This Is the Best National Park in Each State
AMERICA'S MOST STUNNING, PROTECTED LANDSCAPES FROM SEA TO SHINING SEA
Did you know: more than 85 million acres of land are designated as U.S. national parks. That's a lot of mountains, deserts, rivers, seashores, glades, and forests to explore. However, while some states have a treasure trove—like California, which features a whopping nine parks, including Channel Islands, Death Valley, and Redwood—there are 20 states that don't have national parks at all and a couple that share their only national park with another state's border. So let's get going, shall we?
Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Alaska is home to 55 million acres of national park land. And more specifically, at 13.2 million acres, Wrangell–St. Elias is the largest national park in the country. It's rugged, it's stunning, and the chances that you'll see more grizzly bears than people while out on a packrafting or backpacking trip are high.
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and if you've ever seen it, you'd understand why. The steep bluffs extend as far as the eye can see, and the vertigo-inducing ridges are sure to scare even the bravest of adventurers. If you go, consider hiking one of the Rim-to-Rim trails or whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, which cuts through the canyon.
Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
While most parks are set in the wilderness, Hot Springs is an all-natural spa in the middle of an urban area where people can come together to soak and relax in the thermal baths. Oh, and if you do want to hike, try Sunset Trail, an easy 8.9-mile loop that leads to several beautiful overlooks facing away from the city.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite is a stunning valley full of ancient sequoias, wildflower meadows, and waterfalls that cascade over gargantuan granite cliffs. You can get up close to these natural wonders thanks to its many hiking and climbing opportunities. We recommend hiking to the top of El Capitan (yes, the giant face that Alex Honnold free-soloed).
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Whether you like to snowshoe, ski, rock climb, camp, hike, or trail ride, Rocky Mountain National Park is a recreationalist's heaven. The park features a slew of sierras that reach far above 12,000 feet, but one legendary "fourteener"—Longs Peak—solidifies Rocky Mountain National Park as the quintessential Colorado experience.
Biscayne National Park, Florida
Despite being just a short boat ride from Miami's glamorous shores, Biscayne National Park feels a world away. Here, you can scuba dive around coral reefs and shipwrecks, canoe through mangrove forests, and swim with dolphins, turtles, and other marine wildlife.
Haleakala National Park, Hawaii
From cinder desert to tropical forest to a 10,023-foot mountain summit, Haleakala National Park has geological variations that beautifully encapsulate the diversity of the island of Maui—and the Hawaiian islands altogether. It's a particularly popular place to catch the sunrise.
Yellowstone National Park, Idaho
Yellowstone National Park borders three states: Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming—so we'll count it as Idaho's best. On your way to visit Old Faithful, be sure to stop in the western corner of the park in West Yellowstone for some world-class fly-fishing.
Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana
In 2019, Indiana Dunes changed its name from "national lakeshore" to "national park," making it Indiana's first—and only—official national park. The area encompasses 15 miles of pristine beach on Lake Michigan and more than 50 miles of trails over the sand dunes, along rivers, and through forests.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
Welcome to the longest known cave system on Earth! Mammoth Cave gives visitors the opportunity to explore what's under the surface with nearly a dozen miles of trails below ground.
Acadia National Park, Maine
This beautiful and rugged East Coast national park is located on the Atlantic coastline—primarily on Maine's Mount Desert Island. Keep your eyes peeled while hiking the Precipice Trail and you might see moose, black bears, whales, and countless birds.
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
You'll need a boat or seaplane to get to the isolated Isle Royale in the northwest corner of Lake Superior. While spending a few days at one of the inlet's 36 wilderness campgrounds, you might be lucky enough to spot wolves and moose.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
A true northern gem, Voyageurs nearly touches the Canadian border. The remote expanse features tranquil waterways, lakes dotted with islands, and dense forests. But there's a secret art installation here too: abstract rock sculptures created by Jack Ellsworth.
Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri
As the smallest national park in the country, the 91-acre Gateway Arch is more of a memorial in the center of St. Louis than a place to explore trails and open spaces. But there's plenty to do here nonetheless; check out the park library, the top of the 630-foot arch (which marks the starting point of the Lewis and Clark Expedition), the courthouse, and the new subterranean museum, which was part of the park's $380 million revitalization project, completed in 2018.
Glacier National Park, Montana
Glacier National Park boasts more than 700 miles of trails that cover two mountain ranges, 130 lakes, and hundreds of historic chalets. And if that's not enough to make you want to lace up your hiking boots, then the chance to see the park's wildlife (think: mountain goats, moose, grizzlies, and Canadian lynx) ought to be. Biking is also an option, with the bucket list-worthy Going-to-the-Sun Road winding its way through the Rockies and offering some of the most jaw-dropping views in the country.
Great Basin National Park, Nevada
Once you arrive in Great Basin National Park, you won't feel like you're on the same planet as Vegas, let alone in the same state. The glacier-flanked, 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak is worth the effort to climb (or at least gander at). You can reach the trailhead from the 12-mile Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and crash at one of the park's five campsites.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
America's newest national park is a 275-square-mile wonderland of rolling white gypsum crystal dunes that put sand to shame. Flanked by the mountains of the northern Chihuahuan Desert, the panoramas are beyond otherworldly.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota
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Explorers, meet the place where the Great Plains meet the Badlands. Theodore Roosevelt National Park comprises three sections that are linked by the Little Missouri River and has a special claim to fame as the home of the cabin where President Roosevelt once lived.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio
A perfect place for a Midwestern retreat into nature, Cuyahoga's close proximity to Cleveland, Ohio, makes its dense forests and tranquil waterfalls that much more special to visit.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Tucked into the Cascade Mountains of southern Oregon, Crater Lake was formed when a volcano, Mount Mazama, collapsed. You can explore the 1,949-foot-deep lake while hiking the park's trails, including Sun Notch—which boasts views of the Phantom Ship, a small island in the heart of the lake.
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Congaree National Park received its national park designation in 2003, thanks to a grassroots campaign. Now, it's a place where you can visit the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States.
Badlands National Park, South Dakota
You might not think of South Dakota as "mountainous," but Badlands National Park has quite the résumé of features, including layered rock formations, buttes, steep canyons, and towering spires.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in both North Carolina and Tennessee, but the majority of the park calls Tennessee home. The park draws visitors from all around the country with its gorgeous backdrop of rolling mountains and vibrant seasonal colors. For the best sightseeing, cruise down Newfound Gap Road (U.S. Highway 441) along the spine of the mountain range.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park covers more than 800,000 acres, making it the largest park in Texas. It runs along the Rio Grande River, which forms the boundary between Mexico and the United States. While hiking and paddling are popular activities, save your energy for nighttime stargazing. (Big Bend was named one of the best places on the planet to stargaze by the International Dark-Sky Association.)
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Utah is home to a handful of stunning desert national parks, known as the Mighty Five, but Canyonlands—which sits in southeastern Utah near Moab—is a favorite of all who visit. Known for its red rock canyons, sandstone spires, and awe-inducing features such as Monument Valley, Canyonlands has plenty to see and explore (with the added bonus of not being as crowded as the nearby Arches National Park). Bike the 100-mile White Rim Trail, raft the Colorado or Green River, or climb the sandstone towers at the Island in the Sky.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Traversing along the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park is Appalachia at its finest. The Skyline Drive is the perfect place to leaf-peep in the fall, while a hike up the rocky peak of Old Rag mountain gets the heart pumping with equally gorgeous views.
Olympic National Park, Washington
Olympic National Park has many distinct ecosystems—from glaciers and high alpine meadows to old growth forests and Pacific coastline—making it one of the most diverse parks you can visit. We recommend exploring the Hoh temperate rainforest before making a drive up to the high-alpine Hurricane Ridge (which is closed during the winter months). In the evening, pull over at Ruby Beach for a spectacular sunset.
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
The Tetons are the youngest mountains in the continental U.S., and are still growing. That's pretty impressive considering the prominence that the Grand Teton already has, looming over Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A hike into the Cascades region of the park allows you to camp at the base of the grand, while surrounded by early- and late-season wildflowers. And if you want to ditch the tourists, here's Where to Go to Escape the Crowds on Your Summer Vacation.