Authored by Albert Cooper
Unique natural wonders, unforgettable terrains, spectacular scenic beauty, and a wealth of outdoor activities bring over 300 million visitors to America’s 61 national parks every year.
While every park is a truly worthy destination, some stand out just a little more than others.
Here are some of the best.
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The Best National Park Vacations in America
The Grand Canyon
At almost eighteen miles wide and a mile deep, the Grand Canyon must be seen to be believed. One of our country’s most popular vacation spots, this incredible natural wonder draws about six million visitors a year.
Grand Canyon National Park offers something for everyone with ranger-led tours for the kids, donkey rides to the canyon floor, and hiking trails with some of the world’s most amazing views.
The 26-mile East Rim Drive (also known as Desert View Drive) lets non-hikers enjoy the canyon’s breathtaking views right from the comfort of their car. Horseshoe Bend is an area which is quickly growing in popularity, and is certainly worth the detour for those with extra time.
For the ultimate Grand Canyon experience though, nothing beats a stay on the canyon floor at the Phantom Ranch – if you can get in! The place is a different kind of exclusive, being reachable only by mule, on foot, or by rafting the Colorado River.
The park also has seven lodgings above the rim, six in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim, and one on the North Rim. Grand Canyon Village also has a supermarket, a variety of restaurants, a small shopping center, and spectacular canyon views.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
While all of our country’s National Parks boast incredible landscapes, lots of outdoor activities, and reasonably priced entry fees, few feature the wide variety of nearby attractions, like Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The UN-designated unique ecosystem of the park – the country’s most visited and also with no admission charge – also offers area attractions such as Dollywood, many mountain rides such as lifts and coasters, water parks and endless fun for kids.
Part of the region includes the famous Blue Ridge Parkway; a scenic highway connecting Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee.
Gatlingburg is the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains Nat’l Park, and there are some fantastic accommodation options; cabins feature amenities like gourmet kitchens, hot tubs, fireplaces, game rooms, and large family rooms.
Glacier National Park
Named for the remnants of ice age glaciers, the pristine high country of Glacier National Park in Montana spans two mountain ranges within its million acres, and contains more than 700 lakes.
An extensive network of trails for all skill levels makes the pristine park popular with hikers, though long with spectacular geological features, the park also lays claim to a number of interesting historical sites.
A scenic 52-mile drive through the park known as Going-to-the-Sun Road, holds National Historic Landmark status. Considered an engineering marvel, the road offers breathtaking views, as well as access to many popular hiking trails.
Several of the park’s lodgings are on the National Register of Historic Places, built by the Great Northern Railway in the early 20th century. And throughout Montana there are many parks, forests other attractions offering interesting vacation options.
Popular with kids, the Apgar Nature Center features interactive activities, educational displays, and a variety of Ranger-led programs.
Yellowstone National Park
Over 900 miles of hiking trails featuring colorful wildflowers, lush forests, striking cliffs, granite domes, 200-foot tall sequoias, and of course, Old Faithful, make Yellowstone National Park a perfect vacation destination.
Nearly 3,500 square miles in size and covering parts of three states, Yellowstone’s multicolored pools, hot springs, lush forests, and volatile geysers offer a broader range of natural beauty than any other national park.
Also home to an abundance of wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, and herds of bison and elk, Yellowstone is famous not only for its natural beauty, but also for its presence of wildlife.
Ranger-led programs like the Junior Ranger Wildlife Olympics, Cosmic Update, and Planet-Building in the Universe make Yellowstone especially popular with family travelers.
The park has numerous campgrounds throughout the park (twelve to be exact), along with nine lodgings, including the Old Faithful Inn and the rustic Roosevelt Lodge.
While the park is huge, it’s also highly visited, so make your accommodation reservation in advance.
Arches National Park
Spectacular red-rock formations, breathtaking scenic drives, easy hikes with huge rewards, and the world’s densest concentration of natural stone arches make Arches National Park one of the most popular national parks in the country.
Arches appeals to a wide range of vacationers because many of its most notable attractions may be viewed from the car. Formations like Landscape Arch, Delicate Arch, Balanced Rock, and Parade of Elephants can easily be seen from various roadside stops.
Pictured above, Delicate Arch is 52 feet tall. But rather than the height, it is the absolute improbability of the structure which is most impressive. Formed over many, many periods of time, the arch is sculpted from distinctive red sandstone which covers the five national parks across Southern Utah.
Arches forms part of a collective known as the ‘Mighty 5’ of Utah National Parks. Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef are made up of thousands of natural arches, immense and impressive canyons, and “towering buttes and rock faces that have become a nation’s sacred natural treasures.”
For hikers, there are of course many trails of various difficulties spread out throughout the park.
Canyonlands National Park
Nearby Canyonlands National Park, a wilderness made up of spectacular buttes, and countless canyons carved out by the Colorado River, offers an experience entirely different from Arches.
Divided into four distinct areas, Canyonlands is a nature-lover’s dream. The park’s most accessible district, Island in the Sky, boasts a paved scenic drive with spectacular views of the red-rock buttes and massive canyons.
There are also numerous hikes of all difficulties along the route.
Pro Tip: Get a National Parks Pass
If you’re visiting multiple parks during your time in the US, make sure you buy an America the Beautiful – National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass.
The US has dozens of sublime national parks and hundreds of national wildlife refuges, forests, grasslands, and public land sites. Rather than pay for admission at each one, the America the Beautiful Pass gives you access to all of them for a full year.
From Death Valley to Acadia National Park and the Everglades, your pass covers all entry and day-use fees for yourself and up to three adults and one vehicle. Get access to more than 2,000 US national parks and federal recreation sites.
>> Buy now <<
Which is your favorite of America’s National Parks?
While these are some of the best, we’ve also published a post on America’s most underrated – National Parks you may not have heard of!