What makes the USA such a great destination is not its large cities or culinary scene — although both are definitely great — but its spectacular landscapes and iconic wildlife. In terms of natural beauty, this is a country that has it all. And much of it is protected forever as national parks. In fact, the national parks in the USA is where modern nature conservation has its foundation. It all started in the western USA, with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park.
From the swamps of Florida to the rocky shores of New England, from the deserts of California to the canyons of Utah, from the glaciers of Alaska to the volcanoes of Hawaii, if you can think of a type of landscape, you’ll find it in the national parks in the USA.
When you visit this vast country, you’ll probably arrive in one of its huge coastal cities—New York City, Chicago, Boston, L.A. or San Francisco. Of course, it’s okay to explore these cities as well, but you’re absolutely encouraged to head out and discover what America is really about. The best places to do that are its national parks, places that preserve Native American culture, pioneering history, wildlife and plants, and phenomenal landscapes.
Below, you’ll find a list of some of the greatest national parks in the USA. If you only have time to visit one (or two), these are among the most spectacular.
3 of The Most Renowned National Parks in the USA
Let’s begin with three of the absolute greatest national parks in the USA. Of course, there are many other superb parks in the country, but these really are among the very best. Note that they’re all located in the Southwest, a region home to countless national parks and exceptional natural scenery.
Arches National Park, Utah
The easternmost of the five amazing national parks in Utah, Arches National Park is home to the highest concentration of rock arches in the entire world. They are more than 2,000 of them, ranging in length from three to thirty feet. The whole park is filled with them. They’re the obvious highlights of the park, most notably Landscape Arch and Delicate Arch, but others include towering sandstone cliffs and pillars, as well as “balancing” rocks.
There’s only one road in the park, making visiting it extremely easy. That road winds its way through the red desert landscape and all highlights, hiking trails and attractions lie along it.
Yosemite National Park, California
One of the most visited and epic national parks in the USA is California’s Yosemite National Park. It’s the star of the national park show in America, featuring wild mountain rivers and waterfalls, imposing granite formations, fabulous hiking trails and lots of wildlife. This is unquestionably one of the greatest national parks on Earth, a place so exceptional it’s been designated World Heritage by UNESCO.
The touristic focal point in the park is Yosemite Valley, the location of major highlights like El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point. It gets ridiculously crowded there in summer, though. So, you’re advised to stay away during July and August. The recommended time of year to visit Yosemite National Park is late-spring, when temperatures are enjoyable, the snow has melted and waterfalls are roaring.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Arguably the most famous natural attraction in the entire United States, Grand Canyon is exactly what you expect it is. It’s more than impressive, exceedingly spectacular and downright breathtaking. There’s a reason this is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a park that’s very easy to visit, located a relatively short drive from cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas.
The South Rim is the most popular area in the park, home to the scenic and easy Rim Trail but also to once-in-a-lifetime challenges like the Bright Angel Trail. Accommodation and facilities are plentiful, but this is a hugely popular park so make sure to book well in advance. Consider visiting in spring when the weather is at its best. This is when low yet already comfortable temperatures make it possible to hike all the way down to the Colorado River. In summer, that’s basically impossible.
2 Awesome USA National Parks Under the Radar
Of the 59 national parks in the USA only a select number are household names. Most people know about Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Death Valley—just to name a few—but there are numerous others that are less popular.
The two national parks below are among them. Well-traveled readers may think that these are obvious places to visit, but if you’re not familiar with the less-visited national parks in the USA, it’s good to be introduced to them. They’re awesome, too.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The Rocky Mountains is a mountain range that’s known around the world for its countless high peaks and beautiful landscapes. However, not everyone is aware of the fact that there’s also a national park there. In the heart of Colorado, a quick drive from Denver and Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park boasts some of the best mountain hiking in America as well as regular wildlife sightings, fishing opportunities and world-class recreational boating.
Rocky Mountain National Park, because of its high altitude and long, snowy winters, is best visited in summer. During this comfy season, you can expect lush scenery, wildflowers and essentially perfect conditions for all kinds of outdoor fun.
Sequoia National Park, California
Located just south and in the figurative shadow of Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park is a great place to combine with its more famous neighbor. As its name implies, this park is filled with towering sequoia trees, the largest trees in the world. It’s a relatively small park, though, so you can easily get a feel for it in just one day.
Just like Yosemite, Sequoia National Park is best visited in summer. Both parks lie high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which remain covered in snow well into spring. The weather in Sequoia National Park can be unpredictable, but summer is by far the most comfortable (and popular) season. Consider visiting in June or September, though, to avoid the summer masses.
These five national parks in the USA give you a more than solid introduction to the concept of national parks. Choose any of them and have the adventure of a lifetime. The best way to really experience these places is hiking and camping, which requires gear that’s quite different from your average city break. For a comprehensive overview of what you’ll need to bring on a national parks trip, check out this useful article.