The United States has 59 areas that are designated as protected national parks. Each location has something to offer that will stimulate your senses and bring wonder and enjoyment. These regions range from vast expanses of deserts and lush forests to majestic mountains, canyons and ancient and slow-moving glaciers. Here you will find a list of 12 of the most popular national parks in the U.S. along with some information on what makes them so special.
Yellowstone National Park
Located mostly in Wyoming, and branching out slightly into Idaho and Montana, Yellowstone was established in 1872 and was the first National Park in the world. Perhaps the most famous feature of the park is Old Faithful, a cone geyser which erupts approximately every hour and a half, shooting boiling hot water up to 185 feet in the air. Besides having the world’s largest grouping of geysers, Yellowstone is famous for its wildlife, geology, hydrothermal wonders, great fishing, hiking, and more. The lakes, rivers, canyons and mountains are breathtaking and it is easy to spend several days exploring the park and still not see everything.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This is the most visited National Park in the U.S. As part of the Appalachian Mountain chain, the park is situated on areas of Tennessee and North Carolina. The park is known for being home to a great amount of biological diversity. Over 17,000 different species of plants and animals have been identified in the region, with many more being found every year. The Smoky Mountains are considered to be among the oldest ranges in the world, having been carved out by glaciers over 200 million years ago. Some suggested activities during your visit to the park include: driving through the mountains and taking in the scenery, camping and hiking to get in touch with nature, fishing, horseback riding, viewing the many waterfalls and looking for wildlife such as elk or black bear.
Denali National Park
This six million acre park in Alaska is home to the tallest mountain in all of North America, Mount McKinley. Guests can visit Denali Park year round and enjoy the many sparkling lakes, rushing rivers, massive glaciers and lush fields. The northern portion of the park is the most popular and visitors can take bus tours, go cross country skiing, take hikes guided by rangers, go camping, see sled dog demonstrations, go fishing, biking or even mountain climbing. The park is a popular destination for photographers due to its beautiful scenery and wildlife which includes species such as wolves, moose, caribou, grizzly bears, black bears, Dall sheep golden eagles and bald eagles.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Located on the “Big Island,” this park is home to two very active volcanoes named Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Mauna Loa, when measured from its base to the peak, is actually taller than Mount Everest, but not as high above sea level. This interesting park contains a wide array of landscapes, varying from tropical rainforests to deserts. Visitors can hike the many trails through the diverse landscapes and see lava flows, steam vents and extraordinary flora and fauna. In this area, the land is ever-changing as Kilauea pumps out over 250,000 cubic yards of lava each day alone. As a result, hundreds of acres of land have been created by these eruptions. Upon your visit you will find plenty of camping areas to stay at while you enjoy your exploration of this one of a kind park.
Olympic National Park
Located on the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington, this park has four distinct parts to take in: picturesque alpine regions, the rocky and sandy Pacific coastline, a lush temperate rainforest and a drier thickly wooded forest. The park also has 13 beautiful rivers and even a ski hill that is operational in the winter months. Visitors can hike through the diverse landscapes and take in views of the mountains and glaciers while enjoying nature. One recommended trail to venture on is the Olympic Peninsula Waterfall Trail which provides great views of numerous waterfalls that are in the park. Additionally, the park has hot springs, magnificent beaches, a plethora of wildlife and plenty of roads to take for scenic drives. This is certainly a perfect location for photographers to snap a few photos and preserve some great memories.
Grand Canyon National Park
It is said that everyone should visit the Grand Canyon at least once in their lifetime. This massive canyon was formed over millions of years from erosion caused by the flow of the Colorado River. There are awe-inspiring rock formations that are very colorful as well as an amalgamation of unique species of plants and animals. This park offers plenty of activities to partake in such as hiking down into the canyon, taking a mule or horseback ride, helicopter tours, river rafting on the rapids, camping and backpacking and just enjoying the incredible scenery. If you want to explore the bottom of the canyon, it is often recommended that you take a guided tour and even camp out over night so you can spend a quality amount of time enjoying what the area has to offer. If you decide to venture out without a guide, the park offers the unique feature of cell phone audio tours. All you have to do is call a phone number and enter the number on the sign near you and you are given a short narration about the history and geology of that stop.
Rocky Mountain National Park
This park in Colorado spans 415 square miles. Besides being filled with beautiful mountains, this park has many wildflower covered meadows, spectacular lakes and thickly wooded forests. There are many species of animals for visitors to see, including: bull elk, mountain lions, bighorn sheep, bobcats and black bears. This area was carved out by glaciers over millions of years and some small glaciers still remain that you can walk on. While here you can drive on Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest in elevation of any paved road in the country. Of the many things you can do while visiting, some of the most popular activities are camping, hiking, mountain climbing, four wheeling, river rafting, kayaking, fishing and hunting. If you go to the park during winter you can go snow shoeing, downhill or cross country skiing, ice skating and even snowmobiling.
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is in northern Montana and borders Canada. It covers over one million acres, has more than 130 lakes, over one thousand types of plants and hundreds of different species of animals. Some of the popular animals to try to spot are moose, grizzly bear, wolverines, mountain goats and the Canadian lynx. This is a great place for birdwatchers as there are over 270 types of birds that make the park their home. Glacier National Park’s impressive terrain was created by glaciers and it still has twenty five active, slow moving glaciers that you can hike on. It is recommended that you drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Road as it offers fantastic views of the whole park, many opportunities to stop and snap photos at lookout points as well as a good chance of spotting some wildlife. You can also take a ranger – led hike, go backpacking, horseback riding, fishing and much more.
Everglades National Park
The Everglades National Park is a popular destination that is listed as an International Biosphere Reserve, Wetland of International Importance and a World Heritage Site. The region is made up of forests and wetlands that are sustained by a river that flows out of Lake Okeechobee. The park was initially established to preserve and protect the delicate ecosystem in the area. While here, you can go canoeing or take an airboat tour and look for the various species of animals that are unique to the area such as manatees, alligators, crocodiles, rare birds and the Florida panther. Other fun activities you can enjoy are biking, hiking, bird watching, fishing and camping, to name a few. The park also has the biggest mangrove ecosystem in the entire western hemisphere. There are thirty six protected or threatened types of animals that make the park there home.
Grand Teton National Park
Located in northwestern Wyoming, this 300,000 plus acre park was named after the Teton Mountain Range. Since the park is only a few miles from Yellowstone, many people make it a point to visit both parks. Visitors go here for mountaineering and rock climbing experiences. Hiking and camping are very popular and the trout fishing in the park is world famous. Rafting and canoeing are also fun options to try out while at the park. While here, some of the animals that you can see include, moose, bison, mountain lions, the gray wolf, the American black bear, coyotes, otters, badgers, wolverines and lynx. Because the park has an altitude change of more than 7,000 feet, from the highest to the lowest points, there are many different types of plants that exist in different ecological areas. The park has a subapline region, alpine tundra, conifer and deciduous forest and wetlands.
Yosemite National Park
This park in California is known for its majestic waterfalls, looming granite cliffs, rushing rivers, wildlife and huge forest lands. The most popular area of this national park is called Yosemite Valley. This 7 square mile section contains a few of the tallest waterfalls in the state. The valley is flanked by large mountains, including El Capitan and Half Dome, which provide a beautiful backdrop for photographs. There are many hiking trails throughout the park that lead visitors past waterfalls, over glaciers and up to the top of mountains. The park is home to black bear, mule deer, bobcats, fence lizards, woodpeckers, mountain lions, various snakes and many more species that guests can encounter. Besides hiking, people enjoy bird watching, camping, fishing, rock climbing and horseback riding, to name a few activities.
Sequoia National Park
Sequoia National Park is most known for its massive sequoia trees. In fact, the area holds five out of ten of the largest known trees in the world. The region with the most massive trees is aptly named the Giant Forest. Besides the huge trees here, the park contains large mountains, rocky foothills, rivers, caves and canyons. Guests can take cave tours, go canoeing and rafting, go fishing, snowshoe and ski in the winter, camp, take ranger-led tours, rock climb and much more. Some animals that can be found in the boundaries of the park include black bear, the white footed mouse, spotted skunks, the California kingsnake and the whiptail lizard. Notably, Sequoia National Park is also the location of Mount Whitney, the highest elevation in the contiguous United States.