The United States has 63 designated national parks, as well as 361 other national park sites. Those 424 national parks and sites cover a combined 85 million acres of land throughout the 50 states and additional territories. The 63 national parks lie in thirty states and two territories. California, Alaska, Utah, and Colorado alone host 26 of the 63 national parks. Which parks are the best to see during the summer?
Read on to see the best national parks to visit during summer break.
1. Rocky Mountain National Park
Located in Colorado, Rocky Mountains National Park offers stunning views of the majestic Rocky Mountains. Spend two days exploring the park's stunning landscapes, hiking trails, and wildlife. Don't miss Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the U.S. Because this is one of the most visited national parks, you may want to look into going in early summer to perhaps beat some of the crowds.
2. Badlands National Park
Located in South Dakota, Badlands National Park offers other-worldly views. You'll feel like you've stepped onto the set of Lost in Space! Spend two days exploring the unique rock formations, hiking trails, and wildlife of the Badlands. You'll be amazed at the dexterity of the mountain goats, the sheer mass of the buffalo, and the adorableness of the prairie dogs.
*DO NOT try to pet the fluffy cows!
3. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Located in North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a tribute to the conservation legacy of the 26th President of the United States, who was deeply connected to the rugged landscape and it unique beauty. Spend two days exploring the park's rugged badlands, scenic drives, hiking trails, and wildlife, like wild horses and prairie dogs. Don't miss the Painted Canyon Overlook.
4. Glacier National Park
Head to Montana and spend three days exploring Glacier National Park. With over 700 miles of hiking trails, visitors can take in the breathtaking wilderness landscapes, pristine lakes, awe-inspiring glaciers, and rugged mountains. Don't miss the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road. This national park is also home to diverse wildlife, including grizzly bears, mountain goats, and elk, providing ample opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts and nature photographers to observe the park's fauna. While you're there, take a boat tour on one of the park's stunning lakes.
5. Yellowstone National park
Spend three to four days exploring the geothermal wonders, breathtaking scenery, and iconic landmarks of Yellowstone, including Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. Marvel at the herds of bison (you may even get close to them as they lumber past your vehicle on the roads), the variety and quantity of birds, and the other diverse fauna, like bears, wolves, coyotes, bighorn sheep, elk, moose, and so much more.
*Again, DO NOT try to pet the fluffy cows - or any other wildlife, for that matter.
6. Grand Teton National Park
Just south of Yellowstone in Wyoming lie the majestic Grand Teton Mountains, rising abruptly from the Jackson Hole Valley. Outdoor enthusiasts should spend two to three days enjoying the scenic drives and hiking trails. View wildlife, alpine lakes, sweeping valleys, and dramatic peaks. Consider taking a boat ride on Jenny Lake.
7. Kenai Fjords National park
Located in Alaska, Kenai Fjords National Park features awe-inspiring fjords, glaciers, and marine ecosystems. With your older kids, take a day cruise or kayak tour to explore the stunning landscapes and abundant marine wildlife, like whales and sea lions, of Kenai Fjords National Park.
8. Denali National Park and Preserve
Also located in Alaska, Denali National Park is home to the tallest peak in North America, Mount Denali, standing at a staggering 20,310 feet. Spend two days exploring Denali's wilderness, towering peaks, and diverse wildlife. Immerse yourself in the untamed beauty of Alaska with hiking and scenic drives. Consider taking a bus tour into the park for the best chance of spotting wildlife, like grizzly bears, black bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, foxes, lynx, marmots, arctic ground squirrels, ptarmigans, eagles, and falcons.
9. Katmai National Park
Located at the southern end of Alaska, Katmai National Park is known for its huge population of brown bears and its stunning volcanic landscapes. Take a floatplane to Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park. Plan to spend three days in the park. Go in July at the peak of salmon migration and watch the iconic brown bears as they fish for salmon in Brooks Falls. Explore the park's volcanic landscapes.
10. North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park, nestled in the state of Washington, is a hidden gem for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Known as the "American Alps," the park boasts an awe-inspiring landscape characterized by towering peaks, rugged glaciers, and pristine alpine lakes. Hikers and backpackers can explore a network of trails that wind through old-growth forests, leading to breathtaking vistas and cascading waterfalls. Immerse yourself in the grandeur of the Pacific Northwest's natural wonders and take time to appreciate the diverse wildlife, including black bears, mountain goats, and elk.
11. Crater Lake National Park
Oregon's only national park, Crater Lake National Park is home to one of the iconic and mesmerizing Crater Lake, which is renowned for its intense blue color and incredible clarity. Formed by the collapse of a volcanic caldera, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, boasting stunning cliffs that surround its pristine waters. Visitors can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views from the rim, hike scenic trails that lead to hidden vistas, or embark on boat tours to explore the lake's islands and volcanic features.
12. Redwood National Park
Redwoods National Park, located along the rugged coast of northern California, is a sanctuary of towering ancient giants - magnificent coastal redwood trees, some of the tallest and oldest living organisms on Earth. Walking among these majestic giants is an experience like no other, as rays of sunlight filter through the dense canopy, creating a mystical atmosphere. In addition to the impressive redwoods, the park encompasses diverse ecosystems, including lush fern-filled forests, pristine rivers, and scenic coastline.
13. Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes National Park, located along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, showcases an intricate tapestry of sand dunes, woodlands, wetlands, and prairies, creating a diverse and vibrant ecosystem. Explore miles of picturesque sandy beaches, hike through lush forests, and discover rare plant and animal species, including several species of squirrels, that call this area home. With its scenic vistas, recreational opportunities, and educational programs, Indiana Dunes National Park provides a peaceful retreat where visitors can connect with nature and appreciate the beauty of the Great Lakes region.
14. Cuyahoga National Park
Cuyahoga National Park, situated in Ohio, offers a tranquil escape amidst an urban landscape. This unique national park encompasses the winding Cuyahoga River, lush forests, rolling hills, and picturesque waterfalls. Spend three days exploring a variety of hiking trails, cycling along scenic bike paths, or even paddling down the river, immersing yourself in the park's natural beauty. Don't miss Cuyahoga's historic landmarks, including remnants of the Ohio and Erie Canal, which provide a glimpse into the region's industrial past. Enjoy an easy hike to beautiful Brandywine Falls, one of approximately 100 located inside the park.
15. Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park, located on Mount Desert Island in Maine, is a coastal gem that showcases the beauty of both land and sea. Known for its rugged cliffs, granite peaks, and pristine lakes, Acadia offers breathtaking vistas, encompassing lush forests, rocky shorelines, and serene ponds. From hiking scenic trails to biking the carriage roads and exploring the dramatic coastline, Acadia provides endless opportunities for adventure and exploration. Don't miss the stunning sunrises from the summit of Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the U.S. East Coast.
16. Voyageurs National park
Located in northern Minnesota, Voyageurs National Park is a hidden gem that offers a pristine and tranquil wilderness experience. Spanning over 218,000 acres of lakes, islands, and forests, the park is a paradise for water enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Navigate the interconnected waterways by kayak, canoe, or boat, or hike its dense forests. Disconnect from the hustle and bustle and welcome the wildlife sightings, fishing, camping, and stargazing of Voyageurs National Park.
17. Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park, located in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, is a breathtaking escape into the natural beauty of the Appalachian region. The park is renowned for its rolling hills, cascading waterfalls, and panoramic vistas. With over 500 miles of trails, visitors can hike through lush forests, discover hidden overlooks, and witness the vibrant colors of wildflowers and changing foliage. Take a drive along Skyline Drive, which offers opportunities to spot wildlife such as black bears and deer.
18. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve
Located in West Virginia in the heart of Appalachia, New River Gorge National Park offers a rugged and picturesque landscape that showcases the dramatic beauty of the New River Gorge, including steep cliffs, dense forests, and the meandering New River. Explore the numerous hiking and biking trails that wind through the gorge, paddle along the river's gentle currents, or try your hand at rock climbing on the iconic sandstone cliffs. The park also provides opportunities for fishing, camping, and wildlife spotting, including sightings of bald eagles soaring overhead.
19. Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park, located in Kentucky, is a mesmerizing underground wonderland that captivates visitors with its vast network of caves and underground passages. Home to the world's longest known cave system, Mammoth Cave National Park invites exploration and discovery. Visitors can embark on guided tours to witness the intricate formations, stunning chambers, and unique geological features hidden beneath the surface. Above ground, the park showcases beautiful forests, scenic hiking trails, and opportunities for wildlife observation.
20. Wind Cave National Park
Wind Cave National Park, located in South Dakota, is a mesmerizing underground realm that holds the title of being one of the longest and most complex caves in the world. This unique park showcases intricate calcite formations and the distinctive "boxwork" patterns found within its labyrinthine chambers. Above ground, the park offers sweeping prairies, rolling hills, and diverse wildlife, including bison, mule deer, elk, coyotes, and pronghorn. Take a guided cave tours, hike through scenic trails, and marvel at the park's natural beauty.
America's national parks are a testament to our country's commitment to preserving and celebrating our natural and cultural heritage. These parks offer a remarkable diversity of landscapes, ecosystems, and experiences. They provide havens of beauty, tranquility, and adventure for visitors of all ages, inviting them to connect with nature, explore the rich history and cultural significance of these lands, and create lasting memories. The national parks serve as reminders of the importance of conservation and the need to protect these treasures for future generations. They stand as symbols of the country's awe-inspiring natural wonders and the tireless efforts to preserve and share them with the world.
Whether you take a road trip to visit a few in one summer, or you fly to a different one each summer, the national parks of the United States are well worth the time and effort to get there.
Which national parks are on your bucket list?
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