Looking to explore the United States’ great landscapes? Well, do it through its national park system. Here are the best national parks in the USA.
The United States is filled with national parks. Spanning the entire United States, national parks are special national areas set aside by Congress to be protected from development.
Thanks to its national park system, the best examples of this country’s natural beauty are preserved for visitors to enjoy and for American flora and fauna to thrive unimpeded.
National parks come in all shapes and sizes, with different climates and terrain within them.
For example, a national park could be an island, a mountain range, or a desert spanning thousands of acres.
Read on for our list of best national parks in the USA!
Table of Contents
- Best National Parks in America
- 1. Yellowstone National Park
- 2. Badlands National Park
- 3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- 4. Death Valley National Park
- 5. Denali National Park
- 6. Indiana Dunes National Park
- 7. Voyageurs National Park
- 8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- 9. Grand Canyon National Park
- 10. Glacier National Park
- 11. Kenai Fjords National Park
- 12. Acadia National Park
- 13. Hot Springs National Park
- 14. Rocky Mountain National Park
- 15. Yosemite National Park
- 16. Shenandoah National Park
- 17. Gateway Arch National Park
- 18. Zion National Park
- 19. Bryce Canyon National Park
- 20. Big Bend National Park
- 21. Grand Teton National Park
- 22. Arches National Park
- 23. Sequoia National Park
Best National Parks in America
1. Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is the nation’s first national park.
Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is located mostly in Wyoming (as the only national park in Wyoming) but also includes parts of Idaho and Montana. It has about 2,200 lakes and has a wide variety of wildlife such as bears, wolves, bison, elk, deer, and many others.
The park is one of the USA’s most popular national parks. An average of 3 million people visit Yellowstone National Park every year, the summers being the busiest.
Yellowstone features a variety of things to see like the many geysers and hot springs that Yellowstone is famous for.
Old Faithful Geyser is one of the most popular national parks in Yellowstone – it gets its name from how often its water erupts, which can be as frequently as every 30 minutes!
Visitors can rent boats to go out on Lake Yellowstone, where there are many parks located around the lake. Hiking, boating, and fishing are national park activities that many people enjoy in Yellowstone National Park.
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2. Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park in South Dakota protects 242,756 acres of sharp-sided buttes and pinnacles along with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States.
The National Park Service manages the park in a partnership with the Oglala Lakota tribe. The Badlands Wilderness is one area where endangered species like black-footed ferrets have been reintroduced to this designated wilderness area.
The South Unit, or Stronghold District, includes sites of 1890s Ghost Dances, a former United States Air Force bombing and gunnery range, and the famous Red Shirt Table Overlook.
Authorized as the Badlands National Monument on March 4th, 1929, it was not formally established until January 25th, 1939. On November 10th, 1978, the Badlands National Monument was relisted as a national park.
The park also administers the nearby Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, the Minuteman Missile being one of the USA’s first quick response ICBM nuclear missiles.
Fun fact; the movies Dances with Wolves (1990) and Thunderheart (1992) were partially filmed in Badlands National Park.
In 1868, at the Second Treaty of Fort Laramie, the United States assured the Sioux that this land would be theirs forever. The treaty had allowed natives to farm and mine the area, but they were evicted without compensation in 1889. The Supreme Court ruled this unlawful almost a century later in 1980.
The Sioux Indians hosted the Ghost Dance movement, an event to revive their buffalo and ancestors’ spirits, to help wash evil away during the late 19th century.
This movement drew the interest of other tribes, who interpreted the Ghost Dance differently. For example, the Sioux saw the banishment of evil as a peaceful effort that was the work of all men, the Lakota however saw the removal of evil as the removal of European Americans.
The United States outlawed this ritual after the last performance in 1890, which was followed by the brutal Wounded Knee Massacre, when the US Army attacked and killed nearly 300 “troublesome” Lakota men, women, and children, under the guise of disarming them.
The dance remained outlawed but saw a resurgence with the American Civil Rights movement in the 1960s when it was renamed the Red Power Movement. In 1990, the US Government apologized and expressed deep regret for the massacre at Wounded Knee, following the Ghost Dance
For incredible views of rugged beauty and a perfect example of America’s complicated history, look no further and plan a visit.
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3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is an American national park that stretches across North Carolina and Tennessee, and by numbers of yearly visitors is the most popular National Park in the US.
The northeastern part of Tennessee is home to some of the highest mountains in eastern North America, including Clingmans Dome, Mount Guyot, and Mount Le Conte.
The Appalachian Trail crosses through the park on its 828-mile route from Georgia to Maine.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is located right outside of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina.
In addition to hosting 12.5 million visitors each year, it is one of the country’s largest protected areas with a size of 560.5 square miles.
Within this national park, you will find stunning views of the mountains, enchanting waterfalls, and lush green forests. The national park’s location is one of the most popular tourist destinations in America for camping, hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing and more.
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4. Death Valley National Park
This park was named after Death Valley, a valley near the park’s eastern border that lies below sea level, although the national park itself, however, is not below sea level. The land within the park boundaries ranges from at Badwater to over in the Panamint Mountains.
Of national parks in the 48 contiguous states, Death Valley National Park has one of the longest histories of continuous occupation by humans. Archaeological studies have found evidence for the ancestors of modern Native Americans.
Death Valley National Park includes three segments of land: Death Valley, Panamint Valley, and Eureka Valley. It straddles the California-Nevada border across from the Sierra Nevada Mountains in southern Alta California.
The park protects the northwest corner of the Mojave Desert, a diverse desert region characterized by salt flat and sand dunes, and is most notable for its 90% below sea level lowest point, Badwater Basin.
Death Valley is the 5th largest national park in the United States and definitely its hottest – in 2021, Death Valley recorded a record-busting air temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celcius), making it the hottest place on Earth. It’s worth noting that the previous record for hottest place on Earth was also held by Death Valley!
The valley is a depression with the oldest rocks being extensively metamorphosed and from 1.7 billion years ago. Ancient, warm seas deposited marine sediments until rifting opened up the Pacific Ocean.
Additional sedimentation occurred until a subduction zone formed off of the coast. The subduction uplifted this area out of the sea and created a line of volcanoes.
The uplift caused a wide range of elevations and the local climate cooled considerably. This broad range of elevation created several life zones that exist in the park today.
Caves formed in the valley from its limestone formations. One of the most well-known is Manure Pile Cave, which was used by local inhabitants and later prospectors as shelter from the intense heat.
The first recorded European to enter Death Valley was the Spanish explorer Gabriel Moraga in 1806.
In 1849, a group of Mormon settlers came into the valley via Salt Spring Valley while headed for California and discovered the native Timbisha peoples living in caves, now known as The Rabbit Hole.
The first European settlers in the area were John and Rebecca Winters, who started a ranch on the eastern edge of what is now known as Death Valley.
Although these settlers did not last long due to extreme weather conditions, a few remained.
The most notable was William Richey (known locally as Wild Bill) who built his ranch, which included a hotel, saloon, and bathhouse. The Park Service has developed the Wild Bill site into a visitor center.
Richey’s business empire expanded into railways and his Nevada-California-Oregon Railway passed through the valley in 1905 on its way to Bieber, California, where it terminated. It was later abandoned in 1931.
The modern route of State Route 190 closely parallels the railroad and passes several of its old stations.
The national park lies within the Mojave Desert and at the southern end of the Great Basin.
It is a land of superlatives: it contains both the lowest (Badwater) and highest (Borax Flat) points in North America, as well as having recorded more rainfall than anywhere else on the continent. So, it’s technically the hottest and wettest place in North America!
The Badwater is also home (yes, I know!) to the darkest place in the United States, and is one of only a few national parks which border another country (Mexico). Death Valley National Park also meets with Joshua Tree National Park at their southern boundaries.
In 2013, Death Valley National Park was designated as a dark sky park by the International Dark-Sky Association. This designation makes it one of just 33 parks in North America to earn this distinction.
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5. Denali National Park
Denali National Park is unlike any national park in America. From the moment you enter the park, your views change from a treeless desert to arctic tundra. At 6 million acres, it is bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks combined!
The park was named after the Denali mountain (the high one), as dubbed by Alaska Natives who revere the mountain as a sacred place.
The national park is a preserve for a myriad of wildlife, including Dall sheep and moose. It also offers many recreational opportunities in its mountain ranges and national preserves.
Formerly opened in 1917 as McKinley National Park (the mountain also being known as Mount McKinley), the park was officially renamed in 2015 to reflect the heritage of Alaska’s native population. Denali was also the first national park located above the Arctic Circle; it is nicknamed “The Land of the Midnight Sun”.
Denali is home to tons of wildlife and outdoor excursions like flightseeing tours, Denali national park hiking, rafting adventures, wonderful cabins, and incredible rail tours.
Gateway communities: The Park is located in an area that has access to larger commercial centers with a population of approximately 75,000 people including the villages of Northway, Cantwell, and Healy.
Like what you are hearing? Check out this full list of the best things to do in Denali National Park.
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6. Indiana Dunes National Park
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is a United States national park that stretches across parts of northwest Indiana.
Legislation signed in 1966 authorized the federal government to purchase additional acreage from commercial developers and created the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The designation was upgraded to “national park” on February 15, 2019.
The National Lakeshore, national monument, and national scenic River represent a total of nearly 550 acres and include some of the only undeveloped dune formations in the Great Lakes Region.
The park is named for its location on Lake Michigan’s southern shoreline and has more than sand dunes, as well as swales, bogs, ponds, streams, and savanna.
The National Lakeshore’s dunes provide the largest continuous natural sand dune formation in the world on land protected by the national park service. The dunes themselves vary from underwater to foredune and back dunes.
As you drive along the Lake Michigan shoreline on East River Drive, you will see a variety of animal habitats including beaches, marshes, woodlands, and freshwater bogs. Various animal species inhabit these different ecosystems including migratory birds and mammals such as white-tailed deer, coyote, fox, and beaver.
Gateway communities: The National Lakeshore is located in Porter County, Indiana at the southern most tip of Lake Michigan.
It runs through the national park for approximately 18 miles on the western edge of the county and encompasses all or part of fourteen municipalities including Chesterton, Portage, Burns Harbor,
The National Lakeshore is a popular recreational destination for hiking; there are many fantastic trails to hike, including the National Scenic Trail, and the famous Dunes Trail.
The National Lakeshore hosts many annual festivals and special events including dune restoration activities, family reunions, musical concerts, and other cultural gatherings.
See this national monument’s website for more information on visitor services & fees.
The National Park Service provides public access to National Lakeshore trails, as well as to the Indiana Dunes State Park which has horseback riding and bicycling trails.
The National Lakeshore is located about 5 miles north of Chicago in northwest Indiana’s Calumet Region.
The park’s northern section can be reached via exit #123 off Interstate 80. It is also accessible from exit #60 of Interstate 90 near Hammond.
The National Lakeshore’s main office is located on Michigan Road in Porter, Indiana. The park’s northern half (including the national monument & national scenic River) can be reached from U.S. Highway 12 (also known as Dunes Highway).
Unfortunately, there are no public transportation options for national lakeshore visitors however, car rental services are available in Valparaiso, Michigan City, and downtown Chicago.
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7. Voyageurs National Park
Voyageurs National Park, located in Minnesota, is a national park that is completely unique from other national parks.
It’s one of the few national parks in America that shares a border with another country. Voyageurs National Park borders Canada, specifically the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario.
The Voyageurs National Park is an American national park founded to preserve America’s northern freshwater lakes, waterways and the surrounding landscape.
One of the great things about Voyageurs National Park is that it is located outside of International Falls, a charming town in northeastern Minnesota near fifteen other lakes and the Rainy River. From there, you can explore much more!
Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota is a favorite destination for canoe trips and the park is also one of the most popular national parks in North America.
The national park has visitors from all over the world, many of those coming for bird watching, hiking, and kayaking.
Canoeing is the most popular activity here and there are plenty of opportunities to take a canoe or kayak tour in various parts of the park.
The national park has a gathering spot where children and adults alike can learn more about the area, its history, and native animal species.
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8. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park preserves the rural landscape of Northeast Ohio.
The park encompasses around 30,000 acres. Of national parks in the 48 contiguous states, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has the highest concentration of cultural sites.
There are approximately 20,000 documented archaeological sites throughout the national park and national historic district.
The national park was established in 1974, primarily to protect the spectacular gorge of Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie shoreline features including waterfalls, cliffs and beaches.
The national park is named for the Cuyahoga River that drains Lake Erie then flows through the national park on its way to Cleveland and into Lake Erie.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park includes the most complete historic range of original Ohio & Erie Canal structures in existence – one lock keeper’s house (Klum’s Farm), a partial canal pound, five aqueducts, two stone culverts, and one dam.
Cuyahoga Valley national park is home to more than 1,500 plant and animal species including bobcats, coyotes, waterfowl, and a variety of fish.
The national park offers great hiking – the Ohio & Erie Canal national historic park provides hiking along a reconstructed portion of the national canal. The national park also offers picnic areas and camping opportunities.
There are several festival events throughout the year, such as Canal Fulton Days, a fall arts & crafts show. See Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s website for more information on visitor services/fees.
The national park is located about 45 miles south of Akron in Northeast Ohio. The national park’s main office is located at 749 Darrow Road Peninsula, Ohio 44264.
The national park can be reached from state routes 8 or 303 via exit #9 off Interstate 77 near Boston Corners/Ravenna.
The national park has two visitor centers: Canal Visitor Center & Locks 1-5 Visitor Center.
The national park is located about 45 miles south of Akron in Northeast Ohio. The national park’s main office is located at 749 Darrow Road Peninsula, Ohio 44264.
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9. Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is the USA’s 15th national park site.
The park’s central feature is obviously the Grand Canyon, an immense gorge through which flows the Colorado River.
Grand Canyon National Park was established in 1919 and covers more than 1.2 million acres of unincorporated area in Coconino & Mohave counties.
Grand Canyon National Park features include spectacular canyons, plateaus, buttes, and multi-colored rock layers. The national park is also home to more than 1,400 species of plants and animals.
Grand Canyon National Park is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Grand Canyon National Park’s South Rim includes facilities for visitors including lodging in cabins, restaurants & coffee shops. The national park has a scenic drive that takes you by several points of interest.
Visit the national park service website to get a map- Grand Canyon National Park before your visit.
Check out our full Grand Canyon itinerary to help you plan for your visit.
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10. Glacier National Park
Montana’s Glacier National Park is one of the most visited parks in America with more than 1 million acres and 130 lakes.
This vast, pristine ecosystem is the centerpiece of what has been referred to as the “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem,” a region of protected land encompassing 16,000 square miles (41,000 km2), and home to more than 1,400 species of plants and animals.
Up until the late 1800s, the Blackfeet tribe dominated the east of this region and the Flathead tribe was prevalent in the western regions. Both tribes still maintain a presence to this day.
The national park is located in northwestern Montana, about 150 miles west of the Canadian border.
Glacier National Park was established as a national park by President Woodrow Wilson on May 11, 1910, when he signed legislation passed by Congress earlier that year.
Glacier National Park features include mountains, lakes, and waterfalls. The national park protects much of the northern Rocky Mountain range.
The national park is named for its 150 or so glaciers, which are remnants from the last ice age. Sadly they are now shrinking due to global climate change, so the opportunities to see them are dwindling (unless we get our act together).
The national park features a scenic drive that takes you by several points of interest including St. Mary Lake. The national park also has facilities for visitors including lodging in cabins, campgrounds, restaurants, and coffee shops.
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11. Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in the US (and probably one of the most beautiful places on the planet).
The national park is located in the southern Seward Peninsula of south-central Alaska, about 12 miles southwest of Seward. The national park can be reached via Exit Glacier from State Route 11.
More than 4 million visitors come to Kenai Fjords National Park each year. The national park was established as a national monument on June 2, 1980.
The national park was redesignated after the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of December 2, 1980, which also added 6 million acres to the national park.
The national park’s central feature is the complex of glacial fjords in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.
The national park is located in the Chugach Mountains region of south-central Alaska, about 180 miles southwest of Anchorage, near Seward (the site of Exit Glacier).
Kenai Fjords National Park offers a range of scenery and life-forms. It is home to more than 1,400 species of plants and animals.
This park protects a large chunk of southeastern Alaska, the glacial fjords, and glaciers in this part of the world.
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12. Acadia National Park
If a challenging day hike is what you’re looking for, then you need to experience the natural beauty of Mount Desert Island, Maine.
Southwest of Bar Harbor, Acadia National Park preserves about half of this mountainous island – part of Isle au Haut and portions 16 smaller outlying islands. The park is one of the most scenically stunning national parks in the United States.
Since the national park was first established in 1916, seaside campgrounds have been developed.
Acadia national park’s attractions include Cadillac Mountain, a dormant volcano, and the highest point on the Atlantic coast. The national park also has a scenic drive that takes you by several points of interest including Bubble Rock; a huge boulder perched on a ledge 200 feet above the sea.
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13. Hot Springs National Park
Hot Springs National Park is an American national park located in central Garland County, Arkansas. It was created by the United States Congress on April 20th, 1832, for recreational purposes.
Established before the concept of a national park existed, the park was set aside primarily to preserve its natural beauty and hot spring water for bathing and medicinal purposes.
For centuries, Native American tribes (correctly) believed the water had medicinal benefits and it became a subject of legend among them. Following federal protection in 1832, the city of Hot Springs sprung up and was incorporated in 1851, garnering much appeal as a spa town.
In the early 20th century, it became known for training Major League Baseball teams and illegal gambling during Prohibition. It also served as a getaway for the notorious gangster Al Capone.
The park also hosts horse racing at Oaklawn Park, and has been visited by 42nd President (and Arkansas native) Bill Clinton.
The area was formally established as a National Park on the 4th of March, 1921. It was redesignated in 2018 to include the Gateway Arch in its entirety and then renamed Gateway Arch National Park.
Hot Springs National Park is one of the oldest parks maintained by the National Park Service, making it America’s first-ever non-official national park and also our national park service’s unofficial birthplace.
The national park features a scenic drive that takes you by several points of interest including the Old Mill and Park Headquarters.
Bathing, either in hot or cold springs, is available at approved facilities. Bathhouse Row contains some of the country’s most opulent bathhouses that have recently seen a two-year, $19 million renovation, completed in 2015.
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14. Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is a mountainous wilderness that’s open to the public and is located near Denver, Colorado. The western side of the park belongs entirely to the USA and the eastern half belongs to Canada.
The headwaters of the Colorado River are in Rocky Mountain, while its southwestern region has peaks that reach 14,259 feet (4317 m) high.
The Rocky Mountain National Park Act was signed by President Woodrow Wilson on January 26, 1915, to establish the park boundaries and protect it for future generations.
In 1871, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a roadway in order to connect Estes Park with Grand Lake. In 1976, UNESCO designated it as one of their first World Biosphere Reserves.
Today, millions of people visit this national park every year. In order to further preserve the park, Rocky Mountain National Park has a 4.5 million person annual visitation limit.
The park has five visitor centers, including the Beaver Meadows Visitor Centre which is a National Historic Landmark designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin School of Architecture.
The greater area is surrounded by national forest lands to the north and east (Roosevelt National Forest), north-west (Routt National Forest), and west-south-west (Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest).
Rocky Mountain is home to the largest unspoiled ecosystem in Colorado. In the national park, there are over 700 miles of hiking trails and 40 campgrounds.
Activities here include horseback riding, car tours, snowshoeing as well as wildlife viewing. The best time for viewing wildlife is during the fall and spring.
Consider renting a bike from Estes Park to Nederland via Bear Lake Road which is about 14 miles long.
The route takes you through the national park’s forests and meadows of the East Flat Creek section. When in Nederland, try their famous route known as ‘The Grade’ which is a steep climb up to Ward or Blue Lakes.
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15. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is an American national park in Northern California, surrounded on the southeast by Sierra National Forest and on the northwest by Stanislaus National Forest.
Designated as a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is internationally recognized for its granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, and giant sequoia groves.
Also lakes, mountains, meadows and glaciers. 95% of the park has designated wilderness.
Yosemite is one of the largest and least fragmented habitat blocks in Sierra Nevada, which is an ideal destination to travel to if you’re a wildlife lover.
The park has an elevation range from 2,127 to 13,114 feet (648 to 3,997 m) and contains five major vegetation zones: Chaparral and Oak woodland, Lower Montane Forest, Upper Montane Forest, and the Subalpine Zone.
Yosemite has a total area of 761,266 acres (308,778 ha). The park is surrounded on all sides by national forest lands and grazing permits are not required for farmers or ranchers. The national park borders the Ansel Adams Wilderness in its northwestern region. It can get chilly here; the Badger Pass Ski Area on the national park’s western boundary regularly sees an average low temperature during January of 23 degrees F (-5 C).
Of California’s 7,000 plant species, about 50% can be found in the Sierra Nevada and more than 20% within Yosemite.
The national park is home to about 1,400 species of flowering plants, 250 species of birds, 59 mammal species, and 58 reptile and amphibian species that include several threatened or endangered species, such as grizzly bears, the black-footed ferrets (the first captive breeding program was established here), the Merced flycatcher, and the Yosemite toad which is listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Also, the park is home to mountain lions, black bears, deer, California condors, golden-mantled ground squirrels, and Le Conte’s thrushes that breed here.
Sadly, the park’s flora and fauna have been threatened by the non-native common raven, which has all but eradicated at least two native species of tortoises in the national park. This led to a management plan being put in place that includes shooting, relocation, and trapping.
El Portal road leads to an area known as the ‘Arch Rock Entrance’, mere yards away from Yosemite Valley.
The national park has three main entrances: Arch Rock, Big Oak Flat, and South Entrance. roads lead to granite cliffs that reach up to 2,400 feet (732 meters). The national park has two roads: Badger Pass Road and Glacier Point Road.
There are many waterfalls in Yosemite, especially along Bridalveil Creek which flows towards El Portal. The national park’s landscape was shaped by glaciers which created waterfalls as well as U-shaped valleys and lakes.
Some of Yosemite’s most popular attractions include Glacier Point, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall, Vernal Fall (the national park’s tallest at 317 feet [96 m]) while others include El Capitan, Sentinel Dome, Yosemite Falls and Horsetail Fall.
The national park became established as a national monument on October 1, 1890, (becoming the third national park in California after Yellowstone and Sequoia National Parks) by President Harrison who also set aside over 800,000 acres of surrounding national forest lands for protection.
After two visits to Yosemite National Park in 1905 and 1906, naturalist John Muir was deeply impressed by the area, writing, “The forests were God’s first temples. In 1906, when Congress passed the Antiquities Act 1906; the national monument was then re-designated as a national park.
The national park is a major tourist attraction with nearly 3.7 million visitors in 2012 alone.
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16. Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park is a park in the state of Virginia that has been classified as a national wilderness area that covers most of the Blue Ridge Mountains and part of the Virginia Piedmont. Shenandoah National Park was established on June 15, 1935, and is the oldest national park east of the Mississippi.
The Shenandoah River borders the eastern side, with the park’s one main road, Skyline Drive, runs along much of its length on top from Front Royal to Waynesboro. The highest peak is Hawksbill Mountain at 4,051 feet (1,235 m). The national park has a total area of 83,760 acres (334.4 km2)
This national park features forested mountainsides and deep gorge valleys, through which rivers flow. The national park is home to over 1500 species of flowering plants including dogwoods, rhododendrons, azaleas, and orchids.
This national park features a very diverse wildlife population including deer, black bears, along with smaller populations of coyotes, mice, and mountain lions. More than 600 species of birds have been seen in this national park including red-tailed hawks as well as barred owls. Shenandoah is also where the national park’s famous white-tailed deer were reintroduced after having disappeared in most of the eastern U.S.
During the spring months April and May, the national park features one of the best displays of wildflowers on Skyline Drive.
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17. Gateway Arch National Park
The Gateway Arch National Park is a monument and national park in Saint Louis, Missouri, near the beginning of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
The memorial commemorates three historic events that were significant to America’s western expansion: the Louisiana Purchase, the first civil government west of the Mississippi River, and the Dred Scott slavery lawsuit.
St. Louis’s iconic steel arch has been the centerpiece of its national park since 1965
In addition to this landmark, the park is home to other historic sites like Dred Scott Court and St. Louis’ old courthouse where visitors can learn about Missouri statehood, the painful history of slavery, and the justice system in its early days.
The Gateway Arch has originally envisioned in 1935. Its surrounding area became a national park 30 years later when the arch was completed in 1965. The National Park Service now maintains it. Riding to the top of the arch offers unparalleled views of St. Louis and the national park.
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18. Zion National Park
Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah near the town of Springdale. The park has many prominent features, including Zion Canyon which is 15 miles long and up to 2,640 ft deep.
The canyon’s lowest point is 3,666 ft (1,117 m) and the highest peak reaches 8,726 ft (2,660 m).
Located at the junction of three geographically diverse regions, this park features a variety of wildlife with unusual plant and animal diversity.
The park is home to 289 species of birds, 75 mammals (including 19 types of bats), 32 reptiles, and many plants.
Zion National Park is a place of outstanding natural beauty with mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, and slot canyons.
Human habitation in the area began about 8,000 years ago with groups of Native Americans that included the semi-nomadic Basketmaker Anasazi (c. 300 CE).
As the Basketmakers settled in permanent communities, large groups of people arrived to share in their knowledge and trade with them.
By 1300, both the Virgin Anasazi culture (c. 500) and Parowan Fremont group had left these settlements- replaced by new arrivals: the Parrusits and several other Southern Paiute subtribes. In 1858 Mormons settled at the newly platted Virgin City.
The national park was originally established as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1937, but changed the name to Zion in 1939 and the national park officially opened July 1, 1949. The national park covers a total of 258,921 acres (104,000 ha).
Millions of years ago, this area used to be covered in various types of water bodies such as warm shallow seas, streams, and lakes. The region also saw vast deserts and dry near-shore environments taking shape around that time.
Since then (but still millions of years ago), tectonic movement caused the region to rise 10,000 ft (3,000 m).
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19. Bryce Canyon National Park
The Bryce National Park is an American national park in southwestern Utah, featuring interesting rock formations called hoodoos that are the result of frost weathering and stream erosion over thousands of years.
The most famous hoodoos are the national park’s namesake, Bryce Canyon, and Rainbow Point. Bryce is located in Garfield County with few park services within the national park boundaries.
Only two of Utah’s national parks contain a developed (and paid) campground: Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.
Most visitors use the more developed Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park as a base for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park.
Bryce Canyon’s Navajo name is Tseh cho oo seltani, which means “cave house of the great splendor”. The national park was established in 1928 and covers 63,000 acres (25,000 ha) in southern Utah.
The red, orange and white hues of the rock formations provide spectacular views for park visitors. Bryce Canyon National Park is smaller than nearby Zion National Park and sits at a higher elevation.
The rim varies from 8,000 feet to 9,000 feet (2,400 meters to 2,700 meters). Mormon pioneers settled here in 1854 following Brigham Young through Utah.
Bryce Canyon national park has a wide variety of wildlife which include many species of birds and small animals such as rodent squirrels, rabbits, and chipmunks.
Other species include large mammals such as mule deer, coyotes, and mountain lions.
Bryce Canyon doesn’t see as many visitors as other parks due to its remoteness and lack of amenities, however, in 2018, Bryce Canyon received 2.6 million recreational visitors, which was an increase of 107 thousand visitors from the prior year.
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20. Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park is an American national park located in southwest Texas that borders Mexico. The largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology, the park was originally named after a bend in the Rio Grande River.
This large park protects more than 1,200 plant species, over 450 bird species, such as roadrunners and the raven (which is a common symbol for Big Bend national park), 56 reptile species, and 75 mammal species, such as coyotes, elk, and deer. Smaller mammals include skunks, raccoons, and bats which are common in desert areas.
This park includes breathtaking opportunities for scenic drives, tour programs led by park rangers, and stargazing. There is a rich amount of native history and culture in the area with ruins from nearly 10,000 years ago as well as petroglyphs that are over 3,500 years old.
The Big Bend National Park was initially created as a national monument on March 27, 1933, by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Under presidential authority granted to the President of the United States by Section 2 of the Antiquities Act, it was more than eight months before Congress passed it into law (Public Law 73-292).
The monument was officially declared a national park on August 10th, 1944. Big Bend has been dubbed a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site of “IUCN – Category II Special Biosphere Reserve, Santa Elena” since 1988 up to the present day.
The site was then reclassified on October 29, 2010, to the new UNESCO World Heritage Site status as “IUCN – Category VI”.
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21. Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is one of the most visited parks in America, and among its major peaks is the 40-mile (64 km) long Teton Range. One of the most popular national parks in America, Grand Teton National Park is named after the tallest mountain in a range by that name. The name was given to it by early 19th-century French-speaking trappers who called them les Trois Tétons. This later became shortened to Tetons and so it remains today.
A place that truly deserves the title of one of the natural wonders of the world, Grand Teton National Park is less than 10 miles (16 km) southeast of Yellowstone National Park.
It can be accessed by driving along the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway that connects the two parks.
The national park was established in 1929 and is managed by the National Park Service. Grand Teton national park covers an area of 3,468 square miles (8,985 km2).
The national park receives over 5 million recreational visitors every year with most of them visiting during the summer months.
The national park is home to different mammals including deer, elk, moose, and bison. Other species include bears and other animals such as chipmunks, skunks, otters, and porcupines.
Unlike many public lands, the valley of Jackson Hole remained in private ownership until 1930. Conservationists led by John D. Rockefeller Jr. began purchasing land in Jackson Hole to be added to the existing national park.
Repeated efforts from Congress were made, without success, to repeal the purchase measures over several years, as it was viewed as a threat to local control of land because national parks are subject to the authority of federal agencies under the Constitution’s Property Clause.
The national monument was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966.
The national park has many things to offer to those interested in wildlife viewing, hiking and rock climbing. The national park also has programs such as ranger walks and talks, bird watching tours, and wild hikes to name a few.
The monument was abolished in 1950 as most of the monument land was added to Grand Teton National Park.
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22. Arches National Park
In the east of Utah, you will find Arches National Park, which is home to 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Notable arches in this park include the incredible Delicate Arch and its beautifully balanced river connecting two cliffs.
This park consists of 76,679 acres (119.811 sq mi; 31,031 ha; 310.31 km2) high desert located on the Colorado Plateau.
The highest elevation is at Elephant Butte with 5,653 feet (1,723 m), and the lowest elevation is 4,085 feet (1,245 m) at the park’s northeast corner.
The national park is just north of Moab, Utah on U.S. Route 191. The closest major town is Salt Lake City, about 112 miles (180 km) to the east on Interstate 80.
The Arches were established as a national monument in 1929 and made into a national park on November 12, 1971.
The park is pretty dry, and receives less than 75 inches (1905 mm) of precipitation annually, largely in the form of snow that falls in the winter and melts through spring.
The vegetation is predominantly defined by a single species of plant called cryptobiotic soil crusts which can tolerate high winds and lack of water.
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23. Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park is a national park in California that protects 631 square miles of rugged, mountainous terrain, with its peaks reaching 14,351 feet above sea level.
The Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks are contiguous with one another and they are both administered by the National Park Service. UNESCO designated the parks as a biosphere in 1976.
The Giant Forest is connected by the General’s Highway to Kings Canyon National Park’s General Grant Grove. It is part of 202,430 acres (316 sq mi; 81,921 ha; 819 km2) of old-growth forests shared by Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
The General Sherman Tree is notable for its size, the largest tree on Earth by volume. It resides in the Giant Forest (within which resides 5 of the 10 tallest trees in the world).
The park was partially closed in September 2017 due to the National Park’s devastating sequoia grove fire.
The park has a total of 400 miles (640 km) of hiking trails. It includes 71 miles (114 km) of the Sierra High Route and also contains 105 mi (169 km) of the Pacific Crest Trail and 34 mi (55 km) of the John Muir Trail.
The national park has five visitor centers, and it is the main terminus for the long-distance Muir Woods National Monument from San Francisco.
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