Best National Parks to Visit
"America the Beautiful," the song says, and the country truly deserves the nickname with its national parks. Spanning vast lands that protect mountain ranges, valleys, canyons, volcanoes, rivers, prairies and more, all 63 national parks are worth visiting.
But for those of us who don’t have time to visit each one, here are the top 13 national parks in the U.S. so you can start thinking about your next outdoor adventure.
13. Acadia National Park
Year incorporated: 1929
Number of Visitors: 3.97 million
Iconic animals: Whales, seals, birds of prey
*Visitor numbers are from 2022 National Park Service data.
Best Things to Do: Acadia
- Go fishing or boating in Jordan Lake.
- See waves crashing loudly against rocks at Thunder Hole.
- Get views of the Main shoreline at Cadillac Mountain.
Bottom Line: Acadia
Acadia is an accessible wonderland on the coast of Maine.
Most of the activities here revolve around water — whether it's hiking to peaks to get a view of the Atlantic Ocean, trying your luck at whale watching during migration seasons, or swimming, boating and fishing in the park's many lakes.
This park remains one of Maine's most famous attractions and is gorgeous at any time of year, though visitors tend to prefer the fall, when the Acadia forest turns red and provides a striking contrast to the ocean.
Tripadvisor Review of Acadia
"Must see!!! This is a location not to miss! Can’t say enough about the beauty of it. My heart is still in Acadia I believe!" —Lisa G
12. Olympic National Park
Year incorporated: 1938
Number of Visitors: 2.43 million
Iconic animals: Elk, black bear, grey whale, cougar, bald eagle
Best Things to Do: Olympic National Park
- Climb to the peak of Mount Olympus, the park's highest point.
- Trek through Hoh Rain Forest.
- Walk along the cold shores of Ruby Beach.
Bottom Line: Olympic National Park
This incredibly diverse national park is one of the jewels of Washington State. In almost one million acres, the park encompasses a rocky coastline where you can see gray whales migrating, glacier mountains, rain forests and more.
Olympic National Park is so big that it often feels like five national parks wrapped up in one. The park is conveniently located close to Seattle, so it's pretty easy to access.
Tripadvisor Review of Olympic National Park
"Gorgeous mountain views everywhere you looked and beautiful wildflowers. We saw black-tailed deer, marmots, chipmunks and Canada Jays." —MontpelierHeidi
11. Rocky Mountain National Park
Year incorporated: 1915
Number of Visitors: 4.3 million
Iconic animals: Moose, mountain goat, elk, bighorn sheep
Best Things to Do: Rocky Mountain
- Drive along Trail Ridge Road.
- Hike around Bear Lake.
- See the beautiful Chapel on the Rock.
Bottom Line: Rocky Mountain
Aspen trees, rugged mountains and alpine tundra make the landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park something special.
The protected land sits along the continental divide and, as its name suggests, is distinctive because of the harsh, rocky surfaces of its mountains.
While Colorado is known for its effortless natural beauty, Rocky Mountain may be the state's most gorgeous place.
Tripadvisor Review of Rocky Mountain
"This is an amazing park, with beautiful views! ... We saw lots of animals in several different areas!" —cooker72
10. Yosemite National Park
Year incorporated: 1890
Number of visitors: 3.67 million
Iconic animals: Black bear, bighorn sheep, mountain lion
Best Things to Do: Yosemite
- See giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove.
- Hike to the summit of Half Dome. (Permit needed.)
- Visit Yosemite Falls.
Bottom Line: Yosemite
Yosemite is one of the oldest and most well-known national parks in the U.S. Its breathtaking landscape is made up of granite formations like the famous El Capitan and Half Dome formations.
The park brings in millions of visitors with its tall mountains, powerful waterfalls and incredible giant sequoias, which are the largest single-unit organism by volume in the world.
Tripadvisor Review of Yosemite
"Perfect mountain get away, Yosemite NP never disappoints.... book well in advance, bring your bikes, don’t approach the wildlife and just relax." — passion to travel
9. Bryce Canyon National Park
Year incorporated: 1928
Number of Visitors: 2.35 million
Iconic animals: Rocky Mountain elk, prairie dog, pronghorn
Best Things to Do: Bryce Canyon
- Hike the Rim Trail.
- Watch a sunset over Sunset Point.
- Do a horseback ride to Bryce Amphitheater.
Bottom Line: Bryce Canyon
Sharp drops and deep valleys make up the panorama of Bryce Canyon.
Its spiral clay-colored hoodoos make it a one-of-a-kind place and give it an otherworldly look that makes for incredible pictures and memories.
The park was once unappreciated because of its arid landscape but is now recognized for its uniqueness.
Tripadvisor Review of Bryce Canyon
"A truly magical national park, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of my all-time faves. The towering hoodoo rock formations awash in bright splashes of brilliant, sunny colors will take your breath away." — Erick Tseng
8. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: Tennessee and North Carolina
Year incorporated: 1934
Number of Visitors: 12.94 million
Iconic animal: Coyote, bobcat, elk
Best Things to Do: Great Smoky Mountains
- Hike part of the Appalachian Trail.
- Climb to the top of Clingmans Dome.
- Swim at Abrams Falls.
Bottom Line: Great Smoky Mountains
Hundreds of miles of trails, numerous waterfalls, rivers and caves make Great Smoky Mountains National Park incredibly popular. So much so that it was the most visited national park in 2022.
Besides enjoying nature, the park also has 90 historic pioneer buildings within its land, which you can visit for a fun experience.
Tripadvisor Review of the Great Smoky Mountains
"The beautiful scenery!! The waterfalls were awesome and the old homeplaces were really interesting!!" —Betty D
7. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Location: Big Island, Hawaii
Year incorporated: 1916
Number of Visitors: 1.58 million
Iconic animals: Hawksbill turtle, nene (Hawaiian goose)
Best Things to Do: Hawaii Volcanoes
- See the Halemaumau crater within the Kilauea volcano caldera.
- Hike Kilauea Iki crater trail.
- Walk through the Thurston Lava Tube cave.
Bottom Line: Hawaii Volcanoes
No other place in the U.S. offers you the chance to visit two active volcanoes and stare at hot lava.
The park’s main attractions are its Manua Loa and Kilauea volcanoes, which are among the most active in the entire world. This makes for an incredibly interesting landscape that is constantly changing — you never step into the same Hawaii Volcanoes National Park twice.
Just one word of advice: Prepare to go with the (literal) flow, as your plans may change depending on when and where lava decides to go.
Tripadvisor review of Hawaii Volcanoes
"Wow just wow. The whole time I was just in awe." —Byron S
6. Glacier National Park
Year incorporated: 1910
Number of Visitors: 2.91 million
Iconic animals: Grizzly bear, moose, wolverine, lynx, wolf, bighorn sheep
Best Things to Do: Glacier National Park
- Hike the Grinnell Glacier Trail.
- Bike the trails along Lake McDonald.
- Drive along the Going-to-the-Sun Road to see many of the park's most iconic features.
Bottom Line: Glacier National Park
With more than 700 lakes, two mountain ranges and 25 remaining glaciers, the appropriately named Glacier National Park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the U.S.
You’ll have hundreds of miles of trails that you can walk or bike, and several bodies of water to traverse by boat, canoe or kayak.
Tripadvisor review of Glacier National Park
"A must do when in the Western United States. This is the type of experience that could transform your child into a naturalist for the rest of their lives." —Cakes77
5. Yellowstone National Park
Location: Wyoming, Montana and Idaho
Year incorporated: 1872
Number of Visitors: 3.29 million
Iconic animal: Bison, wolf, otter, moose
Best Thing to Do: Yellowstone
- See the Old Faithful geyser erupt.
- Witness the majesty of the Grand Prismatic Spring.
- Drive through Lamar Valley to see bisons.
Bottom Line: Yellowstone
Yellowstone is not just the first official national park in the U.S., but also in the entire world. Anyone who visits immediately understands why this land prompted lawmakers to try to protect it.
With geysers that shoot up boiling water, some of the planet’s largest and most colorful natural springs, canyons, lakes and valleys where wild bison roam freely, it is truly a wondrous place.
Tripadvisor Review of Yellowstone
"Wow! This is a must see and do for everyone. What an amazing place. Full of animals, nature and science. Can’t say enough." —PJliketotravel
4. Denali National Park and Preserve
Year incorporated: 1917
Number of Visitors: 427,562
Iconic animal: Caribou, wolf, grizzly bear, Dall sheep, moose
Best Things to Do: Denali
- Fly above the snow-peaked mountains on a helicopter tour.
- Go whitewater rafting in Nenana River.
- See the northern lights.
Bottom Line: Denali
Due to its remoteness, Denali National Park and Preserve does not get as many visitors as other parks. But that just means that you get the vast expanse of this protected land mostly to yourself.
The park is larger than all of Massachusetts and is home to Mount McKinley, or Denali, which is the highest peak in all of North America.
With pristine ponds, glaciers, tundras, and forests, along with wildlife like caribou and grizzly bears, the park is perfect for a rugged adventure.
Tripadvisor Review of Denali
"Majestic wilderness park where you can actually see a grizzly bear, moose, and all sorts of other wildlife." —Jonathan S
3. Zion National Park
Year incorporated: 1919
Number of Visitors: 4.69 million
Iconic animal: Bighorn sheep, mule deer, kangaroo rat
Best Things to Do: Zion
- Hike through the Narrows, the slimmest part of Zion Canyon.
- Ride along the 57-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
- Get sweeping views of the park at Observation Point.
Bottom Line: Zion
Rising sandstone formations contrast the deep canyons at Zion National Park. The result is a somewhat menacing, yet enticing scenery that appeals to outdoors enthusiasts willing to work for spectacular experiences.
The soft orange of the cliffs is complemented by blue rivers and the Emerald Pools, whose hanging garden also brings a splash of green to the terrain.
Tripadvisor Review of Zion
"This is a must visit. It is beautiful. There are times on hikes when you look out and it doesn't even look real." —c22hubb
2. Grand Canyon National Park
Year incorporated: 1919
Number of Visitors: 4.73 million
Iconic animal: Condor, rattlesnake, bighorn sheep, coyote, mule deer
Best Things to Do: Grand Canyon
- Raft along the Colorado River.
- Hike to the famous Havasu Falls.
- Take a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon.
Bottom Line: Grand Canyon
Millions of years ago, the Colorado River carved the magnificent Grand Canyon as an unintended gift to humanity.
One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the park is gigantic and can be explored in various ways. Visitors take to the skies on helicopter tours, ride a train through it, hop on mules to explore its deep valleys, raft along its river, mountain bike its trails and, of course, simply walk it.
However you choose to see it, the Grand Canyon will blow your mind.
Tripadvisor Review of the Grand Canyon
"As with all things so grand and beautiful there are no words to adequately depict or represent the vastness or beauty. The canyon is utterly amazing." —Mommyof4greatkids
1. Grand Teton National Park
Year incorporated: 1929
Number of Visitors: 2.81 million
Iconic animal: Elk, bison, black bear, cougar, pronghorn
Best Things to Do: Grand Teton
- Climb the Signal Mountain Summit Road for sweeping views of the Tetons and Jackson Hole Valley.
- Canoe or kayak in Jenny Lake.
- Drive through the 42-mile Scenic Loop Drive.
Bottom Line: Grand Teton
Grand Teton National Park is the best out of all 63 national parks in the U.S., and we don’t think anyone is wondering why.
Marked by the cold gray peaks of the Teton Range and crossed by the winding Snake River, this national park offers astonishingly jagged views at every point.
Visit in the summer and early fall to partake in a range of water sports.
Tripadvisor Review of Grand Teton
"One of the best parks ever! Lots of wildlife and scenery is awesome! Make sure to find some great pics of the Tetons, just awesome scenery. Mormon row seems to be the best spot we found to take photos, but many exist in the park. Park is huge but worth it!" —Kdawg282