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10 U.S. National Parks You Need To Explore Before You Die

The National Parks Service has spent 100 years protecting and preserving our country’s most precious natural and cultural resources. They’ve given a gift to every American and visitors from all over the world. It’s a vital part of what makes the United States a wonderful place for exploration, but with 58 national parks and 117 national monuments, deciding where to visit on your next epic road trip can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of the top ten national parks to visit before you die and even given you a few tips on where to start once you get there. It’s a lot to see in just one lifetime…start making your plans now!

1. Acadia National Park

Location: Maine | Must-do’s: The Beehive Trail | Cadillac Mountain | Otter Point
Hike The Beehive Trail | Photo: Austin Hodges
Explore Cadillac Mountain | Photo: Chris Mongeau
Explore Otter Point | Photo: Tate Yoder
By far the most popular national park in the Northeast, Acadia provides a diverse range of landscape and terrain. Here you’ll be able to explore mountains, shoreline, woodlands and lakes. If you’re an early riser, Acadia also offers an incredible sunrise that you’ll only be able to find here in Maine, where America starts its day.

2. Zion National Park

Location: Utah | Must-do’s: Angels Landing | The Narrows | The Subway
Hike Angels Landing At Night | Photo: Derrick Lytle
Explore The Narrows | Photo: Scott Kranz
Explore The Subway Top-Down | Photo: Scott Kranz
Once you enter the park, you’ll find yourself surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs, desert wildlife, and babbling brooks. The summer months bring hoards of visitors along with scorching temperatures so it may be best to visit during the spring or fall for the best conditions (AKA go now!).

3. Shenandoah National Park

Location: Virginia | Must-do’s: Backpack Rocky Mount Trail | Hike To Blackrock Summit | Hike Bearfence Mountain
Backpack Rocky Mount Trail | Photo: Christin Healey
Hike To Blackrock Summit | Photo: Sarah Giek
Hike Bearfence Mountain | Photo: Christin Healey
Just a short drive from Washington D.C. lies Shenandoah National Park. Spanning across a portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you’ll be sure to find beautiful waterfalls, serene wooded trials, and incredible views. Escape the hustle and bustle and find some adventure, right in the backyard of our nation’s capitol!

4. Grand Teton National Park

Location: Wyoming | Must-do’s: Death Canyon | Paintbrush Canyon | Explore Jenny Lake
Backpack Death Canyon | Photo: Kathleen Morton
Backpack Paintbrush Canyon | Photo: Rob Witt
Explore Jenny Lake | Photo: Daniel Brittain
Just a stone’s throw away from Jackson, WY, one of America’s best towns for outdoor sport, lies Grand Teton National Park. Named after its tallest peak, the park boasts dramatic views and offers a plethora of activity throughout. You’ll find some decent sized crowds here, but backcountry camping is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the park.

5. Yosemite National Park

Location: California | Must-do’s: Sentinel Dome | Cathedral Lake | Half Dome
Backpack Sentinel Dome | Photo: Kyle Frost
Backpack Cathedral Lakes | Photo: Addison Klinke
Backpack To Little Yosemite Valley And Hike Half Dome | Photo: Eddie Jo
Start your visit by checking out the jaw dropping cliffs in Yosemite Valley, a seven square mile area where most of the park’s visitors spend their time. After that, explore the remainder of the park, over 1,000 square miles where you’re sure to find seclusion.

6. Glacier National Park

Location: Montana | Must-do’s: Hidden Lake | Mt. Oberlin | Highline Trail
Hike To Hidden Lake | Photo: Greg Owens
Hike And Climb Mt. Oberlin | Photo: Bo Baumgartner
Hike The Highline Trail | Photo: Kayla Bobzien
Untouched forests, alpine meadows, jagged mountains, and spectacular lakes make up one of America’s largest national parks. Although Glacier is also a rather popular park, you’ll find great solitude exploring some of the parks 700 miles of hiking trails.

7. Denali National Park & Preserve

Location: Alaska | Must-do’s: McKinley Bar Trail | Wonder Lake | Horseshoe Lake
Hike The McKinley Bar Trail | Photo: Lorene Voskinarian
Camp At Wonder Lake | Photo: Lorene Voskinarian
Hike To Horseshoe Lake | Photo: Austin Marlia
This park is massive and there is no way you’ll be able to see it in one trip. Hell, it’s difficult to see the whole thing in a lifetime. That being said, visiting the nation’s third largest national park will keep you busy, only yearning for more when you leave. The park is also home to grizzly bears, caribou, moose, and surrounds North America’s highest peak.

8. Olympic National Park

Location: Washington | Must-do’s: Hurricane Hill | Mt. Ellinor | Hall Of Mosses
Hike Hurricane Hill | Photo: Michael Matti
Summit Mount Ellinor | Photo: Nick Lake
Explore The Hall Of Mosses | Photo: Jeff Richards
Just a two hour drive from Seattle, Olympic National Park has it all. With mountains, coastline and even it’s own rainforest, there is something for everyone. As an added bonus, Mt. Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park are within driving distance; just in case you want to extend your trip or add another pin to your pack!

9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Location: Tennessee & North Carolina | Must-do’s: Chimney Tops | Charlie’s Bunion | Mt. LeConte
Hike The Chimney Tops | Photo: Mason Boring
Hike To Charlie’s Bunion | Photo: Tiffany Edmiston
Hike Mt. LeConte | Photo: Bradley Burgess
You won’t find many national parks that straddle two states. With over 10 million annual visitors in 2014, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is by far the most visited park in the country. Don’t let that damper your spirits, though, this park has loads of trails and exciting terrain that will help you find peace amongst the occasional crowd.

10. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Location: Hawai’i | Must-do’s: Hike the Kilauea’iki Trail
Hike The Kilauea’iki Trail | Photos: Jessica Dales
It just wouldn’t be right to forget about Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. There are simply no other parks like it in the country. The park is home to two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa being the world’s largest. Here you can find lava flows, tubes and glowing craters!
Cover Photo: Scott Kranz
Don’t see your favorite national park adventure on The Outbound? Show us by creating an adventure.
Remember to always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and be sure to brush up on LNT principles for backcountry fires as well.

The must-see national parks in the United States feature some of the most inspiring views you’ll find anywhere on the planet. Now it’s time to set your gaze upon 16 incredible U.S. National Parks that everyone must visit before shuffling off this mortal coil.

Our top must-see national parks in the U.S. are:

  1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
  2. Glacier National Park, Montana
  3. Yosemite National Park, California
  4. Denali National Park, Alaska
  5. Mount Rainer National Park, Washington
  6. Zion National Park, Utah
  7. Cumberland Gap National Park, Kentucky
  8. Badlands National Park, South Dakota
  9. Acadia National Park, Maine
  10. Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Nebraska
  11. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
  12. Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
  13. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
  14. Devils Tower, Wyoming
  15. Everglades National Park, Florida
  16. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

1. Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona

President Teddy Roosevelt once said the Grand Canyon is “the one great sight which every American should see,” and it’s hard to argue with him. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was forged by the Colorado River carving through this portion of Arizona that’s just a 3 ½-hour drive north of Phoenix. Not a bad spot in the area to take an epic photo.

2. Glacier National Park – Montana

With a name like Glacier National Park, you’d expect to see some actual glaciers. And you can still see some within the area. But you have to act fast to see them as ecologists estimate they’ll be reduced to a trickle by 2020.

While that’s a sad fact of climate change, the area has no shortage of spectacular views like Lake McDonald, the largest body of water in the park. Don’t miss your chance to see this natural wonder, with flights to Montana as low as $102!

3. Yosemite National Park – California

Towering sequoia trees, Glacier Point, Half Dome, and the Yosemite Falls make Yosemite National Park worth the drive from San Francisco and all other points in California. But sometimes you just want to sit near the water and soak in the granite monoliths that Mother Nature was kind enough to put up for us.

4. Denali National Park – Alaska

Any trip to Anchorage must include a stop at Denali National Park. Denali is a great winter destination for some cross-country skiing and things you never thought to try, like dog-sledding. It’s also picturesque, and a bit soggy, during the summer season. But to see Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, is an once-in-a-lifetime moment everyone should experience.

Read more: America’s most dangerous road trips

5. Mount Rainier National Park – Washington

Never has sightseeing around a volcano been so beautiful. Mount Rainier cuts a memorable image when you look at the Seattle skyline. But sometimes when you’re at the park you won’t see it at all, thanks to cloud banks that can hide it for days and weeks at a time.

The best looks at this Decade Volcano is in the area called Paradise, where meadows full of wildflowers, large snowfalls, and views of Mount Rainier come together beautifully.

6. Zion National Park – Utah

For those looking to get lost in unique plant life, wild creatures, and massive sandstone cliffs, then you’ll want to visit Zion National Park. Just a couple hours away from Las Vegas, this park is a hiker’s paradise. Just hiking along the Virgin River in a slot canyon that’s 2,000 feet deep ranks among the best journeys available in a national park today.

7. Cumberland Gap National Park – Kentucky

Native Americans, buffalo, and pioneers have all made their way west through this stretch of Kentucky wilderness. Modern travelers get spoiled with hiking trails and awe-inspiring scenery that enhances 20,000-plus acres of this lush national park.

8. Badlands National Park – South Dakota

The rugged beauty of the eroded buttes is so striking that people from all over the world come just to see them. But there’s much more to the park with bison, bighorn sheep and black-footed ferrets inhabiting the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the country.

9. Acadia National Park – Maine

You can see a sunrise anywhere, but there’s just something about coming to the eastern tip of the United States to get the day started. From early October to early March, Acadia National park is the first place in the US to see the rising sun. And the best spot to experience daybreak in the area is at the summit of Cadillac Mountain, pictured above.

10. Chimney Rock National Historic Site – Nebraska

It was a long, hard road to travel for immigrants heading to all points west. Yet they all knew they were going the right way the moment they saw Chimney Rock.

Many people actually climbed up to the 326-foot high, needle-shaped formation and carved their names into the soft sandstone. It served as a notice to travelers that the mountains were right around the corner for them.

Read more: America’s best small towns

11. Crater Lake National Park – Oregon

It took a volcano to erupt, collapse upon itself and create a caldera in southern Oregon’s Cascade Mountains to create one of the coolest places in the world. Watchman Peak is the place to go for an amazing picture of the area. It’s a three-quarter mile hike to the peak, so make you stretch before you head out to the trail.

12. Great Smoky Mountains – Tennessee, North Carolina

You could go to nearby Dollywood for some fun, but the Great Smoky Mountains are a sight to behold all by itself. Take a hike up to the summit of Clingmans Dome and you’ll be rewarded with hills that look like they’re carpeted by lush forestry. It’s no wonder this is one of the most popular national parks in the country.

We highly recommend combining a visit to the Great Smoky Mountains with a few days in Asheville! Search flights below 👇

13. Grand Teton National Park – Wyoming

You’ll swear that the clouds are getting caught on the 13,770-foot peak of Grand Teton. The nine mountains that make up the Teton Range have been used by Native Americans for various vision quests. There are loads of trails to hike around the peaks if you don’t want to climb the mountains that are just 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park. And you might even see some wildlife grazing like in the photo above.

14. Devils Tower – Wyoming

Drive three hours from Casper, Wyoming, to find one of the most inexplicably cool formations in the world today. Jutting 1,267 feet from the surrounding flatlands near the Belle Fourche River is the first declared US National Monument, Devils Tower. Regional Native American tribes hold rituals and ceremonies at this treestump-like tower where you just sit back and wonder how this structure came to be in the first place.

15. Everglades National Park – Florida

If you’re planning on spending your vacation in South Florida, then you have to stop by Everglades National Park. The Everglades spans 1.5 million acres and gives you several ways to enjoy the area – from hiking and camping to tram and boat tours. You can even rent a bike or kayak to see this subtropical paradise at your own pace.

16. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Last but far from least, Yellowstone National Park is home to the mother of all geysers, Old Faithful (along with 300 more). Hundreds of animal species also call this park home, and you can find them throughout the lush forests and around the largest high-altitude lake in North America: Lake Yellowstone.

Close to 300 waterfalls cut through the landscape and you can also find one of the world’s largest petrified forests. (We told you Yellowstone is far from the least.)

Flying into Salt Lake City is one of the easiest airports to access Yellowstone. Rent a car and then use the West Entrance to check out the park.

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25 Breathtaking Places To Visit Before You Die

As you already know: the world is a beautiful place. There are so many exceptional places to visit before you die!

Remember, that often the best surprises lurk in the simple pleasures, so do not always look for the most “popular”, but rather get off the beaten tourist track and really explore!

Here are the 25 most spectacular places to visit before you die. Put them on your travel bucket list, or just enjoy the ride in pictures…

1. Walk along the Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is 21 thousand kilometres long, so you might not want to walk it ALL! The most beautiful section of the Great Wall of China to walk is from Jinshanling to Simatai. This walk takes about 3-4 hours.

Find cheap flights to Beijing.

2. Stand on top of Preacher’s Pulpit Preikestolen, Norway

There’s a beautiful, moderately demanding 6km hike to reach the Pulpit rock. For an even more spectacular experience start the hike at night to see the sunrise once you get to the top. The best time to go is during the warmer months of May to October.

Find cheap flights to Oslo.

3. Take the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru

Hike through picturesque ever-changing environments including cloud forest and alpine tundra. The Classic Inca Trail takes 4 days but you can do longer or shorter treks to suit you.

Look for Machu Picchu flights.

4. Wander among the temples at Petra, Jordan

The temples of Petra in Jordan are a must-see place to visit before you die. Discover for yourself why it is one of the New7Wonders of the World.

Check cheap flights to Jordan

5. Take a pilgrimage route along the Camino de Santiago in Spain

Whatever your faith, the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage should be on your travel bucket list. Some set out on the Camino for spiritual reasons; many find spiritual reasons along the way.

See flights to Spain

6. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living thing on Earth, often visible from outer space!

Flights to Australia

7. Camp on the Island of Mozambique

Clear white sand and turquoise sea, Mozambique is a destination of dreams.

Book your Mozambique flight

8. See a sunrise on Mount Bromo, Indonesia

You’ll have to get up early to reach the top before sunrise, but trust us – it’s worth it.

Flights to Surabaya, Indonesia

9. Feel small before the power of the Iguazu Falls, Argentina-Brazil

The Argentinian side has arguably the best place to see the Falls from – called the Devil’s Throat. Hang over the most powerful section of the Falls for an invigorating experience.

See flights to Argentina, if you dare!

10. Take a walk through the baobab trees in Madagascar

Live out your childhood Lion King fantasies with the fantastic variety of wildlife and nature in Madagascar!

11. Experience the magic of Cappadocia, Turkey

Find your flight to Nevsehir and enjoy the balloons in Cappadocia.

12. Get lost at the temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia

If you’re a culture buff, Angkor Wat should be at the top of your list of places to see before you die.

13. Visit the Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina

Purchase your flight to Perito Moreno and explore this huge glacier.

14. Swim in the Verdon Gorge, France

Put Europes most beautiful Canyon on your list of places to see before you die. Come for the striking turquoise water and stay for the fantastic climbing.

Search flights to France

15. Admire the spectacle of the Northern Lights in Scandinavia

A classic winter getaway, the Northern Lights are a truly wonderous sight.

16. Wonder before the mystery of the Great Pyramid of Giza

Explore Cairo and its pyramids.

17. Explore the incredible Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

The largest salt flat in the world, but the real starts of the show here are the pink flamingos!

Spot a flamingo, book a flight to Bolivia

18. Spend a few days sunbathing in magical Bora Bora, French Polynesia

You know you want to.

19. Immerse yourself in the splendor of nature at the Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Visit this national park in the Spring for a tranquil time. July and August get very crowded!

20. Go for a swim in the Ik Kil Cenote, Yucatan, Mexico

And hang like tarzan from the vines…

21. Visit the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, India

See how spirituality, bright colors and extravagant decorations come together.

Purchase your flight to Madurai with eDreams.

22. Float in the beauty of the Dead Sea

The mud of the dead sea is said to have a range of benefits for your skin. Free spa anyone?

23. Stop and admire the Laguna de Los Siete Colores, Bacalar, Mexico

24. Watch the Uluru rocks (Ayers Rock) change color throughout the day, Australia

25. Get a glimpse of the Quilotoa Lagoon, Ecuador

Fly to Ecuador to discover this lagoon.

Which would you like to do out of this list of places to visit before you die? Have you written your own bucket list? Tell us!

Yellowstone was the first national park ever to exist, designated in 1872. Its status sparked an idea that spread across the country and then across the world. National parks were spaces that human kind deemed precious and worth protecting. Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Wind Cave and Mesa Verde all gained status too, until eventually, in 1916, the National Parks System was created – one entity charged with overseeing all aspects of these wildernesses.

“America’s best idea,” quipped writer Walter Stegner. “Absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” And as the USA celebrates the centenary of its “best idea,” we celebrate 20 of its best national parks.

1. Yosemite, California

In the heart of Yosemite Valley you’ll spy more natural wonders in a minute than you will anywhere else in an entire day. California’s Yosemite sparkles as a crown jewel of the national parks, showcasing not just glacier-carved beauty but a panoply of superlatives: North America’s highest waterfall (Yosemite Falls); the world’s tallest uninterrupted granite monolith (El Capitan) and mountains that Ralph Waldo Emerson dubbed “unmatched on the globe.”

Tioga Pass Road takes you into Yosemite’s high country, including Tuolumne Meadows and its fabulous hiking trails (try the short climb to the top of Pothole Dome). Glacier Point Road leads to perhaps the most spectacular vista in any national park, looking down on Yosemite Valley from 3,200 ft. Wawona, near the southern entrance, provides a starter for the famous Mariposa Grove of sky-scraping sequoias.

There’s hiking, rafting, fishing, big-wall rock climbing, camping and simply lounging at the Ahwahnee Hotel, a valley-floor mainstay since 1927. Conservationist John Muir wrote about Yosemite c. 1902: “Everyone needs beauty … places to play and pray in, where Nature may … give strength to body and soul alike.” Indeed.

Top spot: Avoid Glacier Point’s crowds, but enjoy a similar view, from Sentinel Dome, an easy one-mile hike from the valley floor. See our guide to the best hotels in Yosemite.

Yosemite National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

2. Acadia, Maine

Every morning, in the predawn darkness, a crowd gathers on Cadillac Mountain, part of Mount Desert Island along the Atlantic seaboard, peering expectantly to the east. As soon as the sun peeks over the horizon they cheer — the first in the country to see the sun’s rays. And thus begins a brand-new day at Maine’s Acadia National Park.

Indeed, from its ragged shoreline and sheltered coves, to offshore rocky isles, to the serrated mountains of Mount Desert lording over swaths of pines and marshy meadows, there is much to applaud at this nearly 50,000-acre park. Twenty-mile Park Loop Road is the best way to take it all in, teetering high above the sea with spacious coastal views before careening inland through mountainous forest and meadow-carpeted valleys.

Be sure to hike or bike along the park’s 57 miles of serene carriage roads — built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr, an early park proponent, to showcase the best Mount Desert vistas. Then back by the sea, take a boat cruise or, better yet, rent a kayak, to see seals sunning themselves on rocks and, if you’re lucky, whales.

Top spot: The Precipice Trail takes you up Champlain Mountain’s sheer cliff face, with rungs and ladders to grab onto. At the top are breathtaking top-of-the-mountain views of the sparkling Atlantic and Frenchman Bay.

Acadia National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

3. Channel Islands, California

Though Channel Islands lies just 11 miles off the southern California coast, less than an hour away by boat, few people actually venture to this undeveloped, eight-island chain (five comprise the national park). What they’re missing: a sublime throwback to California of yore, where craggy arches, spindly spires and grassy hills jut up from the Pacific, without a car or mobile phone in sight.

What makes Channel Islands even more special are its plants and animals – more than 150 endemic or unique species have earned it the nickname “North American Galapagos.” This is the only place in the world you’ll see, for example, island fox, island deer mouse and yellow-blooming coreopsis clinging to exposed cliffs. Just as amazing is the life in the surrounding waters: more than 30 species of sea animals – sea lions, elephant seals, whales – cavort about.

Of special note: The largest aggregation of blue whales in the world convenes here every summer. So you can imagine the silver platter of outdoorsy activities available – kayaking through sea caves, camping on lonely bluffs, hiking to a pinniped rookery, diving to explore giant kelp beds. The list goes on and on.

Top spot: San Miguel Island’s Point Bennett is extra special for the 50,000 northern elephant seals and 70,000 California sea lions that hang out there.

4. Pinnacles, California

One second you’re driving along a two-lane road just two hours south of San Francisco, enjoying pretty, chaparral-carpeted hills. The next, out of nowhere, looms the sky-high castle of jagged, red-rock spikes and monoliths belonging to America’s newest national park.

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Upgraded from national monument to national park in 2013 due in part to its important condor recovery program, Pinnacles is little trekked and little known – one of the best reasons to visit. Its postage-stamp size, just 26,606 acres preserving ancient volcanic remnants, makes it manageable in a day. Strike out on more than 30 miles of trails ranging from easy to arduous, through fairyland forests and green valleys, past serrated spires and precariously balanced boulders, and into pitch-black, bat-inhabited talus caves (take a headlamp).

Tackle its hundreds of crowd-free rock-climbing routes. And always keep an eye out for condors, those prehistoric-looking raptors with wingspans reaching up to 10 ft; their favorite haunts include High Peaks in the early morning or early evening, or along the ridge just southeast of the campground.

Top spot: Explore the park’s eponymous rock spires, best admired along the High Peaks Trail. It’s at its most beautiful March into May, when fields of California poppies, purple bush lupine, and 50-odd other species of wildflowers burst into bloom.

Pinnacles National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

5. Grand Canyon, Arizona

Nearly everyone has seen photographs of Arizona’s famous gorge, measuring a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. But nothing prepares you for its vastness, or intense beauty, as you stand on its edge, peering far, far down to the Colorado River. That snake of a river is responsible for carving the canyon’s many layers, the different colors hinting at their age; the oldest, the pink-and-white-veined granite along the bottom, dates back 1.8 billion years.

Grand Canyon ranks as the second most visited national park, with some five million people every year, mostly along the South Rim. Avoid them by hiking down one of the park’s many trails on foot or by mule — even a mile or two will give you a new perspective. The flat, paved Rim Trail is the easiest, while the classic 9.3-mile Bright Angel Trail is more strenuous but worth every step (remember it’s all uphill on the way back).

  • Everything you need to know about visiting the Grand Canyon

Or focus on the pine-forested North Rim, which receives 10 per cent of park visitors. You can also hop on a raft and admire the canyon from the bottom up; sleeping along the riverbank under the dark, starry sky will be an experience you never forget.

Top spot: Yavapai Point, near the South Rim visitor area, offers a stunning, unobstructed, up-and-down panorama of the inner canyon, Bright Angel Canyon, and Colorado River with very little effort. See our guide to the best hotels in Arizona.

Grand Canyon National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

6. Denali, Alaska

Only one road accesses six-million-acre Denali, a single, mostly unpaved, 92-mile strip that opens up dramatic views of the subarctic wilderness — and perhaps offers the best chance to experience wildlife of any national park. No cars are allowed beyond Mile 15; everyone must jump aboard a shuttle bus. This is a good thing, given the road’s precipitous, winding nature (and the temptation to keep peering at the ever-more-dramatic landscape).

A constant companion on the southern horizon are the massive, snowcapped peaks of the Alaska Range, topped by the surreal, 20,320-ft Denali (aka Mount McKinley), North America’s tallest mountain. Along the way, keep an eye out for sightings of the park’s “big five,” Alaska style: moose, caribou, sheep, wolf and cinnamon-color Toklat grizzlies. At the end of the road awaits loon-inhabited Wonder Lake, with stunning reflections of Denali on clear-sky days.

If an all-day road trip isn’t for you, there are other ways to explore the park: hoisting a backpack for some of the best backcountry hiking anywhere; white-water rafting on the Nenana River; flightseeing around Denali itself; and, for the truly ambitious, climbing Denali’s icy slopes.

Top spot: Stony Hill Overlook, at Mile 61.95 on Denali Park Road, offers supreme photo ops of Denali from majestic base to peak, weather-permitting. Stony Hill is also the spot to see the nearby Toklat wolf pack; during migration periods, some 2,000 caribou pass through here as well. See our guide to the best hotels in Alaska.

Denali National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

7. Kenai Fjords, Alaska

From the massive Harding Icefield, huge glaciers grind their way slowly but surely to the sea, leaving behind jagged headlands, rocky peninsulas and rough-hewn fjords. Hence is born the wild setting of Alaska’s smallest national park. The best way to explore this icy wonderland is aboard a boat (or kayak) on Resurrection Bay. From your front-row seat you’ll be dazzled by smoky fjords, remote outlying islands and the chance to view blue tidewater glaciers up-close.

  • America’s 10 least crowded national parks

At calving Aialik Glacier, watch huge chunks of ice plummeting into the sea. Perhaps even more bedazzling is the abundance of sealife: humpback whales, orcas, harbor seals, sea otters and Steller sea lions, to name a few local denizens. Bald eagles float along towering cliffs, and seabirds (including cute puffins) congregate by the thousands.

With more time, seek out Northwestern Lagoon, quiet and serene, ideal for camping in solitary splendor. For landlubbers, the Harding Icefield Trail is a sublime walk from the face of Exit Glacier to Harding Icefield, with the chance to spot black bear along the way.

Top spot: Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, accessible only via four-hour boat ride, sits on Pedersen Lagoon in the heart of the national park, offering guided hikes, canoeing and relaxing on the porch.

Kenai Fjords National Park Credit: ALAMY

8. Hawai’i Volcanoes, Hawaii

Watch land being born before your very eyes at Hawai`i Volcanoes, one of the world’s most volcanically active spots. Comprising two active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, the park stretches from the palm-fringed coastline south of Hilo to Mauna Loa’s steaming, 13,677-ft summit.

Get a volcanic primer along Crater Rim Drive, which circles the oft-billowing Kīlauea caldera, passing by sulphur banks, eerie lava tubes and the very active Halema’uma’u crater, the legendary home of Pele, not the footballer, but the Hawaiian goddess of fire. The famous surface lava flows about 12 miles east, at the end of Chain of Craters Road.

The park provides daily updates of where the lava is flowing — in this capricious landscape it may be a mile from the road, several miles over dicey terrain … or unreachable. At the very least, you can hear the scraping, dragging flow of the brittle, glassy lava as it makes its way to the sea; in this way, more than 500 acres of new land have been added to the Big Island since Kīlauea’s latest eruption began in 1983.

Top spot: The park isn’t all lavascape. The Kīlauea Iki Trail winds through lush native, bird-rich rain forest before descending into the still-steaming Kīlauea Iki crater. See our guide to the best hotels in Hawaii.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

9. Olympic, Washington

Triply blessed with spellbinding ecosystems, Olympic amazes with an abundance of pristine beauty. Much of the park’s landscape, whether it’s mountain, rainforest, or coastline, remains as it has for hundreds of years. Above all rises Mount Olympus, named by a British fur trader who, upon viewing the mountain at sunset in 1788, thought it could be nothing else but the dwelling place of the gods. In this innermost realm, snowcapped mountains tower more than 7,000 ft, punctuated with 11 major rivers, waterfalls, flower-laden meadows and trout-filled lakes.

Then you have the damp, dripping rain forests, both Hoh and Quinault – among the nation’s finest remaining examples of temperate rain forest, thriving with more than 12 feet of rainfall a year. This mossy, ferny realm, showcasing soaring old-growth trees more than 20 stories high (some 500 years old) is so dark and wet it appears under water.

  • 10 US national parks that are beautiful (and empty) in winter

Keep an eye out for the Gatton Goliath, a 295-ft Douglas-fir, as well as the resident Roosevelt elk. And then you have the Pacific coastline — 73 miles of wild, wave-battered, driftwood-strewn beaches, domain of sea lions and seals. Peek into tide pools, stroll past offshore sea stacks and watch for bald eagles and Western gulls.

Top spot: Glorious views from 5,200-ft Hurricane Ridge take in the Olympics and Strait Juan de Fuca. Among the numerous trailheads here, Hurricane Hill wanders beside alpine meadows overlooking views, views, views. Watch out for rambunctious mountain goats.

Olympic National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

10. Saguaro, Arizona

Standing guard over the Sonoran Desert with uplifted arms, the saguaro cactus has been dubbed the desert monarch. With reason. Some may reach over 50 feet tall and last up to 200 years – the biggest may have 40 twisting arms. Beloved symbol of the Old West, this prickly giant is the linchpin of Saguaro National Park, which comprises two units straddling Tucson, Arizona. You’ll find the largest concentration in the park’s hotter, drier Tucson Mountain District unit, to the west of Tucson.

In the Rincon Mountain District, 30 miles east, the higher, slightly wetter “high desert” environment, you may also spot white-tailed deer, javelinas, Mexican spotted owl, black bears, and, if you’re lucky, the elusive kudamundi. While the saguaro get most of the limelight, you’ll see plenty of other cactus too, including staghorn, barrel, fishhook, prickly pear and teddy bear.

If you can, visit during the summer wildflower display – Mexican gold poppies kick off the show, followed by penstemons, lupines, desert marigolds and brittlebushes. The saguaros bloom late May through to June — beautiful white flowers that open at night and last for merely 24 hours.

Top spot: Drive through thick forests of saguaro along the scenic, six-mile Bajada Loop Drive, in the park’s western unit. Among several hiking trails, one leads to ancient petroglyphs.

Saguaro National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

11. Arches, Utah

You may be familiar with Utah’s Arches already, without having been there, as this striking park, with its 2,000-plus sandstone arches, has served as a backdrop to countless Hollywood flicks, including Indiana Jones, and Thelma & Louise and many of those starring John Wayne.

Nowhere in the world will you find such a large array of natural arches, patiently whittled over the eons by water and wind. The pièce de résistance, proudly displayed on Utah license plates, is Delicate Arch — with iconic redrock that’s at its most sublime at sunset.

All that said, there are more than arches here: thin fins, towers, bridges, balanced rocks, and spindly needles add to the otherworldly, high-desert sculpture garden, all with whimsical names that somehow perfectly describe them: Courthouse Towers, Parade of Elephants, and Balanced Rock are some of the favorites. Hikers wander around this stone fantasyland on short and long trails, while rock climbers rejoice in the surrounds.

Top spot: Park Avenue is a one-mile trail through a line of giant rock monoliths, looking every bit like a stony version of its New York City namesake.

Arches National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

12. Zion, Utah

In a state blessed with a profusion of national parks, Utah’s Zion — the state’s first national park and its most popular — overextends itself with orangey-red rock walls, slickrock peaks, slot canyons and hanging valleys towering more than 2,000 feet above the centerpiece Zion Canyon.

This is a park to see from the bottom up, and with your pick of different trails winding up from the valley floor, this is easy to do. Songs could be sung about 5,785-ft Angels Landing, reached via a steep, arduous trail with scary drop-offs — the reward: a breathtaking aerial view up and down the sandstone canyon as if you’re flying high above.

For the less adventurous, there are plenty of other choices, including the short trek to a trio of Emerald Pools, and Weeping Rock, with water seeping from the cliff like tears. Or hop in the car and drive scenic Highway 9 along the Virgin River and into the Checkerboard Mesa area, with its cracked sandstone grid. It goes without saying, with all of this rock, Zion is beloved for its big-wall climbs as well as spectacular canyoneering routes; just be sure you know what you’re doing.

Top spot: If you arrive at Canyon Overlook just as the sun begins to set, the whole canyon glows with effervescent light; it’s a short, moderate hike to the overlook.

Zion National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

13. Glacier, Montana

Given its name, you’d expect glaciers at Glacier — the Montana portion of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park that straddles the USA-Canada border. But there’s so much more: tiptop peaks rising abruptly from the plains, 762 turquoise alpine lakes, plunging waterfalls, a dazzling spring wildflower display — not to mention, mountain goats and grizzly bears.

The world-famous, white-knuckle Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only road that penetrates deep into the park, provides 52 miles of peak-and-valley views as it teeters atop the Continental Divide, each vista more impressive than the last. Bikes are allowed in mornings and evenings. Or leave the driving to someone else and hop aboard one of the famous roll-top tour buses known as “red jammers,” dating from the 1930s.

Historic wooden boats ply the park’s sapphire lake waters (guided hikes optional). And then there are the glaciers — 25 remaining active ones, including the relatively accessible Grinnell and Sperry. Some believe that Glacier’s glaciers may dwindle to a mere trickle by 2020 — consider yourself warned.

Top spot: Experience the park the way earlier visitors did, at Swiss-themed Many Glacier Hotel, with its broad verandas overlooking peak-encircled Swiftcurrent Lake; the hike to Grinnell Glacier begins near here.

Glacier National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

14. Theodore Roosevelt, North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt’s beloved Badlands celebrate everything the great conservationist and 26th President loved about the Wild West: spectacularly corrugated cliffs, eroded buttes, steep gullies, craggy ravines and dome-shaped hills, striped with layers of rock and sediment in magnificent shades of purple, yellow, red and orange.

Indeed, in this isolated corner of North Dakota a young, spectacled Teddy showed up in 1883 to hunt bison, kicking off a love affair with the land that would influence his conservation policy as president — and that of the nation forever. In this seemingly empty, isolated landscape you’ll spot a surprising array of wildlife, most of which Roosevelt knew (and hunted), including bison, elk, deer, antelope, wild horses and the quintessentially cute prairie dogs.

What he may not have known is that Badlands preserves the world’s greatest fossil beds of animals from the Oligocene Epoch of the Age of Mammals; remember that if you spy the skeleton of an ancient camel, three-toed horse, or sabre-toothed cat, leave it where you found it. One of the best ways to experience this special place is as Roosevelt did — on horseback. The 96-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail connects the north and south units of the park, with four designated campsites.

Top spot: Castle Trail provides the perfect perspective from which to enjoy the dramatically changing colors of the Badlands wall as the sun creeps across the sky.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

15. Yellowstone, Wyoming

A vast volcanic playground in northwest Wyoming, Yellowstone flaunts the world’s most amazing concentration of thermal features — more than 10,000 — including mud pots, hot springs, fumaroles and, of course, geysers. Iconic Old Faithful is the most famous landmark, a cone geyser that’s actually not so faithful; it spouts every 35 to 120 minutes.

But there’s more than volcanic wonder here — which is probably why in 1872 Yellowstone became the first national park, not just in the United States but in the world. The magnificent V-shaped Canyon of the Yellowstone; the grandiose peaks of the Rockies; Yellowstone Lake, North America’s highest altitude lake; and vast forests, including one of the world’s largest petrified forests, all add up to its singular majesty.

And then there’s the wildlife. Nicknamed the American Serengeti, Yellowstone has the largest concentration of mammals in the continental USA, with excellent chances to see them all: grizzly and black bears, mule deer, moose, elk, bison, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn, to name some of the 67 species. The most abundant number of grey wolves in the Lower 48 (400 to 450), introduced in 1994–1996 after being extirpated by the 1920s, are also found here; look for them in Lamar Valley.

Top spot: Artist Point on the Grand Canyon’s south rim commands a 700-ft vista down the Yellowstone River. Between 9.45 am and 10 am every day, with the right amount of sun, the bottom of the falls becomes a luminous spray that transforms into a shimmery rainbow.

Yellowstone National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

16. Isle Royale, Michigan

You must truly desire solitude to strike out for Isle Royale, a remote archipelago consisting of one narrow, 45-mile-long island and more than 450 smaller isles in Lake Superior. The park gets fewer visitors in a year (18,000) than Yellowstone sees in a day (26,000-plus).

First off, the only way to get here is by boat or seaplane (ferries leave from mainland ports in Michigan and Minnesota, 56 miles and 15 miles respectively). There are no roads — even bicycles aren’t allowed. There’s one place to stay — Rock Harbor Lodge. Other than that, you’re on your own, with backpack and camping gear, obliged to pack in what you need and carry out your refuse.

The rewards are supreme isolation in an untamed wilderness of jagged peaks and surf-crashed shoreline. Trails winding beneath the moss-draped spruce and fir of classic boreal forest, a haven for moose and wolves. Quiet bays and inland lakes luring kayakers and anglers alike. And, in a unique twist, Isle Royale is a top draw for scuba divers. The lake bottom is littered with ships that have fallen prey to Superior’s treacherous waters, and the lake’s clarity makes them easy to explore.

Top spot: Tobin Harbor’s calm waters and scalloped shoreline is the spot for canoeists, kayakers, and nesting loons.

Isle Royale National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

17. Rocky Mountain, Colorado

Just 1.5 hours north of Denver, Rocky Mountain showcases 72 named peaks higher than 12,000 dizzying feet. No wonder they call it the “roof of the world.” Indeed, nowhere else in the United States can you access such gorgeous alpine scenery with such ease. Wildlife watching is primo as well — keep your eyes out for moose, bighorn sheep, and elk (famed for their fall rutting, when the valleys fill with their bugling cry).

You probably won’t see black bear, mountain lions, or bobcats, but they’re around as well. An absolute must is a drive along 48-mile Trail Ridge Road, a twisty, winding, vertiginous route across the Continental Divide. Along the way you’ll peer out on stream-crossed valleys, forests of spruce and fir, and majestic, snowcapped peaks.

The high point is an exalted 12,183 ft, deep in the heart of the alpine tundra, where tiny wildflowers, including alpine forget-me-nots, bloom tenaciously in late June or early July. Driving is fine, but to really appreciate this gorgeous scenery, get out on some of the park’s 355 miles of hiking trails, be it an easy lakeside stroll or the arduous slog up Longs Peak.

Top spot: Catch sunrise at Dream Lake; even better, snowshoe here in winter and admire the ice formations amid blessed quietude.

Rocky Mountain National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

18. Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

To date, more than 400 miles of passages have been charted in Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, a five-level labyrinth hidden beneath the state’s rumbled hills and hollows — and the end has yet to be found. With its concert-hall-size chambers jam-packed with lofty stone columns, snaggle-toothed icicles, shimmering draperies, frozen waterfalls and crystal-clear pools, it’s no wonder that Jules Verne, upon visiting in the 1800s, was inspired to write A Journey to the Center of the Earth.

This subterranean fantasyland can’t help but to awe with its geological triumphs, but here too you’ll touch on the American story. Woodland Indians used mussel shells more than 5,000 years ago to shave gypsum off its walls; 19th-century slaves processed saltpeter; outlaws hid out; foreign visitors prioritised it in their USA Grand Tour.

And if that’s not enough, you have the entire aboveground aspect of the park to explore as well: Trails wander beneath oaks and hickories, the languid Green River flows past cliffs and valleys. Seek out River Styx Spring Trail, where water spouts from the cave and enters the Green River — a surprisingly subtle hint at what lies beneath.

Top spot: The largest known room in Mammoth is Chief City, topping out at an enormous two acres. See it on the themed Historic Tour.

Mammoth Cave National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

19. Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina/Tennessee

It’s true that Great Smoky Mountains is the nation’s number one visited national park — in part because of the busy scenic highway that cuts through its middle, offering bumper-to-bumper views in summer as people drive straight through.

That said, with 521,896 wild acres beckoning from beyond, there’s no excuse to get stuck in traffic. Instead, follow a quiet byway — there’s 584 miles of them — to one of the park’s many hidden corners. Perhaps an overview taking in undulating misty-blue ridges, a hiking trail wandering beneath one of the world’s finest examples of deciduous forest (simply shimmering in autumn), or any number of wooded coves or burbling streams. Chances are you’ll be the only one around.

While the venerated mountain scenery is the blue-chip draw, the wildflower parade is nothing short of stupendous: More than 1600 species of flowering plants, more than any other North American national park, begins with trillium and lady’s slipper orchid in early spring and ends in fall with goldenrod, wide-leafed sunflower, and coneflower. And, if you think you’ve seen it all, seek out the synchronous fireflies in June, the only species in America that blinks in synchrony in an age-old mating ritual (reservations mandatory).

Top spot: The tower atop Clingsmans Dome is the park’s highest point: 6,643 ft. From here, the jaw-dropping mountain panorama takes in no less than seven states.

20. Everglades, Florida

At first glance, Florida’s Everglades does not impress. Its centerpiece is a miles-wide river at most just a few inches deep that creeps through expansive green-brown sawgrass from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay. That’s not the grandeur one might expect from a national park.

But take a closer look and you’ll discover that this seemingly nondescript, low-lying, subtropical land, actually comprising several different ecosystems (sawgrass prairie, junglelike hammock and mangrove swamp), is not quite so lacklustre. Here an alligator soaks in the sun, there a roseate spoonbill spans its pink wings and takes off in elegant flight. West Indian manatees frolic in a saltwater bay, and an endangered panther stalks beneath live oaks. Indeed, these million-plus acres of wetlands harbour 200 types of fish, 350 species of birds, 120 different kinds of trees and more than 1,000 kinds of plants — and that’s just for starters.

Everglades National Park Credit: AP/FOTOLIA

Everglades was founded in 1947 to preserve this unique jumble of ecosystems, the first national park established for the sake of flora and fauna rather than geologic scenery. Drive the main 38-mile road through the park’s heart for a primer, making sure to stop along the way to hike the various trails.

Top spots: You’re virtually guaranteed to see alligators along the Anhinga Trail, along with tri-colored herons, turtles and much more. Along the nearby Gumbo Limbo Trail watch for the unusual eponymous tree; it’s also called the Tourist Tree for its peeling red bark.

10 National Parks You Have To Visit in The West

Forget the Empire State Building, the White House, or the Super Bowl. The top attractions you need to visit in the USA are the National Parks! When you think of National Parks, the USA is one of the first things to pop into your head; cowboys roaming through red stone valleys, wolves prowling through Yellowstone, and hot geysers erupting from beneath.

These areas give you a chance to get back to nature, explore the wilderness, and gaze up at pristine night skies. The western United States has a plethora of National Parks, and each one is distinct and unique. We don’t expect you to visit all 10 straight away, we’ll give you some time…

1. Yosemite – California

Situated in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite is 1200 square miles of pure wilderness. Giant Sequoia trees can be found in Mariposa Grove, whilst a trip to Half Dome will leave jaws on the floor. Hetch Hetchy in the NW provides untouched hiking, powerful waterfalls and amazing blooms of flora.

2. Zion – Utah

Zion is famous for its red cliffs and its emerald pools which contain mesmerizing blue waterfalls and lush hanging gardens. The park is unique as it has 4 ‘life zones’ containing over 200 species of birds, 80 species of mammals, and over 30 species of reptiles.

3. Grand Canyon – Arizona

One of the seven natural wonders of the world; the Colorado River has carved its path through Arizona over millions of years. Visit the Yavapai Museum of Geology to understand the history of the red rocks and visit Hermit Road and Desert View Drive to see them at their best. White-water and smooth water rafting trips down the Colorado River are also available!

4. Monument Valley – Arizona/Utah

Okay, not *strictly* a National Park, but a must-visit regardless! If you’ve seen a western film you’ve most likely seen Monument Valley. The flat valley floor is punctuated by large sandstone towers that reach up to 1000ft tall. Horseback tours through the valley enable you to get close to feeling like a real-life cowboy. There’s also a 17-mile scenic drive that you must take – do it at night and you might see the Milky Way!

5. Arches – Utah

This park gets its name from the 2000+ natural sandstone arches it contains! The two most famous are the Delicate Arch and the Landscape Arch. These are not permanent, though, as the prominent Wall Arch collapsed in 2008. Hike through The Fiery Furnace to squeeze through tight gaps in the sandstone created by millions of years of wind and water erosion.

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6. Badlands – South Dakota

The Badlands just sound awesome. Picture miles of grasslands punctuated by imposing spires, deep canyons, and rock terraces. Bison, sheep, and prairie dogs call this place home. The Fossil Exhibit Trail showcases many of the fossils uncovered in the park, whilst the loop road is a firm favourite and takes in most of the best sights.

7. Carlsbad Caverns – New Mexico

Carlsbad Caverns contain over 100 caves and the Cavern itself contains the Big Room which is the 5th largest cave chamber in The USA. The caves have an array of stalactites and stalagmites clinging to the roofs and floors that often join up to form impressive columns that look like they’re supporting the cave! You can walk yourself through the natural entrance of the cavern or hop on a guided tour.

8. Redwood National Park – California

Home to the tallest trees on earth, Redwood is situated on the California coast and contains lush forests and endless meadows. Visit Tall Tree Grove for an epic drive through the giant trees. A little secret – Enderts beach has gentle waves and is a great pace to have a picnic, and there’s a chance you could see some whales or sea lions!

9. Bryce Canyon – Utah

Hoodoos are strange and unique rock formations left by wind erosion, and Bryce Canyon is the capital of hoodoos. It has the largest concentration of them in the world and even has one resembling Thor’s Hammer! There’s a 3-mile hike called The Navajo/Queens Garden Loop which provides amazing scenery through the area and includes sights of many birds and small mammals.

10. Yellowstone – Wyoming/Idaho/Montana

Yellowstone is the first National Park not only in the USA, but the world! There are lots of geothermal attractions including the famous Old Faithful Geyser and The Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces which can be explored through boardwalks. The park has many great waterfalls with Tower Fall being the most famous.

Michael (TheWanderingBroksi) is a 25 year old travel blogger from London. He has a distinct love for the USA and all that it has to offer and wants to share the glorious country with you. His tips, top 10’s and adventures can be found at thewanderingbroski.com, check him out on Twitter for some awesome pictures and articles from around the world!

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