Craving some American beauty? Reconnect with nature by visiting the best national parks in the USA.Less
This natural wonder cradles two billion years of geologic history, with 40 layers of rock shaped into buttes, spires and cliffs. Carved by the Colorado River, the 277-mile gorge is magisterial from any perspective, but it’s thrilling to venture below the rim. The safest place to start is the well-maintained Bright Angel Trail, which follows an ancient route past sculpted sandstone to a cottonwood oasis.
Millions of people come to the Sierra Nevada wilderness each year to see jagged peaks, glaciers, lush meadows and some of the world’s tallest waterfalls. Spanning 1,200 square miles, Yosemite offers activities ranging from child-friendly to extreme. Massive granite slopes like Half Dome and El Capitan dominate the landscape, taunting rock-climbers. Paddlers dip into lakes and rivers, drivers cruise the dramatic Tioga Road, and day hikers walk by sequoias and canyons.
America’s first national park is bigger than Rhode Island and has been a jewel in the NPS's crown since 1872. Critters are everywhere in Yellowstone; geysers spurt regularly; sulphurous lakes bubble and boil; and massive waterfalls glint in the sun. And don’t be surprised if you spot buffalo wandering right down the center divider of the two-lane road that connects the park. With challenging hikes into the backcountry as well as ADA-accessible wooden boardwalks, everyone can revel in the magic.
The incredible thing about Zion National Park is that it hasn't changed an iota over the years—you'll see the same massive sandstone formations, twisty caves and dark skies bursting with stars that people have been admiring for thousands of years. Mosey to spectacular overlooks, hike to Emerald Pools, walk to Weeping Rock, or stroll on Riverside Walk and you'll get a sense of the grandeur of this spectacular national park.
Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses 415 square miles of breathtaking, protected mountain wilderness. With more than 300 miles of trails, panoramic vistas of snowcapped peaks, picturesque meadows, valleys, and meandering rivers, and the Trail Ridge Road (the highest continuous paved road in the United States, hitting 12,183 feet in elevation), the choose-your-own-adventure options are endless. Hike it, bike it, fish it, climb it, drive it, camp it, photograph it ... or all of the above.
Death Valley is the hottest, lowest and driest place in the United States, with temperatures topping an insane 130 degrees. Plus, it's home to Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation in North America. That being said, the park also boasts a diversity of colorful canyons, desolate badlands, shifting sand dunes and sprawling mountains, as well as more than 1,000 species of plants, plus salt flats, historic mines and hot and cold spring oases.
Arches National Park is so named for the 2,000 wind-sculpted sandstone arches gracing the area—the largest such concentration in the world. The most famous of these is the iconic 52-foot-tall Delicate Arch, whose image can be seen on Utah license plates; but Arches will amaze you with its sheer range of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks. Arches is also one of the few national parks where many of the top formations can be seen from the comfort of your car.
Towering 7,000 feet above the valley floor, the Teton Range welcomes more than two million people a year. In the winter, they come to snowshoe or cross-country ski through fir-lined backcountry trails. In the summer, hikers explore 200 miles of trails and scale rugged granite peaks. The Snake River is a magnet for amateur rafters, pelican-watchers and fishermen, who cast lines for trout. Nestled within the mountains are glaciers, alpine lakes and fields of larkspur and lupines.
Encompassing nearly a million acres, Olympic protects a vast wilderness, thousands of years of human history, and several distinctly different ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests, and over 70 miles of wild coastline. You'd need more than a week to see everything, but don't miss attractions like Hurricane Ridge (for views of Mount Olympus), Lake Crescent (rent kayaks!), the Hoh Rainforest, and the sight of salmon cascading along Sol Duc River in fall.
Red rocks, pink cliffs and endless vistas await at this Insta-famous park in Utah. People travel to Bryce Canyon from around the world to see the largest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) in the world, but the park's high elevation also makes it a great place for star gazing. One of the US's more compact national parks, you don't need a ton of time to hit the highlights like Thor's Hammer, Inspiration Point, and the Queens Garden Trail.