There is a saying that national parks were the best idea that the US ever had, and for good reason! Every year, more than 300 million visitors make their way to the US just to witness the grandeur of the national parks. With over 400 national park sites and 84 million acres reserved just for national parks, it’s hard to narrow down which ones you should visit first!
The best parks to visit in the US are:
- Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
- Death Valley National Park, CA
- Joshua Tree National Park, CA
- Yosemite National Park, CA
- Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Each of these parks offers some of the most scenic and beautiful landscapes found in the US. By the end of this guide, you’ll want to make sure to make time to visit all 5 on your next trip to the US!
1. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
The name certainly does not do this national park justice. Your breath will literally be taken away when you first lay eyes on the massive canyon that was cut out of the high Arizona desert over the last several millions of years.
The top of the Grand Canyon offers visitors shade among the pine trees that dot the rim of the canyon. Sheer cliff faces make the walls of the canyon look endless as they descend to the canyon floor below. Rapids from the mighty Colorado River crash endlessly against the massive rocks that have dropped into the bottom of the canyon.
It’s really no wonder why Arizona’s state nickname is the Grand Canyon State!
2. Death Valley National Park, CA
Next on the list is one of the most other worldly parks on this list. Death Valley National Park is one of the most alien landscapes in the US. The entire park basically looks like Mars due to the constant heat that rains down upon Death Valley every year. In fact, the hottest temperature ever recorded was in Death Valley at 134°F!
But hot temperatures aside, Death Valley has some of the most beautiful layers of rocks on this list. It’s almost too ironic that there are places like “Rainbow Canyon” that make it look like the rocks are melting ice cream!
Death Valley is also a land of vast contrasts. The bottom of Death Valley lies at 282’ below sea level, which is the lowest point in North America. But from the valley floor, you are able to see the top of Telescope Peak that towers over the valley at an elevation of 11,043’.
It is absolutely wild to be able to look up from the barren, dry valley floor at a peak covered in white snow!
3. Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Continuing on with desert parks is Joshua Tree National Park. If you are into rock climbing, Joshua Tree is a rock climbing hot spot. People from all over the world flock to Joshua Tree each year to climb the cheese grater like stone faces.
Camping is plentiful within the park as well as on BLM land outside of the park. If you’re not into camping, no worries! There are tons of Air BnBs near Joshua Tree that offer sweet desert vibe places to stay.
4. Yosemite National Park, CA
If you’re ready to get up into the mountains, it’s time to drive north of southern California to Yosemite National Park. If you thought that the depths of the Grand Canyon were breath taking, just wait until you drive through the valley floor of Yosemite.
Towering granite monoliths cast glistening water falls from their dizzying heights. If you want to get full enjoyment out of the park, be sure to book a permit early for backcountry camping! It’s wildly popular though, so be sure to book early.
And also go prepared! Emergencies happen while hiking in the backcountry of Yosemite. If you need to stay overnight unexpectedly and you don’t have your camping gear, it’ll be important that you learn how to survive overnight in the backcountry.
Be sure that you know how to start an emergency fire, collect food, and build a shelter. Shelter building is supremely important as it will keep you dry during the afternoon thunderstorms that regularly drench Yosemite. To learn more about shelter building, be sure to click here!
5. Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Leaving California, you’ll want to go east until you hit the Front Range of Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park is home to glacier formed valleys and towering peaks. Located only an hour north of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park is incredibly accessible.
You’ll definitely don’t want to miss driving over the highest paved road in the lower 48, Trail Ridge Road. Climbing out of the valley floors of the park, Trail Ridge Road ascends to an elevation of 12,183’! Don’t forget to hydrate when you visit the top of this road and be sure to be on the lookout for signs of altitude sickness! If you start feeling dizzy or you experience an unusually bad headache, it’s wise to go back down in altitude.
Thankfully, there are tons more things to see and do in the park if you’re not feeling well on Trail Ridge Road. One of the best times to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is during September and October. Elk flood the valley floors as the annual rut takes place. You’ll get to witness hundreds of elk swirl around the park as massive male elk belch their eerie scream into the pines and aspens that cover the valley floor. It truly is a sight to behold!
National parks are some of the best places to visit in the US. There is a park for just about everyone! From the hottest deserts to the tallest peaks, the American west is a truly beautiful place.
Don’t forget to bring your camera along to capture every moment of your trip. There’s nothing quite like being able to snap a picture of some of the most majestic wildlife in North America in their natural habitats. If you’re passionate about viewing wildlife, be sure to read more about some of the best destinations to view wildlife internationally!