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20+ Famous National Parks in the USA that you Need to Visit – Part 2
This curated list of the Best USA National Parks is in continuation to this Best National Parks in the USA for Adventure and Nature Lovers – Part 1
- 20+ Famous National Parks in the USA that you Need to Visit – Part 2
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Mount Rainier National Park
- North Cascades National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
- Shenandoah National Park
- Smoky Mountain National Park
- White Sands National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Yosemite National Park
- Zion National Park
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Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is often overlooked when compared with other famous USA National Parks across California, but it’s actually a spectacular place for adventure and nature lovers to visit. It’s such a unique and unusual place, and visiting Joshua Tree National Park is a wonderful idea no matter the time of year!
Nature lovers will enjoy this park in particular because of the Joshua trees, which are the unique plants that give this park its name. These trees have a single trunk that then branches out into spiky leaves, giving them a somewhat alien and unfamiliar appearance as they sprawl throughout the desert. If you’ve never seen Joshua trees before then you will definitely want to visit this park to see them for yourself! Joshua trees only grow in the Mojave Desert (southwest California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona) so this is one of the very few places in the world that you can see these unusual trees.
Adventure lovers will also enjoy this park because of its myriad hikes, as well as the amazing boulders and rocks scattered throughout the park that are perfect for bouldering and rock climbing. There’s even one famous rock formation here called the Great Burrito, which you will want to be sure to climb! You can bring your own gear and enjoy climbing on your own, or there are also independent tours available that will give you gear to use and can help guide you to some fun places to climb in the park.
Be sure to bring water and food with you, as there are no amenities for food or water in the park, as well as bringing sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats to protect you from the sun. It’s a beautiful place, but there aren’t too many places to enjoy shade while exploring here! But whether you’re here for hiking and rock climbing or here for the Joshua Trees and other spectacular desert landscape features, you’ll find plenty to occupy you during your time in the park. And one thing’s for sure…after visiting Joshua Tree National Park, you will definitely want to return again and again!
By Abi Johnson | Happy Go Abi
Mount Rainier National Park
One of the best national parks in the USA to visit is the Mount Rainier National Park. This outstanding park is filled with mountain views, lakes, waterfalls, flowing rivers, and old grove trees. It is one of the best places to visit in Washington for an adventure. There are so many hikes, wildlife, and outstanding viewpoints. It is a perfect place to visit this summer.
One of the best places to visit is the Paradise Visitor Center. Just driving to this center will make your jaw drop. The views are beautiful throughout the drive, and there are some viewpoints you can stop to take pictures. If you get here in the summer, the area is filled with beautiful, colorful wildflowers.
One of the best hikes to do is the Skyline Trail. It is the most popular hike in Mount Rainier but for a good reason. You get up and front views of Mount Rainier throughout the whole trail. There is also a good chance you will spot wildlife, and at the end of the hike there are views of the stunning waterfall: Myrtle Falls. It is such a beautiful hike.
Another great hike to do is comet falls. This is a great hike to do on cloudy or rainy days. The waterfall looks magnificent, even when the weather does not work in your favor. There are also other waterfalls and river views throughout the hike. And the enormity of this waterfall will surely take your breath away.
Another popular hike to do with the whole family is the Grove of the Patriarchs Loop. It is an effortless trail to go with the family with stunning old-growth trees. The trees are humongous. Once you are done with that trail, make sure to head on over to Silver Falls Trail. It is one of the most stunning waterfalls in the area with few crowds. The bright green tree colors with the blue-green river provide outstanding photos.
The last hike I highly recommend is the Fremont Lookout Trail. It is highly recommended to do this trail for sunset. The colors of the sunset with the views of Mount Rainier in the backdrop are out of this world. You won’t want to miss it.
Mount Rainier is filled with countless activities. You can spend weeks here and still not even be close to exploring it all. It is such a beautiful national park for an adventurer.
By Michelle Stelly | The Wandering Queen
North Cascades National Park
The North Cascades National Park in Washington State is without a doubt one of the best national parks in the USA for adventure lovers. The park is often called “The American Alps” due to the glacial mountain peaks, forested valleys and emerald green lakes. The terrain here is rugged which means hikes tend to be on the more strenuous or difficult side but the views are well worth the effort!
The mountains in the park form part of the Cascade Mountain Range; so-called due to the many, many waterfalls found in it. This mountain range runs from British Columbia all the way to northern California. The Pacific Crest Trail goes through the park too before it finishes just across the border in Canada so you may see thru-hikers coming to the end of their journey in late summer.
Adventure and nature lovers should make sure they take a drive along the North Cascades Scenic Highway (check that the road is fully open with the National Parks Service beforehand), taking time to admire Diablo Lake. Don’t miss out on the Washington Pass Overlook either. An easy, accessible quarter-mile walk takes you to a stunning overlook with towering granite peaks and alpine beauty. Of course, you shouldn’t miss out on the chance to take a hike as there are some beautiful hikes in North Cascades National Park.
Cascade Pass makes a great day hike with beautiful views of some of the glaciers and peaks in the park. As you reach the pass you’ll be treated to views of Eldorado, Johannesburg, Magic, Mixup and McGregor. It’s also one of the best bang for your buck hikes in the park. Just make sure you start early as this trail gets busy in the summer.
Nature lovers will love hiking in North Cascades between the months of May to early September as this is when the wildflowers come out in full force. There’s also plenty of wildlife living in the park including black bears, so make sure you take bear spray if you’re hiking!
By Hannah Kacary | That Adventurer Blog
Olympic National Park
If you’re one for wildlife, temperate rainforests, outdoor adventure, and a just “little” rain, then Olympic National Park should certainly be top of your National Parks in the USA Bucket List. With rugged coastlines that are perfect for sea kayaking to primitive, rugged alpine trails with plenty of climbing terrain, this often-overlooked-peninsula is an adventure-junkies dream.
Beware, Olympic National Park can be a pretty busy place in summer. The 454-mile loop road that takes you around the entire park and peninsula dips in and out of some of the most beautiful spots of the park. But don’t worry, most visitors are heading over to Hurricane Ridge which provides an easily accessible view of Mt. Olympus for all to enjoy (when it’s not in cloud cover, that is).
But you’re not coming all the way to Olympic National Park to sit in a car. Even though it may rain a lot (it’s actually one of the wettest places in the lower 48), there are plenty of places for outdoor adventures.
Backcountry or multi-day hiking: If you’re only looking for an advanced overnight hike or one very long day in the high alpines, the 19-mile round-trip 7 Lakes Basin offers some of the best views of Mt. Olympus. Depending on what time of year, hikers can keep their eyes peeled for black bears, black-tailed deer, bald eagles, and cougars.
For more moderate hikes head over to Enchanted Valley for some incredible views, waterfalls and glaciers. If you want to experience the most remote and rugged coastline in the U.S., head over to the 73 mile long North Coast Trail along the Olympic Wilderness Coast.
Trekking through the rainforest: The Hoh Rainforest provides some of the most unusual moss-covered rainforests, providing fantastically spooky photo opportunities. Take a short stroll around Hall of Mosses Trail, or take your trek a little further down the Spruce Nature Trail for some up-close views of the impressive Sitka Spruce Trees and Hoh River.
Watersports: If water adventure is more your thing, there are plenty of lakes, rivers, and shorelines to explore within Olympic National Park. From multi-day sea kayaking adventures off of Ruby Beach to rafting down the Hoh River, the water choices are endless.
For a real outdoor experience, camping in Olympic National Park is an excellent place to be one with nature. Just ensure your camping gear is up to the 140 inches of rainfall the park gets every year.
By Nick Winder | Impact Winder
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
Often overlooked by the almighty Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park is a must visit if you are in California and want an adventure like no other. Nature lovers will appreciate everything this national park has to offer. Camp out by a fire pit and stargaze or take a hike in the High Sierra past alpine meadows and towering trees. Look out for the majestic black bear and marmots scurrying by as you stroll through the most incredible landscapes.
A favourite hike of mine is the one to Tokopah Falls, start at Lodgepole Campground and follow the trail until you hear the sounds of rushing water. Head there early in the morning to have it all to yourself.
For adventurers climb the 400 steps carved into the side of Moro Rock to reach the top. This exposed granite dome has incredible panoramic views of the High Sierra Mountain Range and most of the park all the way to the top. The highest point is at an elevation of 6725ft and the vista is breathtaking.
The monumental trees this park is famous for are awe inspiring, stop by General Sherman Tree, with a circumference of 102ft and standing proudly at 275ft high it is by volume the world’s biggest tree. In Grant Grove walk through the trunk of the Fallen Monarch and go just slightly off the beaten track to avoid the crowds and admire these beauties all by yourself.
Entrance passes to the park can be purchased online or at the park gates, there are no gas stations within the park so be sure to fill up before arrival.
For those that love getting back to nature there are some wonderful campgrounds, most sites come with a bench, fire pit and bear box storage; book up to six months in advance. I loved staying in a rustic cabin in Grant Grove Village, it’s a unique experience and if you like a little more luxury than camping then this is the one for you. The cabins are within walking distance of the General Grant Tree and a restaurant and small store are nearby.
By Nicola Dunkinson
Shenandoah National Park
One of the best national parks in the USA, on the East Coast for nature or adventure lovers is Shenandoah National Park. Located in central Virginia just above the Blue Ridge Parkway, Shenandoah is one of many wonderful places to hike and take in nature close to Washington, D.C.
Best known for its gorgeous foliage in the Fall, Shenandoah is also at its most crowded at this time, with cars almost bumper to bumper along the famous Skyline Drive. Plan on getting up early or exploring on a weekday to beat the crowds, since visiting in the Fall is a must. If you want to plan your trip around peak foliage, the park’s website has a foliage tracker each year to estimate the perfect time to visit.
For those looking for a bit more adventure than staying on the main road, there are more than 500 miles of hiking trails throughout the park. The most popular trails feature waterfalls or mountain overlooks, but the forest and meadow trails should not be forgotten. Shenandoah is organized by three sections, the North District, Central District, and South District, and each one offers spectacular trails.
The North District is the section closest to Washington, D.C. and is only an hour and a half away. The most popular and most challenging trail, Old Rag Mountain, can be found in the Central District. The majority of the waterfall hikes can be found in the Central and South Districts. Whiteoak Canyon is the best waterfall hike with 6 waterfalls along the trail. The national parks service does a great job of breaking down all the trails here to help you choose the perfect hike for your skill level.
The Appalachian Trail also cuts through parts of Shenandoah, so hikers can try out how it feels to walk on this historic trail. To add even more excitement, there are frequent black bear sightings, so make sure you brush up on your bear safety information before hitting a trail.
Whether you visit during the popular months of Fall or any time of year, Shenandoah National Park is the perfect bucket list destination for any nature or adventure lover.
By Jordan Bradford | The Solo Life
Smoky Mountain National Park
If you’d love to spend entire days in the great outdoors, then you should definitely consider visiting the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. This portion of the Appalachian Mountain Range is located throughout Eastern Tennessee and North Carolina. Since the plant and animal life in this region is different from the rest of the country, nature lovers will definitely be in awe! If you’re more interested in backpacking and camping, you can apply for a permit and hike along the entire Appalachian Trail, or simply throughout this park.
Mt. LeConte, which is one of the highest mountains in the Eastern United States, actually has lodging at the top of the mountain if you’d like to plan an overnight trip (although you will need to schedule this months in advance). Five trailheads lead to the top of this mountain, including Alum Cave (which is my favorite), Rainbow Falls (which is fairly popular), and the Bullhead, Boulevard, and Trillium Gap trails (which are usually less busy). If you keep hiking all the way to the top, you will reach Myrtle Point, which offers panoramic views of the Smoky Mountains!
Even if you’re traveling with kids or older adults, the Smoky Mountains National Park offers a variety of hikes for people with all abilities! For instance, Laurel Falls is a 2-mile hike round trip and takes you to a popular waterfall. The Chimney Tops is a popular hike that offers rock-hopping by the picnic area at the base of the trail. If the weather doesn’t allow for hiking, there are several exciting attractions in the Gatlinburg area, which is home to many of the popular trailheads found in the park.
I would recommend staying nearby Gatlinburg because there will be many things to do in the evenings or on rainy days, including miniature golf, adventure experiences, shops, restaurants, and museums. If you stay a bit outside of Gatlinburg, you could even rent a cabin, which is perfect for a family or group of friends, and makes up for an excellent budget friendly vacation in the USA for the entire family.
By Raquel Osborne | Meals and Mile Markers
White Sands National Park
White Sands National Park, is one of the most unique national parks in the USA, and while it may be off the beaten path, it is definitely worth a visit if you love adventure. Located in White Sands, New Mexico, the nearest major cities are Almagorodo and Las Cruces, New Mexico, as well as El Paso, Texas. The park features 275 square miles of gypsum sand, perfect for hiking or sledding. Plan on spending at least three hours exploring the park, and don’t miss the beautiful sunsets over the dunes.
Upon arriving at White Sands, head to the gift shop where you can purchase your plastic disk for sledding on the dunes (it’s just past the front desk of the visitor center). All sleds can be returned at the end of your visit for a deposit (about a third of the cost). Hop in your car and drive along the Dunes Drive, an 8 mile scenic loop through the park. Those with accessibility challenges can enjoy the dunes via a boardwalk at the first pull off. Others will want to drive the dune loop until they find the perfect sledding spot.
Nature lovers will not be disappointed as White Sands National Park has over 800 species of animals, including kangaroo rats, roadrunners, and toads. There are even “white species”, those who have adjusted their color to match the park’s white sand. These animals are not found anywhere else in the world. Visitors will marvel at the gypsum sand and the shrubs and plants that continue to grow even though water is scarce.
It can be difficult to plan a trip to the National Parks, but White Sands makes it easy for all ages to enjoy its unique features.
Please Note – The park may be closed when they are doing testing nearby at the White Sands Missile Range. This causes the park to close for a few hours. Check the site before you go and make sure it is open.
By Kirsten Maxwell | Multigenerational Vacations
Yellowstone National Park
Receiving over 3 million visitors annually, Yellowstone National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the USA. Established in 1872, not only is Yellowstone the first national park in Yellowstone, but it is also regarded as the first national park in the world. Spanning a total of 3,500 square miles, Yellowstone National Park is made up of parts from three states: Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.
It is not difficult to see why Yellowstone is such a popular national park. The 3,500-mile square area is the home of a huge variety of wildlife as well as some of the most unique geothermal features in the entire world. The most famous unique geothermal features are unquestionably the geysers. At over 500 active geysers, Yellowstone contains more than half the world’s active geysers. The most incredible of which is the Old Faithful Geyser, which earned its name by erupting consistently every 45 minutes or so. However, the Old Faithful Geyser is not the tallest geyser in Yellowstone National Park. If you want to see the tallest active geyser in Yellowstone National Park (and the tallest in the world), you must not miss Steamboat Geyser. Though it’s eruption time is quite unpredictable, its water column can reach 300 to 400 feet.
Other than the jaw-dropping geysers, Yellowstone is also famous for its magical hot springs. These aren’t the typical hot springs where you can bathe and relax. If you fall into them, the scorching hot springs will melt you away completely. However, that doesn’t mean nothing can survive their insane temperature. Different microbes live in different locations inside the hot springs, giving out the vibrant colors you see at many of the hot springs such as the Grand Prismatic Spring. If there is one thing to do in Yellowstone National Park, it is to visit Grand Prismatic Spring. Make sure you view it from the Fairy Falls Trail for a stunning birds-eye view.
Yellowstone National Park also has a huge concentration of wildlife and they are not shy. The most popular ones are grizzly bears, black bears, moose, elks, wolves, and bison. Obviously, grizzly bears are the most sought after animal visitors would like to see. However, don’t make the mistake of approaching them or getting out of your vehicle to get a better look. They might appear like a teddy bear but trust me they don’t act like one. If you are a nature and wildlife lover, you must drive down to Hayden and Lamar Valley. Those places are teeming with wildlife!
By Sean Lau | Living out Lau
Yosemite National Park
One of the most popular national parks in the USA and in California , Yosemite National Park is also one of the most famous national parks in the state due to its proximity to San Francisco, beautiful granite rock formations, and gorgeous waterfalls.
Half Dome is a well-known granite formation in the park, making climbing the Half Dome Trail a very popular thing to do at Yosemite National Park. This strenuous, but well-trekked, trail takes a full day and will take you on an elevation climb of 4,800 feet, passing by the beautiful Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls along the Mist Trail. The trail is approximately 17 miles and takes most of the day as you must use cables drilled into the granite to climb up the round side of the dome. Though beautiful, this hike is not for novices, as it can be quite dangerous for those who are unprepared. Gloves and lots of water will be your best friend, in this hike.
If you’re not in the mood for climbing Half Dome, you can also just take the Mist Trail up to the base of Half Dome. As mentioned before, the full trail will take you past Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls however you will reach Vernal Falls at the 1.5 mile mark and Nevada Falls at 3.5 miles. Depending on how far you go, the hike should only take approximately 2 to 5 hours, making it perfect for a one day trip to Yosemite. The hike can get strenuous and slippery as you’re climbing up the granite steps so it is definitely not for the faint of heart.
The Yosemite Valley is also a cannot miss spot to see in the park! The valley is gorgeous with beautiful views of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. There is a quick 1 mile loop to get to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls, but from farther away you can admire both Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls together. For more experienced hikers, a 3.5 mile hike will take you to the top of the Upper Yosemite Falls.
Yosemite National Park isn’t just one of the best national parks in California, it’s also one of the most beautiful national parks in the United States. There’s a reason it was the third park in the United States to be designated as a national park, and you’ll need to see it for yourself to understand the true beauty of it.
By Constance | The Adventures of Panda Bear
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is without a doubt one of the very best National Parks in the USA for adventure junkies. Zion is absolutely FULL of a wide variety of adventurous activities, and is home to some of the best landscape views in the world.
Zion’s hiking is the main attraction in the park. The park has tons of hikes, however the 3 best hikes, which every nature lover will enjoy, are Observation Point, The Narrows, and Angel’s Landing.
Observation Point is the longest of the 3 hikes, as you’ll hike 8 hours round trip through canyons and forest. This hike brings you to the rim of Zion Canyon, and gives one of the most jaw-dropping views you will ever find. From Observation Point, Zion spreads before you like a red carpet, with an enormous blue sky above. The view is truly stunning.
If Observation Point is peanut butter, then The Narrows is jelly. These two hikes are wildly different, but complement each other extremely well. The Narrows is a hike through the Virgin River. You’ll be at the base of the canyon, which gets so skinny at points that you can almost touch both sides! The hike is so unique, and is unlike any other hike you’ll find in any other National Park in the USA.
Finally, the Angel’s Landing hike is a must-visit. The most popular hike in the park, this relatively short 5 mile round-trip hike does have some challenging parts. At times, the hike takes you near a cliff, however at these points there are chains and rails placed so that you have something to hold as you make the difficult crossings. The views from Angels Landing are beautiful. You’ll get a 360 degree panorama of all Zion in all her glory.
On top of hiking, there are a few other reasons Zion National Park is perfect for nature lovers. In the park, you’ll likely get the chance to see many different breeds of wildlife. Mule deer and bighorn sheep seem to be around every corner. On each drive into and out of the park, keep your eyes peeled searching for these marvelous creatures. If you are lucky, you may even spot a red fox making their way through the park. If you are REALLY lucky, then you can spot one of the California Condors soaring above you. These beautiful, ENORMOUS birds are endangered, but a few still live in Zion, giving lucky adventurers the chance to spot them in their wild habitat. Also soaring the skies are peregrine falcons, who circle high in the skies searching for prey before dive-bombing. These falcons fly faster than any bird on earth!
Zion National Park is an excellent place for any and every adventure lover. If you love nature, you’ll love Zion, it is simple as that. The hike up Observation Point, through the Narrows, and to Angel’s Landing are so varied and unique. Wildlife is out and abundant. The landscape is as good as anywhere in the United States. You’ll love Zion, guaranteed. Enjoy!
By Zach & Julie Ruhl | Ruhls of the Road
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