Top National Parks

  • 01 of 08

    The Best of the Best

    ••• © Suicine via Flickr

    Whether a person has traveled to one or 50, the outcome remains the same. National parks have become sanctuaries—a reminder that we need to conserve the planet’s evolving beauties ​and a place that can evoke strong lessons of the human soul. And now you want to hop in your car and see them all, don’t you? Easier said than done, I know, but have no fear! After scouring the highlights of all, I have narrowed it down to a simple top national parks for each region. If you can’t see them all or have no idea where to begin, start here.

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  • 02 of 08

    Top National Park in the Colorado Plateau: Grand Canyon National Park

    ••• © L.Brumm Photography via Flickr

    Sure, nearly five million people visit the Grand Canyon each year, but if you’ve got the time and a good pair of hiking boots, you can experience three incredible parks for the price of one! Starting at the top, have a camera ready to capture deep gorges that seem to stretch for hundreds of miles.

    Next, enjoy the sites at the mid-way point. Looking around you, the lush greenery and noises of wildlife make you feel like you are in a completely different national park. The Grand Canyon offers diverse routes to the bottom, from mule rides to strenuous hikes.

    Once at the bottom, you are face-to-face with the Colorado River. Surrounded on all sides by breathtaking geology, it will soon hit that you are witnessing rock over a billion years old.

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  • 03 of 08

    Top National Park in the Rocky Mountains: Yellowstone National Park

    Aerial view of Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
    ••• Jim Trodel via Flickr

    President Theodore Roosevelt preserved the first national park and even dubbed a 52-mile stretch as the most scenic in the U.S. He was right.

    Yellowstone is simply America’s most iconic park. Its most famous landmark, Old Faithful, is a sight to behold but the park offers much more than its popular identity of hot springs and geysers.

    Much of the land is covered with rocks and lava flows, yet it spans miles of lakes, rivers, and mountain ranges, making it one of the earth’s largest ecosystems. Visitors are at the center of a wildlife sanctuary containing hundreds of species of popular and endangered animals. Whether you are hoping for picturesque views of bison grazing the land or unbelievable thermal features, Yellowstone is a must-see.

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  • 04 of 08

    Top National Park in the East: Acadia National Park

    Acadia National Park
    ••• Tan Yilmaz / Getty Images

    Although Acadia is one of the smallest national parks, it boasts some of the largest attractions. Whale watching along the coast is undeniably memorable. As is summitting Cadillac Mountain, the highest peak of the park. And while hiking along the jagged coastline is appealing, relaxing on Maine’s sandy beach can be just as rewarding. Those who visit are also encouraged to step outside the park walls. Quaint towns full of seaside folk can charm even the grumpiest of tourists. Spend an afternoon shopping for lobster ice cream or nautical antiques, and finish the day with a hike picking fresh blueberries.

    Acadia makes the list by taking the grandeur of western national parks and mixing in the serenity of the eastern coastline.

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  • 05 of 08

    Top National Park in the Pacific Southwest: Yosemite National Park

    Yosemite Falls
    ••• the tahoe guy via Flickr

    At almost 800,000 acres, visitors could spend a lifetime exploring Yosemite. But no matter what you do within the park, it may be one of the greatest moments of your life.

    Rock climbers have found their mecca at Yosemite: El Capitan, a granite formation towering over 3,500 feet. And easy-going travelers will enjoy Mariposa Grove, a cherished feature containing over 200 sequoia trees.

    Much of the park’s most popular destinations are its most grandiose. Yosemite is home to the highest measured waterfall in North America. And Half Dome, a massive block of granite seemingly cut in half by glacier activity, is awed by all who visit.

    Though you may never get to see it all, Yosemite offers tranquility and adventure rolled into one destination.

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  • 06 of 08

    Top National Park in Alaska: Denali National Park & Preserve

    Mount McKinley, Denali National Park, Alaska
    ••• Unhindered by Talent via Flickr

    Defined as "the great one," Denali actually refers to Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America and the centerpiece of the park. Towering over 20,000 feet, snow-covered McKinley can be seen 70 miles away on a clear day.

    Past its colossal mountain, Denali's diverse animals are visible like in no other park. Grizzlies can be seen feeding on berries, eagles soar above, and the world’s only species of white sheep graze the slopes. Popular hiking areas even come into direct contact with herds of giant caribou, red foxes, and prairie dogs.

    Visitors have endless options of exploration, from snowshoeing or dog mushing to climbing or kayoing. If Denali has one negative, it’s that visitors will wish they had more time to spend there.

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  • 07 of 08

    Top National Park in the Southwest: Carlsbad Caverns

    Hall of Giants, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico
    ••• The Javelina via Flickr

    Picture the Grand Canyon. Now put a roof over it. Now you have Carlsbad Caverns! This New Mexico national park is an underground wonderland lying below the Guadalupe Mountains and is one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever discovered.

    If you’ve ever read The Magic School Bus stories and are familiar with the one where the class travels inside the earth, you can start to imagine what a trip to Carlsbad Caverns feels like. Exploring deep caverns of stalagmites, stalactites, and other rock formations it’s impossible not to be blown away at this underground world. Visitors can view 1,000-year-old red and black pictographs high on the walls, a 200,000-ton boulder that crashed down from the ceiling thousands of years ago, and can explore numerous nooks and crannies deep in the earth.

    This park is a blast for kids who will have so much fun exploring the world below and is a great idea for a family getaway. Consider taking a trip in the spring when the bat population is at its...MORE peak. You will have the opportunity to see them emerge from caves in groups, flying up and counter-clockwise for 3 hours. It's an incredible site!

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  • 08 of 08

    Top National Park in the Pacific Northwest: North Cascades National Park

    Mt. Shucksan, North Cascades, Washington
    ••• papalars via Flickr

    If you have ever seen a photo of Mt. Shucksan, you know how jaw-droppingly beautiful this region is. North Cascades is adorned with jagged peaks, deep valleys, cascading waterfalls, and over 300 glaciers. Three park units in this region are managed as one and include North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Areas. That means there is ample opportunity for adventure.

    This park has something for everyone. Activities like camping, hiking, climbing, boating, fishing,birding, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, and educational programs are suitable for the whole family. And while it is highly popular in the summer, if you want to experience a little solitude, visit in the winter for a truly tranquil getaway.

    The park is a favorite of hikers and backpackers, as its rugged terrain offers sights of mountain goats, black bears, and sometimes the occasional mountain lion. The Cascade Range, named for its numerous waterfalls, extends from British Columbia all the...MORE way to California creating a dramatic landscape to be awed by all who visit.