America's 20 Most Popular National Parks

  • 01 of 21

    America's Best Idea

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    ••• National Park Service

    America is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016. Famously called "America's best idea" by the historian Wallace Stegner, our national park system offers families a wonderfully affordable way to visit our most cherished and beautiful landscapes, view wildlife in their natural habitat, learn about geological and cultural history, and appreciate the great outdoors. 

    Visitors flocked to national parks in 2015 in record numbers, with total of 307,247,252 recreational visits throughout the calendar year—a 4.9 percent increase from 2014 and the first time visits topped 300 million in a year.

    If you plan to visit multiple parks in a 12-month period, it may be less expensive to buy a National Parks Annual Pass for $80.

    The National Park Service's Find a Park tool is a wonderful planning tool for locating parks, scenic trails, battlefields, and other treasures near your home or along your route.

    Click through for must-do highlights for families in...MORE some of the most iconic national parks.

    Continue to 2 of 21 below.
  • 02 of 21

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    The most-visited of all American national parks, Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles North Carolina and Tennessee and offers breathtaking scenery and wildlife viewing as well as remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture.

    Don't miss:

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options in Gatlinburg, Tennessee

    Continue to 3 of 21 below.
  • 03 of 21

    Grand Canyon National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    The second most-visited of all American national parks, Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park belongs on every family's bucket list.

    Reserve accommodations at a Grand Canyon lodge or campground.

    Don't miss:

    • Ranger-led programs are family-friendly and offer kids an opportunity to explore and learn about the park. 
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 4 to 14 include self-guided activities and ranger-led programs. The Phantom Rattler Junior Ranger patch is a special patch that can only be earned by Junior Rangers who hike or ride the mules to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of Grand Canyon. 
    • Mule trips of various lengths are available, leaving from both the South Rim and North Rim.
    • The SkyWalk viewing platform is a top attraction run by the Hualapai Tribe just outside the park in Grand Canyon West.

    Before you go: 

    See also:

    ​Explore hotel options in and near Grand Canyon National Park

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  • 04 of 21

    Rocky Mountain National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    Rocky Mountain National Park’s 415 square miles comprise spectacular mountain environments in Colorado. Trail Ridge Road crests at over 12,000 feet, with many overlooks to experience the subalpine and alpine worlds, along with over 300 miles of hiking trails, wildflowers, and wildlife.

    Don't miss:

    • Ranger-led programs include astronomy outings, wildlife viewing and hikes.
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 6 to 12 include self-guided activities and ranger-led programs.  

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options in Estes Park, Colorado

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  • 05 of 21

    Yosemite National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    Protected since 1864, Yosemite is California's first national park. It is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more.

    Reserve accommodations at a Yosemite lodge or campground.

    Don't miss:

    Before you go: 

    See also:

    ​Explore hotel options in Yosemite National Park

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  • 06 of 21

    Yellowstone National Park

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    ••• Suzanne Rowan Kelleher

    Established in 1872 as the first of our national parks, Yellowstone is arguably also the most unique. Its 2.2 million acres fall mainly in Wyoming and sit atop one of the continent’s largest active supervolcanoes, whose two-million-year history formed a diverse eco-system of lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountain ranges and left a landscape dotted with thousands of geysers, mud pots, hot springs, and fumaroles. Yellowstone is also a wonderful place to view wildlife, with its large wolf population and herds of bison, elk, antelope, and other animals.

    Many families combine a trip to Yellowstone with nearby Grand Teton National Park, just 10 miles to the south. 

    Reserve accommodations at a Yellowstone lodge or campground.

    Don't miss:

    • Ranger-led programs and tours can be a great way to get oriented.
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 5 to 12 include self-guided activities and ranger-led programs.  

    Before you go:

    • Explore the National Park Service's WebRangers site for kids
    • Wolfquest is...MORE an interactive 3D game that teaches kids about wolf ecology and behavior

    Explore hotel options in Yellowstone National Park

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  • 07 of 21

    Zion National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    Utah's first national park is named after Zion Canyon, 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through red and tan sandstone. The park features massive sandstone cliffs, narrow slot canyons, and a unique array of plants and animals.

    Many families combine a trip to Zion with Bryce Canyon National Park, 78 miles away. Both parks are included in Utah's Mighty 5

    Don't miss:

    • Ranger-led programs include hikes, talks, and evening programs.
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 4 to 12 include self-guided and ranger-led activities.  

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options in Springdale, Utah

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  • 08 of 21

    Olympic National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    Olympic National Park in Washington State is like three parks in one, taking you from breathtaking mountain vistas with meadows of wildflowers to colorful ocean tidepools to valleys of ancient forests. Ninety-five percent of the park is wilderness.

    Don't miss:

    Before you go: 

    ​​Explore hotel options in Sequim, Washington

    Continue to 9 of 21 below.
  • 09 of 21

    Grand Teton National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    In northwestern Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park includes the major peaks of the 40-mile-long Teton Range and the northern Jackson Hole Valley. It is just 10 miles south of Yellowstone National Park. The two parks are connected by the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.

    Don't miss:

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options in Jackson, Wyoming

    Continue to 10 of 21 below.
  • 10 of 21

    Acadia National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    The first Eastern national park is set on the rugged coast of Maine. The park is home to myriad plants and animals, as well as the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast. Today visitors come to Acadia to hike granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, or relax and enjoy the coastal scenery.

    Don't miss:

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options in Bar Harbor, Maine

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  • 11 of 21

    Glacier National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    The one million acres of Montana wilderness in Glacier National Park contain two mountain ranges, over 130 lakes, and thousands of plant and animal species. It is a jaw-droppingly beautiful wonderland of pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, spectacular lakes, and 700 miles of trails.

    Don't miss:

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotels in West Glacier, Montana

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  • 12 of 21

    Cuyahoga Valley National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    Ohio's only national park preserves and reclaims the rural landscape along the Cuyahoga River between Akron and Cleveland. Twenty miles of the historic Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail makes up the major trail through Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

    Don't miss:

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options in Cleveland, Ohio

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  • 13 of 21

    Arches National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    Located just outside of Moab, Utah, Arches National Park is one of Utah's Mighty 5. It is known for its 2000 natural sandstone arches, including the famous Delicate Arch, and a wide variety of unique geological resources and formations.

    Don't miss:

    • Ranger-led programs include guided hikes through the Fiery Furnace and evening programs. 
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 6 to 12 include self-guided activities.

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options in Moab, Utah

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  • 14 of 21

    Badlands National Park

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    ••• Suzanne Rowan Kelleher

    The dramatic Badlands landscape in South Dakota contains one of the world’s richest fossil beds, once home to ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse, and saber-toothed cat. The park’s 244,000 acres protect a mixed-grass prairie where bison, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, and black-footed ferrets live today.

    Don't miss:

    • Families can explore the park with a GPS Adventure.
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 5 to 12 include self-guided activities.

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options near Badlands National Park

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  • 15 of 21

    Joshua Tree National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    Named for the trees native to the park, 1,200-square-mile Joshua Tree National Park is slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. Much of the park is wilderness and includes parts of two deserts, the higher Mojave Desert and lower Colorado Desert.

    Don't miss:

    • There are a dozen self-guiding nature trails, some as short as a half-mile, which are perfect for young children
    • Ranger-led activities include guided wildflower walks, evening talks, and stargazing.
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 5 to 12 include ranger-led and self-guided activities.

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options in Joshua Tree, California

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  • 16 of 21

    Bryce Canyon National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is not a canyon at all. Instead it is a collection of giant natural amphitheaters formed by hoodoos—tall, thin spires of rock up to 150 feet in height. The red, orange, and white colors of the rocks provide spectacular views for park visitors.

    Many families combine a trip to Bryce Canyon with Zion National Park, 78 miles away. Both are included in Utah's Mighty 5.

    Don't miss:

    • Ranger-led activities include guided hikes, evening talks, and stargazing.
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 5 to 12 include ranger-led and self-guided activities.

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options in Bryce, Utah

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  • 17 of 21

    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    Hawaii Volcanoes National Park contains Kīlauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world's most massive subaerial volcano. The park offers dramatic volcanic landscapes as well as glimpses of rare flora and fauna.

    Don't miss:

    • Ranger-led activities include guided hikes, daytime talks, and "after dark in the park" presentations.
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 4 to 12 include ranger-led and self-guided activities.

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options in Hilo, Hawaii

    Continue to 18 of 21 below.
  • 18 of 21

    Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

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    ••• National Park Service

    The second-oldest national park after Yellowstone, Sequoia National Park is famous for its giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman tree, one of the largest trees on Earth. The park is contiguous to the north with Kings Canyon National Park, whose General Grant Grove is home to the General Grant tree and other giant sequoias. Together Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks contain 202,430 acres of old-growth forests.

    Don't miss:

    • Ranger-led activities include guided hikes and campfire talks and night-sky presentations.
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 5 to 12 include ranger-led and self-guided activities.

    Before you go: 

    ​Explore hotel options in Three Rivers, California

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  • 19 of 21

    Mount Rainier National Park

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    ••• Michael Matti/Flickr Creative Commons

    Dominated by its namesake volcano, which towers at 14,410 feet and last erupted in the 1800s, Rainier is America's fifth-oldest national park. Visit in the spring and you'll witness cascading waterfalls; come in the summer, and wildflowers abound; or arrive in the fall, when the foliage puts on a colorful show.

    Don't miss:

    • Ranger-led activities include guided hikes and campfire talks and night-sky presentations.
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 6 to 11 include ranger-led and self-guided quest activities.
    • Citizen Ranger program for older kids and families include self-guided quests and the chance to participate in the MeadoWatch scientific project.

    Before you go: 

    Explore hotel options in Ashford, Washington

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  • 20 of 21

    Great Sand Dunes National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    Could this really be Colorado? The tallest dunes in North America are the center piece in an incredibly diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. 

    Don't miss:

    • Ranger-led activities include guided hikes, nature talks, and night-sky presentations.
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 6 to 11 include ranger-led and self-guided activities.
    • Sandboarding and sand sledding—think surfing or sliding down sand dunes—is a popular activity for kids and adults alike.
    • Medano Creek is a great swimming hole and a great place to cool off (and wash the sand off) on a hot day.

    Before you go: 

    Explore hotel options in Alamosa, Colorado

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  • 21 of 21

    Shenandoah National Park

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    ••• National Park Service

    The 105-mile Skyline Drive traces the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, offering many jumping off points into the 200,000-acre Shenandoah National Park. Just 123 miles from DC, Shenandoah offers myriad ways to explore through hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding, and more.

    Don't miss:

    • Ranger-led activities include guided hikes, nature workshops, and educational programs.
    • Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 7 to 12 include ranger-led and self-guided activities.
    • Ranger Explorer programs for teens 13 and up include hikes and activity guides.

    Before you go: 

    Explore hotel options in Front Royal, Virginia