11 Best U.S. National Parks

1. GRAND CANYON 

You’ll never forget your first visit to Arizona’s Grand Canyon, gazing down at the seemingly endless expanse from the South Rim. Repeat visitors come for hiking, horseback riding, or white-water rafting. 

2. ACADIA 

It includes 17 other islands, but most visitors to this coastal paradise in Maine stick to easily accessible Mount Desert Island. Bike the carriage roads, hike lofty Cadillac Mountain, or trek to Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. 

3. ARCHES 

It took millions of years for erosion to form the sandstone arches that give this Utah park its name. Delicate Arch is the most famous and Landscape Arch is the longest, but there are more than 2,000 others to grab your attention, making this the largest collection of natural arches in the world.

4. OLYMPIC 

Covering 1 million acres, Washington State’s crown jewel offers three parks in one, with glacier-topped mountains, misty primeval forests filled with evergreens, and pristine beaches where you can set up camp and watch the waves roll in past sea stacks.

5. GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS 

The country’s most popular national park—partly because it sits close to large cities in Tennessee (Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge) and North Carolina (Bryson City and Cherokee)—the Great Smoky Mountains is especially beautiful for hiking and camping in spring and fall.

6. YELLOWSTONE 

Occupying the northwest corner of Wyoming and parts of Montana and Idaho, the country’s first national park is known for the Old Faithful geyser, but it’s dotted with steaming pools and bubbling mud pots, too. 

7. DEATH VALLEY 

Straddling the border of California and Nevada, Death Valley is the hottest place in the United States. It sets other records, being the driest (barely 2 inches of rain a year) and the lowest (282 feet below sea level) national park. 

8. ROCKY MOUNTAIN 

Since it’s split in two by the Continental Divide, the eastern half of this Colorado park is craggy mountains, while the western half is lush, green forests. 

9. YOSEMITE

The record-breaking granite peak of El Capitan gets star billing, but this 1,200- square-mile park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains has plenty of superlatives, including Bridalveil Fall, the country’s tallest waterfall.

10. GLACIER 

Although its glaciers are receding, Montana’s most popular destination is known for more than 1 million acres of glacier-carved valleys and peaks. Hikers love the spectacular alpine mountain scenery. 

11. ZION 

Other parks offer wide-open spaces, but Utah’s Zion offers breathtaking spots like the Narrows, a slot canyon that often narrows to less than 20 feet wide. Its soaring red cliffs attract casual hikers and serious rock climbers.

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