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20+ Famous National Parks in the USA that you Need to Visit – Part 1
Its May 2020, and the World is in lockdown mode, as COVID – 19, is spreading like wildfire everywhere. The silver lining is that Mother Nature is healing, and while the world heals from this Pandemic, as all of us Stay at Home, and maintain Social Distancing, it makes sense to make the most of this Quarantine Life by adding different destinations to your Post COVID – 19 Travel Bucket List. Which is why 20+ travel experts stepped up, and have contributed their suggestions about the Best National Parks in the USA, that I have curated and compiled for your ease in this USA Travel Bucket List – The Best USA National Parks.
Scroll down and find the Best National Parks in the USA specially for the Nature lovers and Adventure junkies, as suggested by travellers and travel experts themselves. in alphabetical order.
As this travel blog was getting too lengthy to read, I divided it into two parts. So once you have gone through these set of USA National Parks, make sure to check out the Part 2, the link of which has been shared at the end.
- 20+ Famous National Parks in the USA that you Need to Visit – Part 1
- Acadia National Park
- Big Bend National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Crater National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs
- Glacier National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Haleakala National Park
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Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is one of the smaller national parks in the USA but also one of the most popular ones, located in northern Maine. Mostly made up of islands, the terrain is varied throughout the over 49,000 acres included in the park. Visitors will see the ocean’s craggy coastline, mountains, coniferous and deciduous forests, lakes, and ponds while they visit.
The greater Bar Harbor area is visited most in the hottest summer months of July and August and has plenty of other vacation options after you’re done exploring Acadia. It’s easy to spend a week in the area between the national park, the lumberjack show, ocean tours, museums, and downtown exploration. The ocean water remains chilly even during the warmest sunny days, leaving most swimmers flocking to the lake instead.
Hiking is popular with a variety of day hike trails at different difficulty levels, but even more folks love riding bikes. There is a network of “carriage roads” separate from the car roads so people can bike in peace from trailhead to trailhead and visit the different attractions without worrying about traffic; you can also take horse-drawn carriage rides on them!
The park’s famous Cadillac Mountain is one of the first places to see the sun rise on the east coast, making it a popular sunrise hike destination. Another hot spot is Jordan House, which features a fancy restaurant and manicured garden alongside a well trafficked trail around the pond, both of which give a beautiful view of the mountains and famous Bubble Rock formations. Another hike will take you to a quintessential Maine tourist attraction, a lighthouse!
Acadia is great for nature lovers because of the wildlife; the park is home to black bears, moose, deer, salamanders, and lots of birds. It’s not common but sometimes whales can even be spotted off the coast! Some trails close seasonally because of nesting falcons and there are several wildlife spotting tour operators on land and in the water. There are a few areas of the park that have accessible tidepools, opening a whole new world of water exploration to see crabs, sea stars, and other tidepool life.
Acadia is great for adventure lovers because there are some thrilling hikes. Both Precipice and Beehive trails are challenging for adults, involving heart pumping cliffside trails and iron rungs to climb and hang on to. Thrill seekers will love the tricky trails that lead you to expansive views over the entire park! If that isn’t thrilling enough, book a rock climbing lesson that has you rappelling down over the ocean near Otter Cliffs or Great Head. Before you go, read more tips on visiting Acadia National Park here!
By Stephanie Woodson | Explore More Clean Less
Big Bend National Park
A unique thing about Big Bend National Park – It has three distinct areas: the River, the Desert, and the Mountains, and each area has its own best-known features.
Santa Elena Canyon is no doubt a must-visit in the River area. Located on the west side of the park, there’s a hiking trail here that leads you to the mouth of the canyon. You must do this moderate, 1.7 mile round trip trail. The south part of the canyon belongs to Mexico and it’s just a few yards away! Visitors also enjoy canoeing in the Rio Grande. You must arrive no later than 9 a.m. to secure a parking spot.
If you want to catch a Milky Way, the Balanced Rocks at the Desert area will give you an amazing experience. You must start early in the morning or around midnight, depending on what months you visit the park. However, we visited the Balanced Rocks in the late afternoon. Our dog was with us and dogs are not allowed on any trails. There’s no way we could leave the dog in a tent by himself or just with our son to catch the Milky Way. To get here, you must drive on an improved dirt road for 6 miles to the Grapevine Hills Trailhead. Then follow the easy 2.2 miles round trip trail where in the last quarter of the trail you need to climb steep rocks to get to the Balanced Rocks. Views from the boulders are just amazing!
Lastly, the prettiest part of the park, the Chisos Mountains. This is where the thorns of the desert give way to evergreens like pinyon pine and juniper, oak, and bigtooth maple, quaking aspen, and Douglas fir in the higher, moister area. Weird, isn’t it? Although these mountains only covered 2% of the park, it is a favorite for visitors especially during the summer months. If you can’t hike a must-do Lost Mine Trail or Window Trail in this area, do the Window View Trail instead. This easy 0.3 mi round trip will give you excellent views of the mountain peaks surrounding the Chisos Basin.
Big Bend National Park is in a remote part of southwest Texas. Check supplies before leaving the closest towns. Cell phone service is unreliable, and some park roads may require four-wheel drive. Like I mentioned above, dogs are not allowed on any trails. It will be hard to hike together because someone has to stay in the car with the dog. For a pet-friendly park with spectacular views, go to Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle. The second biggest canyon in the country.
By Umiko Buhl | Two World Treasures
Bryce Canyon National Park
While all of the Utah National Parks are incredible, there is something special about Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for its hoodoos, pillars of rock formed from a unique mix of plate tectonics, large temperature swings, and thousands of years of erosion. This climate and rock composition results in a landscape that isn’t truly rivaled anywhere else on Earth.
The rim of the canyon is easily accessible for all ages and while the views from above can be spectacular, true adventure lovers will want to get up close and personal with Bryce’s famous rock formations with a hike through the canyon itself.
Descending into Bryce Canyon feels like landing on an alien planet, filled with red rock pillars, towering trees, tunnels, and a maze of trails to explore. If you’re up for a challenge, I recommend starting at Sunset Point and descending to the canyon floor via Wall Street and then taking the “Figure 8 Loop” that follows a combination of the Navajo Loop Trail, Peekaboo Loop, and Queen’s Garden Trail before ascending the canyon at Sunrise Point.
If 7 miles in a high elevation national park feels like a bit too much, you can cut out Peekaboo Loop and try out the very popular Navajo / Queen’s Garden Loop. Be aware though that this shorter trail is often much more crowded and has less to see than Peekaboo. If you really want to escape the crowds, you can also check out the aptly named Fairyland Loop Trail, which is about 8 miles of strenuous hiking.
If you do plan to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, which is one of the most unique national parks in the USA, here are a few tips to make the most of your experience. First, Bryce gets very crowded even in the off season. Avoid them by venturing further from the main areas of the park and starting your day early. Second, dress in a lot of layers. When we visited, the temperature swung about 40 degrees between sunrise and the daily high.
If you do go to see the sunrise, view it from Sunset Point or somewhere else along the trail, not at Sunrise Point (it gets overly crowded here because of its name). Lastly, if you plan to hike, come with the right gear including ample amounts of water, chapstick, good hiking shoes, and plenty of snacks. Check out our guide to spending a day in Bryce Canyon National Park for more information.
By Danielle Schleig | Wanderlust While Working
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is without a doubt one of the best US national parks for the adventure lover. One of the “Mighty Five” national parks located in Southern Utah, Canyonlands is often overlooked for its more famous neighbor, Arches National Park. While Arches is indeed beautiful, it’s not nearly as adventure-worthy. The majority of the arches are located right off of short, paved paths, and during peak times it can be nearly impossible to get away from the train of RVs swarming the park.
When deciding between Arches or Canyonlands, the adventure lover would do much better spending their time in Canyonlands, with its epic, sprawling views, hikes, and campsites yet with none of the people. During our hike, we only passed one other person on the trail.
There are four districts in the park: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers. Adventurers will love The Needles and The Maze districts, which require 4 wheel drive vehicles and more self-reliance. Many people camp in these areas. But even the more accessible Island in the Sky district offers plenty of adventurous hikes of varying lengths, difficulties, and features.
Explore Puebloan granaries, watch the sunset (or sunrise) through the famous Mesa Arch, or climb down from the mesa top into the expansive plateau. For a full day adventure, Murphy’s Loop is an 11 mile, strenuous trail that descends into the mesa, where you can stop for a picnic before continuing back up. Nature lovers will enjoy discovering the variety of desert flora and fauna along the way.
The best time to visit Canyonlands is in the spring or fall, as in the summer the brutal heat will make daytime hikes difficult or unpleasant. We visited in April and the weather was perfect. Just be sure to be prepared with snacks, water, and a picnic lunch. Canyonlands is quite a drive from the main road, and you don’t want to have to drive back out when you get hungry!
If you spend a few days in the area, you can stop in at Dead Horse Point on your way to or from Canyonlands. The sweeping landscapes from this viewpoint are unbelievable as the river winds its way through the canyon. This area is also a state park with a variety of hikes as well. There is no shortage of things to do in and around Canyonlands!
By Sam and Veren | Alternative Travelers
Crater National Park
Crater National Park is Oregon’s only National Park, and also one of the top National Parks in the USA for Adventure and Nature lovers, and no doubt it’s a stunning one!
Over eight thousand year ago, Mount Mazama erupted and left us with what Crater Lake is today – a gorgeous 2,000ft deep crater. There are plenty of things to do at Crater Lake including swimming, hiking, and camping.
Aside from that, even if you don’t want to get out of your car, Crater Lake is awesome. You can drive the 33-mile rim road and just hop out at the scenic viewpoints all along the way. But adventure is the name of the game here so here are a few favorites.
Plaikni Falls trail is just a 2-mile hike through verdant forest that leads you to a beautiful waterfall.
Garfield Peak trail is a 3.4 mile trail that’s moderately difficult and takes you to the top of a peak to give you some extra high and beautiful views of the lake below.
Cleetwood Cove Trail is more than just a trail. This hike is only about 2 miles round trip but is pretty steep. It’s also the only access to the lake. So you can come here to hike or if you’re brave enough, to swim too! The water will be freezing no matter what time of the year so, be prepared.
Wizard Island – That little island floating in the deep blue lake is Wizard Island and yes, you can visit it. Taking the Cleetwood Cove Trail is a must to get to the boat ramp and once you make it down, take the quick ride over, take a dip, or hike to the top of the island cone for more epic views.
Camping is a great option as seeing Crater Lake in just a day will leave you wanting more. You could stay a few days and still not get to all the trails and spots you want. Mazama and Lost Creek are two of the most developed and popular campsites in the area. There’s also Crater Lake Lodge for those not into camping.
Keep in mind Crater Lake is very seasonal and during winter, many roads will be closed. You can always access the south entrance and take in the snowy views but the rim road will be closed as will many hikes.
By Nina Ragusa | Oregon Is For Adventure
Everglades National Park
If you love nature and wildlife, the Everglades National Park is one of the National Parks in the USA which you must visit! Located in southern Florida, only a couple of hours away from Miami, it’s home to one of the most beautiful eco-systems in the world.
Alligators, birds, bobcats… so many animals to see!
Most tourists don’t actually stop in the Everglades and just drive Alligator Alley to go from Miami to Sarasota or St Petersburg. But if you love nature, you will want to stop in many places.
The Everglades cover 1.5-million acres of tropical wetlands. This means that the best way to explore them is by boat! You will find many places along the way offering speed boat tours. They generally last about 1 hour during which a guide will take you around the Everglades. You will get to discover these beautiful and unique landscapes but also the wildlife. Have you ever dreamed of seeing an alligator in the wild? Then this is for you!
There are also a few walk/hiking opportunities in the Everglades. The most popular are Shark Valley and Flamingo Visitor Center.
That said, if you have time and want to go on a more authentic walk, I would definitely recommend going on one of the hikes with the park rangers. Every day, park rangers go into the swamp and offer a guided tour to visitors. You will discover many fun and amazing facts about the Everglades and its wildlife. Please be aware of the fact that you will be walking in water and mud though. Just head to one of the visitor centers and they will tell you everything you need to know.
Finally, if you want to go on a walk of a lifetime, you can head to Big Cypress Preserve and hit the Florida National Scenic Trail!
Alternatively, there are also many viewpoints along the way. You will get to see nice views and many alligators.
Finally, one of the best things to do is simply enjoying the road trip! US Route 41 is amazing and clearly one of the best road trips in the USA! It will take you from Naples to Miami through the best parts of the Everglades. This slower and free road is a better option than Alligator Alley if you want to enjoy nature along the way.
By Pauline Vergnet | BeeLoved City
Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs
If you are a nature lover, Colorado Springs is the perfect place for you. The Garden of the Gods is perfectly named because it is one of the most gorgeous natural places in the country. The Garden of the Gods was formed from evolution and erosion over billions of years. It reminds us how Earth continues to evolve over time, it is truly a geological masterpiece.
If you would like to know the history and how the rocks formed, there is a presentation that supplies the history of how the rocks were formed in the visitor’s center. Take a trip back through time before humans, animals, and even dinosaurs existed. The visitor’s center also has free exhibits about indigenous people that traveled through the park, continents, dinosaurs, and the evolution of Earth.
One of the best things about this US National Park is, it is free to everyone. Charles Perkins and William Palmer bought 480 acres of land, which included a part of the modern-day Garden of the Gods. When Perkins died in 1909 his family donated the land to the city of Colorado Springs, under the condition that the park would always be available to the public for free. Since then the park has been named a National Natural Landmark, and is visited by over 2 million people per year.
If you are looking to explore nature, the hiking trails will take you through 21 miles of picturesque views. The main trail is 1.5 miles long and is paved making it accessible for novice hikers, families, children, and ADA accessible. There are more advanced trails for experienced hikers and bikers. There are tours, jeep, Segway, trolley, and walking tours available to become more familiar with the plant and animal species in the park.
The steep and unique rock formations make this an oasis for rock climbers. Rock climbing is permitted here only with a permit and proper equipment. If you keep an eye at the tops of the mountains you may see bighorn sheep. Before leaving the park, stop by the balancing rock for the perfect Instagram photo.
This ecosystem is sensitive and must be preserved, only walk or bike on designated trails. The rock can easily be damaged, so it is recommended that you do not touch them. This will insure we will be able to enjoy this park for many years to come.
By Corritta Lewis | It’s A Family Thing
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park in the USA is a haven for adventure seekers and its reward for those that push themselves are great. With over 700 miles of hiking trails, all of which provide stunning views of glacial lakes and towering mountains, it can be hard to choose your favorites.
Hitting the trails is definitely the best thing to do in Glacier National Park, and here were some of my personal favorites.
Iceberg Lake Trail – A nearly 10-mile round trip gorgeous hike that takes you through breathtaking forests and lands you at Iceberg Lake, of course! I saw a bear within my first mile and then moose just a few miles later all before reaching the lake. The lake dazzles in turquoise and is backed by sandy colored mountains.
Swiftcurrent Trail – A 16-mile round trip hike that snakes along Swiftcurrent Lake. You can do a portion of the hike and still get great rewards if you’re low on time. At the least, you can make it to Red Rock Falls.
Cracker Lake Trail – Another stunning glacial lake awaits you here. You’ll pass small bridges, thick alpine forests, and meadows before reaching the milky blue Cracker Lake. There’s a camping location alongside the lake here if you want to spend the night.
Another must do is driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road. It’s a stunning 50-mile drive weaving out and around mountain bends alongside lakes and rivers with glaciers in the distance. There are numerous areas to stop off at and even more hikes along this road to tackle.
Camping is the best way to take in the park. There are tons of camping spots around the park but they do fill fast during high season, so try booking ahead or come early in the morning when people are getting up and leaving to nab a spot. My favorite spot was Many Glacier Campgrounds as it was right at the trailhead for many hikes including the ones I mentioned above.
Also, bringing bear spray is not a suggestion, it’s really a demand! There is high bear activity in this park and this is a small thing you can do to protect yourself during your hikes. Bring some with you as it’s more expensive to purchase in the park.
By Nina Ragusa | Where In The World is Nina
Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon National Park is one of the top USA bucket list items for many traveling to the States. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, known for the best-preserved geological wonders, making it a perfect haven for adventure seekers and nature lovers.
It has something for everybody – doesn’t matter if you are new to adventure and hiking, or if you just love the landscape, the Canyons will keep you hooked for more!
The Grand Canyon National Park in the USA, occupies a vast land surface – roughly about 4,926 km², and can be reached in many different ways. It has 3 main entrances – north, south and the west rim. (Many also believe there is an eastern gate to the national park).
The red rock with a multitude of layers and trenches of the Grand Canyon has been a fascination for many explorers for centuries.
The Grand Canyon north rim is a paradise for advanced hikers and overnight campers. Many hiking trails average about 6- 8 hours for a round trip at the northern rim. Most popular being the Kaibab trail.
The ruggedness of the canyons on the north rim, pulls both amateur and professional photographers to its cradle. However, it is not one of the easiest to navigate or access. For instance, the north rim is inaccessible during winters.
And taking a day from any of the nearby cities, may not be a feasible idea. The Grand Canyon north rim is located about 268 miles from Las Vegas , so approximately a 5-hour drive one-way – making it impossible for a day trip.
For accommodation at the north rim, consider camping overnight or stay at the Grand Canyon Lodge – North Rim. This 2-star lodge offers a free shuttle to the Kaibab trailhead.
For a quick day trip from Las Vegas – Nevada or Sedona – Arizona, the west rim and the south rim, are much more easily accessible than the northern entrance.
Grand Canyon west rim is home to the popular tourist attractions – SkyWalk – and it is open all year round for visitors. It also has shorter trails, which are accessible for families with strollers, and can be done in 2 hours or less.
Las Vegas to the west rim is 125 miles, so it takes about 2.50 hours by car, one way. There are tons of day tours available from Las Vegas to Grand Canyon – west and south rims, to suit every traveler’s budget.
The south rim of the Grand Canyon has a similar story. It is accessible all year round and is more tourist-friendly with tons of day tours and helicopter excursions available.
For accommodation, book a room at the Hualapai Ranch or the Hualapai Lodge, located very close to the park entrance on the west rim.”
By Mayuri | To Some Place New
Haleakala National Park
Maui screams adventure, whether you’re into finding hidden waterfalls or hiking into a volcano, you can find it all inside Haleakala National Park. Haleakala is the volcano that formed over half the island of Maui. There are 2 entrances to the park, the Kipahulu district and the summit.
The Kipahulu or coastal district can only be reached from the east side of the island about 20 minutes past the town of Hana. Here you can experience the dramatic coastline, volcanic inlets and several waterfalls!
Inside the park is a well-maintained campground complete with picnic tables, grills, and a restroom. The campsites are first come first serve and walkable to hiking trails and the pools of Ohe’o or commonly known as seven sacred pools.
Remember when I mentioned waterfalls? One of Maui’s most popular hikes starts here, the Pipiwai Trail. This 4-mile moderate hike takes you past ancient banyan trees, through a cracking bamboo forest and ends at the mesmerizing 400 foot Waimoku Falls.
Another way to explore the National park is by accessing the summit. A popular way to experience the summit is coming to witness the sun rise above the clouds, an experience that is truly out of this world. To catch sunrise, you must make reservations in advance here. If you’re looking for something to get your adrenaline pumping then opt for a sunrise bike tour. Tours provide you with bikes and after sunrise at the summit you coast down 26 miles of switch backs until you reach the town of Paia.
Rather keep your feet on solid ground? There are a handful of hikes that take you in, through or around the crater. My favorite hike inside the crater is the Sliding Sands Trail. This hike takes you down onto the crater floor and you will feel like you are traversing the surface of Mars. Red, orange, and purple hues will start to emerge in the background as you hike along the black volcanic rock. You’ll spot a rare plant called the silver sword which can only be found here or on Mauna Kea, the volcano on the big island. This is a strenuous hike so come prepared with sunscreen and water.
It gets cold at the summit, so dress warm, especially if you plan on camping at the Hosmer Grove campground. Haleakala National Park always leaves me wanting more.
By Jess | I’m Jess Travelling
If you enjoyed reading this, make sure to check out the Part 2 of the 20+ Best National Parks in the USA here.
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