There are a total of 62 national parks in the USA, each spectacular in their own way. In fact, the US is home to some of the best national parks in the world, and there’s a reason for that. The impressive wildlife and landscapes are unlike anywhere else on Earth. You can find deep canyons, sky-piercing sequoias, snow-capped peaks and vast deserts – all in one national park! Truly, there’s no better place to discover the unique natural wonders of the US.
Most of them are concentrated in California, Alaska, Utah and Colorado, and are a mandatory stop for outdoor lovers and anyone going on a road trip adventure. If you have limited time or are simply wondering which is the best US national park to visit first, fear not! We’ve shortened them down to the top 10 national parks in the USA you must visit at least once in your life, in no particular order.
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
- Zion National Park
- Arches National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
1. Joshua Tree National Park
Very close to Coachella Valley and Palm Springs, where the Colorado and Mojave deserts meet, you can find a raw paradise of intense peace and adventure. With nearly 800,000 acres of Wild West inspired landscapes, it’s easy to see why Joshua Tree attracts more than 2 million visitors every year.
Named after the spiny species of Yucca plant that cover the park, Joshua Tree is also known for its dry valleys, oasis and sand dunes. It’s especially attractive to radical climbers and boulderers for its more than 8,000 climbing routes and extraordinarily rugged rocks. Wildlife has also adapted to this extremely dry environment. During the day, you can spot a wide variety of lizards, ground squirrels and birds. At night, keep your eyes peeled for snakes, kangaroo rats, jackrabbits and desert bighorn sheep. Joshua Tree is also one of the best American national parks for astrophotography!
What to see in Joshua Tree
- Hidden Valley
- Barker Dam
- Skull Rock
- Cholla Cactus Garden
- Key Ranch
- Qual Mountain
- Penguin Rock
2. Yosemite National Park
Located just over 160 miles from San Francisco, Yosemite is one of the most popular national parks in the US. With just under 750,000 acres of glacially carved landscape and over 800 miles of hiking trails, it’s difficult not to fall in love with Yosemite.
Yosemite is one of the most beautiful national parks in the US, known for its impressive granite cliffs, giant sequoia forests and waterfalls. And the rich wildlife is just the cherry on top. This is black bear territory, so get ready for occasional bear spotting! There are also coyotes, mountain lions, deer and squirrels. You can also spot a number of rock climbers ascending the sheer granite walls of El Capitan and Half Dome every day. Check out the movies The Dawn Wall and Free Solo to follow professional climbers Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold in their attempts to climb parts of El Capitan (with and without ropes!).
What to see in Yosemite
- Glacier Point
- El Capitan
- Half Dome
- Mirror Lake
- Toulumne Meadows
- Waterfalls such as Bridalveil Fall, Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall
- Tunnel View
3. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Sequoia National Park is the second-oldest national park in the US. It shares a combined size of 850,000 acres with Kings Canyon National Park, at the south of Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California. The dramatic landscape of both parks includes deep canyons, caves, rugged snowcapped peaks and ancient giant sequoias. These are the wold’s largest living trees and only grow naturally on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada.
Apart from being home to the largest tree in the world (the General Sherman Tree), the parks also contain the deepest canyon in the US – the South Fork Canyon of the Kings River. With numerous viewpoints, there are also plenty of fishing, horse riding and campfire programs throughout the year.
What to see in Sequoia National Park
- General Sherman Tree
- Giant Forest
- Crystal Cave
- Crescent Meadow
- Moro Rock
- Hospital Rock
What to see in Kings Canyon
- Big Stump Trail
- Mark Twain Stump
- Grant Grove
- General Grant Tree
- Cedar Grove
- Kings River
- Grizzly Falls
4. Zion National Park
A 2.5h drive from Las Vegas will take you to Zion, Utah’s oldest national park. More than 240 million years of erosion and weathering have sculpted Zion’s ever-evolving landscape. In fact, the series of colourful cliffs, deserts and deep canyons (with the Zion Canyon the most spectacular of all) are still carved today! The Virgin River and smaller streams are constantly cutting into the rock layers, having built up over 10,000 feet of sediment so far.
The rich diversity of fauna here includes the critically endangered Mexican Spotted Owl and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, as well as Mojave Desert tortoises and California Condor. And as of flora? You can expect to see everything from Zion’s famous “Hanging Gardens” (ferns, mosses and wildflowers) to desert shrubs. You can even hike in (yes, in!) the Virgin River through a gorge with walls a thousand feet tall known as The Narrows! All of this really makes Zion one of the most beautiful national parks in the US and the world.
What to see in Zion
- Angels Landing
- The Subway
- Weeping Rock
- Canyon overlook trail
- The Narrows
- Checkerboard Mesa
- Emerald Pools
- Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
5. Arches National Park
Arches is one of the Big 5 Utah national parks. It’s best known for its red rock landscape, with over 2,000 natural sandstone arches (the largest concentration in the world!) and hundreds of pinnacles, balanced rocks and carved windows. This unique landscape makes Arches one of the prettiest national parks in the US.
The 75,000 acres of dramatic rock scenery is also home to native desert plants and animals, most of them nocturnal. Stay awake for a little longer and and you’ll be able to spot bobcats, bats, skunks, owls and mountain lions. Also, Arches is one of the best national parks in the US for stargazing, so if you’re a fan, don’t miss the opportunity to observe the sky. At dark, stars and galaxies became clear in the dark sky thanks to the strict artificial light restrictions of the area. There’s a reason Arches is one of 70 International Dark Sky parks in the world!
What to see in Arches National Park
- Delicate Arch
- Balanced Rock
- Devils Garden and Landscape Arch
- Park Avenue
- The Windows
- Double Arch
- Dark Angel
6. Grand Canyon National Park
A trip to Arizona (or a bucket list) isn’t complete without a visit to the Grand Canyon. The sequence of eroded rock layers date back 1.8 billion years ago at the very bottom! Carved by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon National Park is a total of 277 river miles long (446km), 18 miles wide (29km) and a mile deep (1.6km). You can explore the semi-arid park by hiking the many trails, riding your bike and even rafting on the Colorado River.
The different elevations of the rugged landscape, alongside the climate, have created a remarkable range of plant and animal communities. You can see Grand Canyon rattlesnakes, desert bighorn sheep and Joshua Trees in the low desert near the Colorado River. Meanwhile, the mountain forests near the North Rim thrive with rainfall and are therefore home to mule deer, wild turkeys, and Aspen Trees.
What to see in the Grand Canyon
- Trail of Time
- Grand Canyon South Rim: South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail
- Grand Canyon North Rim and trails
- Desert View Drive
- Grand Canyon Viewpoint
- Moran Point
- Sunset from Lipan Point or Navajo Point
- Grand Canyon Skywalk
7. Bryce Canyon National Park
You can find the world’s largest collection of hoodoos (irregularly eroded rock columns) in Utah’s Bryce Canyon. Despite what its name might suggest, Bryce Canyon is actually a series of natural amphitheaters carved into the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The most famous of these is Bryce Amphitheater, filled with fantastic viewpoints along its rim, all connected with hiking trails.
Drive along the only main road of the park for 18 miles of scenic views. Or join many of the horseback rides, astronomy programs or full moon hikes available. As a Dark Sky Sanctuary, Bryce Canyon offers over 100 astronomy programs per year, and even an Annual Astronomy Festival with activities both during the day and night.
A bonus is it’s only about 80 miles from Zion to Bryce Canyon, so you can visit two of the best US national parks quite easily!
What to see in Bryce Canyon
- Bryce Amphitheater: Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset and Sunrise Points
- Queen’s/Navajo Combination Loop Trail
- Scenic Drive
- Fairyland Canyon
- Thor’s Hammer
- Wall Street
8. Yellowstone National Park
With 2.2 million acres and nearly a thousand miles of trails, Yellowstone has something for everyone. Yellowstone is not only the first US national park, but also the first national park in the world! The majority of Yellowstone is tucked into the northwest corner of Wyoming, with small sections spilling into Montana and Idaho.
More than 4 million people visit Yellowstone every year, and it’s not difficult to see why. Yellowstone contains over 10,000 hot springs, bubbling mud pots, geysers and fumaroles. If this wasn’t enough, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is one of the largest temperate-zones in the world, with a wildlife and natural diversity like no other. You can see just a fraction of it in this amazing photo captured by Sam’s grandpa David. Yellowstone is also home to the world’s largest great bison herds, as well as grizzly bears, Gray Wolfs and geological wonders like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. Yellowstone National Park also contains Yellowstone Caldera, a supervolcano!
What to see in Yellowstone
- Old Faithful Geyser/Upper Geyser Basin
- Grand Prismatic Spring
- Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River
- Yellowstone Lake
- Mammoth Hot Springs
- Lamar Valley
- Tower Fall
- Hayden Valley
- Yellowstone Grand Loop Road
9. Everglades National Park
Everglades was the first national park ever created to protect a threatened ecosystem. South Florida contains 1.5 million acres of wetland – the largest subtropical wilderness of the US. Since 1934, the park has made significant efforts to protect the quickly vanishing Everglades, addressing issues such as pollution and environmental threats, and returning water to its natural distribution. Thanks to this, Everglades National Park has earned three world designations: UNESCO World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve and Wetland of International Importance!
The vast wetlands go all the way down to Flamingo, the southernmost point in mainland Florida. With a combination of tropical Caribbean and temperate North American flora, the park is also home to a number of endangered and protected species, such as West Indian manatees, American crocodiles and Florida panthers, as well as over 200,000 alligators!
As most of the park is only accessible by water, you can explore it by canoe, boat or kayak. There are also a number of board walks and short trails along the park.
What to see in Everglades
- Anhinga Trail
- Mahogany Hammock Trail
- Shark Valley
- Nike Hercules missile base
- Nine-Mile Pond
- Wilderness Waterway
10. Canyonlands National Park
With over 300,000 acres of colourful landscape, Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah. Similarly to the Grand Canyon, it contains vast vistas of mesas, canyons and buttes carved by the Colorado and Green Rivers, as well as their tributaries.
Canyonlands National Park is also home to one of the best preserved and largest collections of Barrier Canyon Style rock art in the world and even dinosaur footprints! Photographers also flock to Mesa Arch for a shot at sunset.
You can explore each of the four districts: Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze and the Rivers, which separate each of them. Although all districts may appear close, they’re actually quite not directly connected. With only a few places to cross the Rivers, it can take up to six hours to reach them. We would recommend an individual trip to explore each district with Island in the Sky being your priority. You may also recognise Canyonlands from the movie “127 Hours”. If you do go exploring though, please make sure you tell someone in advance!
What to see in Canyonlands
- Mesa Arch
- Grand Viewpoint
- Green River Overlook
- Pothole Point trail
- Chesler Park
- Horseshoe Canyon and the Great Gallery
- Upheaval Dome
Did you find this post helpful? Which US national parks have you visited? I’d love to know! If you loved our guide to the best US national parks, please leave us a comment, pin some photos and show us some love on social media using the buttons below.
Do you like exploring the world? Then check out some of our other travel guides:
- Black Heritage Trail, Boston (Massachusetts) guide and map
- Things you must do in Prague
- Affordable things to do in Cannes, Côte d’Azur
- The 10 best things to do in Edinburgh, Scotland
- Best things to do in York
- Things to do in Monaco on a budget
- The 10 best things to do in Lisbon
- 24 Hours in Coimbra
- The 10 best things to do in Porto
These all sound amazing!
I really need to travel more! I never go anywhere but am desperate to so need to take action! ☺️
Love Lozza x
Definitely! US National parks are awesome! x
HI Gratsiela. Great write-up and some absolutely stunning photos – thanks for sharing. Just how common is it to see bears, coyotes, and mountain lions when you are walking in these parks? And what is the recommended course of action?!
Thanks Richie! There’re loads of information around on boards in the National Parks that explain how to deal with wildlife encounters. Each needs to be dealt with in a different manner. We haven’t yet seen coyotes (although we’ve heard them), but we did see a bear in Sequoia National Park as we were driving! We did not bother it and let it continue with its walk!
We visited Yosemite on our honeymoon 10 years ago and have he equivalent photo of us standing there in the park. We drove through in early November and were really lucky with the weather that we didn’t encountered snow. I’d love to visit again for our 20th anniversary or maybe Yellowstone as I’ve always wanted to go there. Great post with more ideas for some future trip.
Awe that’s amazing! I think many people have the same photo as us haha, it’s such an incredible view!A 20th year anniversary in Yosemite sounds like such a cool idea – do it! x
Sequoia looks amazing. Yosemite is the most stunning place I’ve ever visited, but a of these look great.
Definitely a list to be made for when the kids leave home!
Sequoia is stunning. I’ve never seen trees so big! National Parks are generally kid friendly, especially the ones in this list – maybe you could consider bringing them with you; I bet they would love exploring around!
I remember going to Yellowstone a while ago as a school trip and it was so much fun. It was so beautiful and we got to stay at the Old Faithful Inn. There’s so many national parks on this list that I’ve always wanted to visit, especially the Grand Canyon, and your post is really informative. I especially liked how you added little tidbits of things to do at each park as well. Thank you for sharing!
Ah a school trip to Yellowstone, I bet you loved it! Thank you so much for leaving a comment, I’m so happy to read you’ve liked this post! I hope you get to visit the other national parks on your list very soon! x
I’m lucky enough to have visited 3 of the 10 parks in your list but would love to go to the others. Great photos as always.
Thank you Jane! More national parks is always better, I can’t wait to be back myself! x
This post is fantastic! I have officially added at least three of these parks to my bucket list. Nothing more beautiful than the American landscape. Thanks for the recommendations. 👍🏼
Thank you so much! I’m so happy to read this post has inspired you to discover some more beautiful spots in the US! x
Love this post!! I’ve been to all of these except Joshua Tree, Zion and Canyonlands, which I’ve actually planned to do next September all being well with Covid! I got engaged at Yellowstone and we visited Bryce and the Everglades on our honeymoon, so such fond memories in these national parks. I visited Grand Canyon on my first ever USA trip back in 2014. Arches was beautiful too, as were Sequoia and Yosemite, we did these on a San Francisco- Vegas Road Trip. Loved reading this and seeing the photos, such nostalgia x
Thank you so much Michelle! I’m so sorry about your trip being cancelled, I hope you were able to reschedule it and get to visit them soon – they’re absolutely incredible! Getting engaged in Yellowstone sounds like a dream, and visiting Bryce and Everglades in your honeymoon is such a cool thing to do! We also did Yosemite, Sequoia/Kings and Joshua Tree on a California road trip. You’ve made me want to go back so bad x
Your photos are gorgeous! I love the one of you next to the rock in Joshua Tree National Park. I’ve been to most of the parks on your list. The only two I still need to get to are Canyonland National Park and Everglades National Park. My husband and I are planning to spend a year visiting all of the parks.
Awe thank you. That’s such an incredible thing to do – a whole year visiting national parks! How are you planning on fitting them all in your list? I’d love to do that myself! x
I’ve never been to the US but if I did, I would LOVE to visit the National Parks. They are absolutely stunning and honestly look like something out of the movie set. The scenery is beautiful!
The national parks in the US are some of the most amazing parks in the world, I honestly couldn’t recommend them enough. I think everyone visiting the US should try to fit in at least one national park in their list – I did three in one go for example! You will not regret it. x
I’ve heard such great things about Yellowstone! These parks all look so unique and lovely.
Yellowstone is massive! And so diverse in terms of landscape and fauna, you will have such a great time exploring around! x
I’ve always wanted to visit some national parks but have yet to do so! Which ones are the most kid-friendly?
You should, definitely! I would say they all are – we’ve seen many families with children camping and exploring around. Yosemite, Yellowstone, Sequoia & Kings, Arches, Bryce and Zion especially have loads of kid friendly trails and loads of information boards to learn about the history of the parks. I’m sure they will enjoy the landscape and the incredible wildlife! x
I’ve visited no. 4 – 8. I used to stayed in Utah for five years. I miss Utah so much. Thank you for sharing this post.
That’s incredible! Utah has such beautiful landscapes, it’s so amazing that you got to live there for 5 years! x
Hope to visit some of these places one day.
Fingers crossed! They’re 100% worth it. x
I went to Joshua Tree a few years ago the week before Christmas. We planned it since summer so the Airbnbs were super inexpensive and all pretty new. Loved it! My next goal is Yosemite. Will definitely hold on to your post to revisit as my checklist 🙂 Thank you for this amazing post
Grislean | gemlesschosen.com
Woah, Joshua Tree during Christmas time must be quite the experience! We went in early autumn and it was still boiling hot, so December time sounds like bliss. I hope you get to visit Yosemite soon – if you’ve loved Joshua Tree, you will absolutely adore Yosemite! x
Your photography is gorgeous! You’ve done a great job of inspiring others to see US National Parks.
Wow, thank you so much! It makes me so happy to read such nice comments! x
Gorgeous pictures! The trees are huge! I think that is where George Lucas filmed Return of the Jedi (Seriously)
Thank you Eric! You’re right, there’s a scene in the redwoods, but I believe it may be in the Redwood National and State Parks! Definitely a Californian landscape!
Yes, fantastic list! I have a bucket list goal of visiting every National Park. I’ve been to 7/10 on your list (not Yosemite, Sequoia or Everglades – yet). Have you been to any of the parks in the Pacific Northwest? I especially love Rainier and Olympic national parks in Washington state, and Crater Lake in Oregon.
Wow, 7 out of 10! That’s absolutely amazing! Oh you should definitely visit Yosemite – it’s one of the most breathtaking national parks I’ve ever been to. I haven’t been to any of the parks in the Pacific Northwest yet, but they’re high on my list, especially Crater Lake! Thank you so much for leaving a comment and for the amazing recommendations x
I wish I lived in the US. These all look amazing! Will definitely have to plan a trip once Covid is over!
Lyndsay | https://pandas-space.blogspot.com/
The national parks in the US are amazing! I really want to visit them all, need to plan trip over when it’s safe again! x
Wow amazing photos. Since I’m not from USA, I’ll choose
Grand Canyon and Joshua. I hope to visit one day..
Good choice! There are in two different States so you definitely have loads of places to explore along the way!
I am in awe! These photos are so amazing and I bet the parks are even more spectacular in real life. We were supposed to go to America this year, but alas with all things going on we will have to do this another time. I’m putting all of these parks on my bucket list – thank you so much for posting!
Awe, thank you Annelize! I’m so sorry about your trip to America being cancelled. We had a few trips planned for this year that have been postponed too, but at least we know we can do them another time. Fingers crossed you get to visit soon! x
I love hiking and I really want to be able to explore more beautiful places around the world! I have added most of these to my list and I can’t wait until I will finally be able to visit these places! Thanks for the great post xx
That’s so sweet, thanks Gemma! If you love hiking, you will definitely fall in love with these national parks. There’s so many hiking trails for you to do, you’ll be spoilt for choice! x
I’d love to visit all of these — I haven’t yet been able to travel to see them since I moved to the U.S. but I really hope it’s something I get to do.
It’s so cool that you have them at your doorstep, Molly! It’s definitely something you should do as soon as you can! x
This is giving me the biggest travel bug. My dad always talks about his time traveling around America and has been to many of these National Parks. I’m hoping to visit a few next year! Pinned this to remind where to go! Thanks for sharing
Thanks so much for the comment Nicola! I’m so jealous of your dad travelling around America – it’s definitely something I want to do for a few months too! I hope you get so visit these national parks too, I’m sure you will love them as much as he did x
National parks are a national treasure. I recently watched the Ken Burns film on PBS on the history of National Parks. It’s an amazing story of how they came to be . The vision of preservation, buying the land, etc. Your tour of parks and detail is great. It’s great to plan visits and actually get to the parks. I live within walking distance of a national park in Toronto, Canada. It’s a treasure that I am fortunate to visit on any day of the week. Thanks for the park post,
Thanks so much for your comment Mark! That’s amazing, I’d love to live near a national park. There’s nothing like being outdoors, in my opinion. I might have to watch the Ken Burns movie you mention; I haven’t seen it yet but if it involves national parks I’m definitely going to enjoy it!
Impressive post. I love your pictures.
I should visit the US again. X
Thanks so much Adriana! US national parks are always a good idea x
Such a beautiful read
Amazing information!! Much needed when you travel
I’ve never been to the US but after glimpsing those mesmerizing landscapes, I really want to visit those parks soon. Thanks for sharing this amazing picturesque blog!
Thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad this post has inspired a little trip over to the US x
I absolutely LOVED the grand canyon when my husband and I went last year! I haven’t been to the actual park but I did go alligator watching in the everglades and that was super fun! Did not know this at the time, but they also have alligator wrestling 😳 an actual human goes in and wrestles with them 😱 this was a great post! I definitely want and need to hit up the rest of these parks!
No way, alligator wrestling? Sounds a bit scary to watch (and do!). Thanks so much for leaving a comment, I hope you get to enjoy the rest of the national parks soon! x
Wow these are amazing parks! I have to include some of this when I visit US. Bookmarked 😉
Thank you for bookmarking, Vinn! You should definitely add at least one of these national parks to your US itinerary x
Thanks for sharing, I have visited some of these National Parks in my travels over the years and they are all amazing places to visit 🙂
Nic | Nic’s Adventures & Bakes
That’s amazing! Everyone that gets the chance to explore these beautiful national parks is extremely lucky x
All of these parks look beautiful! Sad to say, I’m a Florida native, but I’ve never been to the Everglades. Still, I want to go, and I also want to go to Sequoia National Park.
I think sometimes we forget to explore what’s right in front of us – which can be amazing! I bet you’d love both Everglades and Sequoia x
This has given me so much nostalgia from my road trip last year! I went to yellowstone, yosemite and grand canyon but Zion and Joshua Tree were narrowly missed. So many of these are on my list to see and I can’t wait until covid is over to go back. Amazing pictures too!
Ahhh how lucky, sounds like an amazing road trip! We did Kings Canyon/Sequoia, Yosemite and Joshua Tree on a road trip last year too and I can say that it was spectacular! Can’t wait to go back myself! x
Amazing pictures! We are yet to visit the US and definitely want to visit some National Parks, these all look fantastic! 😊
Amazing! Then this list will definitely come in handy. Thanks for the lovely comment x