The United States, being one of the biggest countries in the world, is also one of the most naturally diverse.
Perhaps the greatest attribute and the biggest accomplishment of the U.S. is its incredible natural beauty and its amazing success in protecting so much of it. The United States has 59 federally protected National Parks, the largest, Alaska’s Wrangell–St. Elias stretching over 32,000 sq. km., larger than some states.
All of them are absolutely incredible, but these ten are the most visited, the most beloved, and the most appreciated.
1. Great Smoky Mountains
This park, located in Tennessee and North Carolina, has also been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its breathtaking beauty. With over 100 miles of hiking trails, including a section of the famous Appalachian trail, the park draws about 310 million visitors every year, making it more than 6 times more popular than the second most popular park, which is…
2. Grand Canyon
This Arizona canyon, one of the largest on earth, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the nation’s earliest national parks. World-famous for its awe-inspiring beauty and incredible trekking and rafting opportunities, the canyon is 277 miles long, at times a mile deep, and up to 18 miles wide. This wonder of the world attracts 5.5 million visitors every year.
3. Rocky Mountain
Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is a vast, high-altitude reserve that features ecosystems ranging from wetlands and pine forests to montane areas and alpine tundra. It also contains over 150 lakes and 450 miles of streams, a visitor centre designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and is bisected by the continental divide. It is undeniably one of the best places in Colorado to go backpacking or hiking. Beloved for its panoramic vistas, the park draws millions of visitors, hikers, and nature enthusiasts every year.
Famous for its stunning granite cliffs, most notably the towering face of El Capitan, this park in central California is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the leading reasons that national parks were first developed in the United States. Originally protected by Abraham Lincoln and later lobbied for my naturalist John Muir, the area was designated as one of the first national parks by President Roosevelt after a 3-day Yosemite camping trip with Muir.
Most famous for the incredible and powerful Old Faithful geyser, Yellowstone National Park was the very first National Park in the United States and arguably the first in the world. The huge reserve covers 2.2 million acres mostly in Wyoming, but also spreading into Idaho and Montana. In addition to its geothermal wonders, the park features beautiful mountains, forests, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife including bears, moose, and wolves.
One of several spectacular state parks in Utah, Zion features incredible topography with deep canyons and towering rock formations. The park’s unique geography at the confluence of the Mojave Desert, the Great Basin, and the Colorado Plateau allows for incredible diversity of animals, plants, and terrain.
This park, located on a peninsula in Washington state, has four main regions: the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, temperate rainforest, and dry forests, and within these regions are incredible natural ecosystems from flourishing tidepools to wildflower meadows. Remote, quiet, and gorgeous, this pristine and untouched reserve has no roads crossing through it. The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
8. Grand Teton
The Grand Tetons are one of the most impressive ranges of the Rocky Mountains, and the park encompasses steep, craggy peaks, pristine and jewel-like lakes, granite pinnacles, otherworldly glaciers, and world-famous ski area Jackson Hole. This stunning natural wonderland is located only ten miles south of Yellowstone, creating one hell of a road-trip opportunity.
In the extreme northeast corner of the United States, Maine’s Acadia National Park is a island paradise, reserving the pristine Mount Desert Island and its smaller outliers off of the Atlantic Coast. Mountains, sea, and charming coastal villages create an enchanting landscape in this quiet corner of the world.
Snuggled against the Canadian border in north Montana, this vast and largely untouched park includes parts of two different ranges of the Rockies, countless lakes, and incredible diversity of flora and fauna. The park’s famous Going-To-the-Sun Road is considered to be one of the planet’s most beautiful drives.