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14 Stunning Must Visit US National Parks

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While all of the national parks are worthy of a visit, these 14 Must Visit US National Parks should be at the top of your list! These parks are great no matter if you’re a beginner in getting out into nature or an experienced hiker / camper. As nature has become more popular, more parks are implementing reservation systems for popular hikes, activities or even entry times so always check multiple months before your actual trip. Read on for some of the highlights to add to your list at each park including how many days are ideal!

1. Zion

This incredibly popular park is one you’ll want to visit, despite the crowds. A few tips:

  • Arrive as early as possible in the morning (try to be on the first shuttle!)
  • Make a reservation if you’re interested in doing the popular Angel’s Landing
  • Bring or rent the right gear if you’re looking to hike the Narrows! We hiked it in the summer and did great with water shoes and hiking sticks we found at the start of the hike. I actually wore socks with my Keens to keep my feet better protected from little rocks. In the cooler months, you’ll need more protection from the cooler water which you can rent from shops nearby. The further into the river you go, the less crowded (and fun) it becomes!

We spent 2 days in the park and did some of the shorter hikes on the first day before spending half of our second day hiking far into the Narrows. I think 3 days would have been the perfect amount of time. Read more about our Utah trip here.

2. Acadia

The most popular park in the US, and for good reason! Acadia is historic, offers great trails, has incredible views and sees the first sunrise in the US. Note sunrise requires a reservation! There’s also historic walking paths and the Jordan Pond House where you’ll want to try the famous popovers. Make a walk in reservation (expect a wait!) and explore the lake while you wait for your table. Two days was perfect for us to enjoy most of Acadia but 3 days would have been better to take in everything.

3. Crater Lake

For most parks I wouldn’t suggest just one day but Crater Lake can truly be enjoyed in its entirety in one day. While you can stay in the park at the hotel, Crater Lake is also easily visited from Bend, or you could stay somewhere in the Umpqua Forest like the Steamboat Inn (highly recommend!).

For your day at Crater Lake, drive around and stop at the lookouts and small hikes. To access the lake, you can hike the ~1 mile Cleetwood Cove Trail. It’s very steep so just be prepared for the hike back up! They do boat rides from here as well so check into booking one in advance. We visited during the COVID pandemic when boat rides were not operating but I’d love to go back for it.

I’d suggest summertime for a visit so you can do all the activities but the views look beautiful in winter too.

4. Haleakalā

Located on Maui, Haleakala National Park is known for its stunning sunrises above the clouds. If you miss getting a reservation for sunrise (only $1 but the spots go quickly!), simply go at sunset when there’s no reservation required beyond the national park entrance. We went at sunset and it was incredible! You’ll be above 11,000 feet so dress warmly! It also takes awhile to drive to the top of the crater and the roads are pretty winding so be aware if you get carsick. You can hike around before sunset or after sunrise as well or simply go for nature’s show like we did!

5. Capitol Reef

Probably the most underrated national park on this list is Capitol Reef. With stunning hikes, unique history and fun features like pick your own fruit, Capitol Reef offers so many fun activities. We spent just one day there which was sufficient but 2 days could give you more time to enjoy the hikes and scenery.

6. Yosemite

Not surprising on the list of must visit US National Parks is Yosemite. We only spent one day at Yosemite which is simply not enough time. Even with just one day, I’m glad we went so we could experience some of the incredible lookout points but you should definitely plan multiple days to really take in the beauty this park has to offer. If you’re interested in hiking half dome, make sure to make a reservation!

7. Bryce

Renown for the hoodoos, Bryce Canyon offers amazing landscape scenery! We spent just one day here but I would suggest 2 days to fully take it in. My favorite trail was the fairyland loop. Go early in the day because it does get busy!

8. Everglades

My favorite place in the US to stargaze is the Everglades (just bring bug spray!). The park is so diverse with unique animals and offers lots of ranger led activities I’d recommend joining. We’ve visited the Everglades as day trips from both Miami and Naples. You could also base yourself in Homestead (don’t miss the Robert is Here fruit stand if you do!).

9. Canyonlands

While it’s not as popular as neighboring Arches, Canyonlands still has a ton to offer and is well worth a day trip! We spent just one day which I think is sufficient. Start your morning at Mesa Arch for sunrise (just be prepared for a crowd and arrive early). Afterwards, explore some of the great hiking paths for even more stunning views. Read more about our Utah trip here.

10. Arches

Extremely popular and a must visit US National Park is Arches National Park. We spent two days exploring the park but I think three days would have been even better especially if you’re limited to mornings and evenings to avoid the heat of the summer like we were. The town of Moab offers a lot to enjoy as well. Read more about our Utah trip here.

11. Rocky Mountain

Easily visited as a day trip from Denver or (even closer) Boulder, Rocky Mountain is a gem of a park. We went in October and being from Minnesota, I thought we’d experience fall. But October at RMNP is more likely to mean winter so we experienced a beautiful winter wonderland instead. We hiked the popular Bear Lake and Emerald Lake trails during a day trip. We did them quickly due to a time crunch which resulted in me getting some altitude sickness so just be cautious if you’re from lower altitude environments. I’d suggest 2 days at least in the park so you’re not rushed like we were. Also, don’t forget to make a reservation to visit the park!

12. Gateway Arch

It seems funny to me that the Gateway Arch is considered a National Park (vs. a monument) but I do think it’s worth a visit, especially as part of a broader St. Louis itinerary! We loved riding up in the futuristic feeling tram to the top of the arch and then exploring the grounds afterwards.

13. Grand Canyon

The first National Park we ever visited was the Grand Canyon on a day trip from Las Vegas and it literally took our breath away with the vastness! I would never recommend just one day at the Grand Canyon but if it’s all you have, it’s absolutely worth the long travel day to experience. We mainly did lookout points and I’d love to go back to hike and stay overnight in the area.

14. Smoky Mountains

The Great Smoky Mountains are super popular to visit and it’s easy to see why. You can base yourself in Asheville for a long weekend trip and visit the Smoky Mountains as a day trip or else stay in Gaitlinburg Tennessee. Due to how popular and crowded the park gets, I’d stay in the region for at least 3 days so you can see all the sights on your list and explore other beautiful parts of the area like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest.

We still have more National Parks to see and I can’t wait to add to this list! Which must visit US National Parks are your favorite?

Happy Planning!

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