- Yosemite National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Acadia National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Zion National Park
Some of the most beautiful natural wonders our planet has to offer are located right in your backyard. Okay, maybe not quite. But they’re close enough for you to manage a much-needed escape into the wilderness for some exploration, adventure, or just a good ol’ mental reset.
America’s 63 national parks are truly a treasure. From Acadia’s picturesque maritime landscapes tucked into the coast of Maine to Glacier’s towering expanse of jagged peaks throughout western Montana, there is a vast protected wilderness to be explored and enjoyed. We’ve compiled a detailed list of 10 of the nation’s most popular parks along with their points of interest and the best activities to do in each.
Yosemite National Park – California
Just a three-hour drive from San Francisco, Yosemite National Park is a spectacular escape from routine. Yosemite Valley is the focal point with beautiful hikes to waterfalls situated throughout. Lower Yosemite Falls Trail proves to be short and easy while Upper Yosemite Falls Trail is an all-day excursion. Mirror Lake is a wonderful place to have a picnic with the family while enjoying breathtaking views of Half Dome – one of the best and most difficult hikes in Yosemite. Overseeing the valley is El Capitan, the famous 3,000-foot-tall granite behemoth that countless climbers attempt to scale each year.
Another must-visit area is the Hetch Hetchy Valley, which is home to an enormous reservoir of the same name that provides much of the water and electricity to San Francisco. Trails of varying difficulties snake through the forest around the reservoir and lead to beautiful waterfalls. Yosemite is also home to three sequoia groves with Mariposa Grove being the largest. Here you’ll find some of the oldest trees in the world, including the Grizzly Giant (2,700 years old). Visiting the park in late spring or fall is recommended since Tioga Road and Glacier Road are closed during the winter, making traversing the park from east to west impossible by car.
Rocky Mountain National Park – Colorado
America’s most famous mountain range is home to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. With experiences for all ages and interests, the park is perfect for those seeking adventure with the family. Numerous easy hikes like Alpine Ridge Trail, Gem Lake, Ute Trail, and Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes are incredible ways to make the most of the stunning landscape. The subalpine area of the park is home to evergreen forests, crystal-clear lakes, and is one of the best places in the country to watch wildlife. Higher up in the park’s alpine tundra, there are 77 peaks towering above 12,000 feet awaiting serious hikers. A drive on Trail Ridge Road will have you at the highest elevation in the entire national park system and you can stop at the Forest Canyon Overlook for a spectacular view of the park’s tallest point, Longs Peak. Although it sees most of its visitors in the summer, the park is a skier’s domain in the winter. Winter sports enthusiasts can enjoy endless back country trails throughout seemingly unexplored areas of wilderness.
Acadia National Park – Maine
As the first national park to be established east of the Mississippi River, Acadia is a unique oceanside playground for hikers, cyclists, campers and lovers of all things nature. Situated along Maine’s rocky coast with no shortage of mountains, forests, lakes, ponds, wetlands and swamps, the park offers wonderfully diverse ecosystems. Located on Mount Desert Island, Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the east coast and can easily be summited by foot or car. If traveling by car, the 27-mile-long Park Loop Road is the best way to take in the scenery as quickly as possible. At the southern end of Mount Desert Island, you can find the picturesque Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse, an iconic landmark of Acadia.
Another incredible way to explore the park is by traveling on its Carriage Roads – 50+ miles of paved paths created by John D. Rockefeller that can be traveled by horse-drawn carriage. If so inclined, allow yourself to be whisked down the roads in a carriage to experience the fullness of nature around you as you would have over 100 years ago. Alternatively, you can also bicycle on these small roads. Visiting Acadia during October when the leaves are changing will make for unforgettable postcard views along the coastline. Not to mention, there will be far fewer crowds than the summer months, which is the busiest time of year.