Best National Parks in the United States

Mountains in Yosemite National Park, United States, during sunset and with a purple-pink filter applied.

A common bucket list item is to visit all 63 national parks in the United States, and that’s no easy feat.

If money, time, health, or other travel restrictions keep you from your goal, don’t worry. When it comes to nature, quality beats quantity any day of the week.

These five national parks are the best in the United States—and much easier to check off your list, with the right planning.

 

Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National, one of the most visited parks in the United States.

Yosemite National Park

Location: California

Made famous by the writings and advocacy of John Muir, Yosemite National Park is the most visited national park in the state of California.

It’s located among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and preserves a unique wilderness area. This park contains groves of giant sequoias, waterfalls, granite cliffs, impressive rock faces, and an important biological diversity.

Recreation in Yosemite National Park is led by 800 miles of hiking trails. One of the most popular trails leads to the summit of Half Dome.

Other recreational activities include backpacking and rock climbing. In the winter, you can participate in downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.

While Yosemite National Park and the surrounding valley have always been a mecca of rock climbing, recent events—including the release of Free Solo, a documentary which features the free climbing efforts of climber Alex Honnold—have promoted the sport even more.

However, the park urges every rock climber to practice safe climbing practices, and only participate in climbs within their comfort and experience levels.

 

Glacier National Park in United States with stunning view of mountains and crystal blue water.

Glacier National Park

Location: Montana

While the likes of Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon often overshadow Glacier National Park, it has much to offer its visitors.

Located in northwestern Montana, Glacier National Park is situated upon the Canadian border. In total, it encompasses more than one million acres. Additionally, it stretches across two different mountain ranges.

Visitors who plan a trip to Glacier National Park will find stunning views of glaciers. You can also hike along the highline trail, experience some of the best fly fishing in the world, and potentially catch a glimpse of several elusive and rare wildlife species.

The vast ecosystem of Glacier National Park is supported by several geological features. These include over 130 named lakes.

The flora species of Glacier National Park exceed 1,000, while more than several hundred species of wildlife call the area home.

 

Rocky Mountain National Park at sunset with reflections on water.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Location: Colorado

The Rocky Mountains of Colorado are unlike anywhere else in the continental United States.

These mountains are equal parts treacherous and inviting. Rocky Mountain National Park in particular, manages a diverse acreage that includes lush meadows, staggering peaks, calm creek beds, and roaring rivers.

It’s also one of the most visited national parks in the United States. While yearly visitation totals over four million, about a quarter of that comes from just a single three-week span during the summer.

Summertime visitors flock to Rocky Mountain National Park to hike, backpack, camp, and fish.

The most famous trail is the keyhole route, which gives visitors the opportunity to climb to the top of Longs Peak.

 

Golden colored rock and mineral deposits at Yellowstone National Park, with water and mountains in background.

Yellowstone National Park

Location: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

Yellowstone was designated a national park in 1872—the first one established by the federal government.

The success, importance, and reputation of Yellowstone quickly led to further development of the National Park Service, as well as other national parks around the United States.

Yellowstone preserves a variety of mountains, lakes, rivers, and open meadows. Here, visitors may hike, kayak, fish, and view wildlife.

The wildlife of Yellowstone is very diverse. It includes large mammals such as bison, elk, wolves, and bighorn sheep.

Additionally, Yellowstone National Park maintains nine visitor centers, where you can learn more about the park, plan your trip, or chat with park rangers.

 

Zion National Park, United States, at nightfall with view of sandstone formation and desert plants.

Zion National Park

Location: Utah

Some of the most unique parks in the United States are located in the state of Utah, and Zion National is the premier destination.

Famous for its reddish-orange layers of Navajo Sandstone, Zion Canyon attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every month.

Popular recreation activities of Zion National Park include hiking and rock climbing. The Narrows allows visitors to traverse through tight sections of Zion Canyon.

Use caution, however.  Altogether, this hike is about 12 hours from start to finish.  It also requires you to traverse more than 16 miles of uneven terrain.

 

Rocky Mountains at overcast sunset with snow and greenery visible.

An Endless Adventure

The top national parks of the United States are all breathtaking, each possessing unique geographical features, wildlife, and recreational opportunities.

That said, they’re far from the only parks worth visiting! For more recommendations, check out the top national and state parks to visit in Oregon, Utah, Arizona, or Florida.