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NATIONAL PARKS OF THE UNITED STATES


Bryce Canyon National Park Half Dome, Yosemite National Park Morning Glory Pool, Yellowstone National Park

Welcome to Bigroads.com's guide to the national parks of the USA!

You've likely heard it before, and it is true: the 59 official national parks of the United States are "our greatest idea" and "our greatest treasure". The United States really can boast the premier national park system in the entire world. Each of our 59 official national parks is easily worthy of your time, awe, and respect. Once you visit some of these beloved national parks, you'll likely find yourself wanting to visit many more (if not all) of them.

The chart constructed below represents an opinionated guide that highlights each of the 59 official national parks of the United States. It does not include other national lands, such as national monuments, national historical parks, national forests, national recreation areas, etc.

Below the chart are many lists of national park superlatives. These lists can help you find the best national parks based on the type of attractions and outdoor activities you'll find in the park.

In addition to the information we have presented below, we highly recommend that you purchase the absolute two best guidebooks on the market that cover the US national parks, which are: Your Guide to the National Parks & National Geographic Guide to National Parks of the United States.

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NATIONAL
PARK
STATES WOW!
FACTOR
CROWD
LEVELS
GATEWAY
TOWNS
THE NATIONAL PARK IS KNOWN FOR / FAMOUS FOR: THE MOST POPULAR ACTIVITIES
IN THE NATIONAL PARK:
GUIDE
BOOK
ACADIA Maine 9/10 Extremely High Bar Harbor (ME) ocean views, rugged coastlines, fjords, carriage roads, beaches, bald mountains scenic driving, day hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, sea-kayaking, horseback riding Book #1
Book #2
AMERICAN SAMOA territory of American Samoa 7/10 Low Pago Pago
(American Samoa)
rain forests, coral sand beaches, coastal scenery SCUBA diving, snorkeling, day hiking, beaches Book #1
Book #2
ARCHES Utah 10/10
Extremely High Moab (UT) natural arches, balanced rocks, sandstone towers scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking (off-trail), 4WDing, rock climbing, stargazing, road biking, historical sites, canyoneering Book #1
Book #2
BADLANDS South Dakota 10/10
High Keystone (SD) & Rapid City (SD) & Wall (SD) mixed-grass prairies, fossil beds, wildlife viewing, colorful rock formations & badlands day hiking, backpacking (off-trail), scenic driving, wildlife-viewing, stargazing Book #1
Book #2
BIG BEND Texas 8/10
Moderate Terlingua (TX) & Alpine (TX) desert wilderness, limestone canyons scenic driving, 4WD-ing, day hiking, backpacking, backpacking (off-trail), float trips, road biking, mountain biking (on dirt roads) Book #1
Book #2
BISCAYNE Florida 8/10 Moderate Homestead (FL) & Miami (FL) mangrove forests, aquamarine waters, coral reefs, emerald islands, shipwrecks SCUBA diving, snorkeling, boat tours Book #1
Book #2
BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON Colorado 8/10
Low Montrose (CO) & Ouray (CO) deep & rugged canyon day hiking, rock climbing Book #1
Book #2
BRYCE CANYON Utah 10/10
Very High Panguitch (UT) & Escalante (UT) hoodoos / spires, colorful rock formations day hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, stargazing Book #1
Book #2
CANYONLANDS Utah 10/10
Moderate Moab (UT) buttes, mesas, desert scenery, backcountry roads, pictographs, petroglyphs, canyons, spires, colorful rock formations, natural arches scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, 4WD-ing, mountain biking, historical sites, whitewater rafting, canyoneering Book #1
Book #2
CAPITOL REEF Utah 9/10
Moderate Torrey (UT) canyons, buttes, domes, sandstone rock formations, historic orchards scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, 4WD-ing, rock climbing, mountain biking, historical sites, canyoneering Book #1
Book #2
CARLSBAD CAVERNS New Mexico 10/10 Moderate Carlsbad (NM) caves, bat-viewing cave tours, day hiking, wildlife viewing Book #1
Book #2
CHANNEL ISLANDS California 9/10 Moderate Ventura (CA) rocky coastlines, sea caves, volcanic islands sea-kayaking, day hiking, backpacking, backpacking (off-trail), boat tours, SCUBA diving, boat tours Book #1
Book #2
CONGAREE South Carolina 7/10 Low Columbia (SC) floodplains, old growth forest canoeing/kayaking, day hiking, bird-watching Book #1
Book #2
CRATER LAKE Oregon 10/10
High Medford (OR) &  Ashland (OR) & Klamath Falls (OR) alpine lake, caldera scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, road biking, boat tours Book #1
Book #2
CUYAHOGA VALLEY Ohio 8/10 Very High Cleveland (OH) & Akron (OH) waterfalls, rail trails, a scenic railroad scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, road biking, horseback riding Book #1
Book #2
DEATH VALLEY California & Nevada 9/10
Moderate Pahrump (NV) & Ridgecrest (CA) & Lone Pine (CA) extreme heat, lowest point in North America, desert scenery, colorful rock formations, sand dunes scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, 4WD-ing, road biking, mountain biking, horseback riding, historical sites Book #1
Book #2
DENALI Alaska 10/10
High Talkeetna (AK) glaciers, mountain scenery, wildlife viewing, tallest mountain in North America, alpine tundra scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking (off-trail), mountaineering, scenic flights, whitewater rafting, mtn biking (on roads, not trails), wildlife viewing Book #1
Book #2
DRY TORTUGAS Florida 8/10 Low Key West (FL) military fort, marine life, shipwrecks SCUBA diving, snorkeling, boat tours, sea-kayaking Book #1
Book #2
EVERGLADES Florida 9/10 High Homestead (FL) & Miami (FL) tropical wetlands, wildlife viewing, sawgrass marshes, cypress swamps, mangrove forests canoeing/kayaking, day hiking, bird-watching, fishing, boat tours Book #1
Book #2
GATES OF THE ARCTIC Alaska 10/10 Low Fairbanks (AK) wildlife viewing, mountain scenery, alpine tundra, roadless wilderness backpacking (off-trail), wildlife viewing, scenic flights, float trips Book #1
Book #2
GLACIER BAY Alaska 10/10 Moderate Gustavus (AK) glaciers, icebergs, mountain scenery boat tours, sea-kayaking, day hiking, backpacking (off-trail),whitewater rafting, fishing, mountaineering Book #1
Book #2
GLACIER Montana 10/10
Extremely High Whitefish (MT) & West Glacier (MT) glaciers, mountain scenery, wildlife viewing, alpine lakes, historic lodges scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, wildlife viewing, boat tours Book #1
Book #2
GRAND CANYON Arizona 10/10
Extremely High Flagstaff (AZ) & Williams (AZ) canyons, wildlife viewing, desert scenery, exposed rock layers, wildlife viewing scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, backpacking (off-trail), whitewater rafting, horseback riding, helicopter tours, wildlife viewing, 4WD-ing Book #1
Book #2
GRAND TETON Wyoming 10/10
Very High Jackson (WY) alpine scenery, meandering rivers, glacial lakes, historic ranches, cabins & homesteads, jagged peaks scenic driving, road biking, day hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, mountaineering, horseback riding, float trips, mountain biking, fishing, wildlife viewing Book #1
Book #2
GREAT BASIN Nevada 8/10 Low Ely (NV) caves, alpine lakes, bristlecone pine trees, desert scenery day hiking, backpacking, cave tours, stargazing, spelunking Book #1
Book #2
GREAT SAND DUNES Colorado 8/10 Moderate Alamosa (CO) sand dunes, mountain scenery day hiking, backpacking (off-trail), sandboarding, 4WD-ing, horseback riding Book #1
Book #2
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS Tennessee & North Carolina 8/10 Extremely High Gatlinburg (TN) & Pigeon Forge (TN) & Cherokee (NC) biodiversity, scenic views, smoky/hazy views, waterfalls, wildflowers, historic cabins, mills & homesteads scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, historical sites Book #1
Book #2
GUADALUPE MOUNTAINS Texas 7/10 Low Carlsbad (NM) desert wilderness, scenic views, fall foliage day hiking, backpacking, horseback riding Book #1
Book #2
HALEAKALA Hawaii
(Maui)
10/10 High Kula (HI) volcanic scenery / landscapes, sub-tropical rainforests, waterfalls, a dormant volcano scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, road biking, stargazing Book #1
Book #2
HAWAI'I VOLCANOES Hawaii
(Big Island)
10/10 Very High Hilo (HI) volcanic scenery, lava flow, earth's largest mountain scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, road biking Book #1
Book #2
HOT SPRINGS Arkansas 5/10 Very High Hot Springs (AR) historic bathhouses, natural hot springs hot springs baths, day hiking, historical sites Book #1
Book #2
ISLE ROYALE Michigan 7/10 Low Houghton (MI) remote island, unspoiled wilderness, rocky coastlines day hiking, backpacking, SCUBA diving, sea-kayaking, boat tours Book #1
Book #2
JOSHUA TREE California 8/10 High Palm Springs (CA) joshua trees, rock boulders, palm oasis, desert scenery, wildflowers scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, 4WD-ing, rock climbing, stargazing, horseback riding, mountain biking (on dirt roads, not trails) Book #1
Book #2
KATMAI Alaska 9/10 Low King Salmon (AK) wildlife viewing, volcanic landscapes wildlife viewing, canoeing/kayaking, day hiking, backpacking (off-trail) Book #1
Book #2
KENAI FJORDS Alaska 10/10 Moderate Seward (AK) glaciers, coastal scenery, mountain scenery, fjords boat tours, sea-kayaking, day hiking, backpacking (off-trail), scenic flights, fishing Book #1
Book #2
KINGS CANYON California 10/10 Moderate Three Rivers (CA) mountain scenery, alpine lakes scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, backpacking (off-trail), rock climbing Book #1
Book #2
KOBUK VALLEY Alaska 8/10 Low Fairbanks (AK) roadless wilderness, wildlife viewing, alpine tundra, sand dunes backpacking (off-trail), scenic flights, wildlife viewing Book #1
Book #2
LAKE CLARK Alaska 10/10 Low Port Alsworth (AK) volcanoes, arctic tundra, temperate rainforests, alpine lakes, mountain scenery backpacking (off-trail), float trips, whitewater rafting, scenic flights, fishing, boat tours, wildlife viewing, mountaineering Book #1
Book #2
LASSEN VOLCANIC California 8/10 Moderate Redding (CA) & Red Bluff (CA) volcanoes, lava tubes, alpine lakes, mudpots, hot springs, alpine meadows, mountain scenery day hiking, backpacking, horseback riding Book #1
Book #2
MAMMOTH CAVE Kentucky 10/10 High Bowling Green (KY) limestone caves cave tours, day hiking, backpacking, canoeing/kayaking, road biking, mountain biking, horseback riding Book #1
Book #2
MESA VERDE Colorado 10/10 High Durango (CO) ancestral Puebloan ruins, kivas, alcoves, cliff dwellings historical sites, day hiking Book #1
Book #2
MOUNT RAINIER Washington 10/10 Very High Ashford (WA) alpine lakes, alpine meadows, wildflowers, glaciers, waterfalls scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, mountaineering Book #1
Book #2
NORTH CASCADES Washington 9/10 Low Winthrop (WA) alpine lakes, mountain scenery, glaciers, waterfalls, jagged peaks scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, mountaineering Book #1
Book #2
OLYMPIC Washington 9/10 Very High Port Angeles (WA) glaciers, waterfalls, temperate rain forests, alpine scenery, hot springs, beaches, coastal scenery scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, hot springs Book #1
Book #2
PETRIFIED FOREST Arizona 7/10 Moderate Holbrook (AZ) & Winslow (AZ) petrified wood, desert wilderness, petroglyphs scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking (off-trail), horseback riding, road biking Book #1
Book #2
PINNACLES California 8/10 Low Soledad (CA) oak woodlands, rock spires, talus caves day hiking, rock climbing Book #1
Book #2
REDWOOD California 9/10 Moderate Trinidad (CA) coastal redwood trees, old-growth forest, coastal scenery, oak woodlands day hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, sea-kayaking Book #1
Book #2
ROCKY MOUNTAIN Colorado 9/10 Extremely High Estes Park (CO) & Grand Lake (CO) alpine mountains, wildlife viewing, alpine lakes, wildflowers scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, rock climbing, fishing, wildlife viewing Book #1
Book #2
SAGUARO Arizona 8/10 Moderate Tucson (AZ) saguaro cactus / saguaro forests, desert scenery scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, horseback riding Book #1
Book #2
SEQUOIA California 10/10 High Three Rivers (CA) giant sequoia trees, alpine lakes, mountain scenery, caves day hiking, backpacking, backpacking (off-trail), rock climbing, cave tours, horseback riding Book #1
Book #2
SHENANDOAH Virginia 7/10 High Front Royal (VA) & Waynesboro (VA) scenic views, wildlife viewing, waterfalls, wildflowers scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, road biking, horseback riding, rock climbing Book #1
Book #2
THEODORE ROOSEVELT North Dakota 8/10 Moderate Medora (ND) badlands, historic cabins, wildlife viewing, colorful rock formations scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, canoeing/kayaking Book #1
Book #2
VIRGIN ISLANDS Virgin Islands 10/10 Moderate Cruz Bay (St. John Island) white-sand beaches, turquoise water, historic ruins SCUBA diving, snorkeling, day hiking, sea-kayaking, fishing Book #1
Book #2
VOYAGEURS Minnesota 7/10 Moderate International Falls (MN) remote islands & lakes canoeing/kayaking, sea-kayaking, day hiking, fishing, boat tours, boat-accessible camping Book #1
Book #2
WIND CAVE South Dakota 8/10 Moderate Hill City (SD) & Hot Springs (SD) & Keystone (SD) caves, badlands, wildlife viewing, ponderosa pine forests, mixed-grass prairies cave tours, day hiking, wildlife viewing Book #1
Book #2
WRANGELL-ST. ELIAS Alaska 10/10 Low McCarthy (AK) mountain scenery, glaciers scenic driving, 4WD-ing, day hiking, backpacking (off-trail), mountaineering, scenic flights, whitewater rafting, fishing Book #1
Book #2
YELLOWSTONE Wyoming 10/10 Extremely High West Yellowstone (MT) & Cody (WY) & Gardiner (MT) & Red Lodge (MT) & Cooke City (MT) geysers, hot springs, thermal activity, wildlife viewing, boiling mud, waterfalls, canyons, historic lodges scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, fishing, wildlife viewing, canoeing/kayaking, road biking, mountain biking (on roads, not trails), hot springs Book #1
Book #2
YOSEMITE California 10/10 Extremely High El Portal (CA) & Mariposa (CA) Lee Vining (CA) granite peaks, waterfalls, historic lodges, alpine lakes, alpine meadows, giant sequoia trees, high camps scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, horseback riding, float trips Book #1
Book #2
ZION Utah 10/10 Extremely High Springdale (UT) & Kanab (UT) slot canyons, colorful rock formations, sandstone cliffs, desert scenery scenic driving, day hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, horseback riding, road biking, canyoneering Book #1
Book #2


National Parks Map

TIPS FOR VISITING THE NATIONAL PARKS OF THE UNITED STATES



(1) OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF THE PARK SERVICE - The official website of the National Park service is www.nps.gov. It’s a great site for basic national park trip planning. Try to spend some time on this website, preferably accomplishing the following tasks: (a) obtain a general understanding of the purpose of park, and what it is protecting and showcasing; (b) Learn the places to go, the things to see, and the activities to partake in; (c) download and study park & trail maps (although take note that many national parks do not have detailed trail maps online)(d) understand the lodging and campgrounds available within the physical boundaries of the parks; (e) review lists/tables of the popular walks & hikes within the parks; (f) understand any permit requirements, such as those for camping, hiking or climbing; (g) acquaint yourself with the food/restaurants that are offered within the park itself; (h) read the ‘park alerts in effect' bulletin in order to better prepare yourself for hazards and to avoid being disappointed upon arrival upon finding that something you intended to see or do is closed.

(2) START HIKING EARLY - Visit the major attractions and/or start hiking the trails within national park early in the AM before the swarms of crowds hit.

(3) CATCH SUNRISES & SUNSETS - Don’t miss catching some amazing sunrises and sunsets. Ask a national park ranger for tips on where the best places to go for sunrises and sunsets are (they will almost always share some great suggestions with you). Arrive 30-45 minutes before sunset and/or 30-45 minutes before sunrise.

(4) FIND THE NATIONAL PARKS ON FACEBOOK - Join the Facebook® pages pages of some (or all) of the national parks that you hope to visit. They are fantastic for obtaining ideas on what to do and see while in the parks.

(5) GET INTO THE PARKS EARLY - The vehicle lines to enter national parks can get very long in the middle of the day, especially during peak seasons. Try to get into each national park by 8:00am or 9:00am (or even earlier on weekends).

(6) LIMITED PARKING - Parking spaces are often limited for some of the best and most popular attractions and trailheads. You’ll want to arrive early or you could risk driving around in circles trying to snag a coveted parking space as someone else is leaving.

(7) WEATHER CONDITIONS - Know the normal temperature ranges and weather conditions of the month you be visiting each national park. This will give you a general idea of what to expect and what to wear for clothing (but realize that conditions can be dramatically different, so always check the weather within 24 hours of entering a national park).

(8) PHOTOGRAPH GALLERY - Visit the personal website of photographer QT Luong. A few years ago, he took a road trip that visited all national parks in existence at that point in time. His online photographic collection of the parks from this trip is astonishing: www.terragalleria.com/parks/

(9) VISITOR CENTERS - Just about every single national park has one or more Visitor Centers that can answer nearly any question you could possibly derive. There are very few questions that rangers and support staff haven’t heard at least a hundred times before.

(10) NATIONAL PARKS PASS - Get the federal Annual Parks Pass every year to save money and also encourage you to visit more federal parks and lands. The cost of the pass is currently $80, and it covers all national parks and most other federal lands (such as national monuments, national forests, national historic sites, etc.). It is good for a full 12-months from the date of purchase (in other words, the pass is not calendar-year based). You can often purchase this parks pass at the entrance gate and/or Visitor Centers of the national parks (or you can purchase them online ahead of time if you are willing to pay a small online processing fee).

(11) DO YOUR RESEARCH - Research the best hikes & attractions of the national park ahead of time. Don’t just show up to a national park and try to figure out a plan. I find that the best resources are often published guidebooks (and not websites)

(12) PET POLICIES - Only a select few national parks allow pets/dogs. As a whole, pets are not really welcomed visitors to the national parks (for various reasons). Almost all national park hiking trails are closed to pets, although most national parks will let you walk them around parking lots.

(13) ROAD CONDITIONS - Inquire at the visitor center about current dirt road/4WD conditions. Tell the Visitor Center staff your type of vehicle and ask if they think you’ll be OK based upon your itinerary. Also ask if flat fires are a common problem on the roads you intend to drive (I learned this the hard way in Big Bend National Park). Many of the most scenic sections and corners of national parks are found along or at the end of dirt/4WD roads; these dirt roads vary widely in terms of current conditions.

(14) BUY SOME MAPS - Buy the excellent and waterproof National Geographic folding maps for the major national parks that you will be visiting. Make sure that you purchase the latest editions since they receive (somewhat) frequent updates. I like to also supplement these maps with trail maps from hiking guidebooks.

(15) SHUTTLE BUS SYSTEMS - Some national parks have free shuttle bus systems, and they usually function incredibly well. These shuttle bus systems will stop at major attractions and trailheads. Give them a try, especially the ones in Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim) and Zion National Park. One day, I hope that more parks add shuttle bus systems where it makes sense (Arches would be a great place for them).

(16) AVOID WEEKENDS - Avoid national parks on weekends whenever possible, especially the more famous parks (commonly referred to as the “super-parks”) like Yosemite, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, Glacier, Arches, and the Grand Canyon.

(17) NATIONAL PARK FOOD - Unfortunately, many visitors often find national park food offerings to be less than desirable and chronically overpriced (some would even go so far to say that national park food in general is a bit of an embarrassment to the United States). You may want to consider bringing your own food when you enter national parks. If you do plan on visiting restaurants, be aware that they can be extremely crowded, especially during normal lunch and dinner hours. If you will be doing any formal dining (i.e. El Tovar at the Grand Canyon), make sure to make reservations a few weeks in advance.

(18) PERMIT SYSTEMS - Be aware that more and more national parks are adopting permit systems to help preserve certain park features, especially those that are particularly fragile in nature or those with a high degree of danger. Some examples include: (a) hiking Half Dome in Yosemite, (b) canyoneering The Subway in Zion; and (c) rafting the Grand Canyon.

(19) BEST TIME OF THE DAY TO PHOTOGRAPH - You can often find information online about the best time of the day to photograph the major features and attractions of each national park. Many excellent "How To Photograph _____ National Park” guidebooks that have been published. These guidebooks are often essential in helping you find great locations and more, importantly, the best time to visit them. You should be able to find new & used copies for sale on Amazon.com and/or Half.com.

(20) VISIT THE PARKS IN WINTER - Consider visiting a national park in winter for some drop-dead gorgeous scenery (and little or no crowds). Many national parks encourage snowshoeing & cross-country skiing in winter. Some even allow snowmobiling on park roads that are closed to normal vehicles in winter.

NATIONAL PARK RESERVATION RECOMMENDATIONS



National parks are extremely popular. So popular, in fact, that you'll want to get a head start on planning if you want any hope of staying in or near the parks. You'll also want to make reservations for certain activities as well. Here are my reservation recommendations based upon my own experiences:

(1) reserve national park car campsites at least 3-6 months in advance;
(2) reserve national park backcountry/backpacking campsites permits at least 6-9 months in advance;
(3) reserve national park lodges, cabins, cottages, huts & hotels at least 9-12+ months in advance;
(4) reserve national park horseback/mule rides at least 6-9 months in advance;
(5) reserve national park dining reservations at least 3-4 weeks in advance;
(6) reserve national park activity & hiking permits at least 6-9 months in advance;
(7) If you are trying to obtain an available first-come, first-served campsite at an official national park campground, aim to arrive between 9:00am-1:00pm. You may or may not score an available campsite since they are incredibly popular within national parks and many others may be competing for the same spots. If you can’t find a campsite within a national park, there are often national forest campgrounds, KOA campgrounds or other private campgrounds a few miles outside the boundaries of the national park. Some national parks also allow you to park and enjoy at-large camping, where you hike off-trail a certain distance and set up camp (inquire about these options at park Visitor Centers).

TOP 15 NATIONAL PARKS


(although these are my personal favorites, keep in mind that all 59 national parks are incredible & worth visiting)


Arches
Badlands
Bryce Canyon
Canyonlands
Crater Lake
Denali
Glacier
Grand Canyon
Grand Teton
Mammoth Cave
Mount Rainier
Wrangell-St. Elias
Yellowstone
Yosemite
Zion

TOP 10 NATIONAL PARK GATEWAY TOWNS


(if you can't stay within the actual park, consider staying in one of these great national park gateway towns)

Bar Harbor (ME) - Acadia National Park
Durango (CO) - Mesa Verde National Park
Estes Park (CO) - Rocky Mountain National Park
Jackson (WY) - Grand Teton National Park
Moab (UT) - Arches National Park & Canyonlands National Park
Pigeon Forge (TN) - Great Smoky Mountains National Park (warning! - insanely touristy)
Port Angeles (WA) - Olympic National Park
Springdale (UT) - Zion National Park
West Yellowstone (MT) - Yellowstone National Park
Whitefish (MT) - Glacier National Park

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR BACKPACKING


(Over half of the national parks offer maintained trails with backpacking opportunities)

Big Bend
Bryce Canyon
Canyonlands
Capitol Reef
Channel Islands
Crater Lake
Cuyahoga Valley
Death Valley
Glacier
Great Basin
Grand Canyon
Grand Teton
Great Smoky Mountains
Guadalupe Mountains
Haleakala
Hawai'i Volcanoes
Isle Royale
Joshua Tree
Kings Canyon
Lassen Volcanic
Mammoth Cave
Mount Rainier
North Cascades
Olympic
Redwood
Rocky Mountain
Saguaro
Sequoia
Shenandoah
Theodore Roosevelt
Yellowstone
Yosemite
Zion

TOP 10 NATIONAL PARKS FOR BACKPACKING


(Here are the best national parks offering maintained trails for backpacking)

Canyonlands
Grand Teton
Isle Royale
Kings Canyon
Mount Rainier
Rocky Mountain
Sequoia
Yellowstone
Yosemite
Zion

TOP 10 NATIONAL PARK BACKPACKING TRAILS


(Here are the very best backpacking trails in the National Park system)

almost anything in Glacier
almost anything in Grand Canyon
almost anything in Yosemite, Kings Canyon or Sequoia
Greenstone Ridge Trail (Isle Royale)
Needles District (Canyonlands)
Outer Mountain Loop (Big Bend)
Teton Crest Trail (Grand Teton)
Under-The-Rim Trail (Bryce Canyon)
West Rim Trail (Zion)
Wonderland Trail (Mount Rainier)

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR BACKPACKING (OFF-TRAIL)


(Some of the national parks allow you to go on off-trail backpacking adventures)

Arches
Badlands
Channel Islands
Denali
Gates of the Arctic
Glacier Bay
Grand Canyon
Great Sand Dunes
Kenai Fjords
Kings Canyon
Kobuk Valley
Lake Clark
Petrified Forest
Sequoia
Wrangell-St. Elias

TOP 25 NATIONAL PARKS FOR DAY HIKES / DAY HIKING


(nearly all national parks have trails for day hikes - these are the best)

Acadia
Arches
Badlands
Big Bend
Bryce Canyon
Canyonlands
Capitol Reef
Death Valley
Glacier
Grand Canyon
Grand Teton
Great Smoky Mountains
Haleakala
Hawai'i Volcanoes
Joshua Tree
Mount Rainier
Olympic
Pinnacles
Rocky Mountain
Sequoia
Shenandoah
Virgin Islands
Yellowstone
Yosemite
Zion

TOP 10 NATIONAL PARK DAY HIKES


(Here are my choices for the best day hikes in the National Park system)

Angel's Landing (Zion)
Devil's Garden Loop (Arches)
Half Dome / Vernal Fall / Nevada Fall loop (Yosemite)
Harding Icefield Trail (Kenai Fjords)
Highline Trail / Grinnell Glacier Overlook (Glacier)
Old Faithful / Upper Geyser Basin loop (Yellowstone)
Precipice Trail (Acadia)
Queens Garden/Navajo Loop (Bryce Canyon)
South Kaibab Trail (Grand Canyon)
Zion Narrows / Virgin River Narrows (Zion)

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR HISTORICAL SITES


(Explore some of America's finest historical sites in these national parks)

Canyonlands (petroglyphs)
Capitol Reef (historic homesteads)
Death Valley (charcoal kilns, historic castle, historic ranch, ghost towns, borax works)
Dry Tortugas (historic fort)
Grand Teton (historic cabins/homesteads, especially Mormow Row)
Great Smoky Mountains (historic cabins/homesteads)
Hot Springs (historic bathhouses)
Mesa Verde (ancient ruins)
Theodore Roosevelt (historic cabins)
Yellowstone (historic lodges)
Yosemite (historic lodges)

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR WATERFALLS


(See some of the best waterfalls in America within these national parks)

Cuyahoga Valley (especially Brandywine Falls, Blue Hen Falls & Buttermilk Falls)
Glacier
Grand Teton
Great Smoky Mountains
Haleakala (only two waterfalls are found here: Waimoku Falls & Falls At Makahiku)
Mount Rainier
North Cascades
Olympic
Rocky Mountain
Shenandoah
Yellowstone (especially Lower Falls, Upper Falls, Union Falls, Tower Falls, Morning Falls & Fairy Falls)
Yosemite (especially Yosemite Falls, Nevada Fall, Vernal Fall, Bridalveil Falls, Ribbon Falls, Illilouette Falls, Horsetail Falls)

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR SCENIC DRIVES


(These national parks have extremely scenic roads, but keep in mind some roads are closed in the winter)

Acadia
Arches
Badlands
Big Bend
Canyonlands
Capitol Reef
Crater Lake
Cuyahoga Valley
Death Valley
Denali
Glacier
Grand Canyon
Grand Teton
Great Smoky Mountains
Haleakala
Joshua Tree
Kings Canyon
Mount Rainier
North Cascades
Olympic
Petrified Forest
Rocky Mountain
Saguaro
Shenandoah
Theodore Roosevelt
Yellowstone
Yosemite
Zion

TOP 10 NATIONAL PARK SCENIC DRIVES


(Here are the best (paved) scenic drives in the National Park system)

Badlands Loop Road (Badlands) - may be closed in winter if road conditions are deemed unsafe
Going-To-The-Sun Road (Glacier) - most of this road is completely closed in winter
Hurricane Ridge Road (Olympic) - may be closed in winter if road conditions are deemed unsafe
Kolob Terrace Road (Zion) - may be closed in winter if road conditions are deemed unsafe
Park Loop Road (Acadia) - a big portion of this road is completely closed in winter
Skyline Drive (Shenandoah) - may be closed in winter if road conditions are deemed unsafe
Teton Park Road and/or US 26/89/191 (Grand Teton) - most of Teton Park Road is completely closed in winter
Tioga Road (Yosemite) - this road is completely closed in winter
Trail Ridge Road (Rocky Mountain) - most of this road is completely closed in winter
Yellowstone National Park Loop-park roads (Yellowstone) - most roads in the park are completely closed in winter

BEST NATIONAL PARK FOR WITNESSING GLACIERS


(These national parks still have some glaciers...but perhaps not for too much longer)

Denali
Glacier
Glacier Bay
Kenai Fjords
Mount Rainier
North Cascades
Olympic
Wrangell-St. Elias

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR AMAZING TREES


(See some of the biggest and most impressive trees (and plants) in the world at these national parks)

Great Basin (bristlecone pine)
Joshua Tree (joshua trees)
Olympic (douglas-fir & western red-cedar)
Redwood (redwood trees)
Saguaro (saguaro cactus, although they aren't technically 'trees')
Sequoia (sequoia trees)
Yosemite (sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove)

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR CAVES / LAVA TUBES / SEA CAVES:


(Go underground at these national parks)

Sequoia (Crystal Cave is the only cave that is commercialized and open to the public)
Wind Cave (several different cave tours are offered)
Mammoth Cave (several different cave tours are offered)
Carlsbad Caverns (several different cave tours are offered)
Great Basin (Lehman Cave)
Hawai'i Volcanoes (lava tubes)
Channel Islands (sea caves)

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR WILDLIFE VIEWING


(You are almost guaranteed to see some wildlife at these national parks)

Badlands (Bison, Prairie Dog, Bighorn Sheep, Pronghorn)
Carlsbad Caverns (Bats)
Denali (Grizzly Bear, Moose, Dall Sheep, Wolves)
Everglades (Alligator, plus rare sightings of Crocodile, Manatee, Florida Panther)
Glacier (Grizzly Bear, Mountain Goat, Moose)
Glacier Bay (Whales)
Grand Canyon (Elk, Mule Deer)
Great Smoky Mountains (Black Bear, Elk, White-tailed Deer)
Isle Royale (Moose, plus a few surviving Wolves)
Katmai (Grizzly Bear)
Kobuk Valley (Grizzly Bear, Wolves, Moose, Caribou)
Olympic (Elk)
Lake Clark (Grizzly Bear, Wolves, Moose, Dalls Sheep, Caribou)
Redwood (Elk)
Rocky Mountain (Elk, Moose, Bighorn Sheep, Yellow-Bellied Marmot)
Shenandoah (White-tailed Deer)
Theodore Roosevelt (Bison, Prairie Dog, Wild Horses)
Wind Cave (Bison, Prairie Dog, Pronghorn)
Yellowstone (Bison, Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Elk, Mule Deer, Wolves, Bighorn Sheep)

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR ROCK CLIMBING


(These are the best national parks for rock climbing in the US)

Acadia
Arches
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Canyonlands
Capitol Reef
Grand Teton
Joshua Tree
Kings Canyon
Pinnacles
Rocky Mountain
Sequoia
Shenandoah
Yosemite
Zion

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR PICTOGRAPHS & PETROGLYPHS


(These are the best national parks for pictographs & petroglyphs in the US)

Arches
Canyonlands
Capitol Reef
Hawaii Volcanoes
Mesa Verde
Petrified Forest
Saguaro
Virgin Islands

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR MOUNTAINEERING


(Climb some of North America's most challenging mountains)

Denali
Glacier
Glacier Bay
Grand Teton
Kenai Fjords
Lake Clark
Mount Rainier
North Cascades
Olympic
Wrangell-St. Elias

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR MOUNTAIN BIKING


(Only a few national parks offer outstanding mountain biking)

Acadia (on 45+ miles of interconnected (unpaved but perfectly graded) carriage roads)
Big Bend (on park roads; not allowed on park trails)
Canyonlands (on park roads; not allowed on park trails)
Capitol Reef (on park roads; not allowed on park trails)
Cuyahoga Valley (on park roads & rail trails; not allowed on park trails)
Death Valley (on park roads; not allowed on park trails)
Grand Teton (on park roads & rail trails; not allowed on park trails)
Joshua Tree (on park roads; not allowed on park trails)
Mammoth Cave
Yellowstone (on park roads; not allowed on park trails)

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR STARGAZING / NIGHT SKIES


(These parks have skies that are nearly light-pollution free)

Acadia
Arches
Badlands
Big Bend
Bryce Canyon
Canyonlands
Capitol Reef
Death Valley
Denali
Great Basin
Haleakala
Hawaii Volcanoes
Joshua Tree

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR 4WD-ING


(Go on a 4WD-ing adventure in these national parks)

Arches
Big Bend
Canyonlands
Capitol Reef
Death Valley
Grand Canyon
Great Basin
Great Sand Dunes
Joshua Tree
Wrangell-St. Elias

LIST OF ALL NATIONAL PARK LODGING (IN-PARK)


(Stay within national park boundaries at these lodges, cabins, hotels, ranches and cottages)

Badlands (Cedar Pass Lodge)
Big Bend (Chisos Mountain Lodge)
Bryce (Bryce Canyon Lodge)
Crater Lake (Cabins at Mazama Village)
Cuyahoga Valley (Inn at Brandywine Falls, The)
Cuyahoga Valley (Silver Fern Bed and Breakfast)
Cuyahoga Valley (Stanford House)
Death Valley (Furnace Creek Resort)
Death Valley (Panamint Springs Resort)
Death Valley (Ranch at Furnace Creek, The)
Death Valley (Stovepipe Wells Village)
Glacier (Apgar Village Lodge & Cabins)
Glacier (Glacier Park Lodge)
Glacier (Granite Park Chalet) - requires hiking
Glacier (Lake McDonald Lodge)
Glacier (Many Glacier Hotel)
Glacier (Motel Lake McDonald)
Glacier (Rising Sun Motor Inn & Cabins)
Glacier (Sperry Chalet) - requires hiking
Glacier (Swiftcurrent Motor Inn & Cabins)
Glacier Bay (Glacier Bay Lodge)
Grand Canyon (Phantom Ranch) - requires hiking
Grand Canyon-North Rim (Grand Canyon Lodge)
Grand Canyon-South Rim (Bright Angel Lodge)
Grand Canyon-South Rim (El Tovar Hotel)
Grand Canyon-South Rim (Kachina Lodge)
Grand Canyon-South Rim (Maswik Lodge)
Grand Canyon-South Rim (Thunderbird Lodge)
Grand Canyon-South Rim (Yavapai Lodge)
Grand Teton (Colter Bay Village)
Grand Teton (Jackson Lake Lodge)
Grand Teton (Jenny Lake Lodge)
Grand Teton (Signal Mountain Lodge)
Grand Teton (Spur Ranch Log Cabins)
Grand Teton (Triangle X Guest Ranch)
Great Smoky Mountains (LeConte Lodge) - requires hiking
Haleakala (Wilderness Cabins) - requires hiking
Hawai'i Volcanoes (Volcano House)
Isle Royale (Rock Harbor Lodge)
Kenai Fjords (Wilderness Cabins) - requires boat or plane
Kings Canyon (Cedar Grove Lodge)
Kings Canyon (John Muir Lodge)
Lassen Volcanic (Drakesbad Guest Ranch)
Mammoth Cave (Mammoth Cave Hotel)
Mesa Verde (Far View Lodge)
Mount Rainier (National Park Inn)
Mount Rainier (Paradise Inn)
North Cascades (Ross Lake Resort)
Olympic (Kalaloch Lodge)
Olympic (Lake Crescent Lodge)
Olympic (Lake Quinault Lodge)
Olympic (Log Cabin Resort)
Olympic (Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort)
Oregon (Crater Lake Lodge)
Sequoia (Bearpaw High Sierra Camp)
Sequoia (Grant Grove Cabins)
Sequoia (Wuksachi Lodge)
Shenandoah (Big Meadows Lodge)
Shenandoah (Lewis Mountain Cabins)
Shenandoah (Skyland Resort)
Virgin Islands (Cinnamon Bay Campground Cottages)
Voyageurs (Kettle Falls Hotel & Resort)
Wrangell-St. Elias (Kennicott Glacier Lodge)
Wrangell-St. Elias (McCarthy Lodge, The)
Yellowstone (Canyon Lodge & Cabins)
Yellowstone (Grant Village)
Yellowstone (Lake Lodge Cabins)
Yellowstone (Lake Yellowstone Hotel & Cabins)
Yellowstone (Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel & Cabins)
Yellowstone (Old Faithful Inn)
Yellowstone (Old Faithful Lodge Cabins)
Yellowstone (Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins)
Yellowstone (Roosevelt Lodge Cabins)
Yosemite (Ahwahnee, The)
Yosemite (Curry Village Cabins)
Yosemite (High Sierra Camps) - requires hiking
Yosemite (Housekeeping Camp)
Yosemite (Tuolumne Meadows Lodge)
Yosemite (Wawona Hotel)
Yosemite (White Wolf Lodge)
Yosemite (Yosemite Lodge)
Zion (Zion Lodge)

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR PADDLING (KAYAKING / SEA-KAYAKING / CANOEING):


(Explore the waters along the coasts, lakes & rivers of these national parks)

Acadia (sea-kayaking)
Channel Islands (sea-kayaking)
Canyonlands (canoeing or kayaking along the Green River)
Congaree (canoeing or kayaking)
Dry Tortugas (sea-kayaking)
Everglades (canoeing or kayaking)
Glacier Bay (sea-kayaking)
Isle Royale (sea-kayaking)
Katmai (canoeing or kayaking)
Kenai Fjords (sea-kayaking)
Mammoth Cave (canoeing or kayaking)
Theodore Roosevelt (canoeing or kayaking)
Virgin Islands (sea-kayaking)
Voyageurs (sea-kayaking, canoeing or kayaking)
Yellowstone (canoeing or kayaking)

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR HORSEBACK RIDING / MULE TRIPS:


(Bring your own horse and/or join a guided horse or mule tour at these national parks)

Acadia
Bryce Canyon
Cuyahoga Valley
Death Valley
Glacier
Grand Canyon
Grand Teton
Great Sand Dunes
Great Smoky Mountains
Guadalupe Mountains
Haleakala
Joshua Tree
Lassen Volcanic
Mammoth Cave
Petrified Forest
Redwood
Rocky Mountain
Saguaro
Sequoia
Shenandoah
Theodore Roosevelt
Yellowstone
Yosemite
Zion

BEST NATIONAL PARKS FOR WHITEWATER RAFTING / FLOAT TRIPS:


(Float down some of the most scenic rivers in the US; some of these are just outside the park boundaries)

Big Bend (Rio Grande)
Canyonlands (Colorado River)
Denali (Nenana River, Talkeetna River, Sixmile Creek)
Gates of the Arctic (Alatna River, John River, Kobuk River, Noatak River, N. Fork Koyukuk River, Tinayguk River)
Glacier (Middle & North Forks of the Flathead River)
Glacier Bay (Alsek River, Tatshenshini River)
Grand Canyon (Colorado River)
Grand Teton (Snake River)
Lake Clark (Tlikakila River, Mulchatna River, Chilikadrotna River)
North Cascades (Skagit River)
Olympic (Elwha River, Hoh River & Sol Duc River)
Wrangell-St. Elias (Nizina River, Kennicott River, Chitina River, Copper River)
Sequoia (Kaweak River)
Yellowstone (Gallatin River, Yellowstone River, Madison River)
Yosemite (Merced River, Tuolumne River)

MOST UNDERRATED NATIONAL PARKS


(These national parks aren't appreciated nearly enough)

Big Bend
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Canyonlands
Capitol Reef
Lassen Volcanic
Kings Canyon
North Cascades

TOP ADVENTURES IN OUR NATIONAL PARKS:


(These amazing adventures can help define your life)

Ascend the Cables Route on Half Dome (Yosemite)
Backpack off-trail and/or take a float trip in one of Alaska's National Parks
Canoe or kayak the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway (Everglades)
Climb the Angel's Landing Trail (Zion)
Climb the Precipice Trail (Acadia)
Climb/mountaineer up the tallest peak in North America (Denali)
Do some off-trail backpacking and scrambling at the Grand Canyon (Grand Canyon)
Explore the Maze (Canyonlands)
Float down the Green River (Canyonlands)
Go canyoneering & rappelling through "The Subway" (Zion)
Go spelunking on the Wild Cave Tour (Mammoth Cave)
Go bouldering one one of hundreds of available routes (Joshua Tree)
Hike/scramble up "class III" Longs Peak (Rocky Mountain)
Hire a guide (RMI perhaps?) and mountaineer your way up Mt. Rainier (Mount Rainier)
Kayak among glaciers and icebergs (Glacier Bay)
Mountain bike or 4WD the 100-mile White Rim Trail (Canyonlands)
Navigate your own way out of the Fiery Furnace (Arches)
Raft the entire Colorado River (Grand Canyon)
Rock climb the Grand Teton with a hired guide (Grand Teton)
Scramble your way down into Black Canyon (Black Canyon of the Gunnison)
Take the rugged Spider Cave Tour (Carlsbad Caverns)

PLACES WORTHY OF BECOMING A NATIONAL PARK


(if they actually wanted to become one)

Adirondack Park (New York)
Alpine Wilderness (Washington)
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (California)
Bandelier National Monument (New Mexico)
Baxter State Park (Maine)
Big Sur Coast (California)
Buckskin Gulch (Arizona & Utah)
Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)
Cedar Breaks National Monument (Utah)
Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)
Chugach State Park (Alaska)
Craters of the Moon National Monument (Idaho)
Custer State Park (South Dakota)
Devil's Postpile National Monument (California)
Devil's Tower National Monument (Wyoming)
Dinosaur National Monument (Colorado & Utah)
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Arizona & Utah)
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Utah)
Jewel Cave National Monument (South Dakota)
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument (Oregon)
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (Florida)
Luray Caverns (Virginia)
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (Arizona & Utah)
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (Washington)
Na Pali Coast (Hawaii)
Pisgah National Forest (North Carolina)
Red River Gorge Scenic Area (Kentucky)
San Juan National Forest (Colorado)
Sawtooth National Recreation Area (Idaho)
Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)
Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada)
Vermillion Cliffs National Monument (Arizona & Utah)
White Mountain National Forest (New Hampshire & Maine)
White Sands National Monument (New Mexico)
Wind River Range (Wyoming)


Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California
Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, California

Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah
near the top of Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah

Sand Dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado
Sand Dunes, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Precipice Trail, Acadia National Park, Maine
Precipice Trail, Acadia National Park, Maine

Emory Peak, Big Bend National Park, Texas
Emory Peak, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Congress Trail, Sequoia National Park, California
Congress Trail, Sequoia National Park, California

Druid Arch, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Druid Arch, Needles District, Canyonlands National Park, Utah


ESSENTIAL NATIONAL PARK WEBSITES/LINKS



National Park Foundation = link
Pets in the National Parks = link
National Parks on Wikipedia = link
Your Guide to the National Parks = link
National Park Photography Project = link
Official Website of the National Park Service = link
National Park Trails by Americansouthwest.net = link




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