If you want an outdoor vacation in a picturesque place, look to the country’s best national parks. The U.S. features incredible tracts of land protected by national park status. They're usually packed with unique features and attractions that make preservation essential. They showcase the nation’s natural splendor through their wildness and careful maintenance, ensuring future generations can enjoy them, too.
The mother of U.S. national parks, Yellowstone was the nation’s first. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed its protection into law. The 2,219,790-acre park is famous for its geothermal areas and erupting geysers like Old Faithful. Yellowstone stretches into Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, encompassing multiple eco-systems like the South Central Rockies forests that are home to grizzly bears, black bears, gray wolves, elk, bison, lynx, and more. Camping is popular in Yellowstone, but there are also renowned lodges if glamping is more your speed.
Spanning 1,201,647 acres, Grand Canyon National Park is a majestic place to visit. Tourists flock the picturesque southern rim of the canyon to explore, but the rugged northern rim is also well worth checking out. When visiting the canyon, you can hike or even book a river rafting journey down the Colorado River, the waterway responsible for carving the canyon over thousands upon thousands of years. If you long for a Southwestern getaway, don't miss this park.
Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California is a magnificently barren wilderness. Visitors can hike to impressive rock formations, photograph cactus gardens, enlist the help of a rock-climbing coach, or camp at over 300 campgrounds. The park's seclusion from large cities eliminates light pollution, making the night skies above Joshua Tree ideal for stargazing. If you're not interested in camping, visit the small town of Joshua Tree for dinner, live music, and shopping.
Canaveral National Seashore remains one of the last pristine stretches of shoreline on the Atlantic coast. The undeveloped beaches are a haven for diverse species and endangered animals, including nesting turtles, and a popular spot for birdwatchers and wildlife photographers. Watch for dolphins from your beach towel, or book a fishing boat trip for the freshest haul of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans.
Located in northern California on 138,999.37 acres, Redwood National Park is world-famous for its coastal redwoods, the world’s tallest trees. While the historic trees are the park’s highlight, there are also tide pools, protected stretches of coastline, prairie lands, and meadows to behold. Aside from the stunning topography and flora, visitors keep a sharp eye out for migrating whales off the coast, and cougars, black bears, harbor seals, river otters, and coyote when hiking the park.
Beautiful Acadia National Park is home to nearly 50,000 acres of picturesque landscape. Located on the coast of Maine near Bar Harbor, the park is famous for its dramatic Atlantic coastline that offers unparalleled views of the ocean. The park also features mountain hiking, lakes, pristine forests, and intertidal habitats. Highlights of the park: Cadillac Mountain, Jordan Pond, Thunder Hole, Otter Cliff, Echo Lake Beach, and Precipice Trail.
Located in the alpine forests of Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park is a natural paradise of abundant woodlands and dramatic mountain scenery. Visitors can hike over 200 miles of trails or take a scenic drive for panoramic views of the Grand Tetons. Head to Jenny Lake for a scenic cruise or take a day hike to Inspiration Point. Jackson Lake is better for water sports and fishing, while the western half of the park is roadless and more rugged, better for experienced outdoor lovers.
Situated to the west of Alaska’s capital city, Juneau, Glacier Bay National Park contains 3,223,383 acres of pristine wilderness landscapes. This famous park features tidewater glaciers, mountains, fjords, and temperate rainforests. When visiting, keep a lookout for its resident grizzly bears, eagles, and mountain goats. Additionally, whale populations often traverse the waters. You may want to visit Glacier Bay sooner rather than later as its glaciers continue to recede.
Like many of the country’s parks, the Everglades are utterly unique in terms of typography and special features. Located in southern Florida, Everglades National Park encompasses over 1.5 million acres and is famous for its marine estuary and mangrove and rainforest landscapes. Visitors to the park can hike or explore many areas by boat. Take care, however, as this park is famously home to American crocodiles and Florida panthers.
The stunning Alaskan wilderness at Denali National Park is accessible year-round, but most visitors arrive mid-May through mid-September. The warmer summer months are perfect for hiking, skiing, and viewing wildlife, though less-experienced trekkers should stick to maintained trails and guided tours. Seasoned adventurers can explore the undeveloped backcountry for a more intimate experience with nature. If you're interested in seeing the Northern Lights, keep in mind that you'll have better luck in winter. Do your research and settle your accommodations and excursion before arriving.
Located on the main island, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park protects the Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes. Although parts of the park are closed due to eruptions and clouds of ash and gas, the site continues to attract visitors from all over the world thanks to its dramatic volcanic landscapes. If you can make your way to Hawaii, this World Heritage Site with its rare flora and fauna is a must-visit destination.
Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Shenandoah National Park encompasses 199,217 acres of picturesque forestlands. Particularly lovely in the fall, the park features miles of trails, including the Appalachian Trail. Highlights include views of the Shenandoah River cataracts, Hawksbill Mountain, and the Skyline Drive. The park contains various lodges and campgrounds popular with outdoor lovers from all over the country.
Voyageurs National Park is one of the country’s most unique protected lands. The park spans more than 200,000 acres, but much of it is lakes near the U.S.-Canada border. Visitors love to visit this enchanting park .named for the fur traders who once made their living in the region. The park not only contains waterways that are popular for kayaking and canoeing but also preserves the history of Native American peoples like the Objibwe.
Canyons, rock towers, and mesas are hallmarks of breathtaking Yosemite National Park. Situated on 147,237 acres, Yosemite boasts one of the country’s tallest waterfalls—Yosemite Falls—as well as other world-famous features like Half Dome and El Capitan. When visiting this majestic setting, expect to see stands of giant sequoia, tracts of true wilderness, and postcard-worthy meadows. This California Park is located in the state’s Central Sierra Nevada region and is home to miles of hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts as well as the historic Ahwahnee Hotel.
Gettysburg might be a small artsy town in Pennsylvania, but it's also the site of the most famous battle of the Civil War. The Gettysburg National Military Park preserves the renowned battlefield and similar sites to help tell the story of America's past and honor the deceased. Tour the old field hospital and railroad station where President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, and be sure to pay your respects at the National Cemetery.
Designated in 1996, this national park in southern Utah is so rugged and remote that it was the last part of the continental U.S. to be mapped out. It was designated at 1.88 million acres until 2017 when its size was reduced in half by presidential proclamation. The vast monument offers a variety of adventures, from breathtaking hiking trails, vast canyons, waterfall-fed pools, and even geologic and paleontologic sites for science-minded explorers.
Georgia's largest barrier isle, Cumberland Island, encompasses over 9,080 acres of government-designated wilderness and includes a landscape of beaches, vast marshes, and maritime forests with hiking trails. Equine lovers will want to see the horses that are as wild and rugged as the terrain they inhabit. There's plenty to do here, from hiking and swimming to camping and bike riding, it's worth a trip over on the ferry over to this majestic place.
One of the most remote national park areas in the U.S., this Alaskan national preserve protects a remnant of the Bering Land Bridge, 1,000 miles of wide grassland that connected North America with Asia during the Ice Age 13,000 years ago. Visit here and walk in the footsteps of the Vikings, who most archaeologists agree were the first humans to use this passage into North America. There are no roads into the preserve, but it can be accessed by snowmobile, boat, small plane, or foot. Once there, visitors can bird watch, hike, hunt for sport, view wildlife, and soak in the Serpentine Hot Springs. If camping isn't your thing, you can stay in one of five shelter cabins, some of which were left by Gold Miners.
One of the most magnificent national parks in the country, Idaho's Sawtooth National Recreation Area contains four mountain ranges, as well as the headwaters to four of the state's major rivers, 300 lakes, and 250 miles of trails, so there is plenty for nature lovers to do here! Explore the nature trails, wildlife viewing, canoeing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting while visiting one of the nation's largest national parks.
Home to the largest cacti in the U.S., Saguaro National Park in southern Arizona is divided into two sections on either side of Tucson. Established in 1994, the 92,000-acre park protects and preserves a giant saguaro cactus forest and welcomes visitors year-round. Hike the trails and take in the scenic desert views before resting your head at the park's campsite, which takes visitors on a first-come, first-serve basis. Visitors who can't score a camping spot can always stay in accommodations in nearby Tucson.