15 Must-See National Parks Across the United States

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From the towering sequoias of California to the vast wilderness of Alaska, the United States is home to an array of stunning national parks. Each park, with its unique beauty and rich biodiversity, offers a distinct experience for nature enthusiasts. A 2022 YouGov survey gathered information from Americans about their visits to U.S. national parks and which ones they would suggest to others.

This article provides a concise guide to these top-rated U.S. national parks and their highlights.

Grand Canyon National Park

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84 % of U.S. adult citizens who have visited this park recommend it.

The Grand Canyon National Park, a top natural wonder, is one of America’s most visited parks. Measuring 277 river miles in length, around 18 miles in width, and one mile deep, the park’s vastness is genuinely awe-inspiring. Visitors can engage in activities like hiking, rafting, scenic rides, and learning about Native American culture.

Yellowstone National Park

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84 % of U.S. adult citizens who have visited this park recommend it.

Yellowstone National Park, known for its unique geological features like bubbling mud pots, colorful pools, steaming vents, and geysers, houses one of the world’s largest collections of thermal features. Spanning over two million acres, Yellowstone offers more than just thermal activity, with herds of bison visible from the park roadways and the sounds of wolves at night adding to the experience. This popular destination, home to diverse wildlife and natural wonders, attracts millions annually.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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82 % of U.S. adult citizens who have visited this park recommend it.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Big Island of Hawaii, offers a unique geological spectacle with its ever-changing landscapes, sulfurous steam, and orange lava. Visitors can explore the park’s trails, stay at the Volcano House on the caldera rim, and experience the park’s transformation by Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. Despite the disappearance of the molten lava cauldron after the 2018 Kilauea eruption, the park remains stunning with its new black sand beach and imposing crater.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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80 % of U.S. adults who have visited this park strongly recommend it.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, is a biodiversity hotspot with ancient forests, cascading waterfalls, and blue-hued peaks. The park, home to the renowned Appalachian Trail, offers hiking, camping, and cycling activities. It is a family favorite for its picturesque landscapes, especially when the foliage turns vibrant in the fall. Its fog-shrouded mountains, some of the oldest on Earth, offer a stunning display of colors in the fall.

Rocky Mountain National Park

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80 % of U.S. adult citizens who have visited this park recommend it.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, is home to 100 peaks over 10,000 feet, including the 14,259-foot Longs Peak, which offers stunning alpine scenery and diverse wildlife like bighorn sheep, moose, and elk. Located just 1.5 hours from Denver, the park is easily accessible and features jagged ridges, pristine lands, and over 300 miles of hiking trails. Visitors flock here for the outdoor activities, wildlife spotting, and the breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains.

Yosemite National Park

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79% of U.S. adults who have visited this park recommend it.

Yosemite National Park, one of the oldest and most visited in the U.S., is renowned for its iconic landmarks like Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. Spread over 1,200 square miles, the park offers stunning viewpoints, hiking trails, waterfalls, and ancient sequoias, with most sights in Yosemite Valley. Open year-round, the park is spectacular in spring when the waterfalls are in full flow.

Sequoia National Park

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78% of U.S. adults who have visited this park recommend it.

Sequoia National Park, located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, is a diverse landscape with elevations from 1,300 to 14,500 feet, featuring rolling foothills, deep canyons, and giant sequoias, including the world’s largest tree, General Sherman. Established as the second U.S. national park in 1890 to protect the sequoias from logging, it’s connected to Kings Canyon National Park by a scenic 50-mile byway. This off-the-beaten-path park, enjoyable year-round, offers various activities like biking, driving, climbing, skiing, and horseback riding.

Redwood National Park

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76% of U.S. adults who have visited this park recommend it.

Redwood National and State Parks, located along U.S. Highway 101, are home to the world’s tallest trees, with some rising over 300 feet. The parks offer quiet trails through coastal forests, where visitors can encounter giant ferns, clear streams, and record-setting conifers like the 380-foot-tall Hyperion. Easily accessible via Humboldt County Airport, this park provides a unique opportunity to explore California’s spectacular redwood forests.

Zion National Park

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76% of U.S. adults who have visited this park recommend it.

Zion National Park in Utah offers a unique and diverse landscape with its sheer cliff walls, narrow canyons, enormous waterfalls, and the Virgin River. The park is known for its hiking trails, including the famous Angel’s Landing. While Zion is a hub for canyoneering and climbing, its accessible trails make it a family-friendly destination.

Bryce Canyon National Park

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75% of U.S. adults who have visited this park recommend it.

Bryce Canyon National Park, known for the world’s largest collection of hoodoos, offers incredible views along an 18-mile scenic highway and through its hiking trails. The park, the second most-visited in Utah, provides a unique experience of wandering through a maze of these tall, thin rock formations. With its high elevation, the park is perfect for stargazing, making camping here a fantastic experience, especially under the clear night skies of this International Dark Sky Park.

Grand Teton National Park

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74% of U.S. adults who have visited this park recommend it.

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, known for its striking Teton Range and alpine scenery, offers exceptional hiking, fishing, and boating on the Snake River. The park, an outdoor lover’s paradise, is easily accessible via Jackson Hole Airport and offers a range of activities, including mountaineering, camping, and winter sports. With its jagged peaks, alpine lakes, lush valleys, and diverse wildlife, it’s a must-visit, especially when combined with a trip to Yellowstone.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

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73% of U.S. adults who have visited this park recommend it.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the Guadalupe Mountains of southeast New Mexico. It is renowned for its show cave, Carlsbad Cavern, and the largest limestone chamber in North America, the Big Room. Established as a national park in 1930 and designated a World Heritage Site in 1995, it’s globally known for being one of the most accessible and best-preserved cave complexes. The park, home to over 120 limestone caves and unique speleothems, offers incredible natural beauty and exceptional geologic features and is a significant site for scientific study.

Mount Rainier National Park

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73% of U.S. adults who have visited this park recommend it.

Mount Rainier, rising to 14,410 feet, is an active volcano and the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S., serving as a notable landmark in Washington’s landscape. The park, abundant with wildlife, features subalpine wildflower meadows, ancient forests, and five major rivers originating from the icy volcano. Best visited in summer and early fall, the park offers open roads, snow-free hiking trails, and warm, dry weather.

Shenandoah National Park

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73% of U.S. adults who have visited this park recommend it.

Shenandoah National Park, a serene escape 75 miles from Washington, D.C., offers cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, and over 200,000 acres of protected lands teeming with wildlife. The park’s highlights include Skyline Drive, a National Historic Landmark and Scenic Byway that stretches 105 miles along the mountain ridge, and over 500 miles of trails, including a section of the famous Appalachian Trail. With activities like horseback riding, camping, bicycling, and numerous waterfalls to explore, Shenandoah is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

Mesa Verde National Park

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72% of U.S. adults who have visited this park recommend it.

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, offers a unique glimpse into America’s past with its spectacular cliff dwellings, some over 700 years old, and 5,000 protected archaeological sites. Set on a high plateau, it’s easily accessible for day trips from Durango or Cortez and is home to the rich cultural heritage of 26 Pueblos and Tribes. This World Heritage Site and International Dark Sky Park offers a window into the thriving communities of the Ancestral Pueblo people. It is home to a diverse range of species.