Travel Experts Rank the Best National Parks From Good to Amazing from Travel Experts Rank the Best National Parks From Good to Amazing
Travel Experts Rank the Best National Parks From Good to Amazing
Whether you’re interested in the beauty of nature, adventure travel, or simply finding some of the most Instagram-worthy spots in the U.S., our national parks system can’t be beat. More than 300 million people visit national parks every year, pouring over $30 billion into the economy. And that nice chunk of change still comes despite many of the parks offering free entry!
An $80 annual pass gets you unlimited access to the parks (and many other recreational sites) for the entire year. Plus, the pass covers you and three accompanying adults age 16 and older at sites where per-person entrance fees are charged. Knowing this, plenty of travel enthusiasts have taken advantage of this stellar deal and hit the road to put together lengthy guides and quick lists to let wayward travelers know the best parks to hit. To help narrow the playing field, we have ranked 25 national parks from good to amazing based on testimony from travel experts across the country. Keep reading to find out more about some of the best national parks in America according to experts from U.S. News & World Report, Travel + Leisure, Thrillist and more.
#25 Badlands National Park (South Dakota)
One of the trademarks of the West, the Badlands are situated in Montana, parts of Utah, and South Dakota, where Badlands National Park is dedicated to protecting the barren plateau. It’s truly a sight to behold, but the folks at Travel + Leisure warn that, because it is heavily eroded, the area can be hard to traverse.
#24 Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)
Experts across the board agree that Cuyahoga Valley National Park is worth a visit, but that it doesn’t offer anything you can’t see at another park. There are 33,000 acres of lush landscape to take in, from wonderful waterfalls to photo-worthy forests to remarkable rock formations. The park is relatively close to major cities on the Great Lakes, and best of all, entrance is free!
#23 Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)
Theodore Roosevelt National Park has been described by the Renee Roaming blog, whose author has visited every national park, as being comprised of three distinct units. The South and North units have the most options for exploring due to their sheer size, and Elkhorn Ranch is the smallest unit, nestled between the South and North sections of the park. With such varied landscapes, you’re in for a unique treat wherever you go.
#22 Gateway Arch National Park (Missouri)
Gateway Arch National Park represents a blend of the urban world with the natural in St. Louis. The Arch is the first thing people think about when they want to visit St. Louis, and you can even take a tram to the top of the amazing structure. The reason it’s not amazing is because it’s not an exceptionally expansive site by national park standards, according to Thrillist. But the National Park Service has decided it is a national park, and it’s a must-see on your journey.
#21 Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas)
Hot Springs National Park ranks a little lower on the list because, much like Gateway Arch National Park, several travel experts say it’s on the small side. Still, the park is an otherwise notable hot spot (literally!) that predates Yellowstone as a protected space! It was originally established by Congress as Hot Springs Reservation in 1832 and became a national park in 1921.
#20 Capitol Reef Park (Utah)
Part of the reason that Capitol Reef Park isn’t always looked at, according to Thrillist, is because it is competing for visitors with four other parks in Utah alone. The orange cliffs, geographic formations and vegetation will make you swoon.
#19 Everglades National Park (Florida)
A quick daytrip from Miami, Everglades National Park was created to protect the delicate wetlands of Florida. And while it’s among the most popular parks in the Southeast and it has a beautiful landscape, it’s still swamp land. That means fighting off mosquitoes and the kind of flies that bite you, which is why many travel experts give this a “good” rating rather than an “amazing” one.
#18 Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)
One of several national parks in Colorado, Great Sand Dunes National Park in Mosca isn’t as popular as some of the other parks in the state, but it should be on your radar. According to the National Park Service, it features the tallest dunes in North America. But perhaps the best part, experts agree, is that the park has a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests and tundra.
#17 Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)
What makes Shenandoah National Park stand out is the Skyline Drive, which is a 105-mile stretch of road winding its way over the Blue Ridge Mountains. But while it is a picturesque drive, there are plenty of places to see equally amazing natural sights, according to Kastalia Medrano of Thrillist.
#16 Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)
Often covered in snow much of the year, the gorgeous scenery throughout Mount Rainier National Park is a must-see. We’ve gathered from looking at multiple reports from travel writers that the downside of the snow is that you have to constantly check the “Road Status” page on the National Park Service website to make sure conditions are safe.
#15 Acadia National Park (Maine)
The oldest national park east of the Mississippi, Acadia National Park sits close to quaint New England towns, making it a cinch to see on a family vacation. It has more than 100 miles of hiking trails and some truly beautiful beaches. But all of that sweet scenery can disappear at a moment’s notice when the thick fog rolls in on a dreary day, says Thrillist’s Kastalia Medrano.
#14 Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
Bryce Canyon National Park has an impressive collection of naturally formed amphitheaters. Travel + Leisure says the best views can be found at Sunrise Point and Sunset Point where visitors can — you guessed it — see the sun rise and set. Plus, the annual astronomy festival gives you the opportunity to stargaze when the sun goes down.
#13 Joshua Tree National Park (California)
A captivating climate for climbers, Joshua Tree National Park encompasses a variety of rock faces for adventurous travelers. Of course, the twisted Joshua trees are a must-see, say multiple experts from Conde Nast Traveler, and the stargazing opportunities abound.
#12 Haleakala National Park (Hawaii)
If you're an adventurous traveler, there’s something you can do at Haleakala National Park that you can’t do in any other national park, according to Thrillist. And that’s climb into a volcano. The 10,023-foot Haleakala Mountain is technically dormant at the moment, but you never know when it might become active. And it certainly offers unique views you won’t find anywhere else.
#11 Death Valley National Park (California and Nevada)
In 2016, National Geographic travel photographer Jonathan Irish and NASA employee Stephanie Payne set out to see all of America’s national parks over the course of one year. Irish had never been to Death Valley National Park before. “It absolutely blew me away,” he said after visiting. “It's really a park of extremes where you get everything from dunes to soaring mountains overlooking salt pans.”
#10 Olympic National Park (Washington)
Olympic National Park is one of the top 10 parks on U.S. News & World Report’s list. The best part about it is its biodiversity, which includes beach, glacier, rainforest and some of the best hiking trails taking you past every inch. You can also ski at Hurricane Ridge in the winter.
#9 Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina)
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has topped the list of most-visited national parks for several years, and it’s not hard to see why. The Appalachian Trail runs directly through the park for 72 miles, offering nature lovers a bevy of opportunities to view all kinds of wildlife. And with around 1,500 black bears roaming the land, you’re sure to see one!
#8 Zion National Park (Utah)
Yes, another national park in Utah. What’s cool about Zion National Park, nestled in the southwest corner of the state, is that it has been described as “a paradise for thrill-seekers” by U.S. News & World Report. That’s because there are points like Angel's Landing, which brings travelers up through a nearly 1,500-foot natural staircase. Or there’s the 10-mile trek through The Narrows, literally the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. Hikers must travel upstream through the Virgin River.
#7 Arches National Park (Utah)
We know, we know. There are several Utah parks on our list. Arches National Park, which lies north of Moab, is the site of more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches. And these geological formations attract more than a million visitors from all over the world each year, according to U.S. News & World Report. These natural wonders make the destination simply amazing.
#6 Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
Rocky Mountain National Park spans the Continental Divide and houses protected mountains, forests, and alpine tundra. The folks at Thrillist say there’s such incredible beauty in the diversity of the land found throughout the park that each turn offers a unique experience.
#5 Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
Yes, the views are incredible. But there’s more to do than look at a landscape worthy of appearing on a Hallmark holiday greeting card. The experts at Travel + Leisure say Grand Teton National Park is an ideal place to get immersed in winter sports. The Exum Mountain Guides lead backcountry and downhill ski and snowboard tours in the park’s varied terrain, and the best part is it’s “blissfully free of crowds.”
#4 Glacier National Park (Montana)
Ideal for hiking enthusiasts, according to U.S. News & World Report, Glacier National Park is home to plenty of trails that cozy up to a variety of wildlife, including moose, grizzly bears and black bears. And once you get to the end of your hike, the views are worth more than the entry fee. Ten times over.
#3 Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
There’s a reason it’s called the Grand Canyon. The 18-by-277-mile park offers endless hiking opportunities, plus the chance to raft the Colorado River. This UNESCO World Heritage site is so immensely gorgeous that even National Geographic experts have said pictures simply don’t do it justice. You must go. Now!
#2 Yosemite National Park (California)
Rank: Amazing. National Geographic travel photographer Jonathan Irish wrote, “It would certainly be a challenge to determine a place more lovely than Yosemite is when judging it by the sum of its parts.” California's most-visited national park features impressive waterfalls, grand granite rock formations, and vibrant views aplenty. Tunnel View is the most iconic viewpoint in the park, producing some of the most easily recognizable photographs in travel magazines and coffee table books alike.
#1 Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana and Idaho)
Yellowstone is the original national park and still the best. In 1872 Congress moved to set aside 1.2 million acres of public land straddling the future states of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho as America's (and the world's) first national park. The 2.2 million-acre park tops so many lists due to its size alone, which offers many diverse views of nature and wildlife. It also tops most of the lists when travel experts rank America’s national parks, which means you'll have to try your best to avoid the gigantic summer crowds.
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