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The national parks in the U.S. have been called the best idea America ever had (by writer, Walter Stegner), and even President Franklin D. Roosevelt said there’s nothing more American than these beautiful national treasures. There are 59 parks in America’s National Park system, and these parks are perfect destinations for a summer road trip!
From coast to coast, America is a land of extremes, with mountains, deserts, plains, and waterways that will take your breath away. These pristine natural areas were preserved for posterity and conservation beginning in the late 1800s. These are some of the most breathtaking national parks in America that you absolutely must see for yourself.
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It’s only fair that Yellowstone is listed as the first amazing national park because it was the first one to be established! Designated as the country’s first national park in 1872, Yellowstone is perhaps most famous for its thermal geysers. There are over 10,000 thermal features in the park! This is also the place where bison roam free and other species of native wildlife, including big horn sheep, wolves, and elk, are prominent as well. If you’re fortunate enough to make the trip, don’t miss out on all of the amazing things to do at this park.
Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Yosemite National Park has everything from dramatic cliffs to powerful waterfalls and peaceful meadows. The tallest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls, is located here, as well as the huge granite mountain famous for rock climbing expeditions, El Capitan. Some of the famous driving routes are Tioga Pass Road and Glacier Point Road. Due to its prominent location in California, this park becomes incredibly crowded during the summer months, so it’s often more enjoyable to visit in the off-season.
Hands down, the Grand Canyon is one of the most impressive sites – not only in America but in the entire world. The canyon spans 18 miles and extends about a mile deep. The Colorado River runs through the canyon and many people choose to hike down the canyon on a multi-day trek. The South Rim is the most popular area to visit in the Grand Canyon National Park because it’s the most accessible. In contrast, the less crowded North Rim has pine forests and rugged trails for experienced backpackers. Rafting the river through the canyon is one of the most amazing ways to experience it. Photographs really just don’t do this place justice.
Although most of the national parks are located along the west coast and the east coast, Middle America has some scenic national parks to visit as well. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is located in both Tennessee and North Carolina and runs along the infamous Appalachian Trail. This park is well known for its abundant waterfalls, which are situated along many of the park’s recommended hiking trails. Clingmans Dome is also a great place to get a view of the expansive park, especially when the fog clears and the sun shines through the clouds. There are over 1,500 species of native flowering plants here, so this is a great place to visit in the spring when everything is beginning bloom.
Acadia National Park, located along the coast of Maine in northeastern United States, may not be as large as some of its western counterparts, but it’s no less stunning or beautiful. There’s plenty of diversity to explore here along the mountain ridges, coastline, forests, and ponds. The top of Cadillac Mountain is an ideal place to relax and watch the sunset. Fall is the most popular time to visit Maine and the other northeastern states to witness the changing colors of the autumn foliage. However, summer is a great time to visit for outdoor recreation. Take a drive along the 27-mile Park Loop Road and pull off to hop out and explore the coastline and trails on foot.
Arches National Park is unmistakable by its majestic and towering arches that stretch across Utah’s desert landscape. These arch structures are made of natural sandstone and a couple thousand of them can be seen among the other pinnacle and boulder structures in southeast Utah. Canyoneering is a popular recreational activity here, as well as rock climbing and horseback riding through this rugged land. You simply must experience this place first hand to feel its mystical and magical qualities and of course, capture some amazing sunset photography.
If you’re looking for extremes, then look no further than Death Valley National Park – the hottest, lowest, and driest place on the continent. Here you can visit Racetrack Playa, the salt flats, sand dunes, and native forests. Some of the other best sightseeing spots include Dante’s View, Wildrose, and Scotty’s Castle. It’s not uncommon for average July temperatures to reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average low temperature in December is about 39 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of its remote location, there is very little light pollution here, making it a perfect place for nighttime star photography.
Located in Montana, Glacier National Park is one of the wildest and untamed national parks of them all. Here you’ll find rugged peaks, huge waterfalls, lakes, and a landscape that’s full of thriving wildlife species. It’s just south of the Canadian border and runs along the famous “Going to the Sun Road,” which spans about 52 miles and provides the best access to the interior of the park. With more than 15,000 square miles to explore, there are plenty of things to do and see in this incredible park.
As if the climate and beach opportunities that Hawaii offers weren’t enticing enough, this island state also has a national park to showcase its volcanic origins. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on the Big Island and still has active volcanoes on it today, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. This is a wonderful place to learn about Hawaii’s natural ecosystem that supports lava beds and rain forests, as well as all the plants and animals that call this region home. Crater Rim Drive gives visitors a glimpse of the craters and lava tubes while passing by.
America’s other distant state, Alaska, also has an amazing national park if you can manage a visit up that way as well. The highest peak in North America, Mount McKinley, is located in this park, which can only be accessed by one road that’s mostly unpaved. This is a national park for the true adventure lover and hardcore traveler. Backcountry hiking and whitewater rafting on the Nenana River are two of the most amazing ways to experience Denali National Park.