The Badlands are on our list of national parks

A Comprehensive List of National Parks in the United States

28 min read

Imagine standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, gazing at layers of ancient rock carved by the mighty Colorado River, or wandering through the lush, misty forests of Olympic National Park, where every step unearths Washington’s unparalleled biodiversity. The United States boasts a staggering array of national parks. Did you know that Yellowstone, the first national park, established in 1872, spans an area larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined? This comprehensive guide will take you on a journey through all the national parks in the U.S., highlighting their stunning landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and the endless adventures they offer. As you explore these pristine environments, you’ll not only experience the beauty and tranquility they provide but also come to appreciate the critical role they play in conservation and the legacy we must preserve for future generations.

An Introduction to America’s National Parks

A national monument at Zion National Park in Utah

The National Park Service (NPS) was established in 1916 under the Organic Act, signed by President Woodrow Wilson. However, the concept of national parks dates back to 1872, when Yellowstone National Park was designated as the first national park in the world. This revolutionary idea set a precedent for preserving natural landscapes for public enjoyment and environmental protection.

Over the years, the US National Park System has grown to encompass over 400 sites, including national parks, monuments, battlefields, historic sites, and more. “How many national parks are there?,” you might ask. As of 2024, there are 63 national parks in the United States.

The significance of these parks in American culture cannot be overstated; they are symbols of national pride, showcasing the country’s natural beauty, geological diversity, and ecological importance. Moreover, national parks play a crucial role in conservation efforts, protecting wildlife habitats, preserving biodiversity, and serving as benchmarks for environmental health amidst growing urbanization and climate change.

Tips for Visiting National Parks at Any Time of Year

When planning a visit to any of the national parks, timing can greatly enhance your experience. The best times to visit often depend on the specific park and its climate. Generally, spring and fall are ideal for moderate weather and fewer crowds, though some parks are best visited in summer due to accessibility issues in winter months.

Essential items to bring include appropriate clothing layers, sturdy hiking boots, a detailed map, plenty of water, high-energy snacks, and a first aid kit. For those camping, additional gear like tents, sleeping bags, and cooking supplies are necessary.

It’s also vital to follow the Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on these pristine environments. This includes disposing of waste properly, respecting wildlife, staying on designated trails, and leaving natural objects and historical artifacts undisturbed. By preparing adequately and practicing responsible behavior, visitors can ensure their trips are safe, enjoyable, and environmentally friendly.

National Parks of the Northeast

Acadia National Park (ME)

Acadia National Park, located on the rugged coast of Maine, offers a stunning blend of oceanic, forest, and mountain landscapes. Known for its breathtaking views from the summit of Cadillac Mountain—the first place to see the sunrise in the U.S. during certain times of the year—Acadia is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

Visitors can explore over 120 miles of hiking trails, enjoy picturesque drives along the Park Loop Road, and participate in activities such as kayaking, bird watching, and tide pooling along its rocky shores. The park’s rich biodiversity includes diverse flora and fauna, from tide pools brimming with marine life to forests inhabited by deer, foxes, and even the occasional black bear.

Shenandoah National Park (VA)

Stretching along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, Shenandoah National Park is renowned for its scenic Skyline Drive, which offers 105 miles of breathtaking views of rolling hills and verdant valleys. The park features over 500 miles of trails, including a portion of the famous Appalachian Trail, catering to hikers of all skill levels.

Visitors can explore cascading waterfalls, diverse wildlife, and vibrant fall foliage that transforms the park into a kaleidoscope of colors. Shenandoah’s rich history includes significant Civil War sites and a strong cultural heritage that reflects the early settlers’ way of life. Camping, picnicking, and wildlife watching are popular activities, with numerous overlooks providing perfect spots for photography and relaxation.

New River Gorge National Park (WV)

Designated as a national park in 2020, New River Gorge in West Virginia is celebrated for its dramatic canyons, ancient rivers, and excellent rock climbing opportunities. The park encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along the New River, which is one of the oldest rivers in North America. Known for its white-water rafting, the New River offers challenging rapids that attract adventure seekers from around the country.

The park is also home to the iconic New River Gorge Bridge, which hosts Bridge Day, an annual event where visitors can witness base jumping and rappelling. Hiking, fishing, and exploring the park’s rich array of flora and fauna are also popular activities, making it a diverse destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Gateway Arch National Park (MO)

Gateway Arch National Park, located in St. Louis, Missouri, is home to the iconic Gateway Arch, a 630-foot stainless steel monument that symbolizes the westward expansion of the United States. The park includes the Old Courthouse, where pivotal Dred Scott and Virginia Minor trials were held, adding rich historical significance to the site.

Visitors can take a tram ride to the top of the Arch for panoramic views of the Mississippi River and the city of St. Louis. The park also offers museum exhibits that delve into America’s pioneering history, the construction of the Arch, and the broader context of westward expansion. Walking paths, riverboat cruises, and educational programs provide diverse experiences for visitors of all ages.

National Parks of the Southeast

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (TN/NC)

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, is renowned for its mist-covered mountains, rich biodiversity, and vibrant cultural history. As the most visited national park in the United States, it offers over 800 miles of hiking trails, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail. The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, white-tailed deer, and an impressive array of bird species.

Visitors can explore historic homesteads, cascading waterfalls, and scenic drives like the Cades Cove Loop Road. The park’s diverse ecosystems range from lowland forests to high-altitude spruce-fir forests, making it a paradise for nature lovers and photographers. In late Spring and early Summer, visitors can also watch the firefly synchronization.

Everglades National Park (FL)

Everglades National Park, located in southern Florida, is a unique ecosystem that protects a vast network of wetlands and mangroves. It is the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States and a World Heritage Site. The park is famous for its diverse wildlife, including alligators, manatees, and a variety of bird species such as the roseate spoonbill.

Visitors can explore the park by airboat, kayak, or on foot along its many trails and boardwalks. The Anhinga Trail, for instance, offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. The park’s unique landscape, consisting of sawgrass marshes and slow-moving rivers, plays a crucial role in water purification and provides a habitat for numerous endangered species.

Biscayne National Park (FL)

Biscayne National Park, situated off the coast of Miami, Florida, is predominantly an underwater park that encompasses coral reefs, mangrove forests, and the northernmost part of the Florida Keys. It offers a range of water-based activities, including snorkeling, scuba diving, and boating, allowing visitors to explore its vibrant marine life and shipwrecks.

The park is home to a variety of species, such as sea turtles, dolphins, and colorful reef fish. Biscayne’s clear waters and lush seagrass beds provide a haven for both marine life and adventurous visitors. Additionally, the park’s islands, such as Elliott Key and Boca Chita Key, offer hiking trails, picnic spots, and historic structures like the Boca Chita Lighthouse.

Dry Tortugas National Park (FL)

Located 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, Dry Tortugas National Park is a remote paradise known for its crystal-clear waters, coral reefs, and the historic Fort Jefferson. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park offers a unique blend of history and natural beauty.

Visitors can explore the massive 19th-century fort, which served as a military prison during the Civil War, and snorkel or dive in the surrounding waters teeming with marine life. The park is also a crucial nesting site for seabirds, including the sooty tern and brown noddy. Camping, bird watching, and underwater photography are popular activities in this secluded and pristine environment.

Congaree National Park (SC)

Congaree National Park in South Carolina protects the largest intact expanse of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States. The park is renowned for its towering trees, including some of the tallest in the eastern U.S., and its rich biodiversity.

Visitors can explore the park’s diverse ecosystems via boardwalks and hiking trails, or paddle through its waterways on a canoe or kayak. The Congaree River Blue Trail offers a scenic route through the park’s lush landscape. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot a variety of species, including river otters, bobcats, and numerous bird species. The park’s seasonal flooding creates a dynamic environment that supports a complex web of life.

Mammoth Cave National Park (KY)

Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky is home to the world’s longest known cave system, with over 400 miles of explored passages. The park offers a variety of tours that take visitors deep into its subterranean labyrinth, showcasing impressive features such as vast chambers, intricate cave formations, and historical artifacts from prehistoric times.

Above ground, the park encompasses scenic rolling hills, dense forests, and the Green River, which provides opportunities for hiking, canoeing, and wildlife viewing. The cave’s unique ecosystem supports a range of specialized fauna, including cave-dwelling fish and bats. Mammoth Cave is a testament to geological wonder and a hub for scientific study and exploration.

Hot Springs National Park (AR)

Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas is renowned for its geothermal springs, historic bathhouses, and rich cultural heritage. The park, located in the heart of the city of Hot Springs, features Bathhouse Row, a collection of preserved bathhouses that date back to the early 20th century.

Visitors can experience the thermal waters in traditional and modern spa settings. The park also offers scenic hiking trails that wind through the Ouachita Mountains, providing stunning views and opportunities to explore the region’s flora and fauna. Hot Springs has a storied history as a health resort and recreational destination, attracting visitors seeking the therapeutic benefits of its mineral-rich waters.

National Parks of the Midwest

Isle Royale National Park (MI)

Isle Royale National Park, located in the northwest corner of Lake Superior, is an isolated wilderness of rugged, forested landscapes, pristine waterways, and diverse wildlife. The park consists of Isle Royale itself and over 450 smaller surrounding islands, offering visitors a unique experience of solitude and adventure.

Accessible only by boat or seaplane, the park is a haven for backpackers, kayakers, and scuba divers. Its waters are home to a variety of fish species, making it a popular destination for fishing. Isle Royale’s remote location provides a sanctuary for wolves and moose, which are subjects of one of the longest-running predator-prey studies in the world. Hiking trails, including the Greenstone Ridge Trail, offer stunning views and opportunities to explore the island’s rich flora and fauna.

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Voyageurs National Park (MN)

Voyageurs National Park, located in northern Minnesota, is named after the French-Canadian fur traders who once traveled its waterways. The park is characterized by its interconnected system of lakes, making it a premier destination for water-based recreation. Visitors can explore the park’s scenic beauty by boat, canoe, or kayak, with opportunities for fishing, camping, and wildlife viewing.

The park’s diverse ecosystem includes forests, wetlands, and rocky outcrops, supporting species such as bald eagles, black bears, and moose. Voyageurs is also known for its spectacular night skies, offering excellent stargazing and chances to see the Northern Lights. The park’s rich cultural history and natural beauty make it a unique and tranquil escape.

Indiana Dunes National Park (IN)

Indiana Dunes National Park, located along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, encompasses 15 miles of beaches, sand dunes, wetlands, prairies, and forests. The park offers a diverse range of recreational activities, including hiking, bird watching, and swimming. The Dunes themselves are a major attraction, providing challenging climbs and stunning views of the lake.

The park is home to an impressive variety of plant and animal species, thanks to its unique ecosystems and microclimates. Visitors can explore historical sites, such as the Century of Progress Homes from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, and participate in ranger-led programs that highlight the park’s natural and cultural history.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (OH)

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, nestled between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, offers a serene retreat of rolling hills, forests, and farmland along the Cuyahoga River. The park features over 125 miles of hiking trails, including the Towpath Trail, which follows the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal. Visitors can explore scenic waterfalls, such as Brandywine Falls, and enjoy activities like cycling, bird watching, and horseback riding.

The park also preserves historical sites and provides educational programs that explore the region’s natural and cultural heritage. Cuyahoga Valley’s picturesque landscapes and recreational opportunities make it a popular destination for both local residents and tourists.

Badlands National Park (SD)

Badlands National Park in South Dakota is renowned for its dramatic landscapes of eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires, set against a backdrop of expansive prairies. The park’s striking geological formations were created over millions of years through the processes of deposition and erosion.

Visitors can explore the park’s rugged beauty through hiking trails, scenic drives, and fossil exhibits that showcase the area’s rich paleontological history. The Badlands are home to a variety of wildlife, including bison, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs. The park also offers opportunities for backcountry camping, providing a sense of solitude and adventure in a stark, otherworldly landscape.

Wind Cave National Park (SD)

Wind Cave National Park, also located in South Dakota, is named for its extensive and complex cave system, known for its unique boxwork formations. Discovered in 1881, Wind Cave is one of the longest and most intricate caves in the world. Visitors can take guided tours to explore its fascinating underground passages and formations.

Above ground, the park features rolling prairies and ponderosa pine forests that provide habitat for bison, elk, and prairie dogs. The mixed-grass prairie ecosystem is one of the few remaining intact on the continent, offering a glimpse into the landscape as it existed before extensive human settlement. Hiking, wildlife viewing, and exploring the natural and cultural history of the area are popular activities.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park (ND)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota honors the legacy of the 26th President of the United States, who was deeply influenced by his time spent in the Badlands. The park is divided into three units: the North Unit, South Unit, and Elkhorn Ranch Unit. It features rugged badlands, rolling prairies, and the winding Little Missouri River.

Visitors can explore scenic drives, hiking trails, and historical sites related to Roosevelt’s ranching days. The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including bison, wild horses, and prairie dogs. The dramatic landscapes and rich history make Theodore Roosevelt National Park a testament to the conservation ideals that Roosevelt championed.

National Parks of the Southwest

Grand Canyon National Park (AZ)

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is one of the most iconic natural wonders of the world, known for its immense size and its intricate and colorful landscape. Carved by the Colorado River over millions of years, the canyon reveals layers of geological history and offers breathtaking vistas from its rims.

Visitors can hike the challenging trails, such as the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails, raft the Colorado River, or enjoy panoramic views from various lookout points along the South and North Rims. The park is also home to diverse wildlife, including elk, mule deer, and California condors. Grand Canyon’s awe-inspiring beauty and geological significance make it a must-visit destination.

Petrified Forest National Park (AZ)

Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona is renowned for its extensive deposits of petrified wood and its striking badlands. The park’s landscape is dotted with colorful logs that have turned to stone over millions of years, providing a window into ancient ecosystems.

Visitors can explore the Painted Desert, hike trails like the Blue Mesa and Crystal Forest, and view ancient petroglyphs at sites like Newspaper Rock and Puerco Pueblo. The park also preserves significant archaeological sites, offering insights into the prehistoric cultures that once inhabited the region. Petrified Forest is a unique blend of natural beauty and historical intrigue.

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Saguaro National Park (AZ)

Saguaro National Park, located in southern Arizona, is named for the iconic saguaro cactus, which can grow over 40 feet tall and live for more than 150 years. The park is divided into two districts, east and west of Tucson, each showcasing the unique beauty of the Sonoran Desert.

Visitors can hike through diverse desert landscapes on trails like the Valley View Overlook and the Signal Hill Petroglyphs, or drive the scenic loop roads for panoramic views. The park is also home to a variety of wildlife, including javelinas, coyotes, and numerous bird species. Saguaro National Park offers a quintessential desert experience with its towering cacti and stunning sunsets.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park (NM)

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico is famous for its vast underground cave system, featuring over 119 known caves formed by sulfuric acid dissolution. The park’s main attraction, Carlsbad Cavern, offers visitors the chance to explore massive chambers like the Big Room, adorned with stalactites, stalagmites, and other stunning formations.

Visitors can take self-guided tours or join ranger-led expeditions to more remote areas of the cave. Above ground, the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem provides opportunities for hiking and wildlife viewing. The park is also known for its nightly bat flights during the summer, where thousands of bats emerge from the cave at dusk, creating a mesmerizing spectacle.

White Sands National Park (NM)

White Sands National Park in southern New Mexico features the world’s largest gypsum dune field, covering 275 square miles of desert. The park’s dazzling white dunes offer a surreal landscape perfect for exploration and photography.

Visitors can hike trails like the Dune Life Nature Trail and the Alkali Flat Trail, or enjoy unique activities such as sand sledding down the steep dune faces. The park’s visitor center provides insights into the natural and cultural history of the area, highlighting the unique flora and fauna adapted to this harsh environment. White Sands’ otherworldly beauty and recreational opportunities make it a captivating destination.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park (TX)

Guadalupe Mountains National Park in western Texas is home to the highest peak in Texas, Guadalupe Peak, and features rugged mountains, canyons, and desert landscapes. The park preserves the world’s most extensive Permian fossil reef, offering a fascinating glimpse into ancient marine environments.

Visitors can hike over 80 miles of trails, including the challenging ascent to Guadalupe Peak and the scenic McKittrick Canyon. The park is also known for its diverse ecosystems, ranging from desert lowlands to forested highlands, supporting wildlife such as mule deer, elk, and golden eagles. Guadalupe Mountains National Park provides a remote and rugged experience for outdoor enthusiasts and geology buffs.

Big Bend National Park (TX)

Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas encompasses over 800,000 acres of Chihuahuan Desert, river valleys, and mountain ranges. The park is named for the prominent bend in the Rio Grande, which forms the border between the United States and Mexico.

Visitors can explore dramatic landscapes, including the Chisos Mountains, Santa Elena Canyon, and vast desert expanses. Activities such as hiking, backpacking, river rafting, and bird watching are popular in the park. Big Bend is known for its dark skies, offering exceptional stargazing opportunities. The park’s rich biodiversity includes species like roadrunners, javelinas, and mountain lions, making it a fascinating destination for nature lovers.

Mesa Verde National Park (CO)

Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado is renowned for its well-preserved Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, which date back to the 12th century. The park offers a unique glimpse into the lives of the ancient people who built these structures into the canyon walls.

Visitors can explore notable sites such as Cliff Palace, Balcony House, and Long House, often through guided tours that provide historical context and interpretive insights. The park also features scenic drives, hiking trails, and a museum showcasing artifacts and exhibits about the Puebloan culture. Mesa Verde’s combination of natural beauty and archaeological significance makes it a compelling destination.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (CO)

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in western Colorado features some of the steepest and most dramatic cliffs in North America. The Gunnison River has carved this narrow canyon over millions of years, creating sheer walls and breathtaking vistas.

Visitors can drive along the South Rim Road for scenic overlooks, hike trails such as the Rim Rock Nature Trail, or take the challenging Inner Canyon routes for a closer look at the rugged landscape. The park is also a popular destination for rock climbing and fishing. The striking geology and remote wilderness of Black Canyon provide a sense of awe and adventure.

Great Sand Dunes National Park (CO)

Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado is home to North America’s tallest sand dunes, rising up to 750 feet above the San Luis Valley. The park’s unique landscape includes the dunes, grasslands, wetlands, and alpine forests, offering diverse recreational opportunities.

Visitors can hike to the top of the dunes, sandboard down their slopes, or explore Medano Creek, which flows seasonally at the base of the dunes. The park also features trails leading into the surrounding mountains, providing scenic views and opportunities for wildlife observation. Great Sand Dunes National Park is a striking and versatile destination, showcasing nature’s dramatic contrasts.

Rocky Mountain National Park (CO)

Rocky Mountain National Park in northern Colorado encompasses over 400 square miles of majestic mountain landscapes, alpine lakes, and diverse wildlife. The park is divided by the Continental Divide, creating distinct eastern and western ecosystems.

Visitors can explore over 350 miles of hiking trails, including routes to popular destinations like Bear Lake, Longs Peak, and Trail Ridge Road, which offers one of the highest continuous paved roads in the country. The park is home to a variety of wildlife, including elk, bighorn sheep, and moose. Rocky Mountain National Park’s stunning scenery and abundant recreational opportunities make it a premier destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Arches National Park (UT)

Arches National Park in eastern Utah is known for its over 2,000 natural sandstone arches, the highest concentration in the world. The park’s striking red rock formations, including iconic landmarks such as Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and Double Arch, create a surreal and picturesque landscape.

Visitors can explore the park through scenic drives, hiking trails, and ranger-led programs that provide insights into the geology and ecology of the area. The park is also popular for photography, rock climbing, and stargazing. Arches National Park’s unique and dramatic scenery offers a stunning and accessible desert adventure.

Bryce Canyon National Park (UT)

Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah is famous for its unique geological formations known as hoodoos—tall, thin spires of rock that create a surreal landscape. The park’s main amphitheater is filled with these colorful rock pillars, offering spectacular views, especially at sunrise and sunset.

Visitors can explore the park on hiking trails like the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden, or take scenic drives to overlooks such as Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, and Bryce Point. The park is also a designated Dark Sky Park, making it an excellent location for stargazing. Bryce Canyon’s otherworldly beauty and accessibility make it a favorite among visitors.

Canyonlands National Park (UT)

Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah is a vast and rugged wilderness divided into four distinct districts by the Colorado and Green Rivers: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves. Each district offers unique landscapes and recreational opportunities.

Visitors to the Island in the Sky can enjoy breathtaking overlooks and challenging hikes, while the Needles offers a labyrinth of colorful sandstone spires and more remote backcountry experiences. The Maze is the most remote and challenging area, known for its complex canyons. River trips offer a unique perspective of the park’s deep gorges and towering cliffs. Canyonlands’ diverse terrain and expansive views make it a paradise for adventurers and nature lovers.

Capitol Reef National Park (UT)

Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah is known for its Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline extending nearly 100 miles. The park’s dramatic cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges offer a stunning landscape for exploration.

Visitors can drive the scenic Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, hike trails such as the Hickman Bridge Trail and the Grand Wash, and explore the historic Fruita district, known for its orchards and pioneer history. The park’s remote backcountry areas provide opportunities for solitude and adventure. Capitol Reef’s unique geology and historical sites make it a hidden gem in Utah’s national parks.

Zion National Park (UT)

Zion National Park in southwestern Utah is renowned for its towering sandstone cliffs, narrow canyons, and diverse ecosystems. The park’s main feature is Zion Canyon, carved by the Virgin River, which offers dramatic views and popular hikes such as Angels Landing, The Narrows, and Observation Point.

Visitors can also explore the Kolob Canyons and Kolob Terrace, offering less crowded but equally stunning landscapes. The park’s diverse flora and fauna thrive in various environments, from desert lowlands to high plateaus. Zion’s combination of scenic beauty, adventurous trails, and accessibility make it one of the most visited and beloved national parks in the United States.

National Parks of the West

Yellowstone National Park (WY/MT/ID)

Yellowstone National Park, spanning Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, is the world’s first national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park is renowned for its geothermal features, including geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles, with Old Faithful being the most famous.

Visitors can explore diverse landscapes ranging from rugged mountains to lush forests and expansive meadows. The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, bison, and elk. Activities include hiking, wildlife watching, and exploring geothermal areas. Yellowstone’s unparalleled geothermal wonders and diverse ecosystems make it a treasure of natural beauty and scientific interest.

Grand Teton National Park (WY)

Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming features the stunning Teton Range, characterized by its jagged peaks and picturesque alpine scenery. The park offers numerous outdoor activities, including hiking, climbing, boating, and wildlife viewing. Popular trails include the Cascade Canyon, Hidden Falls, and the ascent of the Grand Teton itself.

The park’s scenic beauty is complemented by its rich wildlife, including moose, elk, and black bears. The Snake River winds through the park, offering opportunities for rafting and fishing. Grand Teton’s majestic landscapes and recreational opportunities make it a highlight of the Rocky Mountains.

Glacier National Park (MT)

Glacier National Park in Montana is part of the larger Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The park is renowned for its rugged mountains, pristine lakes, and over 700 miles of hiking trails.

Iconic routes include the Highline Trail and the Grinnell Glacier Trail, offering stunning views and opportunities to see wildlife such as mountain goats, grizzly bears, and bighorn sheep. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is a scenic drive that traverses the park, providing breathtaking vistas and access to trailheads. Glacier National Park’s dramatic landscapes and diverse ecosystems offer a wilderness experience like no other.

North Cascades National Park (WA)

North Cascades National Park in Washington state is known for its rugged mountains, alpine lakes, and diverse plant and animal life. The park features over 300 glaciers, more than any other U.S. park outside Alaska. Visitors can explore its wild beauty through extensive hiking and climbing opportunities, including the challenging Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm trails.

The park’s remote wilderness areas offer solitude and pristine natural environments. The North Cascades Scenic Highway provides stunning views and access to key areas of the park. North Cascades’ dramatic landscapes and remote beauty make it a paradise for adventurers and nature enthusiasts.

Mount Rainier National Park (WA)

Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state is centered around Mount Rainier, an active stratovolcano and the highest peak in the Cascade Range. The park offers a range of ecosystems, from dense forests to alpine meadows and glaciers.

Visitors can explore popular areas like Paradise and Sunrise, known for their stunning wildflower displays and panoramic views. The Wonderland Trail, a 93-mile loop around the mountain, provides a challenging and scenic hiking experience. The park is home to diverse wildlife, including black bears, elk, and marmots. Mount Rainier’s majestic presence and varied landscapes make it a captivating destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Olympic National Park (WA)

Olympic National Park in Washington state encompasses a diverse range of ecosystems, from rugged coastline and lush temperate rainforests to alpine peaks. The park’s varied landscapes offer a wealth of recreational opportunities, including hiking, beachcombing, and wildlife viewing.

Popular destinations include Hurricane Ridge, known for its panoramic mountain views, and the Hoh Rain Forest, with its moss-draped trees and abundant plant life. The park’s coastline features dramatic sea stacks and tide pools teeming with marine life. Olympic National Park’s rich biodiversity and stunning scenery provide a microcosm of the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Crater Lake National Park (OR)

Crater Lake National Park in Oregon is renowned for its stunningly blue, crystal-clear lake, formed in the caldera of an ancient volcano. The lake, the deepest in the United States, is surrounded by steep cliffs and fed only by rain and snow, giving it remarkable clarity and color.

Visitors can explore the park by driving the Rim Drive, which offers numerous scenic overlooks and access to hiking trails such as the Cleetwood Cove Trail, which leads down to the lake’s shore. Boat tours provide a unique perspective of the lake and its features, including Wizard Island. Crater Lake’s breathtaking beauty and tranquility make it a must-visit destination.

Redwood National Park (CA)

Redwood National Park in northern California is home to the tallest trees on Earth, the coastal redwoods, which can grow over 350 feet tall. The park’s ancient forests, lush with ferns and mosses, offer a serene and awe-inspiring experience.

Visitors can explore the park through hiking trails such as the Tall Trees Grove and the Lady Bird Johnson Grove, or drive the scenic Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway. The park also features picturesque coastlines and abundant wildlife, including Roosevelt elk. Redwood National Park’s majestic trees and diverse ecosystems provide a unique and peaceful retreat into nature.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park (CA)

Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California is known for its geothermal features, including boiling springs, fumaroles, and the active Lassen Peak volcano. The park’s varied landscapes range from dense forests to alpine meadows and hydrothermal areas.

Visitors can hike to the summit of Lassen Peak, explore the Bumpass Hell geothermal area, and enjoy scenic drives such as the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway. The park’s diverse ecosystems support a variety of wildlife, including black bears, deer, and a wide range of bird species. Lassen Volcanic National Park offers a unique blend of volcanic activity and natural beauty.

Yosemite National Park (CA)

Yosemite National Park in California is renowned for its dramatic granite cliffs, majestic waterfalls, and ancient sequoias. The park’s iconic features include El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls, offering breathtaking scenery and challenging climbs.

Visitors can explore the park’s extensive trail system, including the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail, or drive the scenic Tioga Road for high-altitude views. The park is home to diverse wildlife, including black bears, deer, and numerous bird species. Yosemite’s stunning landscapes and rich biodiversity make it one of the most beloved and visited national parks in the United States.

Kings Canyon National Park (CA)

Kings Canyon National Park in California features some of the deepest canyons in North America, towering sequoia trees, and high mountain peaks. The park is divided into two main areas: the General Grant Grove, home to the famous General Grant Tree, and the Kings Canyon itself, accessible via the scenic Kings Canyon Scenic Byway.

Visitors can hike through lush meadows, alongside roaring rivers, and explore backcountry trails for a more remote wilderness experience. The park’s diverse ecosystems and breathtaking landscapes provide a range of recreational opportunities and a profound sense of natural beauty.

Sequoia National Park (CA)

Sequoia National Park in California is home to the giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree by volume in the world. The park’s dramatic landscapes include the towering peaks of the Sierra Nevada, deep canyons, and extensive cave systems.

Visitors can explore the Giant Forest, hike the Congress Trail, and visit the subterranean Crystal Cave. The park also offers opportunities for backpacking, camping, and wildlife viewing, with species such as black bears, mule deer, and mountain lions. Sequoia National Park’s awe-inspiring trees and diverse natural features make it a destination of extraordinary beauty and wonder.

Pinnacles National Park (CA)

Pinnacles National Park in central California is known for its unique rock formations, created by volcanic activity millions of years ago. The park offers a range of outdoor activities, including hiking, rock climbing, and exploring talus caves.

Popular trails include the High Peaks Trail and the Balconies Cave Trail, providing stunning views and opportunities to see the park’s diverse wildlife, such as the endangered California condor. The park’s spring wildflower displays add vibrant color to the rugged landscape. Pinnacles National Park’s striking geology and rich biodiversity make it a fascinating and adventurous destination.

Channel Islands National Park (CA)

Channel Islands National Park off the coast of southern California consists of five islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara. The park’s remote and pristine environments provide a haven for diverse marine and terrestrial wildlife, including species found nowhere else on Earth.

Visitors can explore the islands through activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and wildlife watching. The park offers opportunities to see dolphins, whales, sea lions, and numerous bird species. Channel Islands National Park’s isolation and natural beauty provide a unique and tranquil escape from the mainland.

Death Valley National Park (CA/NV)

Death Valley National Park, spanning California and Nevada, is known for its extreme temperatures, vast salt flats, sand dunes, and rugged mountains. The park is home to the lowest point in North America, Badwater Basin, at 282 feet below sea level.

Visitors can explore iconic sites such as Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, the Sailing Stones, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The park’s unique geology and harsh environment support a surprising diversity of life, including desert wildflowers, bighorn sheep, and the rare pupfish. Death Valley’s stark beauty and extreme conditions make it a land of superlatives and contrasts.

Joshua Tree National Park (CA)

Joshua Tree National Park in southern California is named for its iconic Joshua trees, which dot the park’s high desert landscape. The park’s unique geological features, including rugged rock formations and vast desert plains, attract rock climbers, hikers, and photographers.

Popular areas include Hidden Valley, Keys View, and Barker Dam. The park is also a designated Dark Sky Park, offering exceptional stargazing opportunities. Joshua Tree’s combination of Mojave and Colorado desert ecosystems supports diverse flora and fauna, creating a striking and varied natural environment.

National Parks of the Non-Contiguous U.S.

Denali National Park (AK)

Denali National Park in Alaska is home to North America’s highest peak, Denali, which rises 20,310 feet above sea level. The park encompasses six million acres of wild landscapes, including tundra, boreal forests, and glaciers.

Visitors can explore the park through bus tours, hiking, and wildlife viewing, with opportunities to see grizzly bears, moose, caribou, and wolves. The park’s rugged beauty and vast wilderness offer a true Alaskan adventure. Denali’s towering presence and remote landscapes make it a symbol of natural grandeur and untamed wilderness.

Gates of the Arctic National Park (AK)

Gates of the Arctic National Park in northern Alaska is one of the most remote and pristine wilderness areas in the United States. The park encompasses the central Brooks Range, offering rugged mountains, glacial valleys, and arctic tundra.

Visitors can experience the park’s untouched beauty through backpacking, river trips, and wildlife viewing. The park is home to diverse wildlife, including caribou, grizzly bears, and Dall sheep. Gates of the Arctic’s vast and unspoiled landscapes provide a rare opportunity to experience true wilderness and solitude.

Glacier Bay National Park (AK)

Glacier Bay National Park in southeastern Alaska is renowned for its stunning glaciers, towering fjords, and abundant marine wildlife. The park’s dynamic glacial landscape offers opportunities for boating, kayaking, and wildlife viewing.

Visitors can see humpback whales, sea otters, and harbor seals, as well as numerous bird species. The park’s glaciers, such as Margerie Glacier and Johns Hopkins Glacier, are constantly changing, creating a dramatic and ever-evolving environment. Glacier Bay’s pristine beauty and ecological significance make it a jewel of the Alaskan wilderness.

Katmai National Park (AK)

Katmai National Park in southwestern Alaska is famous for its volcanic landscapes and abundant brown bear population. The park’s centerpiece is the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, an area filled with ash flows from the 1912 eruption of Novarupta.

Visitors can watch brown bears fishing for salmon at Brooks Falls, one of the best bear-viewing spots in the world. The park also offers opportunities for hiking, fishing, and exploring its rugged wilderness. Katmai’s unique combination of volcanic history and wildlife viewing makes it a captivating destination.

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Kenai Fjords National Park (AK)

Kenai Fjords National Park in southern Alaska is known for its stunning fjords, glaciers, and abundant marine life. The park’s centerpiece is the Harding Icefield, which feeds dozens of glaciers that flow into the fjords.

Visitors can explore the park by boat, kayak, or hiking, with opportunities to see sea otters, seals, whales, and puffins. The park’s rugged coastline and icy landscapes provide a dramatic and pristine environment. Kenai Fjords’ spectacular scenery and diverse wildlife make it a highlight of Alaska’s natural beauty.

Kobuk Valley National Park (AK)

Kobuk Valley National Park in northwestern Alaska is known for its expansive sand dunes, which are among the largest in the Arctic. The park’s remote and rugged landscapes include the Kobuk River and the surrounding boreal forest and tundra.

Visitors can explore the park by hiking, backpacking, and river trips, with opportunities to see caribou, wolves, and other wildlife. The park’s unique combination of sand dunes and arctic environments creates a striking and unusual landscape. Kobuk Valley’s isolation and natural beauty offer a true wilderness experience.

Lake Clark National Park (AK)

Lake Clark National Park in southwestern Alaska is a remote wilderness area known for its stunning landscapes, including active volcanoes, glaciers, and pristine lakes. The park offers a range of outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

Visitors can explore the park’s diverse ecosystems, from coastal rainforests to alpine tundra, and see wildlife such as brown bears, moose, and Dall sheep. The park’s centerpiece, Lake Clark, provides opportunities for boating and fishing in a spectacular setting. Lake Clark’s rugged beauty and diverse environments make it a captivating destination.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (AK)

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in southeastern Alaska is the largest national park in the United States, encompassing over 13 million acres of wild landscapes. The park features towering mountain ranges, massive glaciers, and extensive wilderness areas.

Visitors can explore the park through hiking, mountaineering, and flightseeing tours, with opportunities to see wildlife such as grizzly bears, moose, and mountain goats. The park’s remote and rugged beauty offers a true Alaskan adventure. Wrangell-St. Elias’ vast and dramatic landscapes make it a symbol of untamed wilderness and natural grandeur.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HI)

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii is renowned for its active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. The park offers a unique opportunity to witness volcanic activity and explore diverse landscapes, from lush rainforests to barren lava fields.

Visitors can hike trails such as the Kilauea Iki Trail and the Crater Rim Trail, or drive the Chain of Craters Road for stunning views of volcanic features. The park is home to a variety of plant and animal species, some found nowhere else on Earth. Hawaii Volcanoes’ dynamic and ever-changing landscapes provide a fascinating and educational experience.

Haleakalā National Park (HI)

Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui is known for its massive dormant volcano, Haleakalā, and its diverse ecosystems. The park’s summit area offers breathtaking views of the crater and surrounding landscapes, with opportunities for hiking, stargazing, and watching the sunrise. The park also includes the lush Kipahulu coastal area, featuring waterfalls and tropical rainforests.

Visitors can explore trails such as the Sliding Sands Trail and the Pipiwai Trail, providing diverse and scenic experiences. Haleakalā’s unique combination of volcanic and tropical environments makes it a captivating and varied destination.

American Samoa National Park (AS)

American Samoa National Park, located in the South Pacific, encompasses parts of three islands: Tutuila, Ofu, and Ta‘ū. The park is unique for its tropical rainforest, volcanic mountains, and pristine coral reefs.

Visitors can hike through lush rainforests, explore traditional Samoan villages, and snorkel in vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life. The park’s cultural significance is reflected in the Samoan people’s traditional way of life, which has remained largely unchanged for centuries. American Samoa National Park offers a rare opportunity to experience the natural beauty and cultural richness of the South Pacific.

Virgin Islands National Park (VI)

Virgin Islands National Park, located on the island of St. John in the Caribbean, is a tropical paradise of white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, and lush forests. The park covers about two-thirds of the island and offers a rich mix of natural beauty and cultural history.

Visitors can explore pristine beaches like Trunk Bay, known for its underwater snorkeling trail, and hike trails that lead to historical sugar plantation ruins. The park’s coral reefs and seagrass beds are teeming with marine life, including colorful fish, sea turtles, and vibrant corals. Virgin Islands National Park provides a serene and stunning environment, perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and soaking in the Caribbean’s natural beauty.

Which Park Will You Visit This Summer?

As you reflect on the myriad landscapes and wonders highlighted in this guide, let the beauty and diversity of America’s famous national parks inspire you to embark on your own journey of exploration. Each park offers a unique glimpse into the natural and cultural heritage of our nation, reminding us of the importance of preserving these treasures for future generations.

Whether you seek the serene tranquility of a forest, the awe-inspiring majesty of a mountain, or the thrilling adventure of a desert, there is a national park waiting to be discovered. We encourage you to plan your next adventure, immerse yourself in the splendor of these protected lands, and create unforgettable memories. By exploring and appreciating these natural wonders, you contribute to their conservation and ensure they remain a source of wonder and inspiration for years to come.