10 U.S. National Parks You Need To Explore Before You Die
"The fundamental idea behind the parks is that the country belongs to the people." - FDR
The National Parks Service has spent almost 100 years protecting and preserving our country’s most precious natural and cultural resources. They've given a gift to every American and visitors from all over the world. It’s a vital part of what makes the United States a wonderful place for exploration, but with 58 national parks and 117 national monuments, deciding where to visit on your next epic road trip can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, we’ve compiled a list of the top ten national parks to visit before you die and even given you a few tips on where to start once you get there. It's a lot to see in just one lifetime...start making your plans now!
1. Acadia National Park
Location: Maine | Must-do's: The Beehive Trail | Cadillac Mountain | Otter Point
Hike The Beehive Trail | Photo: Austin Hodges
Explore Cadillac Mountain | Photo: Chris Mongeau
Explore Otter Point | Photo: Tate Yoder
By far the most popular national park in the Northeast, Acadia provides a diverse range of landscape and terrain. Here you’ll be able to explore mountains, shoreline, woodlands and lakes. If you’re an early riser, Acadia also offers an incredible sunrise that you’ll only be able to find here in Maine, where America starts its day.
2. Zion National Park
Location: Utah | Must-do's: Angels Landing | The Narrows | The Subway
Hike Angels Landing At Night | Photo: Derrick Lytle
Explore The Narrows | Photo: Scott Kranz
Explore The Subway Top-Down | Photo: Scott Kranz
Once you enter the park, you'll find yourself surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs, desert wildlife, and babbling brooks. The summer months bring hoards of visitors along with scorching temperatures so it may be best to visit during the spring or fall for the best conditions (AKA go now!).
3. Shenandoah National Park
Location: Virginia | Must-do's: Backpack Rocky Mount Trail | Hike To Blackrock Summit | Hike Bearfence Mountain
Backpack Rocky Mount Trail | Photo: Christin Healey
Hike To Blackrock Summit | Photo: Sarah Giek
Hike Bearfence Mountain | Photo: Christin Healey
Just a short drive from Washington D.C. lies Shenandoah National Park. Spanning across a portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains, you'll be sure to find beautiful waterfalls, serene wooded trials, and incredible views. Escape the hustle and bustle and find some adventure, right in the backyard of our nation's capitol!
4. Grand Teton National Park
Location: Wyoming | Must-do's: Death Canyon | Paintbrush Canyon | Explore Jenny Lake
Backpack Death Canyon | Photo: Kathleen Morton
Backpack Paintbrush Canyon | Photo: Rob Witt
Explore Jenny Lake | Photo: Daniel Brittain
Just a stone’s throw away from Jackson, WY, one of America’s best towns for outdoor sport, lies Grand Teton National Park. Named after its tallest peak, the park boasts dramatic views and offers a plethora of activity throughout. You’ll find some decent sized crowds here, but backcountry camping is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of the park.
5. Yosemite National Park
Location: California | Must-do's: Sentinel Dome | Cathedral Lake | Half Dome
Backpack Sentinel Dome | Photo: Kyle Frost
Backpack Cathedral Lakes | Photo: Addison Klinke
Backpack To Little Yosemite Valley And Hike Half Dome | Photo: Eddie Jo
Start your visit by checking out the jaw dropping cliffs in Yosemite Valley, a seven square mile area where most of the park's visitors spend their time. After that, explore the remainder of the park, over 1,000 square miles where you’re sure to find seclusion.
6. Glacier National Park
Location: Montana | Must-do's: Hidden Lake | Mt. Oberlin | Highline Trail
Hike To Hidden Lake | Photo: Greg Owens
Hike And Climb Mt. Oberlin | Photo: Bo Baumgartner
Hike The Highline Trail | Photo: Kayla Bobzien
Untouched forests, alpine meadows, jagged mountains, and spectacular lakes make up one of America’s largest national parks. Although Glacier is also a rather popular park, you’ll find great solitude exploring some of the parks 700 miles of hiking trails.
7. Denali National Park & Preserve
Location: Alaska | Must-do's: McKinley Bar Trail | Wonder Lake | Horseshoe Lake
Hike The McKinley Bar Trail | Photo: Lorene Voskinarian
Camp At Wonder Lake | Photo: Lorene Voskinarian
Hike To Horseshoe Lake | Photo: Austin Marlia
This park is massive and there is no way you’ll be able to see it in one trip. Hell, it’s difficult to see the whole thing in a lifetime. That being said, visiting the nation’s third largest national park will keep you busy, only yearning for more when you leave. The park is also home to grizzly bears, caribou, moose, and surrounds North America’s highest peak.
8. Olympic National Park
Location: Washington | Must-do's: Hurricane Hill | Mt. Ellinor | Hall Of Mosses
Hike Hurricane Hill | Photo: Michael Matti
Summit Mount Ellinor | Photo: Nick Lake
Explore The Hall Of Mosses | Photo: Jeff Richards
Just a two hour drive from Seattle, Olympic National Park has it all. With mountains, coastline and even it’s own rainforest, there is something for everyone. As an added bonus, Mt. Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park are within driving distance; just in case you want to extend your trip or add another pin to your pack!
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: Tennessee & North Carolina | Must-do's: Chimney Tops | Charlie’s Bunion | Mt. LeConte
Hike The Chimney Tops | Photo: Mason Boring
Hike To Charlie’s Bunion | Photo: Tiffany Edmiston
Hike Mt. LeConte | Photo: Bradley Burgess
You won’t find many national parks that straddle two states. With over 10 million annual visitors in 2014, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is by far the most visited park in the country. Don’t let that damper your spirits, though, this park has loads of trails and exciting terrain that will help you find peace amongst the occasional crowd.
10. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
Location: Hawai’i | Must-do's: Hike the Kilauea’iki Trail
Hike The Kilauea’iki Trail | Photos: Jessica Dales
It just wouldn’t be right to forget about Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. There are simply no other parks like it in the country. The park is home to two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa being the world’s largest. Here you can find lava flows, tubes and glowing craters!
Cover Photo: Scott Kranz
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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.