What better way to get a dose of nature than at a scenic national park? With fresh air, clear water, and breathtaking views, this could be just the trip you were waiting for! We’ve done some groundwork for you and created a list of the top 5 national parks in the US to visit, where you can unwind, relax, and rejuvenate in the lap of nature.
1. Yosemite National Park, California
The Sierra Nevada Mountains of California are known for their waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, mountain peaks, and glaciers. Now guess which national park in the US has all of these combined! Yosemite ranks as one of the top national parks in the US for the sheer scale of its features and biological diversity.
The U-shaped valley called Tunnel View is one of the most striking locations in the park and a scenic camping location from where you can set off on climbing and hiking trails. These will also take you to spots overlooking cliffs, green meadows, or even high-altitude lakes. Popular trails are along Glacier Road and Tioga road.
The park is also a haven for rock climbers, with cliffs like El Capitan and Half Dome beckoning to be scaled whenever climbing season opens. The Camp 4 campground, where climbers pitch their tents, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Regular campers can also visit North Pines, Upper Pines, and Lower Pines campgrounds which offer amazing views of the valley.
The Yosemite Museum is also a big attraction that draws archaeology and culture nerds – it showcases artifacts of the indigenous Miwok people. Altogether, this is one national park in the US that has something for everyone to enjoy!
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2. Everglades National Park, Florida
Heading to Florida to get some sun and sand can never go wrong. But apart from the beaches, if you‘re up for an adventure through a tropical wetland brimming with exotic animals, the Everglades National Park will not disappoint. It is probably one of the few national parks in the US that can give you the ‘Africa experience’ close to home!
You‘ll be forgiven if you thought of the Everglades as just a big swamp – it‘s actually the third-largest national park in the mainland US. It is home to three unique types of ecosystems: mangroves, sawgrass prairies, and cypress forests. You‘ll find that its nickname – River of Grass – is quite fitting!
Things to do:
There are so many that you‘re likely to get ‘swamped‘! Whether it‘s hiking in the mud swamps to encounter creepy crawlies or biking through the 15-mile ‘Shark Valley‘ – everything is an adventure in the Everglades. The park is near the Big Cypress National Preserve, where you can go camping or off-road into the undergrowth and spot exotic animals like alligators, rattlesnakes, storks, Florida panthers, and even manatees.
Taking a canoe or kayak through the Everglades Wilderness Waterway is one of the best ways to explore the mangroves. If you‘re okay with swimming, you can even try out snorkeling and paddling to view the rare corals growing beneath the water! Bird-watchers are in for a treat, too, as the park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.
In the evenings, you can relax, stretch your legs and grab a beer at Everglades City. As the state‘s stone crab fishing capital, you don‘t want to miss a seaside lunch here. While you‘re at it, you could even be treated to a few ‘Florida Man‘ stories by locals!
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3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho
Think ‘hot springs,‘ and it‘s always Yellowstone that comes to mind! As the first declared national park in the US (and possibly the world), it would be a shame if you don‘t visit it at least once in your lifetime. It is most famous for the Yellowstone Supervolcano, which is currently designated active and likely to erupt in the future. Sound dangerous enough to merit a trip?
Of course, there‘s always Old Faithful, the geyser that has erupted roughly every 45 minutes since 2000. A popular challenge here is to try and time the eruption in a snapshot – it‘s harder than you think! If a picture-perfect spot is what you‘re looking for, then the rainbow-colored Grand Prismatic Spring is where you can get an Instagram-worthy snap! While you‘re at it, check out the Beehive geyser, Giant geyser, and Lion geyser.
If you‘re someone who enjoys fishing, then make a beeline for Yellowstone Lake, where angling for the famous Yellowstone cutthroat trout is a favorite activity. You can also hike around the lake and take a guided boating or kayak tour on the blue waters.
The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone is a scenic viewpoint where you can take in the fantastic vista, with hundreds of bison roaming and grazing. Once you‘re done with the sights, check into the Old Faithful Inn, which recreates the logwood cabin lodge experience right on the lakeshore.
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4. Acadia National Park, Maine
If there was ever a national park in the US with the perfect combination of coastal charm and accessibility, it is this. Located on the Northeastern Atlantic seaboard in Maine, the spruce and fir forests, humid climate, and heady sea breezes of Acadia National Park are the perfect antidote to city life.
The sunrise from Cadillac Mountain peak is heavenly. It’s the perfect excuse for an early morning hiking trip! If you‘d rather enjoy the scenic coastal route, you can also rent a car and take the Park Loop Road. Don‘t forget to stop at the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, where you can get a panoramic view of the ocean.
The park has a network of paved paths funded by John Rockefeller called the Carriage Roads Network. You can use them to navigate the park on foot or by bike. Ranger-led programs run from mid-May to mid-October and introduce visitors to the park‘s natural and cultural history through short walks, hikes, and boat cruises. During winter, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling on the paved loop road, and ice fishing on frozen ponds and lakes are activities visitors can enjoy.
In September, the park hosts the annual Acadia Night Sky Festival – a must-visit for every budding astronomer looking to stargaze.
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5. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
No list of national parks in the US is complete without the Grand Canyon, a perennial favorite!
Listed among the eight wonders of the natural world, it receives more than six million visitors every year, making it one of the most-visited national parks in the US. The iconic gorges, ridges, and rock formations carved into the red stone landscape by the Colorado River are now iconic across the globe.
But it‘s more than just a pretty spot. Adventure is the name of the game here!
The hiking trails are the biggest draw, with many people challenging themselves to take on the rugged Arizona landscape. If you‘re feeling especially adventurous, you can try the ‘Rim-to-Rim’ hiking trail – where you start at the North Rim and hike 14 miles to the foot of the canyon before climbing 9 miles again to reach the South Rim. And if you want to get your heart racing, there‘s nothing better than river rafting down the Colorado River. Top off your experience by viewing the sunrise or sunset at Bright Angel Point or on the Grand Canyon Skywalk.
Had a tiring day and want to hang up your boots for a while? You can check into The Grand Canyon Lodge, a historic hotel and watering hole at North Rim, or explore other ones like the Thunderbird Lodge, Maswik Lodge, Bright Angel Lodge, and many more.
Don‘t forget to get a souvenir at the Grand Canyon Village before you head back out!
An easy way to save some money while traveling to national parks would be to pre-book your parking spots online. Parking offsite rather than in official parking garages can also help you save quite a bit of money.
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