27 National Parks Everyone Should Visit at Least Once

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Our national parks are sometimes called “America’s Best Idea.” While all of them are beautiful, some are so spectacular that everyone should visit them at least once. The selected national parks capture the essence of nature’s majesty. Their unique features, whether towering mountains, erupting volcanoes, or deep canyons, provide extraordinary experiences that highlight the beauty and power of the natural world.

These parks not only offer scenic beauty but also opportunities for education and adventure, making them must-visit destinations for those seeking to explore the best of America’s natural heritage. Here are 27 that make my list because there really is nothing else like them.

1. Denali, AK

Denali, AK
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If you’re lucky enough to get a clear day, you’ll see the summit of Denali, North America’s highest mountain. Denali is also one of the world’s biggest mountains; it rises almost 18,000’ from base to summit, compared to 12,000’ for Everest, the world’s highest peak. If the peak isn’t “out,” you’re still likely to see a variety of wildlife, such as bears, wolves, Dall sheep, moose, and caribou.

2. Hawaii Volcanoes, HI

Hawaii Volcanoes, HI
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The unforgettable highlight of this park is the sunset hike out to a viewing point where you can watch glowing-red lava flowing from a cliff opening into the Pacific Ocean. Elsewhere in the park, you can hike through a cave, walk on black volcanic rock, see a sea arch, and more.

3. Crater Lake, OR

Crater Lake, OR
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When the volcano Mount Mazama blew its top, water from rain and snowmelt eventually filled the opening. This deep-blue lake is now the deepest lake in the U.S. at nearly 2000’ deep. It’s best at dawn when the still waters reflect the glowing rim around it.

4. Yosemite, CA

Yosemite, CA
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John Muir’s “Incomparable Valley” is a must-see for features such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. However, what keeps bringing me back to Yosemite is the high country around Tuolumne Meadows and Tioga Pass, where you wander among peaks, domes, meadows, and alpine lakes of the High Sierra, Muir’s “Range of Light.”

5. Death Valley, CA

Death Valley, CA, USA
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“Otherworldly” and “surreal” are apt adjectives for the landscape here. On my first visit, I was entranced by the colorful badlands at Zabriskie Point, and in the late afternoon, my brother and I returned to climb Manly Beacon, which towers above the badlands, to watch the sun setting over snowy Telescope Peak.

Since then, I’ve returned many times to explore the badlands, peaks, sand dunes, narrow canyons, and other features of this massive park. Don’t let the fact that this is the hottest place on Earth keep you away; in fact, after a rare big rain, the valleys come to life in colorful wildflower blooms.

6. Glacier, MT

Glacier, MT
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The first time I was here, clouds were obscuring the mountains, and while the cliffs, streams, and lakes were pretty, the park wasn’t anything special. Then the sun broke out and the clouds scattered as we approached Logan Pass on the incomparable Going-to-the-Sun Road, and we were in awe. Nowhere else in the U.S. are the mountains so dramatic and so colorful.

I’ve been back at least every other year to experience the magical peaks, lakes, and waterfalls of this park, one of the system’s crown jewels.

7. Yellowstone, ID-MT-WY

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
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The world’s first national park, Yellowstone has the highest concentration of geysers and other geothermal features in the world. It’s also known for its rugged mountains and its wildlife, particularly in the Lamar Valley, known as the American Serengeti.

One of my favorite things to do in Yellowstone is to wander among the hills and ridges of the northeastern section, where you can see countless elk antlers, petrified wood specimens, and colorful minerals (all are illegal to remove).

8. Zion, UT

Zion National Park UT, USA
Image Credit: Kasbah/Shutterstock

Southern Utah is home to 5 impressive national parks, but if I could only visit 1, it would be Arches or Zion, with a leaning toward Zion. This park has features such as sandstone pinnacles, slot canyons, natural arches, and Native American petroglyphs. Hiking the Virgin River Narrows is a unique and unforgettable experience, as is seeing the towering walls of Zion Canyon, often referred to as the Yosemite of the Southwest.

9. Grand Canyon, AZ

Grand Canyon AZ
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Unless I’m hiking down into the canyon, this park has gotten too busy for me, but the crowds shouldn’t stop you from making at least one trip here. After all, the Grand Canyon is one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World. It’s especially amazing at sunrise and sunset when intense colors contrast with deep shadows.

10. Big Bend, TX

Big Bend National Park, Texas
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Because it’s so remote, Big Bend never gets crowded. Certain trails and locations do, but the park is so big that you can always find solitude if that’s what you want. Among the highlights are the Chisos Mountains, Santa Elena Canyon, and Boquillas Canyon, but there are many other wonders to discover.

11. Acadia, ME

Acadia National Park, ME
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Acadia captures the best of Maine all in one place. Mountaintops with sweeping views, rocky coasts where the Atlantic Ocean pounds cliffs and boulders, lakes carved by ancient glaciers, and quiet tidepools teeming with life await visitors. Fall is the rainiest season, but it’s also when the leaves change to the vibrant colors that make New England autumns so legendary.

12. Everglades, FL

Everglades, FL
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Except for a dramatic sunrise or sunset over Florida Bay, Everglades National Park can’t vie with the others here for amazing natural scenery. However, it’s the wildlife that’s the main draw. The most famous might be the alligators, but the park is also the home or a migratory stopping point for millions of birds, including several rare and endangered species.

The Florida Bay area is also where you can see manatees, and it’s the only place in the U.S. where you can find American crocodiles.

13. Katmai, AK

Katmai NP AK
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The big attraction here is the bears. Every summer, salmon return from the ocean to the rivers where they were born, performing amazing leaps up roaring waterfalls. In one of nature’s greatest spectacles, gigantic brown bears wait for them, often snatching the salmon from the air as they leap.

14. Glacier Bay National Park, AK

Glacier Bay National Park, AK
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The crown jewel of southeastern Alaska, this park is best known for its icebergs calving from glaciers that meet the sea. It’s a popular destination for cruise ships, but the best way to see it is to rent a sea kayak and get up close.

15. Mount Rainier, WA

Mount Rainier National Park, WA
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On days when the mountain is “out,” you might not be able to stop gaping. Mount Rainier is the highest peak in Washington and the most heavily glacier-draped peak in the Lower 48. The park also protects old-growth forests, waterfalls, and lovely mountain meadows.

16. Olympic, WA

Olympic National park in Washington
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Olympic National Park, not far from Seattle, is a true mountains-to-sea experience. Glacier-clad Mount Olympus is its pinnacle, and the park stretches to the spectacular Pacific coastline. In between are lakes and rainforests.

17. Redwood, CA

Redwood, CA
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This park’s namesake are the tallest trees in the world, and a tree named Hyperion is the tallest at 380’. The park isn’t all forest, though; make sure to explore its miles of beaches along the Pacific.

18. Lassen Volcanic, CA

Lassen Volcanic National Park, Shasta County, Northern California
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In 1915, Lassen Peak blew its top, and soon after, the government created a national park to preserve the affected area and keep people from settling too close to the volcano. Although it’s still active (though not currently erupting), you can hike a steep trail to the top to admire the views, which on clear days—which most are—include Mount Shasta in the distance.

19. Sequoia, CA

Sequoia National Park in California
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California is home to not only the world’s tallest trees but also the largest. It’s also one of a handful of states where the world’s oldest trees—bristlecone pines—grow, and you can see them on Telescope Peak in Death Valley National Park (next on this list). Sequoias are close relatives of redwoods, and they only grow in California’s Sierra Nevada. The park is also home to magnificent mountain scenery, including Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the Lower 48.

20. Great Basin, NV

NV-Great Basin National Park
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Located at the eastern edge of Nevada, this remote park is one of the most lightly visited in the system. Here, you’ll find a forest of bristlecone pines, which are the world’s oldest organisms, with the oldest (in California) being over 5,000 years old. There are also alpine peaks and lakes and subterranean caverns to explore.

21. Grand Teton, WY

Grand Teton National Park, WY
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Just south of Yellowstone is this park whose peaks have been in countless films, calendars, and ads. The Teton Range (often incorrectly called the Grand Tetons), soars 7,000’ from the valley floor below it without intervening foothills, making it among the world’s most stunning mountain settings. My most memorable experience here was climbing the Grand Teton in August 2017 to enjoy the total solar eclipse from its summit.

22. Rocky Mountain, CO

Rocky Mountain, CO
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This was the site of my first immersion into the alpine world. As we drove up Trail Ridge Road, we finally left the trees behind and entered the realm of the alpine tundra. The views up there are spectacular, but to truly experience the park, you need to get out on a trail and explore the vast, pristine mountain backcountry.

23. Great Sand Dunes, CO

Great Sand Dunes, CO
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It’s an impressive sight for sure: golden sand dunes towering up to 600’ high with the snow-capped Sangre De Cristo Mountains as a backdrop. Trails and rugged roads get you up into those peaks, but the real highlight is hiking to the top of one of the tallest dunes. It’s best at sunrise when the sands glow intensely and the night’s winds have erased the footprints from the previous day.

24. Arches, UT

Arches, UT
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Just outside Moab, the “Mountain Biking Capital of the World,” is this sandstone wonderland that contains the world’s largest collection of natural arches. Most famous of them all is Delicate Arch, which frames the La Sal Mountains in the distance and which has been photographed countless times.

25. Bryce Canyon, UT

Bryce Canyon National Park
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Bryce is famous for its “hoodoos,” eroded sandstone pinnacles that fill a natural amphitheater like a silent city. The best-known of them is Thor’s Hammer, which you’ll recognize when you see it. Located high on the Colorado Plateau, this park offers some respite from the brutal summer heat of southern Utah.

26. White Sands, NM

White Sands, NM
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From a distance, the dunes here look like snow. Actually, the sands are made of gypsum, a salt-like mineral that gives the dunes their white color. The basin that contains the dunes is what remains of a massive ancient lake.

27. Shenandoah, VA

Shenandoah National Park, VA
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The scenic gem of Virginia protects about 100 miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the hollows (valleys) adjacent to them. Skyline Drive winds along the crest, providing numerous scenic views. Trails climb to summits with panoramic vistas and penetrate dense forests to reveal dozens of mountain streams and waterfalls. Shenandoah is a peak destination for viewing fall foliage each year.

Best Place to See the Grand Canyon Sunrise at South Rim

grand canyon sunrise
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If you’re wondering where the best place to see the Grand Canyon sunrise at South Rim is, you’re not alone. With more than six million visitors to the national park each year, there are plenty of people trying to find the best place to see the show.

And what a show it is! Mother Nature does not disappoint. It was easily one of the most memorable sunrises we’ve ever seen! There are some things you should know before you go, though, and we’ll do our best to answer all your questions for you.

Best Place to See the Grand Canyon Sunrise at South Rim

9 Top Things to Do in Leavenworth, Washington

german woman
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Leavenworth is a perfect weekend getaway from Seattle since it’s only a two-and-a-half-hour drive. If you’re visiting the Pacific Northwest and looking for things to do, put Leavenworth at the top of your list!

9 Top Things to Do in Leavenworth, Washington

Featured Image Credit: Karee Blunt | Our Woven Journey

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Robert Sihler is an educator, freelance writer, and rock climbing guide and instructor living with his family in Driftwood, Texas. In his spare time, he enjoys reading fiction, streaming films, completing crossword puzzles, and rock climbing. When he goes on vacation, he likes to visit the mountains of the West and climb remote, obscure peaks that have seen few or no prior ascents.