The Top National Parks in the USA

The Top 10 National Parks in the USA

As avid travelers, we have visited many countries and seen some of the most remote places in the world. While there is something exotic about traveling to places like Thailand, Nepal, France, Italy, and the Caribbean islands, we often overlook the great things right in our backyard, like the national parks in the USA.

That changed in 2012 when we started exploring a lot of the West Coast. We continued exploring, and in December of 2015, we quit our jobs to travel the world. Then, we kicked it off with a 3-month road trip from San Francisco to Banff, Canada to Florida, and finishing in New York.

We traveled 13,000 miles, to 21 US states, and two Canadian provinces, and hit as many National Parks as we could. During our travels, we saw mountains, bears, waterfalls, bison, redwood trees, canyons, gorges, wolves, rainforests, swamps, islands, beaches, snow, geysers, hoodoos, and so much more.

With everything we saw, we came to the same conclusion – the United States has some excellent National Parks. With 63 National Parks, there are many to explore year-round that provide a wide array of activities and incredible things to see.

Check out our top 10 favorite national parks in the USA to explore to help you plan a future road trip!

Content and photographs provided by Yana Kogan and Timon.

Our Picks for Top US National Parks

1. Zion National Park, Utah

Top 10 National Parks in USA: Zion Subwayhike
Subway hike at Zion NP

About the park

This stunning park outrivals most with its endless beauty and it is one of the best national parks in the USA, in our humble opinion. The red rock cliffs are dramatic, with powerful rivers cutting through gorgeous valleys. The canyon scenic drive here is top-notch, but most come for the famous hikes.

The “Big 3” hikes of Zion are to be taken seriously, such as hiking on tiny ledges with jaw-dropping cliffs on both sides (Angels Landing), traversing through waist-deep waters (The Narrows), or repelling down into watering holes within a stunning canyon (The Subway).

Top Sights

  • Angels Landing hike
  • The Subway Tunnel hike
  • The Narrows hike
  • Zion Canyon scenic drive

Best Time to Visit

Some activities may be closed in the winter; however, the park does not shut down. Depending on snowfall, the off-season is a great time to explore this park, with much fewer visitors and you can escape the summer heat.

The Subway hike (from the bottom up), Angels Landing, and the scenic drive can all be done in the winter, but be aware of weather conditions. Ice in Subway and Angels Landing can make these hikes dangerous. The Narrows can only be done during the summer and fall.


2. Yosemite National Park, California

Top US National Parks: The Valley, Yosemite
Subway hike at Zion NP

About the Park

One of the most impressive and popular parks, Yosemite has it all. From incredible mountains to a valley with world-famous landmarks, Half Dome and El Capitan, Yosemite is packed with sights to explore.

This park is also home to some of the world’s biggest trees, stunning alpine lakes, waterfalls, and some of the best hikes in the Sierra Nevada range. Yosemite also has endless trails to explore and is great for backcountry camping.

Top Sights

  • Half Dome
  • El Capitan
  • Mariposa Grove
  • Yosemite Falls

Best Time to Visit

Highway 120 (Tioga Road) through Yosemite is typically closed from November through May, so plan trips accordingly. You can, however, cross-country ski, snowshoe, and ice skate in the valley throughout the winter months.

Hiking and exploring are best in the late summer and fall. Try to avoid major holiday weekends in the summer since there is only one road and traffic moves very slowly.


3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

Top 10 National Parks in USA: Hot Springs, Yellowstone
Hot Springs in Yellowstone NP

About the Park

Widely regarded as the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone is known for its abundance of wildlife and volcanic activity. There are many active geothermal areas, including the famous Old Faithful Geyser, mud pots, sulfuric lakes, and hot springs.

Camping and hiking are plentiful, with the possibility to encounter some of the wildlife, including grizzly bears, bison, wolves, fox, bighorn sheep, and elk.

Top Sights

  • Old Faithful Geyser
  • Norris Basin
  • Grand Prismatic Spring
  • Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Lamar Valley

Best Time to Visit

The roads through the park, with the exception of the North entrance from Gardiner to the Northeast entrance through the Lamar Valley, are all closed in the winter. Exploring this park is best from May through September; however, winter still brings in lots of tourists.

Winter activities include a scenic drive through the Lamar Valley, soaking in the Mammoth Hot Springs, and racing around the park on a snowmobile tour in West Yellowstone.


4. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Beautiful National Parks in the US: Queens Garden Trail
Queens Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP

About the Park

Boasting some of the most unique scenery, Bryce Canyon is filled with amphitheaters of giant hoodoos (a hoodoo is a tall, thin spire of rock). The sunrise is out of this world, and a hike through the hoodoos is a must. Get up close and personal to these strange rock formations that are seen rarely anywhere else.

This park is a photographer’s favorite and offers easy hiking trails for everyone.

Top Sights

  • Sunrise Point
  • Sunset Point
  • Rim Trail
  • Queens Garden Trail

Best Time to Visit

Depending on the snow, Bryce can still be explored in the winter. In fact, some of the best pictures are with the contrast of red rock and white snow. Yet, due to its location and high elevation, temperatures get very low at Bryce Canyon in the winter.

Most visit the park during the summer, but the off-season at this park is the best time to come because of the low number of visitors.


5. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Best National Parks in USA: The Moat, Dry Tortugas
The Moat at Dry Tortugas NP

About the Park

The most remote park in the United States, Dry Tortugas is also the most expensive. Accessible by ferry or seaplane, Dry Tortugas is composed of several mostly uninhabited islands 70 miles southwest of Key West.

The main draw here is Fort Jefferson, one of the largest all-brick forts in the world. While most come for a day trip (4-hour visit), the best way to experience this park is by taking advantage of the beachside campsites.

Top Sights

  • Fort Jefferson
  • Loggerhead Key
  • Fishing
  • Kayaking

Best Time to Visit

The park is open year-round but the summer is the low season due to high temperatures and hurricane season. You’ll want to book far ahead during the winter.

If you plan on camping, the boat only takes on 10 campers per day and sells out several weeks in advance. If no sites are available, do not get discouraged. Keep calling the reservation center and spots may open up.


6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Best National Parks in USA: Grand Canyon
View from the rim at Grand Canyon NP

About the Park

The Grand Canyon may be the most widely recognized park in the world. The world’s largest canyon is so vast it could take weeks, if not months, to fully explore.

Most come for the viewpoints alone, but we recommend setting off on a hike in the Grand Canyon. Even a short hike can give you an amazing perspective. For the experienced hiker, set out on the rim to rim hike. This epic 24-mile hike descends and ascends a total of 10,500 feet.

Top Sights

  • Mather Point
  • Rim Trail
  • North Kaibab Trail
  • Bright Angel Trail

Best Time to Visit

Due to snowfall, hiking is seasonal between May and November. Come during the spring and fall when temperatures are reasonable.


7. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Top 10 National Parks in USA: Emory Peak
Summit of Emory Peak

About the Park

Big Bend‘s stunning scenery is a surprise to many visitors. It is home to scenic drives, beautiful canyons, and excellent mountain hikes.

Other activities include soaking in natural hot springs, enjoying world-class stargazing opportunities (it is one of five National Parks recognized as Dark Sky), and even a potential stop in Mexico for lunch.

Top Sights

  • Emory Peak
  • Santa Elena Canyon
  • Hot Springs Historic District
  • South Rim Trail

Best Time to Visit

This park is open year-round and is best to visit during the winter months. Due to high summer temperatures, hiking and outdoor activities can be challenging.

Spring and Fall is the best time to explore this park. However, if you can handle the cold nights, come between the months of November and February for some solitude.


8. Olympic National Park, Washington

Beautiful National Parks in the US: Hoh Rainforest
Hoh Rainforest in Olympic NP

About the Park

This park in Northwest Washington is just a couple of hours’ drive from Seattle. The Olympic Peninsula has several different ecosystems, making this one of the most diverse parks.

With dramatic mountain peaks, old-growth forests, a rugged coastline, and one of the largest temperate rainforests in the US, Olympic National Park has so much to explore.

Top Sights

  • Hoh Rainforest
  • Cape Flattery
  • Hurricane Ridge
  • Sol Duc Falls

Best Time to Visit

Olympic can be visited year-round, but snowfall can shut down most of the alpine region in the winter months. The best time to visit is between May and October to escape the cold winter nights.


9. Denali National Park, Alaska

Best National Parks in USA: Denali National Park
Denali National Park, Photographer: Steven M. Mair

About the Park

Want to get out to the real outdoors? Getting away doesn’t get further than Alaska, and Denali is the main attraction in a state that hosts eight National Parks.

The park is centered around Denali (previously known as Mount McKinley), which is the tallest peak in North America at 20,310 feet. With tundra areas filled with glaciers, old-growth forests, and rivers cutting through lush valleys, Denali is a haven for wilderness enthusiasts.

The park is home to dense concentrations of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, sheep, caribou, and moose. Some of the common activities include mountain biking, backpacking, mountain climbing, and day hiking.

Top Sights

  • River rafting
  • Denali park road – bike our bus tours
  • Flight tours
  • Savage River

Best Time to Visit

Come between late spring and early fall when the park is accessible and the harsh winter conditions come to a halt. The bus system in Denali is typically open from mid-May to mid-September. 

Mount Denali is typically covered in clouds and only visible about 20% of the year, but visibility is best in May/June.


10. Glacier National Park, Montana

Top US National Parks: Lake Mcdonald
Lake McDonald, Glacier NP

About the Park:

With some of the most stunning mountains in the US, gorgeous alpine lakes, and endless backcountry opportunities, Glacier undoubtedly has a spot on this list. Just south of the Canadian border, the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is widely regarded as one of the most scenic roads in the world.

There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails, making this a top choice for backpackers and campers.

Top Sights

  • Going-to-the-Sun Road
  • Logan Pass
  • Iceberg Lake Trail
  • Lake McDonald
  • Hidden Lake
  • Grinnell Glacier

Best Time to Visit

Nearly off-limits in the winter besides cross-country and snowshoe opportunities, come during the summer to best explore this park and its amazing hiking trails.


Honorable Mentions

  • Acadia National Park, Maine
  • Arches National Park, Utah
  • Canyonlands National Park, Utah
  • Cascade National Park, Washington
  • Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
  • Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Most Underrated National Parks

Best National Parks in USA: Saguaro
Sunset at Saguaro NP
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
  • Channel Islands National Park, California
  • Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
  • Lassen National Park National Park, Colorado
  • Saguaro National Park, Arizona
  • Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands
Top US National Parks: Lassen National Park
Lassen National Park, California

What are you waiting for? Get out and explore the National Parks in the USA!


Preparing for a road trip in the USA? Check out our favorite travel guides!


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