The United States of America is famous for its wide and varied landscapes. With approximately 52.2 million acres of protected National Parkland for you to discover from coast to coast and top to bottom, it could take you an entire lifetime to see them all.
Before we get into the best national parks here are some top tips for visiting the U.S.A.
- Make sure your passport is valid and that you have at least 6 months validity left on it. It is also important to have 1-2 blank pages.
- If you’re new to hiking check out this guide on hiking tips for beginners.
- Make sure you’re up to date on your travel vaccinations.
- Don’t forget you’ll need an ESTA visa before you travel. Thankfully the ESTA cost is not very much at all and easy to do.
- Make sure you don’t leave home with out travel insurance.
- Get yourself a TSA lock so that you don’t have to worry about any issues with your luggage.
- If you’re heading to a specific part of the USA, check out this guide to National Parks by State.
Now that’s out of the way, if you are thinking of joining the 320 million or more people who visited the U.S parks in 2018 alone, here are 10 of the very best:
- Grand Canyon, Arizona
- Glacier National Park, Montana
- Arcadia National Park, New England
- Arches National Park, Utah
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
- Zion National Park, Utah
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee – North Carolina
- Yosemite National Park, California
- Yellowstone National Park, Idaho
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Measuring over 270 miles along, this gigantic chasm is one of the most famous natural wonders in the world. Every year, over six million visitors come to take in the breathtaking beauty of the natural orange and red rock formations that run alongside the Colorado River, as well as admiring the iconic sweeping panoramas from the South Rim which is arguable the best view of the Grand Canyon.
Home to the Grand Canyon Village with its rustic railway and Hopi house, the park also offers some of the most spectacular and challenging hiking trails and camping spots in all of North America. Those looking to escape the crowds should head to the quieter Northern Rim to enjoy the solitude of the great divide. This really is one of the best places to visit in the USA.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Take a trip back to the Ice Age with a visit to the stunning peaks, lakes, and rock formations of the Glacier National Park in Montana. With over 700 lakes and waterfalls nestled away within the 1 million acres of the park’s boundaries, the landscape is so large it even has two separate mountain ranges contained within it. You won’t be short of things to do in Glacier National Park.
Home to a huge array of wildlife including mountain goats and grizzly bears, the park is popular with hikers who come to take on everything from the gentle trails of the Cedars to the challenging Grinnell Glacier. The park is also home to the 52-mile Going-to-the-sun Road which is a marvel of modern engineering and offers spectacular views and access to some of the best hiking country in the world.
If you want to spend a week here then check out this 7-day Glacier National Park itinerary.
Arcadia National Park, New England
Take on the pioneer trails deep in the rugged and untouched natural landscapes of Maine, in the beautiful Arcadia National Parklands. Running along the coastline, the park is popular with photographers and nature lovers alike, as they admire the iconic panoramic views available from the top of Cadillac Mountain, with the small islands off the coast just showing in the distance.
You can also catch the peregrine falcons making their homes on the granite slab coastline or watch the Harbor seals sun themselves right there on the bedrock. The park offers 47,000 acres of beautiful New England countryside, and it is popular with outdoor enthusiasts who come to enjoy horseback riding, biking, hiking and rock climbing in the park.
If you’re staying for longer than a day, check out this great guide to camping in Arcadia National Park.
Arches National Park, Utah
Not one of the most well known national parks, but still one that is incredibly popular, visiting Arches National Park is like taking a trip to another planet. Containing thousands of weird and wonderful rock configurations, the park is home to over 2,000 natural stone arches. There are also hundreds of pinnacles, massive fins and giant rocks that give the landscape an otherworldly vista.
Visitors come to take in the unique surroundings, as well as enjoying over 26 miles of scenic road and hiking to suit every level of fitness. The Arches National Park is also popular when the sun sets, as Colorado Plateau is home to some of the darkest skies in the United States, meaning you can capture see some seriously impressive views of the Milky Way.
If you need more help with planning, ere’s a great guide on how to spend one day in Arches National Park.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The island paradise of Hawaii is home to two of the most active volcanoes in the world, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Visitors come to see them erupt on a regular basis and take in the expansive views out across the Pacific Ocean from the Kealakomo Overlook.
The stunning landscape of the park is the result of over 70 million years of volcanic evolution, and it is a refuge for some of the islands rarest native plants and animals. Visitors can also drive along the famous Chain of Craters Road, taking in the stunning lava fields and breathtaking views along the way.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
The Teton Mountains reach high above Jackson Hole and are home to the Grand Teton National Park with its majestic peaks and dramatic valleys. Visitors come to see the glittering waters of the Jenny and Jackson Lakes, and capture stunning images of the tranquil landscapes as well as hiking through the rugged terrain to discover hidden waterfalls and rocky pools.
The park is also popular with kayakers and rafters who come to test the crystal clear waters of the Snake River, as well as those who wish to get up close and personal with the local wildlife including black bears, grizzlies, moose, antelope, and bison.
Zion National Park, Utah
Nestled in the southwest corner of the state of Utah, the Zion National Park receives over 4 million visitors a year who come to take in the stunning views of the pale peach-colored canyons that seem to stretch out forever before you.
They also come to take on the 12-mile Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway that winds through the mesas and valleys, or explore the waterfalls of the Temple of Sinawava, tucked away at the end of the famous Zion Riverside Walk. There are also plenty of family-friendly hikes in Zion National Park too.
When the sun sets, the sky is a blanket of stars as the desert landscapes offer some of the darkest skies in the state of Utah, making a visit to Zion a must for anyone interested in the beauty of the night sky.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee – North Carolina
Spanning two states, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has a long history that reaches back as far as the prehistoric Paleo Indian civilizations and beyond. Millions of visitors come every year to take the scenic drive out to Cades Cove or the Roaring Fork Motor Trail and enjoy the wealth of fantastic hiking, fishing, cycling and camping opportunities that can be found throughout the 520,000 acres of the park.
On the top of Old Smoky is Clingmans Dome, the park’s highest peak where you can take in the 360-degree views from the observation tower, or take the trail down to the Appalachian valley to see the19th-century buildings that can still be found there.
Yosemite National Park, California
With 1200 square miles of awesome natural landscapes, Yosemite National Park has some of the most iconic vistas in the northern hemisphere. Home to towering waterfalls and looming cliff faces, as well as some the most unique rock formations you could ever wish to see, Yosemite is a must-see for anyone heading to California.
Take in the ancient Sequoia trees, the Half Dome cable hike route or the immense granite rock face of El Capitan that stands nearly 2.5 times as tall as the Empire State Building. With around 4 million visitors every year it can get busy, but with a wealth of hiking trails, camping grounds, and mile upon mile of unspoiled natural landscapes, not even a busy day can spoil Mother Nature’s finest.
Yellowstone National Park, Idaho
As one of the most famous national parks in the world, Yellowstone National Park is home to 3,000 plus square miles of dramatic peaks and canyons, pristine lakes with sparkling waterfalls, volatile geysers, and uninterrupted natural beauty as far as the eye can see.
Some of the best Yellowstone hikes include the Old Faithful geyser, the huge freshwater Yellowstone Lake and the bubbling waters of the Mammoth Hot Springs, as well as the wide and varied wildlife that have made their homes along the Lewis River Channel and Dogshead Loop.
Visitors also come to explore the trails and lakes that are tucked away in the lesser-known regions of the vast, rugged landscape, as they experience the Northern American countryside at its finest.
You should also check out this 2 Day Yellowstone Road Trip Itinerary.
Amar was born and raised in England and embarked on an 11-country round-the-world gap year after graduation and then became well and truly hooked. The first gap year inspired a second, which ended up being a 23-country down-the-world trip from Canada to Antarctica. Since then, Amar has spent the last 14 years traveling the 7 continents.