Looking to add a few national parks to your bucket list? Start by visiting the 13 best national parks in the U.S. Learn more about them here.
The United States is home to some of the most awe-inspiring natural areas on the planet. A great many of these natural areas have been designated as national parks, and are visited by millions of people on a yearly basis.
Looking to visit some of the best national parks sometime soon? Wondering which ones are the best to experience?
We’re going to discuss the top 13 U.S. National Parks that you should check out in the U.S.
Let’s get into it.
Best National Parks in the U.S.
1. Yosemite National Park, California
There are a lot of parks that can be argued for the top spot on our list. However, we’re going to go with Yosemite National Park in California. Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the central-eastern part of the state, Yosemite is characterized by everything from mountains to waterfalls to sequoia trees and more.
It measures in at around 1,200 square miles. Note, however, that the most frequented part of the park is Yosemite Valley, an area popular for camping, sightseeing, hiking, mountain climbing, and many other activities.
Yosemite averages around 4 million visitors a year, making it one of the most popular national parks in existence. This is indicative of how awe-inspiring a place Yosemite can be. However, it also indicates how crowded it can get.
So, if you’re going to visit Yosemite, you need to plan ahead, and you need to be strategic about it. As you might expect, the summer months see the most visitors. But if you get out on the trails early, you can still find some solitude.
And while there are plenty of camping spots available in the park, there are also plenty of people that want to camp in those spots. So, if camping is your goal, make reservations as soon as possible. The competition can be fierce.
To round it all out, Yosemite National Park is one of those places you need to see before you die. It’s arguably the most beautiful area of the United States, which makes it one of the most beautiful areas in the entire world.
2. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Up next is Yellowstone National Park. Located primarily in Wyoming (though there are also portions in Idaho and Montana), Yellowstone spans around 3,500 miles of wilderness, all of which sits above an active volcano (don’t worry; it’s not going to erupt any time soon).
This volcano powers Yellowstone’s majestic hot springs, not to mention its iconic geysers such as Old Faithful. Demonstrating swaths of bright blue water, it offers some of the most unique beauty in the entire world.
But Yellowstone isn’t all about thermal bodies of water. It also offers thick forests, deep canyons, and a bevy of unique wildlife. This wildlife runs the gamut from bison to bears to antelope to elk to wolves and more, many of which can be spotted while hiking and camping.
As with Yosemite, Yellowstone sees tons of visitors throughout the summer. Therefore, if you want a true outdoor experience, you should visit in April, September, or October instead. Crowds aren’t as severe during these months, making it more likely that you’ll encounter wildlife during your trip.
How many visitors does Yellowstone see yearly? Typically, it sees around 4.75 million. This makes it one of the more popular National Parks the United States has to offer.
As far as camping in Yellowstone goes, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding a spot. Due to the size of the park, there are ample camping options available, some of which exist within the park itself and some of which exist on its periphery.
3. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
You’re likely well aware of the Grand Canyon, the massive geological formation that exists within the state of Arizona. As you might expect, this sits within one of the top National Parks in the United States, the aptly named Grand Canyon National Park.
Located in northern Arizona not far from the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, Grand Canyon National Park offers everything from awe-inspiring geological formations to the raging Colorado River to beautiful sunsets and more. Possessing a reddish-brown tint, it’s an aesthetic wonder unlike any other.
There are all sorts of things to do at the park. You can raft down the river, hike on one of its many trails, take a horseback ride down the canyon, and more. This makes it an exceptional spot for camping, whether you’re in a tent, an RV, or otherwise.
Grand Canyon National Park sees around 6 million visitors a year. So, considering its size of 1,900 square miles, it can get fairly crowded. Note, though, that most summertime visitors frequent its south rim.
Generally speaking, the best time to visit this park is between the months of April and June. The weather is still mild during this time of year, and the crowds are still fairly reasonable to be around.
4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
Ever wanted to see molten lava? If so, you should take a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National park in Hawaii. This National Park revolves around active volcanoes, ones that have the potential to erupt at any time.
There’s nothing quite like the sight of a volcano. It stirs a feeling that’s seldom found elsewhere. And as far as volcanoes go, these ones are more than worth seeing.
But what about activities in the park? What can you do other than look at the volcanoes? Well, you can hike.
There are hiking trails all over this park. Some of them lead up to the volcanoes in question. Others span out into the Hawaiian wilderness.
If you want to make a big trip of it, you can even camp in the backcountry. There are all sorts of beautiful areas in which to set up a tent. So, load up your backpack and see what you can find.
This park sees around 600,000 visitors a year. So, it’s one of the lesser frequented National Parks. Of course, that’s primarily because Hawaii is so far removed from the rest of the country.
There isn’t a bad time to visit this park. So, whenever you can manage a week off work, buy plane tickets and head on out.
5. Zion National Park, Utah
Ever dreamed of living in a western movie? If so, you should head on down to Zion National Park in Utah. This highly remote park is characterized by steep canyons, clear blue skies, and swaths of thorny cacti.
It’s also arguably the best hiking destination in the United States, sporting everything from basic trails to high-reaching, and frankly, terrifying cliffs. This includes the famous Angel’s Landing, a difficult trail that sees hundreds of thousands of hikers every year.
Aesthetically, Zion National Park competes with any other National Park in existence. Its desolate and rocky terrain evokes an atmosphere of isolation but ultimately brings you closer to nature.
Wondering what kinds of things you can do in Zion National Park? You can hike, of course. However, you can also go rock climbing, horseback riding, bicycling, and canyoning.
Birding is a popular activity in the park as well. There are all sorts of birds to see, from Mexican spotted owls to Peregrine falcons to American dippers to hummingbirds and more
Zion National Park sees around 4.5 million visitors every year. These visitors come at different points of the year but still tend to come during the summer more than any other season.
If you’re looking to hike, fall is generally the best time to come. During this time of year, the temperature is moderate. Plus, you won’t have to contend with any of the water runoff that’s characteristic of the spring.
As far as camping goes, Zion offers both backcountry and formal options. In fact, this is one of the best backpacking destinations the United States has to offer.
6. Denali National Park, Alaska
Next up is Delani National Park in Alaska. This park revolves around Denali Mountain, one of the biggest mountain ranges in the world. At its peak, it measures 20,304 feet high.
Denali National Park is as rural as it gets, offering 7,400 square miles of pure wilderness. This wilderness includes not only the mountain range but rolling hills of forests as well.
There are all sorts of things to do in this park. You can hike, mountain climb, go white river rafting, and take in a range of unique wildlife. Some of the more common wildlife in Denali include moose, bears, caribou, and wolves, to name just a few.
Denali sees around 600,000 visitors each year. The vast majority of these visitors come during the summer months. If you’re going to visit Denali, you should visit sometime between late May and early September; visiting earlier or later than this will almost undoubtedly subject you to frigid temperatures.
There is a bevy of campsites around Denali National Park. Backcountry camping is also quite popular in the area.
Note, though, that backcountry camping in this area can be rough. Not only can the weather conditions be brutal but the bears, wolves, and other creatures can pose a danger as well.
7. Acadia National Park, Maine
If you’re going to be in New England, you might consider heading up to Acadia National Park in Maine. This park is located on the coast, sitting next to the town of Bar Harbor. It’s characterized by New England’s famous rocky coastline, offering an array of granite cliffs and wooded areas.
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, Acadia National Park might just be the most beautiful park in the United States. Its bright blue waters blend with its green and piney forests to give it an almost animated quality. Its many stone cliffs just up the ante, and supply a feeling and atmosphere unlike any other in the country.
But Acadia isn’t just about aesthetics. There’s plenty to do in this park. Not only can you hike a variety of different trails but you can also go swimming, boating, fishing, and bicycling.
This park sees around 3.5 million visitors a year, the vast majority of which come up during the summer months. In other words, it’s crowded from the months of June through August. Ideally, you’ll go in April, May, September, or October. Fall is the best time to visit the park.
There are only three established campgrounds around Acadia National Park, so, if you’re planning to camp, make sure to plan plenty in advance. There is no backcountry camping allowed.
8. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Next up is Grand Teton National Park. Located just south of Yellowstone National Park in the state of Wyoming, this park is highlighted by the Grand Teton peak, a 13,000-foot mountain peak that, along with a variety of other peaks, comprises the Teton mountain range.
Other features of Grand Teton National Park include a majestic valley known as Jackson Hole, an array of lakes, and hundreds of thousands of acres of prairie land.
The park is home to all sorts of wildlife, including bison, bears, elk, pronghorn, and moose. There is also an array of fish to catch in the park, the vast majority of which are trout.
Popular activities in Grand Teton National Park include mountain climbing, hiking, and fishing. Camping is also exceedingly popular in the park. There are both formal and backcountry camping options available.
On a yearly basis, this park sees around 3.4 million visitors. Many of these visitors come during the summer months. However, Grand Teton National Park actually sees a decent number of visitors year-round.
There isn’t really a bad time to visit this park. However, if you want a remote experience far away from other members of civilization, you would ideally go just prior to summer or just after summer ends.
9. Sequoia National Park, California
Located in California wilderness, about 4 hours from the city of San Francisco, Sequoia National Park is one of the more unique National Parks the United States has to offer. Its primary attraction is its massive Sequoia trees, which can be as large as 30 feet in diameter and 250 feet in height.
Rest assured, there’s nothing quite like standing beside one of these beauties. You’ll be awe-inspired by their size and will likely remember the experience for the rest of your life.
As far as activities go, this park is basically limited to hiking. However, there are plenty of hiking trails available, and they all offer some cool things to see.
You can also camp in the park. Backcountry camping is particularly popular, as there are ample spots for visitors to set up a tent.
Sequoia National Park sees around 1.5 million visitors yearly. That’s quite a bit less than many of the parks discussed on this list. So, if you’re looking for a remote wilderness experience, this would be a great place to go.
10. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennesse and North Carolina
Now, we’re going to discuss the most visited National Park, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Located in both Tennessee and North Carolina, this 522,000-acre swath of mountains and forests sees well over 10 million visitors a year, with the park seeing 14.1 million visitors in 2021.
The reason for the park’s substantial visitation? Well, for one, it has a central location. For two, it sits in close proximity to popular resort towns like Gatlinburg, TN. And finally — and this might be the most common reason — it doesn’t charge an entrance free.
Plus, there are tons of things to do in the park. You can hike, you can take scenic drives, you can look at waterfalls, you can fish, you can bicycle, and much, much more.
Of course, camping is common in the park. Not only are there formal campgrounds available but backcountry camping options as well. Whether you’re looking to camp in a tent, an RV, a camper, or otherwise, you can be accommodated.
The best time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Honestly, any time of the year. Note, though, that it sees its biggest crowds during the summer months.
11. Olympic National Park, Washington
Looking to see the ocean? If so, you might consider taking a trip to Olympic National Park. Located on the Washington coast, this park is characterized by rocky shorelines, sprawling mountain ranges, and thick forests.
Not only is this park exceedingly beautiful but it’s also great for a variety of activities. You can hike in the woods; you can explore tide pools; you can wade into the ocean; you can climb mountains; you can fish. The options are essentially endless here.
This park is less than 2 hours from the city of Seattle. So, it might serve as a nice day trip while you’re in town.
There is ample visitation to this park. It sees around 2.5 million visitors on a yearly basis. As you might expect, it sees most of its visitation during the summer months.
When it comes to camping, this park offers ample opportunities. Not only are there all sorts of formal campsites and cabins located on the coast but you’re also allowed to backcountry camp in the forested areas.
12. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Next, we’re going to move on up to Minnesota and discuss Voyageurs National Park. This park sits on the border of Canada and is 1/3 comprised of water. That water belongs to two lakes: Namakan Lake and Kabetogama Lake.
There are over 500 small islands located throughout Voyageurs. Because of this, the park provides 655 miles of shoreline, making it ideal for fishing, kayaking, and a variety of other aquatic activities.
In addition to its waterways are a bevy of thick and wild forests. These forests host an array of wildlife, including moose, bears, wolves, eagles, owls, and more.
Unlike many of the parks on this list, Voyageurs National Park doesn’t see much visitation. This is probably due to its location, which is at about as north a point as you can get without actually leaving the inter-continental United States. It’s a distant trek for many, many Americans.
Generally speaking, the park sees around 240,0000 visitors a year. This is dwarfed by the millions that visit places like Yellowstone and Yosemite. However, it also means that Voyageurs National Park provides a remote and quiet outdoor experience, one where you can truly get away from it all.
Camping at this park is cheap and easy. You can park for free and set up camp essentially anywhere you want. Note, though, that there are formal campsites available as well.
13. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
If you’re looking for awe-inspiring mountain ranges in the inter-continental United States, there’s nowhere better to go than Rocky Mountain National Park. Located in Colorado, this park sports over 100 peaks of 10,000 feet or more.
This is a top-notch hiking area, as there are all sorts of cliffs and canyons over which you can trek. There are a variety of beautiful sites as well, not to mention wildlife like elk, moose, and bighorn sheep.
Located less than 2 hours from Denver, this is a great place to stop for a day trip while visiting the Mile High City. Of course, it also offers ample camping options as well, both formal and backcountry options.
This park sees around 4.5 million visitors a year. It’s busiest during the summer months. If you’re going to visit, this is the best time to do so.
And there they are, the best National Parks that the United States has to offer. Each of these parks has its own unique features, with each one being worth a visit. Whether you live close to these parks or have to make a huge trek in order to get to them, they’re worth the effort.