It’s never too early to begin planning for your 2017 travels. Discover the 10 best U.S. national parks that you’ll absolutely have to see to believe. You won’t want to miss these!
1. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of America’s best-known parks and holds some of the vast nation’s most stunning landscapes. Although it’s famous for its rocky cliff faces and geysers galore, Yosemite is also a major cultural and historical attraction, and often features fantastic exhibits that showcases the parks extensive and fascinating history.
Don’t Miss: El Capitan, a 3,000 ft. granite wall that is considered the hardest rock to climb on the planet. A gorgeous close-up view can be found at El Capitan Meadow, which is located along Northside Drive.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Yosemite National Park Travel Guide
2. The Grand Canyon
One of the world’s most famous attraction, this beautiful 5,200 ft. deep gorge is considered a natural wonder. Each year, millions of people from around the planet travel to its soaring heights to take in the almost ethereal beauty of its sweeping cliffs and wind-swept depths. Along the bottom of the canyon runs 277 miles of the churning Colorado River, a popular destination for white-water rafting enthusiasts. The Grand Canyon also boasts miles of spectacular hiking trails, perfect for hiking enthusiasts of every skill set.
Don’t Miss:Western River Expeditionsis a well-respected rafting and camping company that has offered rafting trips down the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River for more than fifty years. They provide all-inclusive trips which include camping accommodations and meals. We recommend visiting in May through September.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Grand Canyon Travel Guide
3. Denali National Park and Reserve
While this one might be a little more out-of-the-way for most travelers, this national park is one of the most beautiful in the US. Denali offers more than six million acres of some of the most wild and untouched land in the United States, and is also home to some of America’s most impressive wildlife – including grizzly bears. Visitors to Denali National Park and Reserve can enjoy ample camping and hiking opportunities, and as of 2015 the park even offers air-tours to the remote and picturesque Arctic Circle, just some 400 miles away.
Don’t Miss: The new “Life in Denali” program offered by the Denali Education Center. This program details what it’s like living in one of America’s wildest territories. Visitors can get a glimpse into the lives of Denali’s settlers and find out what it’s like dressing for severe cold, enduring winter darkness, interacting with wildlife, and other everyday facets of life in Alaska. The programme is limited, though, and only runs mid-May through September. ($25 per person)
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Denali National Park and Preserve Travel Guide
Don’t Miss: The hiking in Acadia is some of the best in the eastern U.S., with the crown jewel being the 4.4-mile round trip trek to the top of the Cadillac Mountain on the North Ridge Trail.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island Travel Guide
5. Mammoth Cave National Park
There’s no place quite like Mammoth Cave National Park, home of the longest cave system on Earth. So far, 400 miles of the subterranean passageway have been explored, and a portion of these otherworldly caverns and tunnels are open to the general public through ranger-led tours spanning 1.25-4 hours.
Don’t Miss: It’s one thing to take a walking tour in Mammoth Cave, with stairs and walkways built for tourists, but quite another to experience the cave as scientists and explorers do—by climbing, squeezing, and trekking through the caves’ untamed sections. Mammoth offers a six-hour “Wild Cave Tour” for the bravest (and most athletically inclined) guests.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Cave City Travel Guide
6. Chaco Culture National Historic Park
This park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and holds the sacred ancestral homelands of the Hopi and Pueblo peoples. Chaco, located in New Mexico, holds more than 4,000 archeological sites and is a must-see for history buffs and indigenous culture enthusiasts alike. The site also contains the largest collection of historic pueblos in all of the United States and has a rustic southwestern beauty that is rivaled by none.The remote park is located in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico, and boasts phenomenal star-gazing opportunities as well as picturesque daytime beauty.
Don’t Miss: The Chaco Night Sky Program presents astronomy programs, solar viewing, and stargazing by telescope from April to October. Pick up a schedule at the Visitor Center.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Northwestern New Mexico Travel Guide
7. Glacier National Park
Located in Montana, the Glacier National Park is a hard one to beat if you are a fan of towering mountain peaks, alpine lakes and the park’s namesake: glaciers. This rustic park offers miles of scenic hiking trails and camping opportunities, as well as budget and luxury accommodations.
Don’t Miss: Experience the true seclusion of Glacier National Park by exploring its waterways. Take a boat tour starting at Swiftcurrent Lake behind Many Glacier Hotel or rent a kayak, canoe, rowboat, or even a small motorboat.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Glacier National Park Travel Guide
8. Olympic National Park
The magic of Olympic National Park is undeniable—nearly one million acres of raw, pristine wilderness ranging from the Pacific Coastline to the glacier-capped peaks of the Olympic Mountains, with old growth forests in between. The park is also an International Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site, and 95% of the land is designated wilderness, meaning not even a road runs through it. Guests can expect stellar views into the 200-foot deep Glines Canyon to watch the newly freed Elwha River flowing, as well as of the former lakebed of the Lake Mills Reservoir, where thousands of native plants are re-establishing themselves after one hundred years underwater.
Don’t Miss: Olympic National Park is home to the Hoh River Rain Forest, one of the last remaining examples of a temperate rainforest in the U.S. Located on the west side of the park, the Hoh River Rain Forest has an 88-site campground (open year-round) and trails for all ability levels, ranging from a .8-mile nature loop to the 17.3-mile Hoh River Trail.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Olympic National Park Travel Guide
9. Grand Teton National Park
It may be only 10 miles from famed Yellowstone, but Grand Teton National Park is a visual masterpiece in its own right. Not only is it the home of the major peaks of the dramatic Teton Range, including its namesake, 13,775-foot Grand Teton, but also the West’s most defining wildlife. Think grizzly and black bears, elk, moose, bison, pronghorns, big horned sheep, wolves, coyotes, river otters, beavers, badgers, snowshoe hares, marmots, bald eagles, trumpeter swans, and trout, to name a few. The wildlife is so prevalent that photo safaris are among the most popular of the park’s tour offerings.
Don’t Miss: Grand Teton has hundreds of scenic trails to trek, but spotting wildlife while floating the mellow Snake River is truly a remarkable experience. Heather Ewing, of Barker-Ewing Whitewater, is the local expert and runs daily float trips throughout the season (late May to mid September).
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Grand Teton National Park Guide
10. Rocky Mountain National Park
As the name suggests, mountainous beauty is the central focal point of this can’t-miss park. Seventy-two of this park’s impressive peaks stand taller than 12,000 feet, including a handful of “thirteeners” and 14,259-foot Longs Peak. The Rocky Mountain National Park also offers more than 300 miles of hiking trails that crisscross the park’s spectacular landscape. The park also showcases special activities—including speakers, exhibits, a seminar series, community events, and free ranger-led walks, talks, and evening programs—which take place year round.
Don’t Miss: Take a drive up Trail Ridge Road, which peaks at 12,183 feet, and experience life at high elevation. The air is thin, but the views of wildflower meadows, moraines, and glaciers, are well worth it. Keep an eye out for elk—they can typically be spotted from the car.
Plan Your Trip: Visit Fodor’s Rocky Mountain National Park Travel Guide
And there you have it. The 10 most beautiful American Parks. So why don’t you pack those bags, put on those hiking shoes and venture out into the great outdoors? We guarantee you won’t regret it.
Which one of these parks are you dying to visit? Let me know in the replies below or on Facebook and Twitter!