a fascinating array of threatened and protected species including the Florida panther, American crocodile, and West Indian Manatee.

Explore the wetlands by foot (Anhingha Trail) or boat to see an alligator, stroll through clusters of the world’s oldest mahogany trees (Mahogany Hammock), or go bird spotting at one of the Everglades many overlooks and observation decks (Shark Valley is among the best).

39 Big Bend National Park

Named for the iconic, picturesque bend in the Rio Grande, Big Bend National Park in Texas is part of the Chihuahuan Desert, making up 118 miles along the border of the United States and Mexico.

Due to its remote location, hikers and backpackers are treated to more sparsely populated trails of which there are plenty to choose in the desert, mountains, and river alike.

Along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive you’ll find the most popular scenic spot of Big Bend: Santa Elena Canyon. It’s an easy 1.4 mile round-trip hike and good for all ages.

40 Carlsbad Caverns National Park

North America’s largest single cave chamber (by volume) is in the “Big Room” at Carlsbad Caverns in Carlsbad National Park, both of which get their name from the nearby town of Carlsbad, New Mexico. Also called “The Hall of the Giants”, The Big Room has 350k+ square feet of floor space and is simply jaw-dropping.

Other popular “rooms” in the gigantic cave system are Guadalupe Room (2nd largest), Bat Cave (home to most of the 400k bats), Lake of the Clouds (lowest point in the cave), King’s Palace (featuring a castle-like formation), and Queen’s Chamber (the most beautiful of the rooms).

The park actually contains 100+ caves, 3 of which are open to the public, and a variety of above-ground activities worth planning to explore.

41 Isle Royale National Park

The largest lake in North America (by surface area) is Lake Superior in Michigan, and within its waters sits a huge island (Isle Royale) with 400 smaller islands surrounding it. This area and its surrounding waters compose the northernmost national park in the United States: Isle Royale National Park.

Does an island on a lake sound small? The longest hiking trail in the park (Greenstone Ridge Trail) is 40-miles long and you can find an additional 125 hiking trails elsewhere in the park.

Shipwrecks reveal tales of this island’s previous lives, once filled with copper mines, light houses, and a resort community. The cold, harsh weather, nipping mosquitos, biting black flies, remote location, and seasonality keep the masses away, but if you enjoyed unspoiled wilderness, forests, lakes, and back country camping, perhaps this is your hidden gem: less than 100 people visit Isle Royale National Park each day.

42 Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

The sheer gorge of the Black Canyon is so deep and narrow that it only gets 33-minutes of sunlight each day in some areas, owing to its namesake. Containing 12 of the 48 total miles of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is like nothing else you’ll ever see.

The steep canyons cast dark shadows, shrouding the mountainsides in mystery while the Gunnison River below trudges downhill (at the Chasm View it drops its fastest- a rate of 240 feet per mile).

Stop at popular Rim Drive overlooks (Chasm View, Painted Wall, Pulpit Rock, and Sunset View) or drive into the canyon through East Portal for 2 amazingly different viewpoints.

43 Channel Islands National Park

There is a chain of 8 islands on the southern coast of California called the Channel Islands and 5 of those islands (and 1 mile of water around each) are what compose Channel Islands National Park:

  • San Miguel
  • Santa Rosa
  • Santa Cruz
  • Anacapa
  • Santa Barbara

It’s an 80-minute ferry ride to reach these uninhabited islands, departing from Ventura Harbor, with so much to explore upon arrival. Highlights include Arch Rock on Anacapa Island’s eastern shore, the caliche forest on San Miguel Island, Painted Cave sea caves on Santa Cruz Island, Chickasaw Shipwreck, and Keyhole Rock.

Each island has its own magnetic charm worthy of a visit, and given its close proximity to Los Angeles, we’re surprised more people don’t check this place off their bucket list each year.

44 Kenai Fjords National Park

One of the largest ice fields in the United States (Harding Icefield) is in southern Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park. It contains 38 glaciers but only one is accessible by car (Exit Glacier). To explore the rest of the park you’ll need to hike, boat, or fly.

The icefield was generally unappreciated until 1922. That’s when Spruce Creek trail was constructed. It offered a glimpse of the icecaps’ upper portions, garnered the attention of then President Warren G. Harding, and the rest is history.

In addition to Exit Glacier, consider hiking the 8.2 mile Harding Icefield Trail, jumping on a boat tour to get close and personal, skipping the crowds by kayaking through the Kenai Fjords for yourself, or taking the most expansive approach by viewing Kenai Fjords National Park by flightseeing.

45 Voyageurs National Park

The main method of accessing Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota is boat, and in fact that’s the only way to reach the park’s largest and most striking feature- the Kabetogama Peninsula. Thankfully the boating options and entry points are plentiful and kayaking, canoeing, tour boating, and even house boating are popular activities here.

The park contains four major lakes – Rainy Lake, Kabetogama Lake, Namakan Lake, and Sand Point Lake – but dozens of smaller lakes are spread throughout the park and the largest waters are dotted with small islands.

Plentiful fishing, an abundance of wildlife, water and snow sports, and beautiful views like the bluffs at Anderson Bay and Ellsworth Rock Gardens make Voyageurs worth the journey. Or better yet, worth the voyage: the park gets its name from French fur traders called “voyageurs” that once traveled the area.

46 Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The highest point in Texas is in the Guadalupe Mountains (Guadalupe Peak, 8749 feet) and Guadalupe Mountains National Park contains some of the most beautiful scenery in the state of Texas.

People have lived in these mountains, caves, and alcoves for 10,000 years and in addition to the scenery, Guadalupe National Park displays historical buildings and artifacts steeped in local culture.

Hike through McKittrick Canyon to the Grotto, passing old Pratt Cabin along the way, stop along the Butterfield Overland Mail Route to see the ruins of Old Pinery Station where stage coaches passed daily 100 years ago, or pack a bag and make the full day trek to the top of Guadalupe Peak.

47 New River Gorge National Park

Although it’s called “New River Gorge”, this West Virginia river is one of the oldest on the continent. The entire river is 360 miles long, with the national park consisting of a 53-mile stretch and its surrounding 70,000 acres.

Featuring powerful whitewater rapids (ranging from Class III to V), rafters find New River Gorge to be among the best destinations for white water rafting in the entire country. It’s also popular with advanced rock climbers, who will find 1,400 established rock climbs to embark upon.

48 Pinnacles National Park

The peak of an ancient volcano eroded, forming the spires that lend California’s Pinnacles National Park its name. Half of the volcano now sits 200 miles east in Lancaster, California, torn from the Pinnacles by the shifting tectonic plates of the San Andreas Fault. Endangered condors and falcons fly overhead (High Peaks) while advanced rock climbers below try their best to surpass challenging obstacles (The Pig Fence).

The park is naturally split between East and West, connected by hiking trails but no roads, with most of the developed areas in the east of the park. It’s a wonderland for more advanced climbers and hikers who want to enjoy stunning scenery without the crowds of more popular parks.

49 Congaree National Park

Named for the Congaree River that flows through it, Congaree National Park in South Carolina protects the largest old growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. These forests are known to flood, and in 1975 it was misleadingly made the Congaree Swamp National Monument, but its trees would not survive continuous flooding let alone swampland; it was appropriately amended to national park status in 2003.

Although they don’t rival the height or size of trees in Redwood or Sequoia National Park, Congaree has several “Champion Trees” which receive this special designation due to their significance.

The 2.4 mile Boardwalk Loop is the park’s most popular and accessible trail, but there are many from which to choose, and the Congaree River offers another vantage point for those who bring their own canoe or kayak. Serious paddlers should try the 50-mile Congaree River Blue Trail which starts in downtown Columbia, SC and continues downstream into Congaree National Park.

50 Virgin Islands National Park

The most popular island in the US Virgin Islands is St. John’s and 60% of it – including 5,500 acres of surrounding water and much of Hassel Island – composes Virgin Islands National Park.

Its world famous pristine beaches, coral reefs swimming with colorful sea life, scenic hiking trails through tropical forests, and many interesting colonial historic sites make Virgin Islands National Park an absolute wonderland of adventures.

51 Great Basin National Park

The “Great Basin” is an area covering parts of 6 states (Nevada, Oregon, Utah, California, Idaho, and Wyoming) where water can only escape through evaporation; no oceans or rivers offer an escape route so precipitation is contained within its lakes and swamps.

Although beautifully representative of the area for which it’s named, Great Basin National Park covers only 120 square miles, whereas the region for which it’s named covers 200,000+ square miles. You do the math.

Located 300 miles north of Las Vegas in a remote part of Nevada, Great Basin National Park is best known for its ancient bristlecone pine trees, Lehman Caves, and 12 miles of trails with scenic features including Lexington Arch and Wheeler Peak.

52 Katmai National Park

Today, Katmai National Park is best known for the iconic Brooks Falls where grizzly bears hunt for spawning salmon as they swim upstream. It’s the best place in the world to see these beasts in action but it’s not the primary reason that Katmai became a National Park.

In 1912, two Alaskan volcanoes – Mount Katmai and Novarupta – erupted simultaneously, covering a nearby valley in 300 feet of ash (in depth) as the summit of Kamai collapsed into a caldera. The constant flow of steam as the valley cooled gave way to a nickname: the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Katmai was initially designated a national park to protect the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, then thought to be a permanent feature.

The steam has since subsided and Novarupta (not Katmai) is now thought to be the primary force of the eruption, but the name persists and the park has expanded to cover and protect this ideal habitat where thousands of grizzly bears hunt spawning salmon. It can only be reached by boat or plane, but upon visiting Katmai, you’ll witness things you’ll see nowhere else on earth.

53 Dry Tortugas National Park

These 7 stunning tropical islands are part of the Florida Keys, anchored by Fort Jefferson- the largest brick masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere – built with 16 million bricks and covering 16 acres.

The park is 99% water and difficult to access even by private boat. Those who make the journey, typically by way of ferry or seaplane from Key West (70 miles), will find significant shipwrecks to explore, coral reefs bursting with colors, crystal clear waters for unmatched swimming, the imposing and unfinished Fort Jefferson, and of course the loggerhead turtles (Las Tortugas) from which Dry Torgtugas National Park gets its name.

Explorer Ponce de Leon noted their abundance of turtles (tortugas) way back in 1513 and the fact that the islands themselves have no natural water sources contribute to the rest of its name (“Dry”).

54 Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

The largest national park in the United States is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park at over 13 million acres. That’s 6X the next closest: Yellowstone.

It’s vast Alaskan wilderness includes 4 major mountain ranges, contains 9 of the 16 highest peaks in America, an active volcano, 3 of the largest glaciers in the United States, not to mention the many rivers, streams, lakes, and coastal waters.

Of particular interest is the abandoned copper mining town of Kennecott and its Million Dollar Bridge, where undoubtedly many millionaires were made in the early 1900s.

The park’s 20,000 square miles are only serviced by 2 gravel roads, so you’ll need to hike, bike, horseback ride, snowmobile, whitewater raft, kayak, mountaineer, ice climb, ski, snowshoe, and fly your way through its gigantic entirety.

55 American Samoa National Park

The only national park below the equator, American Samoa National Park covers 3 of the 5 islands in American Samoa. Initially granted protection status for the preservation of the Flying fox and historic rainforests, visitors quickly find out there is so much more worth protecting.

Many just stop in for the day on a cruise ship, but if you spend time driving and hiking on Tutuila Island, snorkeling on Ofu Island, or climbing to the top of 3,170 foot Lata Mountain on the Island of Tau, you won’t want to leave!

56 North Cascades National Park

Scenery greater than Switzerland: that’s how activists described this majestic region when first pushing for a North Cascades National Park in 1892. It finally became a national park in 1968, but remains one of the least visited national parks in the country.

The park sits on 500,000 acres of land in the Cascade Range, near the border between Washington State and Canada, and the inspiring view of Lake Chelan in front of snow-capped mountains certainly exudes a Swiss vibe that’s worth the visit itself.

Highway 20 is the only road through the park, cutting it into north and south sections along the Skagit River. The most most popular attractions sit along this route but it’s well worth adventuring beyond the paved road.

57 Lake Clark National Park

This Alaskan national park features an active volcano that erupted in both 2009 and 1989, but its most famous feature may be its human element: the post-humous documentary “Alone in the Wilderness” was filmed here, furthering Lake Clark’s notoriety as a sanctuary for human solitude.

Richard Proenneke’s cabin, handmade in 1968 without any power tools, not only remains standing- it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You’ll find it on Twin Lakes, a 25-mile hop, skip, and jump from the lake that gives this place its name: Lake Clark National Park.

Air taxis first came to the park in 1942 and remain the best method of navigating and enjoying the park’s full scope. It’s jagged jade mountains, surreal aqua lakes, and jaw-dropping waterfalls give way to some of the best kayaking, rafting, fishing, hiking, camping, wildlife spotting, and sport hunting in the world. Yet it remains one of the least traveled of all national parks, waiting to be joined in solitude.

58 Gates of the Arctic

This is true wilderness. Gates of the Arctic National Park is the northernmost national park, has no park facilities, and unsurprisingly it’s the least visited of all US national parks with about 10,000 guests each year.

Seeing Frigid Crags Mountain on one side of the Koyukuk River and Boreal Mountain on the other, activist Bob Marshall proclaimed it to be the “Gates of the Arctic” in 1929- a name that stuck.

If you’re one of the few who make the expedition, you’ll have plenty to explore: it has everything from sandy-shored lakes to rugged arctic peaks and 7.5 million acres in between.

59 Kobuk Valley National Park

Located in Alaska’s arctic region, Kobuk Valley National Park was established to protect the 100 foot tall Great Kobuk Sand Dunes and 61 miles along the Kobuk River. It has no trails, no roads, and few visitors, but plenty of caribou: 500,000 of them migrate through the park twice a year.

If you decide to check this off your bucket list, come prepared: there are no developed facilities within the park’s nearly 2 million acres.

60 Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The only National Park to originate as a National Recreation Area, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is unique in that it’s partially urban, containing many smaller county parks, private businesses, and small towns connected by a large network of roads. Located between Akron and Cleveland, it’s Ohio’s only national park and aims to preserve the natural beauty surrounding the Cuyahoga River.

That may not sound like a breathtaking spectacle worthy of a cross-country trek, but the Cuyahoga Valley has its fair share of worthy delights. Ledges Trail offers a hike through mossy forests at the base of sandstone cliffs, Brandywine Falls displays a 60-foot fall from a boardwalk, Blue Hen Falls is the quintessential babbling brook, and you can bike the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath where mules once pulled canal boats back in the day.

61 Hot Springs National Park

Each day, 500,000 gallons of naturally hot water flow from the base of Arkansas’ Hot Springs mountain into these hot springs themselves. For hundreds of years people have traveled from around the world to experience their therapeutic qualities, and thanks to preservation by the National Park Service, you can, too.

The park includes parts of the Hot Springs town, including Historic Bathhouse Row and its 9 bath houses, making it completely unique among national parks. Although it’s one of the smallest and most urban national parks there’s also plenty of nature to enjoy including 26 miles of hiking trails.

Hot Springs National Park is actually the oldest protected area in the United States, having been designated a federal reserve in 1832, before the American concept of National Parks was invented. It was redesignated as a national park in 1921.

62 Indiana Dunes National Park

Sand dunes can’t compete in size with the mountains on this list, but seeing natural mounds of sand standing nearly 200 feet high is quite the spectacle. Indiana Dunes National Park has 3 such dunes (Mount Tom, Mount Holden, Mount Jackson), but the majority of visitors come to swim and enjoy the beach.

For 15 miles along the south shore of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Park’s sandy beaches connect with bogs, marshes, swamps, rivers, and forests to provide an array of ecosystems and activities, among thousands of plant and animal species.

Swimming, hiking, camping, fishing, bird watching, and even cross country skiing are some of the reasons people travel from near and far to visit Indiana Dunes National Park, which officially became a US National Park in 2019. The park is 25 miles long altogether including the fully encompassed Indiana Dunes State Park.

63 Gateway Arch National Park

This unmistakable icon of St. Louis was redesignated from a national memorial to a national park in 2018 and now contains 91-acres along the Mississippi River.

Originally built to commemorate the westward expansion of early Americans, it’s no coincidence that it’s located at the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Although its name infers it is the “Gateway to the West”, this National Park is also a gateway to downtown St. Louis, connecting the park, Mississippi River, and urban city center with 5 miles of trails.

The Old Court House found on its grounds was home to the Dred Scott slavery case, making Gateway Arch National Park a national attraction for America’s civil rights legacy as well.

You might be wondering, “Why is Gateway Arch a National Park”? Although it’s definitely worthy of your bucket list, we agree that it seems more like a monument and less like a National Park which is why it’s ranked last on our list of best National Parks. But it’s still worth visiting!

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