If there is one thing we love, it’s our own national parks. They are the best of the best. Even in some of the prettiest mountain ranges, we find ourselves missing the rockies. Having been to a couple dozen of the national parks, here is our “best of” list. In celebration of this country’s birthday, we recommend you at least scan the list. (Our pictures may be
1) Alaska is one big National Park
Ok, I know Alaska itself is not a National Park, but it is in my book. The whole thing is epic. Seeing the entire Alaska Highway, Denali National Park and the fjords is epic every minute of the way. Just driving from place to place feels like being in a National Park. Maybe I’m just a junkie for that lost in nature feeling, but even when there’s technically nothing to see, you’re surrounded by the most beautiful environment. And seeing a grizzly is as easy as asking the locals where they fish in the mornings.
2) Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
It’s hard to decide between Yellowstone and Glacier. They are both amazing in different ways but Yellowstone comes out as my favorite because of the extreme numbers of wildlife and because of it’s proximity to Grand Teton National Park. Grand Teton has the jagged Rocky Mountain look when a large portion of Yellowstone is made up of plains. Yellowstone is the first national park and is 3,468 square miles! It’s incredible. But again, it’s about the animals. Hot pools or water and a geyser that blows for a minute every hour… it’s entertaining for a little bit. But seeing bears, elk, moose and tons and tons of bison, it feels like being an explorer. Well, you feel like a bit of a tourist at times, but it’s okay. The rivers, the waterfalls, canyons and mountains are all perfect back drops to viewing the wildlife.
3) Glacier National Park, Montana
All around the world, when I see mountains and think, “it’s not quite the rockies”, I picture Glacier. It’s a park you have to experience. Take hikes in and around the area. There is a wonderful hike in Bigfork called Jewel Basic. Hike along the ridge line with the mountain goats and peer down into the lakes stretched across the seemingly infinite valleys from the glacial waters melting. But hiking within the park is the best for views. Plus, hiking on top of Glacier is an experience. Even in hindsight, years later I wonder just how thick the snow I walked upon really was.
4) Zion National Park, Utah
If you are into hiking, you must get to Zion National Park and do Angel’s Landing. Although you can also hike down in the canyon. Walking through the narrow canyon walls where the river is and sometimes floods, is kind of an exciting thing. Exciting meaning creepy. It’s a wonderful escape and a short drive from Las Vegas.
5) Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The difference between someone who loves the Grand Canyon and someone who could care less is often who has and hasn’t hiked to the bottom. There is only one way to experience the canyon and that is from within. Raft it, hike it, donkey it (have never done that one), but don’t just look at it.
6) Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
The only reason this isn’t higher on my list is because I’m trying to spread out the parks within the Rocky Mountain range. This park is breath-taking. Even just driving from one side to the other is worth the trip. But even within it I saw big horn sheep, elk and other wildlife right away. It is absolutely worth a drive from Denver if you get the chance. The views are just amazing. Sometimes I just wonder what it felt like to be an early explorer and arrive at such a site for the first time.
7) Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite is kind of like the disney world of nature. Hikes have ques and paved roads half the time. That being said, it’s for a reason. It might actually be one of the more photogenic national parks as everything is extreme, huge and beautiful
8) Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
The pillars left in this canyon, referred to as Hoodoos, can only be described with pictures. It is a whole lot of the picture above.
And it’s awesome. Also a short drive from Zion and therefore Las Vegas.
9) Acadia National Park, Maine
On the otherside of the country is the New England coast line, which does not get any better than Acadia. Trust me. National Parks with coastlines are way more romantic and so is the lobster. :-p But really this is a beautiful and relaxing park. Although I feel obligated to warn you… there are no moose there. None. And it is very foggy most of the time. It’s also a perfect gateway for a Canadian roadtrip to the St. Lawrence Sea Way or Prince Edward Islands and Nova Scotia.
Oh, right, it’s not Canada day. That was so three days ago.
10) Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming
I hate to brag more about the rockies. Not really, but this park is worth mentioning again. Right to the south of Yellowstone this beautiful park has one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. Ever. It was just beautiful every step of the way. Started with a boat across the lake, up along the river and waterfalls, a beautiful overlook, and more hiking through the woods until the mountains open up and no words can describe the view.
11) Sequoia National Park, California
I feel obligated to have something about the Redwoods and Sequoias. Redwood National Park is much easier to get to (just north of San Fran). But half of the appeal of Sequoia is that it’s in the middle of nowhere. If you drive all the way out there and turn around, it feels like you drove for many hours to see big trees. And you did. But perhaps you could pair it with the neighboring Kings Canyon National Park. Hike one and the next day hike the other.
I must say that the four corners, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, is just an awesome area (in that order (in my opinion)). You could hit all the parks in Utah – Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and then others in the four corners area like Mesa Verde, Canyon De Chelly and the Grand Canyon. I personally didn’t drive down monument valley in Arizona kind of wish I did instead of Petrified Forest NP and Painted Desert.
Shenandoah National Park is 45 minutes away from my hometown in Virginia. If you are a rockscrambler kind of hiker, I recommend Old Rag (7 mile circuit). And there are many shorter ones in the park, like Hawks Bill and Bear Fence. I’ve seen black bears my last two times and seemingly never growing up.
Next on the list
We have never been to Hawaii. This needs to be moved up in priority and hopefully it will get done soon. And despite spending a fair amount of time in Florida, we’ve never been to the Everglades. Am I missing out? Also am curious about Death Valley.
If we had a larger budget, I think exploring Alaska would be epic. Of our 10 largest national parks, 7 are in Alaska and 3 of the top 3.
So, are we missing any? Are there any others not mentioned that should be or that we need to visit?
P.S. The picture of Denali is not ours.
Happy 4th of July all!