The USA is a huge country which is fortunate to be home to a massively varied and beautiful landscape, epitomised by its national parks.
Vast deserts and canyons, snow-capped mountains, tropical islands, and dense forests, the national parks of the USA truly do cover every kind of landscape, offering Americans countless opportunities to explore the great outdoors without leaving the country.
But which national park can be crowned the most appealing?
While the sheer variety of the country’s national parks does make them difficult to compare against one another, we’ve attempted to do just that, ranking them on factors such as natural sights and landmarks, wildlife spotting opportunities, average weather conditions, and social media buzz.
Ranking Category Winners
America’s first national park is also the one that’s home to the most natural beauty spots to visit, with 122. Yellowstone is best known for its thermal geysers, which steam, bubble and boil to create an alien-like landscape, but the huge park is also home to mountain ranges, waterfalls, canyons, rivers and lakes, including Yellowstone Lake, situated over the largest supervolcano on the continent.
One of the most iconic national parks in the world, the Grand Canyon itself is obviously the major landmark in the park of the same name and is even considered one of the Wonders of the World.
Other than the spectacular gorge itself, other popular sights and landmarks within the national park include Lipan Point, which offers some of the best views in the area, and scenic routes such as the East Rim Drive and Cape Royal Drive.
One of the best ways to see the true extent of your beautiful surroundings in a national park is to take a hike up to a vantage point. And the national park which boasts the highest peaks in the country is Denali, up in Alaska, with the mountain which the park is named after reaching over 20,000 feet (6,190m), the tallest mountain in North America.
Wildlife spotting is another great reason to get out and explore a national park. The one which is home to the highest number of different types of mammals, birds, fish, and other animals is the Great Smoky Mountains, where you can find over 200 species of birds, 50 species of fish, 39 reptiles, and 43 amphibians, as well as notable populations of black bears, elk and more.
The Great Smoky Mountains were also the most diverse when it came to plant life, with over 2,600 different plant species found within the park.
The park is almost 95% forested, around 36% of which exists from before Europeans settled in the area hundreds of years ago, and the area’s unique location and climate results in an abundance of rich and colorful leaves in the autumn.
While it’s situated almost 6,000 miles away, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, American Samoa is still protected as one of the USA’s national parks, so it’s no surprise that this tropical island has the highest average temperature of any of the parks, at 80.3°F (26.8°C).
Death Valley is one of the hottest and driest places in the US, with an annual rainfall of just 4.4 inches (111.7mm). The dry climate is filled with salt-flats, sand dunes, badlands, valleys, canyons, and mountains, as well as a number of examples of animal and plant life that have adapted to the harsh conditions.
Social media is a great indicator of the places that people love to explore, snap, and share and the national park that Instagram users post about the most as the Grand Canyon, with over 3.8 million posts mentioning the iconic park.
All National Parks Ranked
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Methodology & Sources
- We looked at each of the national parks in the US and ranked them on the following factors, giving each park a normalized score out of ten on each factor, before taking a final average score across all factors.
- Note that the Gateway Arch, Dry Tortugas, Saguaro, and White Sands parks were omitted due to a lack of data, which figures for the adjoining Sequoia and Kings Canyon parks were combined.
- Nature & Parks, Sights & Landmarks
- Both sourced from Tripadvisor.
- Highest Peak
- Sourced from Wikipedia’s list of U.S. National Parks by elevation.
- Number of Animal Species, Number of Plant Species
- Both sourced from IRMA’s NPSpecies dataset. For animals, we took the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, slugs, snails, spiders, and scorpions in each park.
- Average Annual Temperature, Annual Rainfall
- Both sourced from Climate-Data.org, using the closest city to each park.
- Instagram Hashtags
- The number of Instagram hashtags mentioning the park, correct as of 05/11/2020.
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