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The best national parks in the USA to visit for a scenic outdoor adventure

Craving some American beauty? Reconnect with nature by visiting the best national parks in the USA.

Written by
Rebecca Dalzell
Sarah Medina

Whether you’re itching to get back to nature or just want to enjoy some fresh air and pristine landscape, there’s nothing better than a visit to the best national parks in the USA. How great is it that we can enjoy majestic mountains, native plants and animals, mind-blowing natural formations and eons of history while traversing well-maintained trails through forest and desert?

See the forces of nature at work at stunners like Arches and Bryce (two of Utah’s “Big Five”), witness the power of water that carved out the Grand Canyon over thousands of years, or view geysers and sulphurous lakes in Yellowstone. These national parks offer unforgettable experiences (ever gotten caught in traffic due to a bison crossing or seen a hoodoo by the light of the full moon?) no matter where you go.

Visiting a national park can be as easy or challenging as you want. For diehard backcountry types, there are trails and rustic campsites that can keep you out in the wilderness for days. For the average tourist, paved roads through the parks offer the opportunity to easily see the best views and features of the park in a short amount of time.

There are 63 major national parks (in addition to hundreds of smaller sites) spanning the whole country, including Alaska and Hawaii. Next time you hit the road, pick up an America the Beautiful pass and check out the best national parks in the U.S. (but trust us, all of the parks are amazing and all should be on your list).

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Best national parks in the USA

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
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1. Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

This natural wonder cradles two billion years of geologic history, with 40 layers of rock shaped into buttes, spires and cliffs. Carved by the Colorado River, the 277-mile gorge is magisterial from any perspective, but it’s thrilling to venture below the rim. The safest place to start is the well-maintained Bright Angel Trail, which follows an ancient route past sculpted sandstone to a cottonwood oasis. For an overnight at the Grand Canyon, hikers can switchback steeply down to the river, a mile below the rim, where secluded campsites reward the effort. Look for elk, mountain lions and condors along the way, plus the 1,000 species of plants that survive in this semi-arid desert.

Discover Arizona: 
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Yosemite National Park, CA
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2. Yosemite National Park, CA

Millions of people come to this Sierra Nevada wilderness each year to see jagged peaks, glaciers, lush meadows and some of the world’s tallest waterfalls. Spanning 1,200 square miles, Yosemite offers activities ranging from child-friendly to extreme. Massive granite slopes like Half Dome and El Capitan dominate the landscape, taunting rock-climbers. Paddlers dip into lakes and rivers, drivers cruise the dramatic Tioga Road, and day hikers walk by sequoias and canyons. Backpackers take to the rugged John Muir trail, named for the writer who helped create the park in 1890.

Discover California parks: 
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Yellowstone National Park, WY
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3. Yellowstone National Park, WY

Fun fact: America’s first national park is bigger than Rhode Island and has been a jewel in the NPS's crown since 1872. Critters are everywhere in Yellowstone; geysers spurt regularly; sulphurous lakes bubble and boil; and massive waterfalls glint in the sun. Plus, don’t be surprised if you spot buffalo wandering right down the center divider of the two-lane road that connects the park. With challenging hikes into the backcountry as well as handicap-accessible wooden boardwalks, the wonders of Yellowstone are awesomely plentiful. 

Zion National Park, UT
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4. Zion National Park, UT

You've seen Utah's wild landscape in almost every John Wayne western, but now its time to see it for yourself. The incredible thing about Zion National Park is that it hasn't changed an iota over the years—you'll see the same massive sandstone formations, twisty caves and dark skies bursting with stars that Wayne himself walked through and people have been admiring for thousands of years. Mosey to spectacular overlooks, hike to Emerald Pools, walk to Weeping Rock, or stroll on Riverside Walk and you'll get a sense of the grandeur of this spectacular national park. 

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Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
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5. Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses 415 square miles of breathtaking, protected mountain wilderness. With more than 300 miles of trails, panoramic vistas of snowcapped peaks, picturesque meadows, valleys, and meandering rivers, and Trail Ridge Road (the highest continuous paved road in the United States, hitting 12,183 feet in elevation), the choose-your-own-adventure options are endless. Hike it, bike it, fish it, climb it, drive it, camp it, photograph it…or all of the above.

Discover Colorado: 
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Death Valley National Park, CA
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6. Death Valley National Park, CA

Death Valley is the hottest, lowest and driest place in the United States, with temperatures topping an insane 130 degrees. It's home to Badwater Basin, the lowest elevation in North America. That being said, the park is home to a diversity of colorful canyons, desolate badlands, shifting sand dunes and sprawling mountains, as well as more than 1,000 species of plants, plus salt flats, historic mines and hot and cold spring oases. Want to seek out a few spooky relics? Death Valley is also home to ghost towns just waiting to be explored. 

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Arches National Park, UT
Photograph: Shutterstock/Darren J. Bradley

7. Arches National Park, UT

Located north of Moab, Utah, Arches National Park is so named for the 2,000 wind-sculpted sandstone arches gracing the area—the largest such concentration in the world. The most famous of these is the iconic 52-foot-tall Delicate Arch, whose image can be seen on Utah license plates, but Arches will amaze you with its sheer range of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks. Arches is also one of the few national parks where many of the top formations can be seen from the comfort of your car - perfect for those who want the sights without the sweat. 

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Grand Teton National Park, WY
Photograph: Shutterstock/Phillip Rubino

8. Grand Teton National Park, WY

Towering 7,000 feet above the valley floor, the Teton Range welcomes more than two million people a year. In the winter, they come to snowshoe or cross-country ski through fir-lined backcountry trails. In the summer, hikers explore 200 miles of trails and scale rugged granite peaks. The Snake River is a magnet for amateur rafters, pelican-watchers and fishermen, who cast lines for trout. Nestled within the mountains are glaciers, alpine lakes and fields of larkspur and lupines. 

Olympic National Park, WA
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9. Olympic National Park, WA

Encompassing nearly a million acres, Olympic National Park protects a vast wilderness, thousands of years of human history, and several distinctly different ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests, and over 70 miles of wild coastline. You'd need more than a week to see everything this park has to offer, but don't miss attractions like Hurricane Ridge (for panoramic views of Mount Olympus), Lake Crescent (rent kayaks!), the Hoh Rainforest, and the seasonal sight of salmon cascading along the Sol Duc River in the fall. Oh, and one more thing: you will get wet. It's Washington and rain is inevitable. 

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
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10. Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Red rocks, pink cliffs and endless vistas await at this Insta-famous national park in Utah. People travel to Bryce Canyon from around the world to see the largest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) in the world, but the park's high elevation also makes it a great place for star gazing. One of the U.S.'s more compact national parks, you don't need a ton of time to hit the highlights like Thor's Hammer, Inspiration Point, and the Queens Garden Trail. 

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