The National Park System includes more than 400 national parks in the United States. Known for their natural wonders and unmatched beauty, the national parks also encompass lands that helped shape the history of this country and hold cultural value and significance.
The national parks invite us to stretch our imaginations—and our legs—and explore the great outdoors, from majestic mountains and powerful waterfalls to colorful deserts and abundant wildlife.
While visiting national parks is on many travelers’ bucket lists, the number of destinations can be overwhelming. This list of national parks just scratches the surface of the natural wonders to wonderlands to discover, but it includes 10 of the most stunning national parks in the United States.
The Best National Parks to Visit Now
Colorado’s Rocky Mountains became a national park in 1915, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Rocky Mountain Park Act. It spans 415 square miles and includes majestic mountains, abundant wildlife, incredible hiking trails and so much more.
The park is a natural wonderland teeming with opportunities to fish, hike, ride horses and bikes and enjoy the spectacular views. Wintertime brings cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding.
Watching wildlife, such as bighorn sheep, elk, moose and mule deer, is a popular activity as well. With its abundance of beauty and activities, Rocky Mountain National Park attracts 3 million visitors annually.
Located in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park spans nearly 1,200 square miles. Here you’ll find giant sequoia trees, breathtaking waterfalls, vast meadows and more.
The park is home to unique rock formations like El Capitan, Half Dome and Glacier Point. Gaze in awe at Yosemite’s thousands of waterfalls, including Yosemite Falls, Ribbon Fall and Wapama Falls.
Trek through the park’s three impressive groves of ancient giant sequoias, some of the rarest, oldest and largest living organisms in the world. Yosemite also offers rafting along the Merced River, where you can take in incredible views and cool off from the summer heat.
No list of the best national parks would be complete without Yellowstone. Yellowstone is an iconic destination for many reasons, as it was designated the world’s first national park in 1872.
Within its 2.2 million acres, visitors will find colorful hot springs, awe-inspiring waterfalls, fascinating mudpots, explosive geysers, diverse wildlife and more. Because the park sits on a dormant volcano, Yellowstone is home to more hot springs and geysers than anywhere else on Earth.
The oldest and largest herd of bison in the country lives at Yellowstone, as well as elk, wolves and grizzly bears. The park is most famous for Old Faithful, a geyser that erupts nearly 20 times a day at heights of up to 180 feet.
Other activities include hiking along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, fishing at Yellowstone Lake and viewing the Grand Prismatic Spring.
Bryce Canyon National Park, located in southwestern Utah, is home to the world’s largest concentration of hoodoos on Earth. The park is named after a Scottish immigrant, Ebenezer Bryce, who settled in the area in 1875.
With its fascinating landscape composed of hoodoos, horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters and whimsical limestone rock formations, a visit to Bryce Canyon is often likened to a visit to another planet. This stunning landscape, formed by wind, water and snow, draws hikers, rock climbers and cross-country skiers.
The park isn’t a canyon; it’s a natural amphitheater carved into the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce Canyon’s extreme altitude offers stunning panoramic views of three states, and its minimal exposure to light pollution offers premium stargazing opportunities.
Glacier National Park is located on the border of Canada and the United States and is often referred to as the “Crown of the Continent.” Named after the remnants of glaciers formed during the ice age, this natural wonderland spans more than 1 million acres and boasts two mountain ranges.
Visitors will also find more than 700 glacial lakes, including Lake McDonald, the park’s largest. Glacier National Park is known for its many hiking trails, ranging in difficulty from easy to strenuous. Trail of the Cedars is a short loop hike that features a raised boardwalk that passes through a fragrant forest of giant red cedar trees.
Going-to-the-Sun Road, known as one of the most spectacular scenic drives in the country, is a paved, two-lane highway that divides the park into east and west regions.
Another natural marvel located in Utah, Zion National Park is known as one of the most accessible national parks in the country. Its close proximity to Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Southern California—plus its stunning vistas—draws millions of visitors each year.
Zion National Park’s colorful sandstone cliffs, lush plateaus covered in pine and junipers, narrow canyons, the Virgin River, plus seeps, springs and waterfalls are just some of the scenic wonders here. One of Zion’s most popular hikes is known as the Narrows, the slimmest section of Zion Canyon.
Parts of the path require swimming and wading upstream through the Virgin River. Other popular attractions include the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Angels Landing, Observation Point and Canyon Overlook Trail.
Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park spans 310,000 acres and towers above the Jackson Hole Valley. The Teton Mountains, the youngest in the Rockies, are reflected majestically on the surfaces of six pristine lakes and the Snake River.
Jenny Lake, a 2-mile-long, 250-foot-deep lake, offers fishing, boating, paddling and swimming. This scenic spot also attracts photographers and artists looking to capture its natural beauty, as well as hikers along the Jenny Lake Trailhead. Grand Teton, the 13,770-foot peak of the Teton Mountains, is so tall that it’s visible from Jackson Hole, Wyo. Experienced climbers can summit this peak, and long-distance hikers can take the Paintbrush Canyon-Cascade Canyon Loop for impressive views of Grand Teton.
Other activities include wildlife watching (grizzly bears, moose, antelope and bison), kayaking the Snake River, taking a guided boat tour and exploring the Mormon Row Historic District. Check Grand Teton and Yellowstone off your list in the same trip, as these two national parks are neighbors.
The Grand Canyon National Park, located in Arizona, attracts more than 6 million visitors every year and is without a doubt one of the best national parks in the country. The truly enormous canyon, which was formed by the Colorado River, is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide and 1 mile deep.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site can be accessed from its different rims. The South Rim is the most visited and is accessible year-round. It is home to Grand Canyon Village and Bright Angel Trail. The West Rim is home to the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the edge of a cliff. The North Rim is the most remote access point, allowing visitors to experience the park firsthand through intense hiking and backpacking and thrilling river rafting.
Havasu Falls is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert, located just south of the park on the Havasupai Indian Reservation. Its crystal blue water can only be reached via a 10-mile hike, but the trek is well worth the destination.
Yet another otherworldly destination in Utah is Arches National Park, defined by its natural sandstone arches, stunning red rocks and beautiful colors. The park has the largest concentration of natural arches in the world, which attracts photographers who capture the mesmerizing shadows at dawn and dusk.
Hikers can take advantage of Arches National Park’s numerous trails ranging from short hikes to Balanced Rock and the Double Arch to more strenuous routes through the Fiery Furnace and up to the Delicate Arch. Visitors can also view the park’s natural wonders from the comfort of their vehicles on 26 miles of scenic road.
The park boasts North America’s longest arch, the Landscape Arch, spanning 306 feet. Don’t miss the Windows Section, which has some of the largest arches in the park, including North Window, South Window and Turret Arch.
At first glance, wildlife at Arches National Park may seem scarce. Upon closer inspection, visitors may spot a variety of desert animals, including lizards, birds and snakes, depending on the time of day.
To visit one of the country’s best national parks, journey to Maui’s Haleakala National Park. The name of this national park translates to “House of the Sun.” Legend goes that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from its journey across the sky as he stood at the volcano’s summit, slowing its descent to make the days last longer.
The Haleakala Crater is a dormant volcano that sits at 10,000 feet above sea level, and visitors flock to this location to view one of the most spectacular sunrises on Earth. Perhaps just as impressive are the park’s sunsets, which give way to star-studded skies.
Haleakala National Park spans more than 30,000 acres and includes red deserts and rock gardens near the summit and waterfalls and streams in coastal Kipahulu. The park has beautiful hiking trails that can be traveled by foot or by horseback, and it is also home to more endangered species than any other park in the National Park Service.
Hopefully, this list of the 10 best national parks has inspired you to start planning your next adventure. Whether the mountains are calling, your inner daredevil needs to be satiated or a scenic road trip is in order, America’s national parks are begging to be explored!