We all know that there are some awesome national parks throughout the United States, but do you really know them? There are the few that everyone knows of, like Yellowstone or Yosemite. BUT there are many other amazing national parks that you really should not forget about! So, for the next time you’re planning a trip, I’ve compiled a list of 9 parks you should strongly consider!
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Now, I haven’t been to all of these parks myself. Fortunately, there are some pretty awesome other travel bloggers that have contributed to making this list for you! You’ll get some unique views of each park so you not only know which park to visit, but you’ll know what to do and see there! Let’s take a ride through these 9 national parks you should not forget about!
If you like wildlife, waterfalls, impossibly green forests, and mountain views, you definitely shouldn’t forget about Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
The Smokies straddle the border of NC and TN, along some of the highest peaks in the eastern United States. While it’s famous for waterfalls and moody blue ridgelines, few realize it’s the most biodiverse park in the U.S. National Parks system. The biodiversity mainly comes from its plant species — but it’s also home to several species of colorful endangered salamanders.
Hiking is the most popular activity in the Smoky Mountains. Easy trails include Laurel Falls, Rainbow Falls, Clingman’s Dome, and the Deep Creek Waterfall Loop. More experienced hikers will enjoy climbing Mount Cammerer or clamoring on the ledges of Charlie’s Bunion. Die-hard outdoorsy folks could consider backpacking the Appalachian Trail the entire length of the ridge — a weeklong endeavor in which you’ll walk over 70 miles.
This is one of the most-visited parks in the U.S., but the vast majority of visitors stay in the areas surrounding Gatlinburg and Newfound Gap. You can spend all day in the far south, far north, or pretty much anywhere on the NC side of the park and have it to yourself.
Check out this post about hiking near Asheville, North Carolina!
Whatever you do, don’t head out on a hiking trail in the Smokies without several layers and a rain jacket. When it’s 70 degrees and sunny at lower elevations, it can be 45 degrees and storming up high.
Sitting atop Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park at sunrise means you will be the first in the United States to see sunlight. If you want to avoid the crazy crowds headed up there at 5 am, drive over to Thunder Hole to watch the sun come up. No matter where you watch the sunrise, it’s beautiful. Acadia National Park has the most beautiful contrast of mountains with trees to the shining waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
When you finish watching the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain (or the less crowded Thunder Hole), you can drive back around Park Loop Road to visit Jordan Pond House and eat the most delicious popovers you’ve ever had. Sit on the back lawn to snack and you’ll get an amazing view of the unique rock formation called The Bubbles that you’ll be hiking later. Hiking up the South Bubble is an easy one mile and at the top you’ll see a precariously placed boulder balancing on the edge of the mountain that will make you question science.
You can’t go wrong visiting Acadia National Park, whether you visit for the views, the food, or the hikes. There is something for everyone at Acadia–families with kids, couples, and solo travelers, too.
Check out this 3-day itinerary at Acadia National Park for many more awesome details!
One of the most beautiful National Parks in the United States, and yet often overshadowed by some of the more popular ones in Utah and Arizona, is Glacier National Park up in Montana. It offers stunning scenery and wildlife that is difficult to find in other National Parks.
Due to its northern location, bordering Canada, Glacier National Park is best visited in the middle of the summer. This is when the Going-to-the-Sun Road through the middle of the park is fully open and you can travel completely across the park by road. Whether you’re interested in hiking or simply driving and seeing the sights close to the road, you are in for a treat.
Glacier National Park features some of the most beautiful mountain views, perfectly turquoise glacial-fed lakes, exotic animals, and world-class hiking. If you want to see the best views in the park, don’t miss the top hikes in Glacier National Park, including the Highline Trail and Grinnell Glacier Viewpoint. These hikes allow you to experience the beauty of the park without the intense crowds. If you decide to hike, be aware of bear safety as there are grizzlies that call Glacier National Park home.
Interested in other activities? Glacier National Park also offers backcountry camping, ranger-led programs, guided tours, biking, boating, fishing, cross country skiing, and more. It’s truly an outdoorsman’s paradise!
Even though the name Death Valley sounds scary, the place has intriguing beauty in the desert. The landscape of dry rocky formations, badlands, or the colors spurting through the dry desert. It is the lowest, driest, and hottest place in the US, and is known as the hottest place on earth.
There is so much to see in Death Valley California but be mindful of the hot and dry weather. It is advisable to begin from the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and get information from the rangers. Zabriskie Point, near the Visitor Center, is a must-visit for viewing the colorful rock formations, especially at sunrise and sunset, making it magical. If a bird’s eye view is what you seek, climb up to Dante’s View peak and see the badlands and mountains.
Walk and explore the famous Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes and go sandboarding. There are colors spurting out of the rocks at the nine-mile long Artist’s Drive and enjoy the color palette of nature spread across the rocky soil.
Since the temperatures can reach up to 134 degrees Fahrenheit, it is best to visit during Winter to Spring. Also, make sure to carry enough water to keep yourself hydrated!
One of the most unforgettable national parks in the USA is Mount Rainier National Park. The most prominent feature of the park is Mount Rainier, the tall, standing, breathtaking mountain that can be seen from the city of Seattle on a clear, beautiful day. Even from afar, this mountain is astounding to see. Imagine getting to explore it up close. It is the best!
The most popular area that people should explore is the Paradise area. You don’t need to hike to enjoy the beauty here. You have front and center views of Mount Rainier and surrounding mountains. Want to get even more glorious views? Hike the Skyline trail loop and you will experience Mount Rainier at different angles. It even features a waterfall called Marymere Falls, and, if you are lucky, you can spot bears, marmots, or goats.
Another popular hike to do, especially on a cloudy day, is Comet Falls. This trail is out of this world with many waterfalls, rivers, and lush green trees. It is a fantastic hike!
Two other hikes that are extremely popular are Fremont Lookout and Tolmie Peak. They both feature cute fire lookouts with a glorious view of Mount Rainier, and they are phenomenal for sunset. Since the trails are relatively moderate, it is easy to hike down at night with a headlamp and map.
With a name like the Badlands and it being in South Dakota, many people think this means that the park would be flat, boring, and have nothing to offer but that is simply not true! Badlands National Park is a fantastic place to see tons of wildlife. You are guaranteed to see bison and those that are a bit more observant will have the opportunity to see bighorn sheep, pronghorn, tons of birds, snakes, prairie dogs, and even black-footed ferrets. The landscapes are inspiring and the colors in the geological structures are amazing. You may even come across fossils on some of your hikes!
The park has a North and South Unit, each with a visitor center available. The units are a decent distance apart. The South Unit can be tough on small cars and is more suited for those interested in backcountry hiking. It is located on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The North Unit is where most people should spend their time.
Go in the spring or fall to avoid large crowds and make sure to bring plenty of water. Make sure you drive the Badlands Loop and Sage Creek Rim Road (use the pull-off points to enjoy the views). I highly recommend the Notch and Saddle Pass trails and a hike around the Sage Creek Campground area. This campground is primitive but if you don’t mind providing your own water, it is free, and you frequently get to see bison in the area.
If you can’t visit these National Parks right now, or are planning your trip, visit them in Virtual Reality!
Everglades National Park is 1.5 million acres big and the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States! The land is set aside to protect rare and endangered species like the manatee, the American crocodile, and the Florida panther. And because of the far southern location of the Everglades, you will find flowers and plants that you would usually only find in the Caribbean!
The top thing you MUST experience at Everglades National Park is a guided airboat tour through the lush and unique wetlands. You will cruise through the grassy waters for a thrilling ride but also slow down to catch a glimpse of any alligators along the way.
You can also rent/ride bikes on the 15-mile-loop of the River of Grass or see it via a 2-hour guided tour in an open tram. And finally, you can rent kayaks or canoes to enjoy the water of the park!
The Everglades might be easy to forget about since the park is tucked in Southern Florida between the popular cities of Miami and Key West. However, this makes it a perfect stop on your Florida road trip!
The best time to visit the Everglades is from November-April during the ‘dry season’ and ranger-led programs and tours are being held.
Located in the Mojave Desert in California, Joshua Tree National Park is one of the best places for desert hiking. Close to Palm Springs, it is sometimes overlooked, but for those in the know, it is a great place to rent one of these unique Joshua Tree Airbnb cabins and enjoy the ombre sunsets in the solitude of the desert.
The National Park is great for hikers or those looking to relax. If the latter is of interest, visit the Integration. This dome-shaped structure that hosts sound baths that are said to have holistic healing powers.
If hiking is preferred, explore some of the 100 miles of trails and the 60-foot waterfall of the Indian Canyons. Other places to hike nearby include Warren Peak, Ryan Mountain, and the most instagrammable spot, Inspiration Peak. If you want to explore further, there is even a desert palm tree oasis that can be hiked to by heading to the north side of Fortynine Palms Oasis.
In the evening, drive out to Smith’s Ranch Drive-In. Pick up some popcorn, park, and watch a movie before heading back to your cabin to enjoy the night sky.
Joshua Tree is one of the best places to stargaze in the state, with the darkest skies in Southern California and a clear view of the Milky Way.
Located in southern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park is a wonderland of colorful rock formations that does not disappoint.
Bryce often gets lost in nearby Zion’s shadow, which is a shame because the park is pretty spectacular. Plus, because Bryce sits at a higher elevation (over 8,000 feet!) the weather tends to be way cooler than the rest of southern Utah. This means that visiting Bryce Canyon in summer won’t be sweltering hot! Plus, you’re likely to find smaller crowds here than in more popular Zion or Arches!
You only need one day in Bryce Canyon to see the best of the park. The main attraction in Bryce is the hoodoos, which are rock spires that have been carved away over millions of years.
There are several viewpoints from which to admire the hoodoos, especially at sunrise and sunset, when the light is perfect for photographs. To see these cool rocks from a different angle, head down into the amphitheater. The Queen’s/Navajo Loop hike is a 2.9-mile hike that’ll have you surrounded by gorgeous, dusty orange rocks all around. This hike is actually fun!
If you’re able to stay in the park until dark, you’ll be rewarded with starry skies and views of the Milky Way. Light pollution here is almost nonexistent, making for wonderful stargazing.
When visiting Bryce, always have at least a light sweater with you, hiking boots, and a sun hat. Most hikes don’t have a lot of shade!
Which National Parks Have You Visited?
Have you been to any of these National Parks? Which has been your favorite? What other National Parks do you think should not be missed in the United States?
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