The Top 10 National Parks in the USA You Need to Visit (2024 Update)

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The United States designated Yellowstone as the country’s first national park. That was back in 1872, so we’ve had 150 years of savoring these fantastic areas of natural beauty. Some people put visiting all of the national parks on their bucket list. That may be too much, so you can pick your favorites from these top 10 national parks in the USA. 

10. Death Valley National Park

Let’s start with Death Valley National Park. This park is 3.4 million acres, the largest in the lower 48 states. It’s enormous, so you may need multiple visits to truly appreciate this vast land. This park makes the top 10 because it’s a terrific place for stargazing. The darkness provides clear skies, allowing you to see galaxies far, far away. In fact, the International Dark-Sky Association puts Death Valley in the gold tier for stargazing. 

One thing you should be wary of with Death Valley is the weather. It can get scorching very quickly. Death Valley owns the record for the hottest temperature at 134 degrees in July 1913. However, car crashes are this park’s most common cause of death. Extreme heat can break down your car, causing accidents. Plus, the terrain is unforgiving off-road. 

9. Denali National Park and Preserve

Let’s switch from sweltering heat to freezing cold. If you thought Death Valley was large, Denali National Park dwarfs it. This large park spans 6.1 million acres, nearly doubling its California counterpart. Denali National Park concentrates on the mountain. Denali is North America’s highest peak at just over 20,000 feet. The views are incredible and worth seeing.

At Denali, you’ll see numerous wildlife you likely won’t see back home. These animals include grizzly bears, reindeer, caribou and more. With six million acres, you won’t run out of things to do. You can hike, camp, ride your bikes and go birdwatching. You can even go hunting in the preserve. 

8. Arches National Park

The Western United States is famous for its national parks, and you’ll see a handful of them on this list. Let’s start with Arches National Park in eastern Utah. The federal government designated Arches as a national park in 1971 under the Nixon administration. Arches National Park is unique because it sits atop a salt bed, leading to distinctive arches and rocks throughout the park. The land has formed for millions of years, so seeing this beautiful scenery is worth a trip. 

Like Death Valley, Arches is definitely on the list of the top 10 national parks in the USA to go stargazing. There isn’t much light or air pollution, providing an excellent opportunity to see the Milky Way. Of course, you should also go for the arches themselves. You won’t see them anywhere else. Other noteworthy attractions include the windows, the landscape arch and the fiery furnace. 

7. Rocky Mountain National Park

If you like the song “Rocky Mountain High,” you might enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park. This reserve reaches elevations between 7,500 and 14,500 feet. Even walking can make you out of breath very quickly! Rocky Mountain National Park is conveniently located north of Denver. Imagine planning an October date in Colorado, including a Broncos game and a few days in the Rocky Mountains. 

The Rocky Mountain National Park is famous for the continental divide. This imaginary line runs south from Canada to Mexico and crosses the park. You can see the line through the Trail Ridge Road. Ride along the road to see beautiful sites like elk, snow-capped mountains and more. There are also numerous hiking opportunities at Gem Lake and the Alpine Ridge Trail.  

6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Let’s take a break from the West and head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This park includes the Great Smoky Mountains and creates the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s been a national park since the Franklin Roosevelt administration and is well worth your time. One noteworthy part of the park is the temperature. Even in the summer, the temperatures peak around 75 degrees. 

If you visit the Great Smoky Mountains, there are numerous fun activities. Start by climbing Clingmans Dome. This peak reaches about 6,600 feet into the atmosphere, giving you a terrific view of the park. You can also go to Fontana Lake and cruise in a kayak.    

5. Acadia National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains are a part of the Appalachian Mountain range, which ends in Maine. Let’s head to the Pine Tree State to see a favorite among nature lovers: Acadia National Park. Acadia is on the eastern seaboard of Maine on Mount Desert Island. This park is the best in the Northeast and is a terrific place to take your dog if you have Fido on a leash.

Going to Acadia National Park requires a park entrance pass on your vehicle, no matter what time of year. Keep that in mind when you see all the fun things to do. Go to Otter Cliff to watch whales and ducks. Another worthy stop on your agenda should be Sand Beach. The water is likely too cold to dip your toes, but you’ll see the Beehive and other attractions. 

4. Grand Teton National Park

Let’s head back west to Wyoming and visit Grand Teton National Park. You’ll be close to Jackson Hole and another national park later in this list. The park gets its name from the Teton Range, a section of the Rocky Mountains. People have roamed this area for over 10,000 years, and you have the opportunity to see its beauty.  

The best part about Grand Teton is the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, where you can go skiing. Other activities include hiking, biking, climbing and fishing. Visit the lakes in the valley and alpines to fish for trout, whitefish and more. Take time to see the backcountry for some of the most amazing views you’ll ever see — the scenery definitely ranks in the top 10 national parks in the USA. 

3. Grand Canyon National Park

A few hundred miles south of Grand Teton is Grand Canyon National Park. This park is on the bucket list for many travelers because of its postcard-worthy views. Also, you’ll see the Grand Canyon, one of the most unique wonders of North America. Even President Theodore Roosevelt visited the area often and pushed for the government to protect the Grand Canyon. 

It’s 6,000 feet deep and will genuinely take your breath away. This national park gives you the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. You can go rafting in the Colorado River and relax under the waterfall at Havasu Falls. Beginners will appreciate the South Rim, a more accessible trail for families. When you get to the South Rim, check out Mather Point. It’s close to the visitor’s center and gives incredible views of the rest of the Grand Canyon. 

2. Yosemite National Park

The race to the top is close, with Yosemite National Park checking in at No. 2. This park gives you numerous sceneries in its expansive 750,000 acres. It’s only two hours south of Sacramento, depending on traffic — and by golly, we know how the California traffic can be. You’ll see California’s famous Sequoia trees that can eclipse 275 feet high. You might not be in Alaska, but you can see glaciers!

The fun never ends at Yosemite. Start at Mariposa Grove to see sequoias and iconic trees like the Faithful Couple and the Three Graces. Take a time machine to the late 19th century and ride horseback just like Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed. Other riveting activities include Glacier Point, the Yosemite Falls Trail and the Mist Trail. 

1. Yellowstone National Park

The top spot on this list isn’t easy, but we must go with Yellowstone National Park. When you imagine national parks, this legendary site is what you picture. It’s more than the setting of Paramount’s epic Western drama. After all, Yellowstone is America’s first national park, so it has to be the best. 

Yellowstone is famous for a few attractions. First, you gotta see Old Faithful. The park has hundreds of geysers, and Old Faithful is the most famous. It erupts roughly once an hour or two. It’s a majestic site lasting up to five minutes at a time. You should also check out the Grand Prismatic Spring because its colors are beautiful. The orange, yellow and blue scenery is a unique experience for all. 

Ranking the Top 10 National Parks in the USA 

Have you visited any of the national parks on this list? What locations would you include in your top 10? The U.S. has 424 national parks nationwide, providing numerous opportunities to explore America’s beauty. 

Original published date 4/24/2015 — Updated 12/29/2023

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