Whether you’re passionate about hiking, kayaking, rock climbing or taking photos of truly spectacular landscapes, America has a national park just for you. There are, after all, 58 of them spread out across the country. Some boast seriously diverse flora and fauna, some encompass a unique topography, and some are so breathtakingly beautiful you could be forgiven for wanting to quit your job immediately and move permanently to a log cabin in the mountains. Each and every one of these 58 US national parks is well worth your time, but here are the seven that simply cannot be missed. Just don’t forget to grab your National Park Pass first!
Yosemite National Park
Almost everyone has likely heard of Yosemite National Park. It’s an icon. Created in 1890, the park is home to such famous attractions as El Capitan (the largest slab of granite in the world and a mecca for avid rock climbers), Glacier Point, Half Dome and the Merced River, which is ideal for both swimming and rafting. Yosemite also holds one end of the popular John Muir Trail, with the namesake of this hiking route once stating, “No temple made with human hands can compete with Yosemite.” That pretty much sums this park up.
There’s no shortage of places to stay in Yosemite National Park. Consider The Terry Cabin in North Wawona, Grandma’s Cabin in Wawona, or Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal. The park is about a three-hour drive from San Francisco. Find accommodation near Yosemite National Park here.
Zion National Park
Down in south-west Utah, you’ll find a park just as grand as Yosemite, but offering a completely different landscape. Zion National Park is rich in dramatic, vertical features — think rock towers, sandstone canyons and razor-sharp cliffs — and is therefore a favourite among backcountry hikers and climbers. There are, of course, other things to do in Zion National Park than scale its many rust-red rocks; an absolute must being a trip down the Virgin River, which has carved a spectacular path through Zion Canyon.
Not sure where to stay at Zion National Park? Just some of the fantastic options around the park include Pioneer Lodge, Cable Mountain Lodge, and Blueberry Inn. Find Zion National Park accommodation here.
Yellowstone National Park
To really understand how special Yellowstone is, we first need to take a quick history lesson. Back in the early 1900s, in a misguided effort to protect the park’s elk populations, the US government decided to cull all the wolves living within Yellowstone. In 1926, the very last wolves were eradicated from the park, and while this certainly helped the elks to flourish, it also had a number of dire consequences. As it turns out, ecosystems actually need an apex predator in order to sustain themselves, and so in 1995, gray wolves were reintroduced into the park. In a relatively short period, Yellowstone was returned to its former glory, and is today home not only to wolves, but to bison, bears, moose, sheep and beaver, with plenty of elk still grazing in the meadows.
Established in 1872, Yellowstone is America’s very first national park — and depending on who you ask, the world’s first as well. The park stretches into Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, and features everything from craggy peaks to alpine lakes and explosive glaciers. While it’s incredibly popular with hikers and rock climbers, many of Yellowstone’s most famous sights can been seen via a scenic drive, so all levels of adventurer should add a visit to the park to their American holiday to-do list.
When booking accommodation in Yellowstone National Park, some of your options include Stage Coach Inn in West Yellowstone, and Yellowstone’s Treasure Cabins in Gardiner. Search for Yellowstone National Park accommodation here.
North Cascades National Park
Located in the north of Washington State, right on Canada’s border, North Cascades National Park is a somewhat overlooked park with tourists – and that’s really not fair, considering the park has just so much to offer. One of the best ways to experience the North Cascades is via the Devil’s Dome Loop, which takes you high along a number of ridges for impressive views over the surrounding mountain range, then winds down to Ross Lake for a refreshing swim. You can complete the hike in three days, but it’s best to take four to five to really soak it all in.
When looking for ideas on where to stay at North Cascades National Park, consider nearby towns like Sedro-Woolley, or base yourself in the city of Bellingham. Explore accommodation for North Cascades National Park here.
Grand Teton National Park
Just south of Yellowstone lies Grand Teton National Park. Thanks to this geography, a lot of tourists tend to bypass Grand Teton in favour of its more famous neighbour, which means those who do make the effort to visit the park will be rewarded with far fewer crowds. You’ll also get to enjoy rocky granite peaks, lush waterfalls, postcard-worthy lakes, and blue and white glaciers. Hiking is of course a must here, but if you have your sea legs, one of the best things to do in Grand Teton is join a rafting tour down Snake River.
Ready to book your trip to this beautiful park? The best places to stay in Grand Teton National Park include Jackson Hole, Teton Village, and Colter Bay Village. Find Grand Teton National Park accommodation here.
Glacier National Park
As the name suggests, a highlight of this park is its glaciers, of which there are currently 25 active. The Going-To-The-Sun Road weaves right through the park, and is widely considered one of the world’s most spectacular drives. As such, it provides a wonderful way for visitors to experience this park without needing to get out of the car. However, it is well worth pulling over at one of the many trailheads dotting the road and immersing yourself in this incredibly grand park for even a short hike.
You have plenty of options when looking at where to stay at Glacier National Park, including Moss Mountain Inn and Cedar Creek Lodge. Explore accommodation for a trip to Glacier National Park here.
Acadia National Park
What Acadia National Park lacks in jagged peaks and vast rolling meadows, it more than makes up for in good looks. Situated on the Atlantic coast and confined mainly to Maine’s Mount Desert Island (a confusing misnomer – no red dirt here!), Acadia is a joy to explore. The landscape offers a mix of woodland, rocky beaches and glacier-forged peaks, with visitors having the chance to spy land mammals like bear as well as sea mammals like whales. Autumn is a particularly special time to visit, as the autumn leaves are truly something else throughout this corner of the world.
Not sure where to stay at Acadia National Park? Look at nearby towns Southwest Harbour or Bay Harbour. Find the perfect Acadia National Park accommodation for your American holiday here.
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Hero: Bears at Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Adam Willoughby-Knox on Unsplash