National parks are some of the most spectacular places in the United States. From towering glacier-covered peaks to deep caves and sprawling deserts, there are endless adventures to be had in an American national park.
But whether you’re a die-hard fan of the National Park Service or you’re interested in visiting your very first park, it can be hard to keep track of all the protected areas in the United States.
To help you out, we’ve put together the complete list of national parks in the US. Coming up, we’ll do a deep dive into the wonderful world of 63 national parks so you can start planning your next trip.
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The Complete List of National Parks
The US National Park System currently contains 63 units that are officially designated as national parks. Here’s the complete national park checklist in alphabetical order to help you find your next adventure destination:
1. Acadia National Park
First up on our list is Acadia National Park, the easternmost park in the contiguous United States. Acadia is located along the central Maine coast and it includes parts of the Schoodic Peninsula, Isle au Haut, and Mount Desert Island.
One of the biggest attractions in Acadia is Cadillac Mountain, which is the first place in the contiguous US to experience sunrise each morning. The park also features some of the most remote and rugged sections of coastline in the eastern United States.
While at Acadia, you can also head out on a whale watching boat in the hopes of seeing humpback whales. Better yet, if you’re brave enough to face the frigid Maine winter, you could also head to Acadia to try to spot an elusive snowy owl between December and March.
2. American Samoa National Park
The only national park in the United States located to the south of the equator, American Samoa National Park contains approximately 8,200 acres (3,300 ha) of land distributed across the islands of Ta‘ū, Ofu, and Tutila in American Samoa.
American Samoa National Park is relatively difficult to get to, but that’s mostly because it’s located so far away from the rest of the United States. Once you get to American Samoa, the Tutuila part of the park is readily accessible by car and you can take a flight or boat to the other two islands
The park features a diversity of landscapes from tropical rainforests to coral reefs that are rarely found in other parts of the country. Simply put, if you find yourself near American Samoa during your travels, a visit to the national park is an absolute must.
Feel the island breeze with this quick video introduction of the American Samoa National Park
3. Arches National Park
Arches National Park in eastern Utah contains more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, making it a truly magical place. The park also encompasses a part of the high desert of the Colorado Plateau just outside the city of Moab and it features a nice backdrop of the snowy La Sal Mountains in the distance.
Visitors to Arches can hike to one of its many easily accessible arches, such as Double Arch, or its other incredible sandstone formations, like Balanced Rock. The park is also home to one of the most famous natural arches in the world, Delicate Arch, which is commemorated on the Utah state license plate.
But arches aren’t the only thing you can find in Arches National Park. You can also sign up for a ranger-led tour of the maze-filled canyons of the Fiery Furnace to see one of the more unique areas of the Colorado Plateau.
4. Badlands National Park
Although its name might sound a bit scary, there’s nothing to be afraid of when visiting the phenomenal landscapes of Badlands National Park. Located in southwestern South Dakota, the park was created to protect some of the largest remaining mixed grass prairie and badlands ecosystems in the country.
Much of the park is designated as a wilderness area, so it’s a great place to go if you’re seeking solitude. There are plenty of hiking trails in Badlands that let you see the region’s iconic rock formations and cultural sites first-hand.
While in Badlands, you can also cruise your way down the Badlands Loop Road to enjoy some of the best roadside vistas in the park. Or, if you’re planning to camp in the park, consider staying up late one evening to experience the Badlands’ starry night skies.
Big Bend National Park is located along the Texas-Mexico border in the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert. Its main attraction is the Big Bend, a large curvature in the Río Grande, which forms the southern boundary of the park.
Although it’s located in the contiguous United States, Big Bend’s location in western Texas means that it’s infrequently visited by tourists. Many people venture to the park to hike through its well-preserved Chihuahuan Desert ecosystems, though there are only a handful of maintained trails in the region.
Paddlers are also allowed to float the Río Grande through the park, so long as they get the right permit. There’s also a border crossing in the park that lets you cross the Río Grande to the town of Boquillas del Carmen in the Mexican state of Coahuila for a quick visit.
If you’re looking to escape the noise and bustle of city life in Miami, head to Biscayne National Park. Accessible only by boat, Biscayne is home to a collection of islands and barrier reefs located just offshore of Biscayne Bay to the south of Miami.
Technically speaking, the park contains the northernmost extent of the Florida Keys, Elliot Key, as well as some well-preserved sections of the Florida Reef. In Biscayne, you can also see sandy beaches and shoreline mangrove swamps, which are important habitats for the endangered manatee and various sea turtle species.
Even though the park is only accessible by boat, it’s actually a fairly popular destination. If you have your own boat, you can head out to the park on your own to explore. Or, you can sign up for a guided tour from one of the many tour companies that operate in Biscayne.
Suitably named, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is situated along the deepest gorge of the Gunnison River in west-central Colorado. The park gets its name from the fact that the canyon’s walls are so steep that some parts of the valley floor receive only a half an hour of sunlight each day!
Black Canyon is a truly amazing natural area that features everything from massive cliffs to raging rivers and dense forests. The park also contains a blend of ecosystems that supports an array of wildlife like great horned owls, black bears, pronghorns, mountain lions, and bobcats.
There are dozens of hiking trails available in the park, most of which give you the opportunity to see the canyon from various angles. The park is also a popular destination for rock climbing and rafting, but the rafting and climbing in the canyon are so difficult that they’re generally reserved for experienced adventurers.
Although it’s often overlooked in favor of nearby Zion, Bryce Canyon is an exceptional destination in its own right. The park is located in southwestern Utah, just outside the massive Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Bryce Canyon is unique because it’s one of the best-protected areas of high-elevation desert in the country. The average elevation at the rim of Bryce Canyon is around 8,000 feet (2,400 m), so it’s common to see snow in the park during the winter months.
While it might not get as many visitors as Zion, Bryce Canyon’s incredible hoodoo rock formations mean that it’s well worth visiting. There are plenty of great hiking trails to check out in the park. Better yet, spend a night camping in Bryce Canyon to experience its world-class stargazing opportunities.
The largest of Utah’s five national parks, Canyonlands encompasses a massive section of rugged canyons in the east-central part of the state. Canyonlands is divided up into four districts—Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the Colorado and Green rivers—each of which offers its own opportunities for adventure.
Most visitors to the park head to the Island in the Sky, which is easily accessible from the town of Moab. The Maze is the most remote part of the park as it offers no maintained trails or camping areas.
Although most visitors head to Canyonlands on foot, rafting and kayaking is also a popular pursuit among experienced paddlers. In fact, the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers is located in the park. Above the confluence, the waters are fairly calm, but the stretch of the river below the confluence is home to some of the most powerful whitewater rapids in the southwestern US.
Named for the massive sandstone dome formations that resemble the dome of the Capitol building in Washington, DC, Capitol Reef National Park is a wondrous desert landscape located in the heart of Utah.
Capitol Reef’s main attraction is a geologic formation known as the Waterpocket Fold, which is estimated to be about 65 million years old. Throughout the park, there are large outcroppings of Navajo sandstone that take the shape of rock arches, cliffs, domes, and towers.
The park also features a number of important cultural and historic sites, including a handful of petroglyphs. There are dozens of hiking trails for visitors to enjoy in Capitol Reef, though caution is needed when trekking through the region during the hot summer months.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park features one of the few major cave systems in a national park that you can hike through on your own without the need for a guided tour. The park is located in southeastern New Mexico, just to the north of Texas’ Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
The park was established in 1930 in order to protect the ornate structures found inside the limestone Carlsbad Cavern. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, too, and much of the park is protected as wilderness.
Within Carlsbad Cavern, the main attraction is The Big Room, which happens to be the largest known cave chamber on the continent. There are a series of maintained paths through Carlsbad Cavern that you can walk at your own pace or on a ranger-led tour.
The only park in California that’s not accessible by road, Channel Islands includes five of the eight islands in its incredible namesake archipelago. These islands are located just off the coast of Ventura and Los Angeles and they feature some of the coolest camping and hiking opportunities in the state.
California’s Channel Islands are home to unique ecosystems as well as a handful of endemic flora and fauna species. For example, the island fox, Channel Islands deer mouse, Channel Islands spotted skunk, and island fence lizard are found nowhere else on Earth.
The Channel Islands are only accessible by ferry or private boat. Visitors are allowed to camp at one of the few campgrounds in the park, though most overnight guests stay on private diving boats and other vessels just off the coast of the islands.
Congaree National Park is a relatively small park that protects the largest remaining tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the United States. It’s located in central South Carolina near the city of Columbia.
Although Congaree isn’t as heavily visited as some of the other national parks in the eastern US, it’s a true wonder to behold. The park is an internationally designated Ramsar Wetland and it is home to some of the largest trees in the region.
There’s only one campground in the park and only a handful of designated trails (including a few really cool boardwalk trails through a swamp). But kayaking and canoeing are particularly popular activities in Congaree as they provide you with a unique way to see all that the park has to offer.
The only national park in Oregon, Crater Lake is a captivating hiking and outdoor recreation area located in the southwestern part of the state. Crater Lake is located near the city of Klamath Falls and it is part of the greater Cascade Range.
With a maximum depth of around 1,949 feet (594 m), Crater Lake is actually one of the deepest lakes in the world. The lake formed in the collapsed caldera of Mount Mazama, a volcano that erupted about 7,700 years ago.
Crater Lake is an excellent year-round recreation destination. During the summer, the park is normally filled with visitors who enjoy scenic drives down Rim Drive and thru-hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). In the winter, the park turns into a snowy wonderland that’s perfect for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing.
Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a hidden natural wonder that protects the woodlands around the Cuyahoga River. The park is located just outside of the cities of Akron and Cleveland, but visitors to Cuyahoga often feel like they’re hundreds of miles away from the bustle of the big city.
Cuyhaoga was originally designated as a national recreation area in the 1970s, but it became a national park in 2000. Inside the park, visitors can find dense deciduous woodlands, towering waterfalls, and countless historic sites.
One of the most popular attractions in Cuyahoga is the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath. This trail traverses the park and offers 21 miles (34 km) of hiking, biking, and horseback riding opportunities for visitors to enjoy.
Check out this 5 scenic hiking trails you can found in Cuyahoga National Park.
The largest national park in the country outside of Alaska, Death Valley is a true natural wonder. In addition to being one of the largest protected areas in the Lower 47, Death Valley is also home to the hottest temperatures and lowest elevations in North America.
Death Valley’s main attraction is Badwater Basin, which is located at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. More than 90% of the park is also designated wilderness, so it’s a wonderful place to visit if you’re looking for some solitude in nature.
In addition to Badwater Basin, Death Valley features snow-capped mountains, sand dunes, salt flats, and badlands. It’s also home to large stands of Joshua trees and other succulents typical of the Mojave and Colorado deserts.
The United States contains many, many mountains, but none are as big as Denali, which is located in its namesake park in central Alaska. Denali National Park covers an area that’s larger than the state of New Hampshire, much of which is remote, mountainous, and glaciated terrain.
Despite its relative remoteness, Denali National Park is one of the most heavily visited national parks in Alaska. That’s because it’s one of only a handful of parks in the state that have reliable road access.
Although the park is named for its highest peak, most visitors don’t get anywhere close to the mountain itself. Rather, many people who make the trek to Denali either enjoy short day hikes or longer backpacking trips in the boreal forest that dominates much of the lower elevations of the park.
Offering a mix of tropical outdoor splendor and historic sites, Dry Tortugas National Park is a hidden wonder located in the southwesternmost reaches of Florida. The park includes the seven Dry Tortugas Islands, which are technically the most isolated islands in the Florida Keys.
Getting to Dry Tortugas is a bit of a challenge as the park is only accessible by boat or seaplane. But at the park, visitors can enjoy hiking around the historic Fort Jefferson, which was built in the early nineteenth century as a way to suppress piracy in the nearby Caribbean.
Additionally, Dry Tortugas contains what many believe to be the least disturbed coral reefs in the Florida Keys. As the park is mostly water, most visitors to Dry Tortugas enjoy snorkeling and paddlesports during their stay.
The third of Florida’s three national parks, Everglades is home to the southernmost extent of the original Everglades wetlands. Everglades is considered to be the largest tropical wilderness area in the US and it’s one of the largest undeveloped areas in the state of Florida.
Established in 1934, Everglades was originally created to protect the region’s fragile wetlands, which were disappearing at a rapid clip due to human development. The park now protects many threatened or protected species including the American crocodile, West Indian manatee, and the Florida panther.
Visitors to the park need to have a good sense of adventure, especially during the summer when the mosquitoes are most active. There are a few developed hiking trails in the park, but most people opt to travel through the Everglades in low-powered motorboats, instead.
Check out some of the animal species you can find in the Everglades National Park.
Gates of the Arctic National Park is both the northernmost and the least visited national park in the US. It’s situated in northern Alaska, entirely to the north of the Arctic Circle. The park encompasses more than 13,000 square miles (34,000 sq. km) of land in the Brooks Range, making it slightly larger than Belgium.
Like many parks in Alaska, there are no roads in Gates of the Arctic. In fact, the park barely has any developed infrastructure so all visitors need to be self-sufficient when traveling to the region.
Most of the park is dominated by the rolling mountains and boreal forests of the Brooks Range, though the northernmost sections of it feature true Arctic tundra. Almost all of the park is designated wilderness and, when considered alongside the neighboring Noatak Wilderness, it forms the largest single expanse of wilderness in the country.
Find out some of the animal species that lives on the untouched wilderness of America.
The smallest national park in the United States, Gateway Arch is located in the city of St. Louis, Missouri along the banks of the Missouri River. It is the only park centered around a modern piece of urban architecture and it is one of only two that are located within the urban boundaries of a city.
Gateway Arch is named after its namesake monument, Gateway Arch, which was created to commemorate many things, including the Louisiana Purchase. It was erected near the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Despite being the smallest national park in the US, Gateway Arch has a number of attractions for visitors to enjoy. You can take a tram to the top of the arch (note that this involves climbing a few dozen stairs) and you can walk around the manicured gardens along the Missouri River.
Glacier National Park is a sprawling protected area located along the US-Canada border in northern Montana. However, it’s not to be confused with Glacier National Park in Canada nor Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.
Interestingly, Montana’s Glacier National Park actually features very few glaciers. Rather, the park’s rugged and mountainous landscape is home to extensive evidence of recent glaciation, which includes everything from glacially carved lakes to huge U-shaped valleys.
Hiking and mountaineering are both popular pastimes in the park. Additionally, driving the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the main thoroughfare in Glacier, is a must for all visitors.
Key highlights of Glacier Bay include its incredible scenery and its superb opportunities for wildlife watching. As most visitors travel by sea, the most commonly spotted animals include various species of whales and seals.
Filled to the brim with glacier and icy fjords, Glacier Bay National Park in southeastern Alaska is a must-visit destination for outdoor lovers everywhere. The park protects over 500,000 acres (200,000 ha) of ice, land, and water in the northern part of the Alaska Panhandle and it has also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
Most visitors to Glacier Bay arrive on cruise ships from nearby Sitka and Juneau as there are no roads that lead into the park itself. For visitors that are looking for a small group adventure, there are also tourist boats that depart from the nearby community of Gustavus and take you to the park’s many fjords.
Alongside Yosemite, Grand Canyon is sometimes referred to as the crown jewel of the US National Park System. This massive park is located in the northern part of Arizona and it encompasses much of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River.
Often called one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is a gorge that’s some 227 miles (446 km) long and 18 miles (29 km wide). The mighty Colorado flows through the canyon and floating the river through the park is one of the most prized trips in the whitewater rafting community.
Most visitors to the Grand Canyon stick to the park’s many hiking trails. There are countless trails that take you down to the canyon floor itself, but always be wary of the park’s desert climate, which frequently experiences extreme high temperatures during the summer months.
Grand Teton National Park in northwestern Wyoming is famous for its fantastic mountain views and its namesake peaks: the Tetons. Although the park doesn’t contain the highest peak in the state (that’s Gannett Peak in the Wind River Range), it does encompass some of Wyoming’s most iconic vistas.
The park is located just outside of the town of Jackson, which is famous for the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Additionally, Grand Teton is the only national park with a commercial airport located within its boundaries.
Hiking trails are particularly abundant within the park and they offer a chance to see everything from the Tetons themselves to the many alpine lakes that dot the landscape. Grand Teton is also a superb place to see elk as it’s located right next to the National Elk Refuge.
The only national park located wholly within the state of Nevada, Great Basin is an often-overlooked destination that’s well worth a visit. Great Basin is situated in the east-central part of the state near the Utah border and it encompasess a large area of the Basin and Range Province.
One of the park’s main features is Wheeler Peak, the second tallest mountain in Nevada. Wheeler Peak is also home to the Wheeler Peak Glacier, one of the few glaciers in the state.
But mountains are just one feature of Great Basin. The park also contains one of the oldest groves of ancient bristlecone pines on the planet. Visitors to Great Basin can also check out the Lehman Caves, which is one of the largest cave systems in the western part of the United States.
Great Sand Dunes National Park is located in south-central Colorado. It was originally established in 1932 as a national monument, but it was re-designated as a national park in 2004.
As its name suggests, the park is home to great sand dunes, including some that are up to 750 feet (230 m) high! These sand dunes are located on the eastern end of the San Luis Valley and they are believed to be the tallest dunes on the continent.
Anyone visiting the park can rent sandboarding and sandsledding activities at one of the visitor’s centers for a chance to enjoy this unique activity. However, beyond the main visitor center, the park is very remote and a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle is needed to access its many off-trail adventures.
The most visited park in the whole country, Great Smoky Mountains is a mountainous park located along the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. It encompases the main crest of the Great Smoky Mountains, which themselves are a part of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Each year, the park gets an average of 12 million visitors, making it one of the most popular outdoor tourist destinations in the country. The park’s popularity is due to a combination of its spectacular vistas and its ease of access from major cities on the Eastern Seaboard.
Venturing out on a hike is a must for any visitor to Great Smoky Mountains, especially during the height of the region’s fall foliage season. Some of the best hikes include the trail to Clingmans Dome and the Appalachian Trail.
Nestled in the western corner of Texas along the state’s border with New Mexico, Guadalupe Mountains National Park is home to one of the most highly mountainous regions in the Lone Star State. Interestingly, the park is located in the same mountain range as Carlsbad Caverns, which is its own protected area situated to the north in New Mexico.
The main feature of Guadalupe Mountains is the mountain range itself, which is home to the highest point in Texas, Guadalupe Peak. Additionally, the park features an excellent example of a Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem and it boasts a number of salt flats.
Some of the most popular activities in the park include hiking and bird watching. There are dozens of miles of maintained trails in Guadalupe Mountains, most of which provide superb views of the surrounding region.
Originally part of the now-defunct Hawaiʻi National Park, Haleakalā National Park was established in 1961 as its own entity in order to protect the fragile ecosystems around the volcano of Haleakalā.
Haleakalā, which means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian, is one of the tallest peaks on the big island of Hawaiʻi. Although the volcano is now dormant, the area surrounding the summit features a volcanic landscape like no other.
Visitors can hike or drive to the summit crater of the volcano where there’s an observatory. But the volcano is considered sacred to Native Hawaiians and the ecosystems surrounding the peak are both rare and fragile. As a result, visitors are asked to respect the landscape and tread lightly during any adventures in the park.
The second of Hawaiʻi’s two national parks, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes is located on the big island and was originally created to protect two major volcanoes: Mauna Loa and Kīlauea.
Kīlauea is currently one of the world’s most active volcanoes, making it one of the best places to see both pāhoehoe and ʻaʻā lavas. That said, parts of the park can be closed with little notice if the park’s scientists see increased signs of volcanic activity.
The park’s other major attraction is Mauna Loa, a sacred mountain that is also the most massive shield volcano in the world. Although Mauna Loa is technically active, visitors can hike or drive to the summit where the United States Geological Survey (USGS) operates the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Looking for some family-friendly fun in a national park? Hot Springs just might be what you need.
Hot Springs National Park is situated in central Arkansas right inside the city of Hot Springs. It’s one of the few urban national parks in the country, and it was created to protect the natural hot springs in the region.
Until the creation of Gateway Arch National Park, Hot Springs was the smallest park in the country. But visitors to the park can enjoy its many hiking trails, camping areas, and hot springs bath houses, making it the perfect choice for a quick adventure to one of the most historic parts of Arkansas.
Thought sand dunes could only exist in the desert? Think again! Indiana Dunes National Park in northwestern Indiana features some of the largest sand dunes in the eastern United States. The park is nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan and it’s long been one of the most popular destinations for family fun in the state.
Indiana Dunes was first protected as a national lakeshore in 1966, but it was redesignated as a national park in 2019. It’s a linear park that runs for about 20 miles (32 km) along the shores of Lake Michigan just outside the cities of Chestertown and Portage.
Visitors to Indiana Dunes can relax on the beach and enjoy some fun in the sun. Or, they can head out for a quick hike on one of the park’s many trails. The park also contains many historic areas, including the Bailly Homestead, that are wells worth a visit.
The only national park in the US that closes in the winter, Isle Royale contains over 400 islands and the surrounding waters in the northern part of Lake Superior, Michigan, just across the border from Canada. Although it contains more than 400 islands, the park’s centerpiece is its namesake Isle Royale, which is about 45 miles (72 km) long and 9 miles (14 km) wide.
Isle Royale is actually one of the largest islands in the contiguous United States and it is the largest island in the Great Lakes. However, the island is famous, not because of its size, but because it is home to populations of moose and timber wolves.
The park is only accessible by boat or float plane and visitors are only allowed during the non-winter months. But if you’re looking for a truly unique hiking adventure in the upper Midwest, it’s hard to find a more worthy destination than Isle Royale.
At Joshua Tree National Park in southern California, the park’s namesake Joshua trees are easily the start of the show. The park is home to an area that’s slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island, nearly all of which is the prime habitat for these incredible Joshua trees (which, by the way, are actually succulents—not trees).
In addition to Joshua trees, the park is known for its mind-blowing rock formations, most of which are popular rock climbing destinations during the fall, spring, and winter. The park also contains a few natural California palm oases, which are some of the only places where these trees grow in the wild.
Although the desert heat makes traveling to Joshua Tree difficult for much of the year, the park is one of the most popular hiking areas in southern California. There are countless miles of maintained and unmaintained trails in the park, many of which provide exceptional views of the surrounding Mojave Desert.
Known for its incredible brown bear population, Katmai National Park is a huge protected region located in southwestern Alaska on the Alaskan Peninsula. The park and its neighboring preserve cover over 4 million acres (1.6 million ha) of land, making it about the same size as the state of New Jersey.
Most visitors to Katmai fly into the camp at Brooks Falls, where you can watch thousands of brown bears as they fish for salmon. But, since the park is only accessible by bus plane from the community of King Salmon, it only receives about 40,000 visitors each year.
For the more adventurous among us, a trip to Katmai also means an opportunity to visit the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The valley is a remote, trailless expanse of wilderness near the volcano Novarupta that’s one of the most out-of-this-world places you’ll find in an American national park.
Our personal favorite park (shh… don’t tell the others!), Kenai Fjords is an incredible destination for hikers and wildlife lovers, alike. The park is located on the eastern side of the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska. Its only road and visitors center is situated just outside the town of Seward, but it covers over 1,000 square miles (2,700 sq. km) of land.
Kenai Fjords protects part of the Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the United States. Most of the park is covered in ice or water and there are only two maintained trails in the area, both of which lead you to Exit Glacier.
There are countless opportunities for mountaineering in the park, but if you’re not too big a fan of heights, you can visit it on a whale watching boat tour instead. The waters surrounding the park are filled with humpback whales, orcas, and Steller’s sea lions, making it a perfect place to see Alaska’s maritime beauty first-hand.
Kings Canyon National Park boasts a superb mix of all the best features that the Sierra Nevada in east-central California has to offer. The park contains its namesake Kings Canyon, which is a huge glacially carved valley that’s more than 1 mile (1.6 km) deep.
Additionally, alongside its neighbor, Sequoia National Park, Kings Canyon is home to some of the coolest giant sequoia groves in the country. One of the park’s highlights is the Grant Grove, which features the General Grant Tree.
Visitors to Kings Canyon can also venture deep into the park’s backcountry on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) or on its hundreds of miles of hiking trails. One of the most popular hikes in the park is the Rae Lakes Loop, which brings you to a collection of scenic alpine lakes.
The least visited national park in the US, Kobuk Valley is nestled high above the Arctic Circle in northwestern Alaska. It is just a short flight away from the communities of Nome and Kotzebue, but its lack of road access means that air travel to the park is expensive and unreliable.
Kobuk Valley protects a large portion of the wetlands surrounding the Kobuk River, which drains much of the southern part of the Brooks Range. The park also protects the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, which is one of the largest polar sand dune fields in the world.
The park isn’t just a barren tundra, though. In fact, it’s one of the best places to see Arctic wildlife in Alaska. Two times each year, over 400,000 caribou migrate through the park as they travel to and from their breeding and calving grounds. Visitors to the park can also see everything from Arctic foxes and snowshoe hares to wolverines and gray wolves.
Home to active volcanoes, massive glaciers, and some of the most remote terrain in south-central Alaska, Lake Clark National Park is a stunning, albeit rugged, protected area that few people ever get to experience.
The park is actually located only about 100 miles (160 km) away from the city of Anchorage, but its lack of road access means that it rarely sees more than 20,000 visitors in a year. That said, the park offers some of the best salmon fishing opportunities in the state for those that are willing to make the journey.
If you’re willing to make the float plane or boat trip to the park, an incredible and undeveloped landscape awaits. Although there are no maintained trails in Lake Clark, there are plenty of backcountry hiking, climbing, and skiing adventures to be had in the region.
Of all California’s national parks, Lassen Volcanic is arguably the most overlooked. Nestled in the northeastern part of the state, well away from the hustle and bustle of the bay area, Lassen Volcanic features the southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range and the largest plug dome volcano in the world.
The park is still home to many active volcanic features, like fumaroles, mud pots, and hot springs. In fact, Lassen Peak last erupted in 1915, spewing volcanic ash up to 200 miles (322 km) away in the process.
These days, visitors to the park can check out its many hidden gems, which include the Painted Dunes, Bumpass Hell, and Mount Harkness. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) also traverses the park, and it offers excellent views of Lassen Peak along the way.
Featuring the longest mapped cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave National Park is a huge subterranean protected area located in central Kentucky. The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
Archeological evidence suggests that Mammoth Cave had long been known to Indigneous peoples in what is now Kentucky. The first people of European descent to visit the cave found an entrance to it in 1797 while bear hunting.
One of the first people to make extensive maps of the cave was Stephen Bishop, a Black man who was enslaved by one of the cave’s owners. In the 1850s, Bishop was single-handedly responsible for creating many of the maps that we have of Mammoth Cave today.
Nowadays, guided cave tours are easily the most popular attractions in the park. There are many cave tours to choose from, but the most important thing is that you book your ticket well in advance.
Mesa Verde National Park is an immensely important protected cultural and natural area located in the southwestern corner of Colorado next to the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. It was first protected by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 as a national park and it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
The park’s main feature is its collection of more than 600 cliff dwellings, many of which are located at the aptly named Cliff Palace. These cliff dwellings date back to around 1190 CE and were home to the Ancestral Puebloans.
Visitors to the park are able to hike to see some of the best-preserved cliff dwellings in the region, such as those at Balcony House and Long House. However, you can only enter a cliff dwelling on a guided tour with a ranger, so be sure to book your tour tickets well in advance.
Check out this quick video about the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park.
Home to the most prominent peak in the contiguous United States, Mount Rainier is a super popular national park situated in west-central Washington state, just a short drive from Seattle. It is one of the oldest national parks in the country, having been established in 1899.
The park centers around its namesake peak, Mount Rainier, which is a 14,000-foot (4,300-meter) glaciated stratovolcano. Rainier is one of the most prized climbing objectives in the United States and it sees thousands of climbers each year.
In addition to its glaciated peaks, the park is known for its alpine meadows and old-growth forests. One of the most popular hikes in the park is the Wonderland Trail, which is a 93-mile (150-km) long loop around the base of Mount Rainier.
The newest national park in the US as of 2022, New River Gorge National Park is located along the massive gorge of the New River in southern West Virginia. It was first established as a national river in 1978 but was re-designated as a national park in 2021.
New River Gorge is known for its namesake gorge, which is the longest and deepest river valley in the Appalachian Mountains. The gorge is a world-renowned rock climbing designation, and many climbers predict that it will only become more popular in the coming years thanks to its newfound national park status.
Additionally, New River Gorge is a fantastic hiking destination for anyone that wants to learn more about the history of coal mining in the Appalachians due to its plethora of historic sites. The park is also very popular among BASE jumpers who are allowed to jump off the iconic New River Gorge Bridge on one day each year.
North Cascades National Park is a highly mountainous park situated along the northern borders of Washington state. It is part of a much larger area of protected lands called the North Cascades National Park Complex that also includes the Lake Chelan and Ross Lake National Recreation Areas.
The park is known for its rugged glaciated peaks, alpine lakes, and sprawling meadows. Nearly all of the park is designated as wilderness, too, so it’s a great place to venture if you’re looking for some solitude in the mountains.
Popular activities in North Cascades include hiking, rock climbing, mountaineering, and backcountry skiing. Wildlife watching is also a favorite pastime as the park is home to everything from mountain goats and bighorn sheep to grizzly bears, gray wolves, and wolverines.
Located on the northwestern tip of Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park is one of the rainiest places in the entire United States. It protected a large area of temperate rainforest, rugged coastline, and towering glaciated peaks, making it a one-stop shop for outdoor adventure.
Olympic National Park’s attractions include its many glaciated mountains, such as Mount Olympus, which is the tallest peak in the Olympic Mountain range. Additionally, visitors to the park can check out the Hoh Rainforest on the western side of the park, which features dense old-growth temperate woodlands.
If you’d rather spend the day at the beach, you can also head down to the rugged coastline of the Olympic Peninsula. The park is home to one of the longest unbroken stretches of wilderness coastline in the Lower 48, so it’s a superb destination for a truly remote backpacking trip.
Another commonly overlooked park, Petrified Forest National Park is a small section of desert landscape located in northeastern Arizona. It was first protected as a national monument in 1906, but it wasn’t designated as a park until 1962.
Petrified Forest is home to—you guessed it—a large petrified forest. It contains countless fossils, including the remains of fallen trees that date back to the Late Triassic, about 225 million years ago.
These fossilized trees are some of the most iconic attractions in the park. Other great sites worth seeing in the park include the Painted Desert and the sprawling badlands that dominate the region.
California’s newest national park, Pinnacles is a small park located in the west-central part of the state just to the southeast of the Bay Area.
The park is named after its many pinnacles, which are the eroded remains of an ancient (and now extinct) volcano. It is an arid park that experiences the high temperatures of the Central Valley despite its relative proximity to the coast.
That said, Pinnacle’s is arguably best known, not for its rocks, but for its birds. The park is one of the few places where California condors are relatively easy to spot as they were re-released here as part of the condor breeding program.
Redwood National Park is part of a larger complex of protected areas in northern California that are collectively known as Redwood National and State Parks (RNSP). These parks are managed by both the National Parks Service and the California Department of Parks and Recreation as outdoor recreation areas and protected forests.
The park contains some of the tallest and most massive trees on the planet, including some large sections of old-growth redwood forest. It was created out of a push from local residents to preserve the less than 10 percent of the original redwood forest in the northern part of the state after decades of logging.
Additionally, the park also protects important rivers that serve as spawning grounds for Chinook salmon and beaches where you can find Steller’s sea lions. That said, Redwood is one of the least-developed national parks in the Lower 48, so you won’t find many visitor’s centers or maintained amenities in this rugged region.
Designated in 1915, Rocky Mountain Park is one of the most popular hiking and rock climbing destinations in northern Colorado. The park was also designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1976, making it one of the first few such reserves on the planet.
Rocky Mountain is known for its namesake peaks, most of which are part of the Front Range. The park is located just outside of the mountain town of Estes Park and its famous Trail Ridge Road scenic byway is the main thoroughfare into its more remote sections.
For climbers, the Diamond on Longs Peak is the highlight of the park. For those of us who’d rather keep our feet on the ground, there are hundreds of miles of trails in Rocky Mountain National DiamPark and the adjacent national forests to enjoy.
Located in southern Arizona, Saguaro National Park is one of the overlooked gems of the National Park System.
The park’s best feature is its huge collection of giant saguaro cacti, which can grow to be up to 40 feet (12 m) tall. Saguaro is one of the few places in the US where you can find so many of these incredible succulents.
In addition to its cacti, the park also contains large washes and classic Sonoran Desert ecosystems. Its harsh climate means that it’s not an ideal place to visit in the summer, but when the temperatures cool in the fall and spring, Saguaro should definitely be on your must-visit list.
Boasting mighty giant sequoias and towering peaks, Sequoia National Park is a true wonder of the southern Sierra Nevada. Sequoia is located in east-central California alongside its sister park, Kings Canyon.
Of all its features, Sequoia’s most popular attractions are easily its giant trees. The park is home to multiple giant sequoia groves, including General Sherman, which is the largest known living single-stem tree on the planet.
Additionally, Sequoia National Park also contains part of the summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the Lower 48. Even if mountaineering isn’t quite your style, there are still dozens of incredible hikes in the park for you to enjoy.
Home to the northernmost crest of the rugged Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Mid-Atlantic. The park is situated in northern Virginia, just a short drive away from Washington, DC.
Shenandoah is perhaps best known for Skyline Drive, the scenic byway that runs down the length of the park. In addition to scenic drives, the park also contains an excellent collection of trails, campgrounds, and visitors centers for all to enjoy.
Although the park is worth visiting all year long, it’s arguably its most beautiful during the autumn when the region’s fall foliage is at its finest.
The only national park named for a US president, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a collection of discontiguous areas of badlands in western North Dakota.
Although the park wasn’t officially designated until 1978, it was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite hunting areas in the US during the late nineteenth century.
Nowadays, hunting isn’t allowed at the park, but you can venture out on a hike through its scenic badlands. The terrain in the park is surprisingly rugged when compared to the surrounding prairie. If hiking isn’t your style, there are also plenty of scenic drives in the park that give you a chance to see its many historic sites and even its herd of feral horses.
Fancy a trip to the tropics? A journey to Virgin Islands National Park just might be what you’re looking for. The park protects around 60 percent of the total land area of the island of Saint John in the US Virgin Islands plus a large section of the surrounding ocean.
Unlike many of the very developed resort areas of the archipelago, the beaches and surrounding area of Virgin Islands National Park are almost entirely undisturbed. This means that the park is home to some of the few remaining beaches and forests in the Caribbean, such as Trunk Bay, that show little obvious sign of human impact.
Many visitors to the park opt to take a boat tour around its scenic bays, though there are plenty of hiking trails to enjoy, too. The park also contains some important historic sites that tell the difficult history of colonization and slavery in the Virgin Islands.
Situated in the northern reaches of Minnesota along the US-Canadian border, Voyageurs National Park is an outstanding area of natural beauty that’s also one of the best canoeing destinations in the country.
Although Voyageurs National Park does have a visitor center and a few boat ramps that are accessible by vehicle, the vast majority of the park is only accessible on foot, boat, or snowmobile. The park is also bordered by the famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, so it’s about as remote as it gets in Minnesota.
The most popular activities in the park are easily canoeing, fishing, and other water sports. There are hundreds of campsites in the park, too, but most are only accessible by canoe, kayak, or houseboat.
Designated in 2019, White Sands is one of the United States’ newest national parks. The park was first designated as a national monument in 1933, but it didn’t achieve full park status until much more recently.
Aptly named, White Sands is, indeed, home to white sand—and a whole lot of it. The park is known for being home to a huge sand dune field that’s almost entirely composed of white gypsum crystals. This makes it one of the largest known gypsum dune fields on the planet.
White Sands has long been a popular tourist destination. The park is home to a campground, multiple picnic areas, and a visitors center. Some of the most popular activities in White Sands include sledding down the dunes and cruising down the scenic Dunes Drive.
One of two national parks in the Mount Rushmore State, Wind Cave is a small protected area that was established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt.
As its name suggests, Wind Cave is home to its namesake cave system. Interestingly, Wind Cave is believed to be one of the longest and densest cave systems in the world. Visitors to the park can venture into the caves on a guided tour to see its incredible features first-hand.
Wind Cave National Park isn’t just about what’s below ground, though. The park is also home to one of the largest remaining areas of natural mixed-grass prairie in the country. It’s also home to a free-roaming bison herd, making it one of just three such places in the United States.
Encompassing over 8.3 million acres (3.3 million ha) of rugged and wild terrain, Alaska’s Wrangell–St. Elias National Park is by far the largest national park in the United States.
It encapsulates a huge swath of the southeastern corner of mainland Alaska and it’s part of the international Kluane/Wrangell–St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Wrangell–St. Elias is known for its namesake mountain ranges, the Wrangells and the Saint Elias Mountains. Mount Saint Elias (Yasʼéitʼaa Shaa), which is located in the park along the Alaska/Yukon border, is the second highest peak in the US.
In addition to towering mountains, the park contains huge glaciers, active volcanoes, and a wonderful collection of wildlife. That said, the park is very remote and it contains relatively few managed facilities or maintained trails. So, a hearty sense of adventure is needed for any trip to Wrangell–St. Elias.
Designated in 1872, Yellowstone National Park was the first national park ever designated in the United States. In fact, Yellowstone predates the National Park Service by over 40 years!
Yellowstone is located primarily in northwestern Wyoming, though it also includes parts of Montana and Idaho. It’s currently one of the most heavily visited parks in the country thanks to its spectacular mountains and geothermal features, such as the Old Faithful geyser.
In addition to its mountains and geysers, Wyoming is home to a superb array of flora and fauna. The park contains one of the last remaining free-ranging herds of bison in the United States. It’s also home to grizzly bears and gray wolves, so it’s a true wildlife lover’s dream.
Often considered one of the crown jewels of the US National Park system, Yosemite National Park is a truly incredible protected area situated in east-central California. Yosemite encompasses a swath of rugged terrain in the Sierra Nevada and it’s completely surrounded by national forests.
A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yosemite is perhaps best known for its massive granite formations. The park is home to El Capitan and Half Dome, two of the most prized big wall rock climbing objectives on the planet.
Yosemite also contains a handful of gorgeous meadows, alpine lakes, and giant sequoia groves. The park is a very popular destination among tourists, but hikers that are willing to get off the well-beaten path can find solitude in Yosemite.
Nestled in the southwestern corner of Utah, Zion National Park is a desert lover’s dream. Zion contains everything from rock arches to steep river valleys and slot canyons.
The park is named after Zion Canyon, which was carved out by the Virgin River. It’s known for its red Wingate sandstone and tan-colored Navajo sandstone formations, which tower high above the valley floor below.
One of the most popular attractions in the park is the incredible hike to the summit of Angel’s Landing, which is a massive sandstone fin that rises straight up from the valley floor. Other great sites to check out at the park include the famous slot canyon The Narrows, Kolob Arch, and the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.
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Want to impress your friends with your national park know-how? Here are some excellent US National Park facts and figures any outdoor adventurer ought to know:
United States National Parks FAQs
Here are our answers to some of your most commonly asked questions about the national parks in USA:
How many national parks are there?
There are 63 national parks in the US as of 2022. But there are over 400 national parks, monuments, and historic sites that are managed by the United States National Park Service.
What is the only state without a national park?
Approximately 20 US states don’t have a national park, such as New York, Louisiana, and Vermont. However, nearly every state has a National Park Service unit, such as a national monument or historic site, except for Delaware.
What is the least visited national park?
Gates of the Arctic is the least visited national park according to 2020 US National Park Service data. However, other remote Alaskan parks, like Kobuk Valley, often compete with Gates of the Arctic for the title of least visited national park in the US each year.