With over 400 national park sites and over 60 National Parks in the United States, it might be overwhelming to decide which places to visit. And while each of them has something unique, some are simply worth your time more than the others…
So if you are wondering what are the best and most visited National Parks in the USA and what there’s to see and do there, then read on!
In this article, we feature the most popular American National Parks. The reason why we included 20 and not top 10 National Parks, is because we want to inspire you to look just a bit deeper and explore new places.
Some of these most-visited national parks are world-famous and attract visitors even from the other side of the globe. While some others are extremely popular among locals but are not widely known elsewhere. However, they all have something unique and each is worth a visit.
Good to know: For each national park in this selection, we include a short overview of what you can expect to see and practical advice such as the best time to visit or where to stay.
To make your travel planning easier, we also created a map of the best National Parks in the U.S. Take a look!
How to use this map: Use your computer mouse (or fingers) to zoom in or out. Click on the icons to get more information about each place. Click the arrow on the top left corner for the index. Click the star next to the map’s title to add it to your Google Maps account. To view the saved map on your smartphone or PC, open Google Maps, click the menu and go to ‘Your Places’/’Maps’. If you want to print the map or see it in a bigger window, click on ‘View larger map’ in the top right corner.
These are the most visited National Parks in the United States, sorted by popularity. Click on the name of the park to read more or scroll down to see the entire list with photos!
|NATIONAL PARK||NUMBER OF VISITORS|
|1||Great Smoky Mountains National Park||12 M|
|2||Grand Canyon National Park||6.2 M|
|3||Rocky Mountain National Park||4.6 M|
|4||Zion National Park||4.4 M|
|5||Yosemite National Park||4.2 M|
|6||Yellowstone National Park||4.1 M|
|7||Acadia National Park||3.5 M|
|8||Grand Teton National Park||3.4 M|
|9||Olympic National Park||3.2 M|
|10||Glacier National Park||3 M|
|11||Joshua Tree National Park||2.9 M|
|12||Bryce Canyon National Park||2.6 M|
|13||Cuyahoga Valley National Park||2.2 M|
|14||Gateway Arch National Park||2 M|
|15||Indiana Dunes National Park||1.9 M|
|16||Death Valley National Park||1.7 M|
|17||Arches National Park||1.6 M|
|18||Mount Rainier National Park||1.5 M|
|19||Hot Springs National Park||1.5 M|
|20||Shenandoah National Park||1.35 M|
* This list is made using statistics and data from the National Parks Service databank. We sorted it based on the average visitor numbers over the last few years.
PRO TIP: If you are planning to visit several American National Parks, get an annual NP’s pass. It’s called America the Beautiful Pass and costs 80 USD for the whole family traveling in the same vehicle.
This pass is valid in all National Parks and 2,000 federal recreation sites across the United States for one year from the month of purchase.
And now, let’s take a look at each national park in more detail. Read on!
These are the most visited, best American National Parks:
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 12 million
Location: Tennessee – North Carolina
Why visit. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a paradise for nature lovers. It’s a huge park with scenic drives, historic buildings, countless waterfalls, and hiking trails. There’s also a big variety of wildlife including elk, black bears, deer, various types of birds, and many more.
Best things to do. Drive the scenic Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Also the scenic road between Gatlinburg and Cherokee via the Newfound Gap mountain pass (U.S. Hwy 441) is a must. Make sure to take a detour to Clingmans Dome – the highest peak of the park (this road is closed in winter).
Drive Cades Cove Loop Road and visit some of the churches, barns, mills, and cabins dating back to the early 1800s. Hike some parts of the Appalachian Trail. For more info, please check the National Park website.
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park is in summer and in fall. The park is open and very popular the whole year round, but the busiest months are from June to October. October is very popular for fall colors.
Where to stay. Gatlinburg, TN is one of the best places to stay with lots to do, but also big crowds and busy traffic. Townsend, TN is a quieter and a bit cheaper alternative.
2. Grand Canyon National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 6.2 million
Why visit. Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic places in the United States and one of the most beautiful canyons in the world. Formed by the twists and turns of the Colorado River, the canyon reveals 6 million years of geological history. Its total length is 276.5 miles (445 km). The canyon is up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and up to 6,093 ft (1,857 m) deep. The scenery here is breathtaking!
Best things to do. The best place to visit is the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Here you’ll find the most beautiful viewpoints and some of the best hikes into the canyon. Another popular place to visit is Grand Canyon Skywalk, at Grand Canyon West, just 130 miles from Las Vegas. Grand Canyon North is also nice, but can only be visited in the summer season.
TIP: One of the best ways to admire this stunning and vast canyon is by taking a helicopter flight.
Best time to visit. Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit Grand Canyon – it’s not too hot and much quieter than in the peak summer months. The best months are April-May and September-November. If you want to visit the North Rim, come between mid-May and mid-October because the roads are closed in winter.
For fewer crowds and stunning landscapes with a touch of snow, you can also visit Grand Canyon in the winter. But you have to keep in mind that there is always a chance that snow can influence your travel itinerary and what you’ll be able to see and do.
Where to stay. See our guide to the best places to stay in and near Grand Canyon for hotel suggestions and tips. However, if you are really short on time, you’ll be glad to know that you can also see some of the main highlights of the Grand Canyon in just a day. In fact, it’s one of the most popular day trips from Las Vegas and there are many day tours from the city to various sections of the park.
READ ALSO: How to Avoid Long Queues at the Grand Canyon South Entrance
3. Rocky Mountain National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 4.6 million
Why visit. Rocky Mountain National Park is the place to be for some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the United States. With elevation between 7,860 and 14,259 feet (2,4 – 4,35 km), this is one of the highest national parks in the US. To give you an idea, the park is home to 60 (!) mountain peaks over 12,000 ft (3,65 km). The scenery here varies greatly depending on elevation and time of the year when you visit.
Best things to do. With 355 miles (871 km) of hiking trails for all levels, hiking is by far the best way to explore the park. In summer, don’t miss the scenic Trail Ridge Road (US Hwy 34) between Estes Park and Grand Lake. It goes high above the treeline, giving you easy access to over 12,000 feet of elevation and stunning panoramas. The Continental Divide also runs through the park.
Bicycling, rock climbing, and fishing are other popular things to do in summer. In winter, you can enjoy various snowshoe hikes, sledding, and cross-country skiing. Wildlife viewing is great too. Some animals such as elk, moose, or deer can be seen the whole year round, whereas bighorn sheep or marmots are easier to see in summer.
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is in summer, from June to September. That’s when everything is accessible and you can explore the park to the fullest. Mid-September to mid-October is the best season for fall colors. While not nearly as popular, Rocky Mountain NP is also a beautiful outdoor destination for winter activities.
Where to stay. See our guide to the best places to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park. Or – if you are short on time – you can also visit Rocky Mountain National Park as a day trip from Denver.
LEARN MORE: Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary
4. Zion National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 4.4 million
Why visit. Zion National Park has some of the most unique landscapes in the world. The impressive Zion Canyon with 2,000-foot high sandstone cliffs will take your breath away. In addition to jaw-dropping sceneries, the park is home to a huge variety of wildlife, including the California Condor, the largest flying bird in North America.
Best things to do. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive gives you easy access to the most beautiful areas and hikes in the park. In addition, the Zion-Mount Carmel Hwy (US Hwy 9), is one of the most beautiful scenic roads in the United States.
The best way to explore the park deeper is by taking a hike. With almost 50 hikes varying from short easy hikes to demanding multi-day treks, there’s always a suitable hike for everyone. Here you can find our guide to the best hikes in Zion National Park. Bicycling, horseback riding, canyoneering, and climbing are popular too. Zion is said to be one of the world’s best places for canyoneering!
If you want to explore Zion without the crowds and get off the beaten path, check out this highly-rated slot canyons UTV & hiking tour.
TIP: Combine a visit to Zion with that of the nearby Bryce Canyon National Park. See our guide and itinerary suggestions for Zion – Bryce Canyon trip.
Best time to visit. Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit Zion National Park. It’s not too hot for hiking and less busy than in the peak summer months. The absolute-best months are April-May and September-October, but Zion is really nice in any season.
Where to stay. See our guide to the best places to stay in and near Zion National Park.
5. Yosemite National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 4.2 million
Why visit. Yosemite is best known for its impressive granite cliffs, waterfalls, and giant sequoia trees. The park is a huge wilderness with hundreds of species of wildlife and over a thousand species of plants. With 800 miles (1,288 km) of hiking trails and 282 miles (454 km) of scenic roads, Yosemite has something to offer to all types of travelers.
Best things to do. The best way to explore Yosemite is by driving its scenic roads, visiting the best viewpoints, and hiking. Must-see is the view from Glacier Point, El Capitan as seen from Yosemite Valley, and Yosemite Falls. Also, Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is a must. One of our personal favorite places is the scenic Tioga Road.
Yosemite is a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. In summer, you can go hiking, biking, fishing, rock climbing, backpacking, horseback riding, rafting, etc. Birding and wildlife watching are also popular. In winter – try various winter hiking and snowshoeing trails, downhill- and cross-country skiing, snow tubing, or ice skating.
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Yosemite National Park is in summer and in early autumn. The park is open the whole year, but the peak season is from May to October.
Where to stay. Yosemite Valley is the best place to stay in Yosemite. Yosemite Valley Lodge is one of the best-located hotels in the park.
LEARN MORE: Yosemite Travel Guide & Tips
6. Yellowstone National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 4.1 million
Location: Wyoming (also a bit in Montana and Idaho).
Why visit. America’s oldest national park, Yellowstone is also one of the most unique places on the planet with a surprising variety of scenery. Visit for the most incredible geothermal features, spouting geysers, colorful hot springs, but also for vast landscapes, canyons, waterfalls, rivers, and lakes… Yellowstone is also home to a big variety of wildlife and is one of the best places to see huge numbers of bison in the wild.
Best things to do. Must-sees in Yellowstone are the Old Faithful Geyser, the world-famous colorful Grand Prismatic Spring, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, Hayden Valley, and Mammoth Hot Springs.
But there’s so much more than that! Drive the scenic roads, take a hike, go geyser hunting in the Upper Geyser Basin, swimming in the Boiling River, or wildlife watching in the Lamar Valley…
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Yellowstone National Park
TIP: Yellowstone is a vast park with big distances to cover. Depending on how much time you have, please check our Yellowstone itinerary suggestions for the best way to plan your trip. Here you can also find Yellowstone – Grand Teton itinerary.
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Yellowstone is in summer, from mid-June to mid- September. Read also our guide to the best time to visit Yellowstone and tips for each season.
Where to stay. See our guide to the best places to stay in and near Yellowstone National Park. Here you can find our hand-picked suggestions for the best cabins and hotels near Yellowstone.
7. Acadia National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 3.5 million
Why visit. Acadia National Park is best known for its rocky headlands along the stunning Atlantic coastline. Visit for the rugged coastlines, granite peaks, historic lighthouses, 158 miles of hiking trails, and scenic roads with sweeping panoramas. It’s also a very popular destination for fall folliage.
Best things to do. Drive the scenic Park Loop Road and enjoy the unparalleled views from Cadillac Mountain, the tallest mountain in the park. Go hiking, biking, climbing, take a boat trip, rent a kayak, or head to the coast at low tide for tidal pools. Also, don’t miss the sunset at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse! Here you can get self-guided driving tour instructions and be sure to see all the musts!
In winter, you can go hiking or snowshoeing. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are popular too. Two sections of the scenic roads – Ocean Drive and Jordan Pond Road – remain open as well.
TIP: If you are self-driving, you can opt for this audio tour that will guide you to all the nicest places in the park. A Small-group guided tour is also available.
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Acadia National Park is in summer. Late spring and early autumn are very good times too, and less busy than in the peak season from July to mid-September. Mid-October is the best time for fall colors in Acadia.
Where to stay. There are quite some nice accommodations inside the park. The most popular highly-rated hotels can be found in Bar Harbor. Take a look at the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel or Bar Harbor Inn and Spa.
LEARN MORE: Acadia National Park Itinerary & Travel Guide
8. Grand Teton National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 3.4 million
Why visit. Grand Teton National Park is a great destination for mountain lovers. With the impressive peaks of the Teton Range, pristine lakes, forests, alpine meadows, a big variety of wildlife, and vast areas of wilderness, this is a paradise for hiking and outdoor enthusiasts.
Best things to do. Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the Grand Teton National Park, with almost 40 different hikes available for all difficulty levels. Another great thing to do is take a boat tour or rent a kayak and explore one of the many lakes. Wildlife safaris are popular too or you can take your own car and try to find wildlife by yourself.
Don’t miss Antelope Flats and the historic barns along Mormon Row. They make great photographs, with the snow-capped mountains in the background. For the best lake views, head to Jenny Lake, Jackson Lake, String Lake, and Schwabacher Landing on the east shore of the Snake River.
Winter hiking, snowshoeing, wildlife watching, and sleigh rides in the snow are among the most popular things to do in winter (see the best winter tours here).
LEARN MORE: How to See the Best of Grand Teton National Park in One Day
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Grand Teton National Park is from June to September. Mid-September is the best time for fall colors. Grand Teton is very nice in winter as well.
Where to stay. There are lots of lodging options near the national park. For the best location inside the park, take a look at Jackson Lake Lodge or Jenny Lake Lodge. Many people use Jackson, WY as the base for visiting Grand Teton. Here you can find more details and inspiration for the best things to do in Jackson Hole.
READ ALSO: How to Visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone – Itinerary Suggestions
9. Olympic National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 3.2 million
Why visit. Olympic National Park is huge and very varied. It’s often called three parks in one because it comprises of three very different areas: glacier-capped mountains, lush rain forests, and a coastal area with rugged wild beaches. Visit for stunning landscapes, fun outdoor activities, and wildlife.
Best things to do. Visit the fairytale-like Hoh Rain Forest, go hiking at Hurricane Ridge, or canoeing at Lake Crescent. For tide pooling, head to Kalaloch’s Beach 4 or Mora’s Hole-in-the-Wall, and for storm-watching – Rialto Beach.
In winter, you can go snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing, snowboarding, or tubing. Winter is also the perfect time for storm-watching along the Pacific Coast. In the spring, rain forests are as green as they ever get – a perfect time to visit, just prepare to get wet.
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Olympic National Park is in summer. That’s when everything is open and you can explore the park to the fullest. Late spring is great for wildflowers and rainforests and September to early October is a good time to visit for fall colors and wildlife. Winter is nice for those looking for outdoor activities in the snow.
Where to stay. Olympic NP is vast, so there are many options for where to stay. Inside the park, check out Kalaloch Lodge or Lake Crescent Lodge. At the coast and close to Hurricane Ridge, the town of Port Angeles has lots of good lodging options and other facilities. Olympic National Park Visitor Center is also located here.
Forks, WA, is a good central place to stay for exploring some of the best places in Olympic NP. On the other side of the park, Union town is a good option.
TIP: You can also visit Olympic NP with this highly-rated day tour from Seattle.
LEARN MORE: Olympic National Park Itinerary
10. Glacier National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 3 million
Why visit. Glacier National Park is a wonderful destination for mountain lovers. Visit for stunning sceneries, endless hiking opportunities, pristine mountain lakes with the most incredible sunsets, outdoor activities, and wildlife including bears and mountain lions.
Best things to do. The best way to explore Glacier National Park is a combination of scenic drives and hiking. With 734 miles (1,182 km) of hiking trails, there is always a suitable trail for everyone! Whitewater rafting or scenic floating is extremely popular as well. Bicycling is another great way to explore the park deeper, with guided bike tours available as well.
The scenic Going To The Sun Road is not to be missed in summer! There are lots of viewpoints (don’t miss Logan Pass) and nice hikes along this drive. Other popular places include the areas around St Mary Lake, Many Glacier, and Two Medicine on the easter side of the park. Also Lake Mc Donald on the western side and Pole Bridge on the northwestern side.
TIP: The park is divided into several areas, and so depending on how much time you have, you’ll have to plan well. We suggest at least 3-5 days for Glacier NP.
LEARN MORE: Travel Tips and Itinerary Suggestions for Visiting Glacier National Park
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Glacier National Park is in July and August. Going To The Sun Road, which is the main road through the park, is typically open from late June to early October. So if you want to get the most of your visit, this short season is the best time to come.
For lesser crowds, come a bit later in the fall, but it will require a bit more planning. Winter is great for cross-country skiing or snowmobiling.
Where to stay. There are several lodging options inside the park, but unless you book over a year in advance, they’re hard to get. For the eastern side of the park, stay in St. Mary or East Glacier. For the western side – stay in West Glacier.
11. Joshua Tree National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 2.9 million
Why visit. Joshua Trees, a type of Yucca, are the main reason to come here. These distinct trees scattered throughout the park create an epic scenery that you won’t find anywhere else. The park is known for epic sunrises, sunsets, and some of the best stargazing in the US. This is also a great place to see desert wildlife including scorpions, various snakes, tarantula, coyotes, lizards, and many others.
Best things to do. Hiking, biking, horseback riding, and stargazing are among the best things to do in Joshua Tree National Park. Rock climbing and birding is very popular too.
Don’t miss the views from Keys View, the short Hidden Valley Nature Trail, and Barker Dam. Cholla Cactus Garden is nice to see, just as Skull Rock and Arch Rock.
Best time to visit. Joshua Tree National Park is a year-round park, so it’s a great choice for those planning a national park trip in any season. The best time to visit is in spring, fall, and also the winter months are very popular. Try to avoid the warmest summer months as it gets very hot to explore the outdoors.
Where to stay. There’s no lodging in the park, so unless you camp, it’s best to stay in 29 Palms, right outside the north entrance.
12. Bryce Canyon National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 2.6 million
Why visit. Bryce Canyon National Park is best known for its unique landscape of orange rock columns called hoodoos. Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration of hoodoos on the planet, offering surreal landscapes that constantly change depending on light conditions and seasons.
Best things to do. Bryce Canyon is not a big park and most people only spend half a day to a day here. On a short visit, don’t miss the four main viewpoints: Sunrise, Sunset, Bryce, and Inspiration points. If you have a bit more time, drive the scenic road to Rainbow Point.
If you have more time, hiking into the canyon is the best way to explore the park deeper. Horseback riding tours are popular as well, and there are also guided ATV tours that allow you to see a lot in a short time.
In winter, you can go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing on the plateau.
Best time to visit. Due to its high elevation and cold winters, the best time to visit Bryce Canyon is in late spring-early summer and in September-mid October. Summer months are very busy, but you can avoid the biggest crowds if you avoid the main viewpoints and go hiking.
Where to stay. There’s just one lodge inside the park, The Lodge at Bryce Canyon. However, just nearby, in Bryce, you can find some good lodging options. The two best price-quality hotels are the Best Western PLUS Ruby’s Inn (the most popular choice) and the Best Western PLUS Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel.
READ ALSO: How to Plan a Trip from Zion to Bryce Canyon
13. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 2.2 million
Why visit. Cuyahoga River valley is an oasis of nature in the busy urban areas between Akron and Cleveland, OH. Visit for outdoor recreation such as hiking, walking, bicycling, hiking, kayaking, etc.
Best things to do. Some of the most popular things to do are Brandywine Falls, Beaver Mars, Blue Hen Falls, and Ledges Trail. The accessible Towpath Trail that follows the historic route of the Ohio & Erie Canal is great for long easy walks or bicycling. Make sure to visit historic houses that now serve as Visitor Centers! Boston Mill Visitor Center is a great place to start your visit to the park!
Hiking, bicycling, kayaking, and horseback riding are the most popular activities. A great way to explore the park in a relaxing way is by taking a scenic train ride. In winter, the area is perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Cuyahoga Valley National Park is from May to September, with summer months being the most popular and busiest. April and October are shoulder-season months, perfect for those who want to avoid the crowds. Try to avoid weekends as this national park is very popular with locals.
Where to stay. There are two lodges inside the park. Alternatively, there are lots of choices in any of the nearby towns.
14. Gateway Arch National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 2 million
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Why visit. Gateway Arch is more than an impressive architectural landmark! This National Park is a memorial to the Westward Expansion of the USA during the 19th century, to the pioneers who helped shape its history, and to an enslaved African-American man Dred Scott who (unsuccessfully) sued for his and his family’s freedom in the Old Courthouse.
Best things to do. The main landmarks of this smallest American National Park are the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse. Take a tram ride to the top of the Arch for marvelous views of St. Louis downtown and explore the museum under the Gateway Arch. A visit to the Old Courthouse to learn more about the history of the area is a must as well.
Other popular things to do include taking a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River or a city trolley tour.
Best time to visit. The best time to visit St. Louis is April-May and September-October. Winters are very cold here and summers can get quite hot.
Where to stay. There are many nice hotels in St. Louis downtown. If you are looking for a hotel with rooms overlooking the arch, we recommend the Hyatt Regency.
15. Indiana Dunes National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 1.9 million
Location: Indiana, close to Chicago IL
Why visit. Indiana Dunes National Park is one of the newest national parks in the U.S. The park borders the south shore of Lake Michigan and covers a wide area of sand dunes, wetlands, prairies, rivers, and peaceful forests. It’s a fabulous nature getaway, an escape from the hustle and the bustle of the urban areas of the nearby Chicago city.
Best things to do. The best things to do in Indiana Dunes NP are hiking, biking, horseback riding, and beach activities. In summer, you can go swimming, canoeing, kayaking, or sailing on the lake. Fishing and bird watching are also popular. There are also several interesting historical sites to visit.
With over 50 miles (80 km) of hiking trails, hiking is one of the best ways to explore the park. Some walks go through the woods, while some others go over sand dunes and near the lakeshore. One of the nicest and most varied hikes is the so-called West Beach Trails. It’s a combination of three different hikes: Dune Succession, West Beach, and Long Lake and takes about 2,5 hrs if you do all three sections.
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Indiana Dunes NP is between May and September, but it remains popular the whole year.
Where to stay. The nearby Michigan City, IN is a good place to stay. Or combine your visit with a few days in Chicago and simply stay in the city, visiting Indiana Dunes NP for a day.
16. Death Valley National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 1.7 million
Why visit. Home to the lowest point in North America, Death Valley is a unique place. It’s one of the hottest and driest places in the U.S. but has a lot more to offer than it looks at first sight. Death Valley is also known as the prime place for stargazing.
Best things to do. The highlights of Death Valley NP include a visit to Badwater Basin, at – 282 ft (- 86 m) below sea level, touring the scenic Artists Drive, and enjoying the views from Zabriskie Point.
Also Devils Golf Course and Golden Canyon are worth visiting. With more time in the park, visit Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Dantes View, and Keane Wonder Mine.
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Death Valley is between October and April. That’s when the temperatures are mild and you can explore the park to the fullest. March and April are the most popular months, not just because of the nice weather but also because of the possibility to see the valleys covered with blooming wildflowers.
Where to stay. Inside the park, you can stay at The Ranch at Death Valley and The Inn at Death Valley. However, most people opt to stay in Las Vegas and visit Death Valley with a day tour.
LEARN MORE: Must-See Places in Death Valley National Park
17. Arches National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 1.6 million
Why visit. Arches National Park is best known as the place with the highest concentration of natural stone arches. There are over 2000 arches in the park, some more impressive than the other. In addition, you’ll find a big variety of pinnacles, balanced rocks, fins, and other impressive geologic formations. The scenery here is out of this world!
Best things to do. The best way to explore Arches National Park is a combination of driving the Arches Scenic Drive, stopping at its best viewpoints, and hiking. Many of the main landmarks are easily accessible from the road, making Arches a good choice for all types of travelers.
Don’t miss the Windows area, Balanced Rock, Park Avenue Viewpoint, and Delicate Arch Viewpoint. If you do just one hike in the park, make it the Delicate Arch trail. If you’re looking for an easy hike, Landscape Arch is very nice too. If you want to get off the beaten path and visit the lesser-known parts of the park, join a 4×4 tour, and there are now scenic airplane tours as well.
LEARN MORE: Best Things to Do in Arches National Park
Best time to visit. Arches is a place that you can visit the whole year. However, winters get some snow, and summers are very hot and very busy. The very best time to visit Arches National Park is in the spring and in the fall. That’s when the weather is mild and you can explore the park to the fullest. March-April and October-November are the quieter months with the best weather.
Where to stay. See our guide for the best places to stay near Arches National Park.
18. Mount Rainier National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 1.5 million
Why visit. Mount Rainier National Park offers sweeping mountain views, variety of scenic drives, lots of hiking and bicycling possibilities, and also mountain climbing. It’s also a great place for wildlife watching.
Best things to do. Hiking is the best way to explore Mount Rainier NP in summer, also because the scenic drives in the park often get packed in the summer, especially on the weekends. Paradise, Longmire, and Sunrise are the main areas of the park, offering lots of roadside attractions and hiking trails.
If you do just one hike at Mount Rainier National Park, we recommend Skyline Trail. For an easier, family-friendly hike, try Nisqually Vista Trail.
In winter, the park gets lots of snow, offering lots of great outdoor activities as well. You can go on ranger-led walks, hiking, snowshoeing, or sledding. Skiing is possible too and snowmobiling is popular as well.
Best time to visit. The best time to visit Mount Rainier National Park is in July and August, but that’s also the busiest time of the year. May and June are also nice, but September is probably the best choice for those looking for nice weather and fewer crowds (just try to avoid the weekends).
Where to stay. There are just two lodges inside the park – National Park Inn (open the whole year) and Paradise Inn (open from mid-May to October). There are also many accommodation options in the surrounding areas. Many people also visit Mt. Rainier as a day trip from Seattle, and there are nice day tours available too.
19. Hot Springs National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 1.5 million
Why visit. Hot Springs National Park is a somewhat unusual national park because its main attractions are historic bathhouses. The main reason to visit are the hot thermal waters, but there are also hiking trails available nearby offering nice mountain views.
Best things to do. The best thing to do here is going for a warm relaxing soak at one or several of the historic bathhouses lining Bathhouse Row. Don’t miss the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitor Center and the Buckstaff Bathhouse.
There is also a variety of hiking trails. The nicest and the longest hike is the Sunset Trail loop (15-17 miles), but you can also just hike parts of it. Sugarloaf Mountain (2.6 miles) is one of the most popular sections.
Best time to visit. Hot Springs National Park enjoys relatively mild weather and can be visited any time of the year. If you want to combine a visit to the bathhouses with some hiking, it’s best to come in late spring or early fall. Summers can get very warm and humid which is not ideal either for hot baths or outdoor activities.
Where to stay. This national park is located in Hot Springs town and has plenty of accommodation options for all budgets.
20. Shenandoah National Park
Approx. number of visitors per year: 1.35 million
Why visit. Shenandoah National Park, just 80 miles from Washington D.C., is a wonderful nature getaway on the East Coast. Spectacular vistas of the Southern Appalachian mountains, cascading waterfalls, and quiet forests offer plenty of opportunities to escape the hustle and the bustle of the city. It’s also a wonderful place to see fall colors. Shenandoah is also home to lots of wildlife including deer and black bears.
Best things to do. The best thing to do in Shenandoah is driving the scenic Skyline Drive, stopping at the many lookouts along the way, and hiking to waterfalls and viewpoints. Many people also opt to explore Skyline Drive on a bike.
There are over 500 miles (800 km) of hiking trails in Shenandoah National Park. The famous Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only footpath in the world, also passes through this park. Old Rag is a popular hike offering great views. If you are looking for easier alternatives, checkout Hawksbill Summit or Stony Man Loop.
Good to know: The Skyline Drive is 105 miles long and takes at least three hours to drive it in one direction without any stops.
Best time to visit. Shenandoah can be visited the whole year round, although some sections of the Skyline Drive can occasionally get closed due to snowfall in winter. The best time to visit is on weekdays, from late spring to late autumn. In summer, everything is green and easily accessible. In April or May, you can see beautiful blossoms and wildflowers. October is the peak season for fall colors in Shenandoah.
Where to stay. The best places to stay are the park lodges along Skyline Drive – Big Meadows Lodge and Skyland Lodge. The closest bigger towns to stay nearby are Charlottesville and Harrisonburg.
So, this is our list of the best national parks in the United States. I hope that you found plenty of inspiration for your future vacations or short getaways.
Some of our personal favorite places are among these most visited national parks. Yellowstone is our absolute top pick among the best national parks to visit. We have a very detailed Yellowstone travel guide on the blog featuring the main landmarks, detailed itineraries, and practical tips for your visit.
Rocky Mountain National Park is another personal favorite. It was the very first national park I visited in the US and I spent the entire summer hiking and exploring its most beautiful trails. It’s the place that made me fall in love with hiking.
We also really loved Arches, Zion, Bryce, and Yosemite National Parks.
Either way, whatever you choose, you really cannot go wrong with any of the parks from this selection!
For more National Parks travel inspiration, please check our seasonal guides featuring the best national parks to visit almost every month of the year. Check it out!
- National Parks to Visit in January
- National Parks to Visit in February
- National Parks to Visit in March
- National Parks to See in April
- National Parks to See in May
- National Parks to Visit in June
- National Parks to Visit in September
- National Parks to Visit in October
- National Parks to Visit in November
- National Parks to Visit in December
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Image credits: Featured image – TheBigMK/Shutterstock.com// Glacier NP -Pung//Shutterstock.com// Gateway Arch – Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com// Others – Depositphotos.com and personal collection
Sunday 27th of February 2022
Hi, thank you for sharing our beautiful National Parks. In your opinion which park, Yosemite or Yellowstone would be a better fit for someone in their 60's with a knee replacement and has not visited any of are National Parks, but would love to! Thank you.
Monday 7th of March 2022
Hi Pam, I think both parks are great even if you don't hike, since many of the main sights are quite easily accessible. That being said, I think Yellowstone is more special and more varied, and you can do lots without having to walk far. We have a lot of info for Yellowstone on our blog - check it out.
Thursday 21st of January 2021
Thanks. I found some places that I didn't consider before and we are going to visit a few national parks from this list this year.
Thursday 21st of January 2021
Glad to hear that, Sher. Enjoy the beautiful outdoors!