5 Breathtaking US National Parks You Must Visit [Ultimate Guide]

best national parks in the united states

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For more than a century, the National Park Service has protected and managed millions of acres of natural areas in 63 national parks across the United States, stretching from the South Pacific to Hawaii and including many of the U.S. states. These areas offer breathtaking scenery, priceless biodiversity treasures and an escape from the relentless noise of civilization, attracting tens of millions of visitors each year.

We have chosen to present to you the most beautiful national parks in the United States. This ranking is completely subjective and is based on the opinion of visitors, but also on our personal preferences.

We had to make a choice! 

Most & Least Visited National Parks in the USA

National parks are scattered throughout the United States. It is therefore easy to imagine that some are easily accessible and therefore popular with the general public, while others are more difficult to access and therefore little visited, or reserved for a public of adventurers or hikers in search of adventure. To illustrate the significant disparity between parks, here is a list of the 10 most visited national parks in the United States, followed by a list of the 10 least visited national parks in the United States. Perspective.

Top 10 Most Visited US National Parks

  1. 🥇 Great Smoky Mountains National Park – 14,161,548 visitors
  2. 🥈 Zion National Park – 5,039,835 visitors
  3. 🥉 Yellowstone National Park – 4,860,242 visitors
  4. Grand Canyon National Park – 4,532,677 visitors
  5. Rocky Mountain National Park – 4,434,848 visitors
  6. Acadia National Park – 4,069,098 visitors
  7. Grand Teton National Park – 3,885,230 visitors
  8. Yosemite National Park – 3,287,595 visitors
  9. Indiana Dunes National Park – 3,177,210 visitors
  10. Glacier National Park – 3,081,656 visitors

Top 10 Least Visited US National Parks

  1. 🥇 Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve – 7,362 visitors
  2. 🥈 National Park of American Samoa – 8,495 visitors
  3. 🥉 Kobuk Valley National Park – 11,540 visitors
  4. North Cascades National Park – 17,855 visitors
  5. Lake Clark National Park & Preserve – 18,278 visitors
  6. Katmai National Park & Preserve – 24,764 visitors
  7. Isle Royale National Park – 25,844 visitors
  8. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve – 50,189 visitors
  9. Dry Tortugas National Park – 83,817 visitors
  10. Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve – 89,768 visitors

1. Yosemite National Park

Location : California

Numbers of visitors : 3.9 million in 2021

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK MAP

 Screenshot from ©OpenStreetMap Contributors - Open Database License - (CC BY-SA)

Yosemite National Park, one of the oldest national parks in the United States, is an immense natural area of nearly 1200 square miles and offers a diversity of environments and landscapes to its visitors: waterfalls, thousand-year-old sequoia forests, breathtaking rock formations.

Despite its imposing size, most of the tourist activity is restricted to a small part of the park: Yosemite Valley, which gathers in a small area of 8 square miles, the unavoidable granite formations of the park: "Half Dome" and "El Capitan", as well as many hiking trails: this park should be a must have on your list. If you don't feel like a hiker, you can drive to some of the great sites like Glacier Point and Tunnel View.

View towards Half Dome; El Capitan visible on the left; Yosemite National Park, California

View towards Half Dome; El Capitan visible on the left; Yosemite National Park, California - Envato Image

This park is for everyone, with every visitor able to find a hike, a trail or an activity suited to their level. However, its attractiveness makes it an extremely visited park and therefore not conducive to solitude. It is estimated that about 4 million people visit it each year. Its attractiveness only increases, the park gaining 6 places to become the 8th most visited national park in 2021 (gaining 1.6 million visitors over a year). So it's hard to feel immersed in nature, unless you plan your trip well, visiting the park during the slow months/hours.

The park is especially victim of Instagram and selfie hunters who literally rush to the most attractive areas of the park to take pictures of themselves and publish their trophy on the networks. If you're into photography, there's no shortage of scenes to capture.

Yosemite Valley Morning View in the USA

Yosemite Valley Morning View in the USA - Envato Image

What to do in Yosemite National Park?

Yosemite Valley

This is an essential part of your visit to the heart of the park. Yosemite Valley is the heart of many of the activities offered by the park, such as Tunnel View or the magnificent waterfalls like Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall or Yosemite Falls. If you want to contemplate the power of Mother Nature, you can admire the granite monolith "El Capitan", which Alex Honnold climbed with his bare hands and without assistance in 2017. This valley is an ideal starting point for travelers and hikers as it is well equipped with all the necessary amenities for a comfortable stay.

Tunnel View

Tunnel View is often considered the most popular site in Yosemite. It is an easily accessible vantage point from which to view the valley and the park's famous sites. Some visitors recommend it as a first activity to set the scene for your future stay in the park, setting the perfect stage for the days to come. Be careful to choose your schedule to limit the hours in traffic and check the weather to have a clear sky.

Glacier Point

When it comes to majestic, breathtaking views, visitors to Yosemite are quick to mention Glacier Point, calling it another must-see viewpoint in the park. Easily reached by road, you can also climb it on foot and enjoy the magnificent view after the effort. As for Tunnel View, the spot being accessible by car, prefer off-peak hours to avoid the crowd. Moreover, during the peak season, you can only reach it by shuttle, the guards blocking the accesses, forcing the visitors to park on the parking lots below.

man standing at the edge of a rock at the Glacier Point at the Yosemite National Park at the sunset

Man standing at the edge of a rock at the Glacier Point at the Yosemite National Park at the sunset - Envato Image

When to visit Yosemite National Park?

As Yosemite is one of the most visited parks in the country, we can only recommend that you go there during the off-peak periods. You can aim for May and September, periods when the park is still accessible but less crowded than in the middle of summer. Spring is the best time to see the waterfalls and the beautiful scenery. In winter, most of the roads are blocked because of bad weather and snow, and this from the end of October and beginning of November (until March). The vast majority of the trails and roads open at the end of May and beginning of June. 

Finally, adapt your stay according to your budget. Winter is much more affordable and despite a limited adventure area, you will be able to enjoy your experience. If you absolutely want to go in the summer, book your campsites as soon as possible, as places are scarce and in high demand.

2. Yellowstone National Park

Location: Wyoming Montana & Idaho

Numbers of visitors : 4.9 millions in 2021

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK MAP

 Screenshot from ©OpenStreetMap Contributors - Open Database License - (CC BY-SA)

How can you not put Yellowstone at the top of that list? It is one of the most popular parks in the United States and the first national park in the world. It was created in 1872 by President Grant, who wanted to protect remarkable natural areas for the preservation and enjoyment of his fellow citizens. The creation of the park started a large movement in the country, resulting in the creation of 63 national parks to date. Today, it is the most visited national park in the United States.

Yellowstone is known to the general public, especially thanks to the 2012 movie, through its abundant wildlife, alternating between bison, bears and elk, common encounters in Yellowstone and its natural wonders, including its hot springs, thermal pools and multicolored geysers. Beautiful landscapes, from waterfalls and lush forests to lakes and hydrothermal vents, are found on more than 2.2 million acres. You can visit one of the site's popular sites such as Mammoth Hot Springs, the Old Faithful or Grand Prismatic Spring geysers.

It is now considered the "Disneyland" of the national parks, both in terms of its amenities and dining/living facilities and in terms of its abundant traffic. The Nomadvisor has plenty tips for you if you don't know where to stay. It attracts nearly 5 million visitors each year. But rest assured, if you get away from the tourist sites, you'll have nearly 2.2 million acres to explore, as the park crosses no less than three U.S. states: Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

Boardwalk in Yellowstone National Park

Boardwalk in Yellowstone National Park - Envato Image

What to do in Yellowstone National Park?

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

It is THE main activity of the park. Formed by thousands of years of thermal activity and erosion, the Grand Canyon is one of the most popular hiking sites. But you'll have plenty to do as it stretches for 20 miles and is traversed by the Yellowstone River, the longest undammed river in the U.S., which rushes down the canyon's various waterfalls such as the Upper and Lower Falls. The place is remarkable for its colorful palette and rock formations so appreciated by photography enthusiasts. The light effects in the canyon often offer breathtaking scenes. It is therefore advisable to visit in the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun's rays begin to dance in the canyon.

Old Faithful

If you like geysers, eruptions and/or Mother Nature's show of force, look no further than Old Faithful, a geyser with frequent one-to five-minute eruptions that can rise to 130 feet in height, repeating every 30 to 110 minutes (you can ask around to make sure you don't miss them). The geyser can be seen from its direct perimeter, but if you want to get away from the crowds (it's probably the park's most popular attraction), you can walk to Observation Point via a mile-long trail for a bird's eye view of the geyser basin.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Like Old Faithful, Grand Primastic Spring is a demonstration of nature's power. This hot spring is 370 feet long and 120 feet deep, making it one of the largest hot springs in the world. It is particularly appreciated by visitors for its incredible color palette, from red to blue to yellow to green, caused by the presence of bacteria and minerals produced by the spring. Like its companion, it is one of the most photographed sites in the park, so don't hesitate to go there very early, making sure that there is no fog.

Aerial view of Grand prismatic spring in Yellowstone national park, USA

Aerial view of Grand prismatic spring in Yellowstone national park, USA - Envato Image

When to visit Yellowstone National Park?

The best times of year to visit Yellowstone are April/May and September/October, as these are times of mild weather, less crowds and good accessibility. Spring offers beautiful green colors and high water flow, while fall gives way to a color palette ranging from red to brown. Winter is not to be outdone and offers an equally exceptional landscape, especially when the geysers gush out under the thick layers of snow. Summer is a period to be avoided because it is too crowded and hot, even if the area often experiences significant temperature variations.

Yellowstone National Park at sunset

Yellowstone National Park at sunset - Envato Image

3. Glacier National Park

Location : Montana

Numbers of visitors : 3.1 millions in 2021

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK MAP

 Screenshot from ©OpenStreetMap Contributors - Open Database License - (CC BY-SA)

This park, which takes its name from the remnants of the Ice Age that dot its territory, stretches between the Canadian and Montana borders. Offering a wide variety of landscapes, predominantly mountainous, it is a park favored by hikers and experienced walkers, even if it offers a wide range of trails and hikes of different difficulties. On the easy side, you can choose the Trail of the Cedars, on the hard side, why not try the Grinnell Glacier? You can enjoy a wide range of activities from hiking, boating on Lake McDonald or kayaking on Swiftcurrent Lake. 

The park is over a million acres in size and offers no less than 700 deep, pastel-colored lakes, and is home to an impressive and varied biodiversity. Glaciers, lakes, mountains and meadows make up the picturesque landscape of Glacier National Park. It is also a historically charged space, through the Goint-to-the-Sun Road or the Great Northern Railway, old infrastructures but true symbols of 20th century engineering. They are accompanied by the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can find breathtaking alpine landscapes through the most exciting hiking trails in the country. It is for this reason that the park has earned the nickname "the crown of the continent".

Kayaking in Lake McDonald during a sunny summer sunset

Kayaking in Lake McDonald during a sunny summer sunset - Envato Image

What to do in Glacier National Park?

Going-to-the-Sun Road

This road is an engineering marvel. It crosses the park from east to west and is one of the most spectacular scenic routes on the entire continent. Its fame is due as much to its engineering prowess as to its status as a national historic monument. It traverses all types of landscapes and offers many vantage points to allow visitors to fully enjoy the beauty of the landscape. It can be traveled by car or by bicycle, with some sections subject to constraints or closures depending on weather conditions or the year. If you are traveling by car, you should be confident in your driving skills, as some sections can be frightening.

Trail of the Cedars

This hiking trail is located on Going-to-the-Sun Road and runs for about a mile through a very old red cedar forest. At the halfway point, you will come to a footbridge with a breathtaking view of a waterfall and the gorge. Easy, this trail is very popular and therefore often crowded, so it is sometimes not easy to park. Many visitors recommend this site because it combines ease of use with great views.

Red Bus Tours

If you want to enjoy the Going-to-the-Sun road without worrying about driving, don't hesitate to take the Red Bus Tour. These are old buses with drivers, dating from the 1930's (the bus, not the driver) and which offer convertible roofs to have an unparalleled view of the scenery that passes before your eyes, through 9 circuits that cross the main sites of the park. Not dating from recent years, these buses can only carry about 15 people, ensuring you do not find yourself between 100 wild tourists.

Glacier National park pristine glacier fed turquoise lake from above

Glacier National park pristine glacier fed turquoise lake from above - Envato Image

When to visit Glacier National Park?

Unlike the first two parks, we recommend visiting Glacier National Park during the summer months, between July and August. Even though this is the period that attracts the most tourists, the temperatures are milder than in other seasons, and you will be able to enjoy a maximum number of hikes while still being able to admire the snow-covered peaks. The park is open all year round, so it's up to you to choose what suits you best.

A small kayak shot in the middle of Swiftcurrent Lake in Many Glacier

kayak shot in the middle of Swiftcurrent Lake in Many Glacier - Envato Image

4. Grand Canyon National Park

Location : Arizona

Numbers of visitors : 4.5 million in 2021

Grand Canyon Nationa Park map

 Screenshot from ©OpenStreetMap Contributors - Open Database License - (CC BY-SA)

The Grand Canyon is arguably the most iconic park in the United States, and the one that is the most disproportionate, offering its visitors a breathtaking spectacle. About 280 miles long, 18 miles wide and one mile deep, this chasm eroded by millennia of water activity is a natural wonder. To be exact, it has been shaped by the Colorado River for nearly 6 million years. So it's only natural that it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many consider it one of the wonders of the world.

Extremely frequented, especially on its southern bank where you will find the main sites and activities of the park, you will be able to find your small corner of silence and paradise by going to its northern bank where campers and hikers are rarer to leave place to the photographers and to the enthusiasts. On both sides, you can admire the canyon through scenic and sumptuous panoramas. In terms of activities, you can hike the many trails available, go rafting on the Colorado River or immerse yourself in the history and culture of the Native American people.

grand canyon landscapes at sunset

Grand Canyon landscapes at sunset - Envato Image

What to do in Grand Canyon National Park? 

Grand Canyon Village

This is the most popular entry point to the park and therefore the most crowded throughout the year. If you don't like crowds, avoid this site, but if you don't mind, this area is attractive, especially with the presence of the best viewpoint on the site to appreciate the splendor of the canyon: Yavapai Point. The place is ideal for families and also has the necessary amenities to have a comfortable experience. 

By stopping in the villages of the site, you can easily immerse yourself in the era of the conquest of the West while learning more about the life and culture of the native people. For this, feel free to visit the Grand Canyon Railway station or take a walk by the Hopi House.

South Rim

South Rim refers to the south side of the canyon. It is the most developed rim and the one where most of the site's activities are located (Grand Canyon Village, the South Kaibab Trail, the Bright Angel Trail, Mather Point, the Yavapai Geology Museum). It is therefore ideal for visitors who want to be accompanied and/or entertained during their stay. 

The area is well served and you can camp, hike and even park your camper. It is a popular place for families because the activities are diverse, the trails are accessible to most people and the access is easy.

Mather Point

What better first view of the Grand Canyon than from Mather Point? Easily accessible by a short 5-minute trail from the park's entrance, this viewpoint offers a just exceptional high view of the canyon, with the eye able to wander for dozens of miles. To avoid the crowds and enjoy the unique colors, feel free to visit the site at sunrise or sunset.

grand canyon breathtaking viewpoint over the valley

Grand Canyon breathtaking viewpoint over the valley - Envato Image

When to visit Grand Canyon National Park? 

Like many of the parks in these arid regions, the best months of the year to visit the park are April/May and September/October. The crowds are smaller and the temperatures are pleasant. If you decide to go in the summer, prepare in advance and opt for the north shore if you want to avoid crowds as much as possible. The south shore is open all year round, while the north shore closes in the winter, after the first snowfall;

Grand Canyon Viewpoint

Grand Canyon crowded viewpoint - Envato Image

5. Zion National Park

Location: Utah

Numbers of visitors: 5 million in 2021

Zion National Park map

 Screenshot from ©OpenStreetMap Contributors - Open Database License - (CC BY-SA)

Once a little-visited sanctuary, Zion National Park, named after the Hebrew word for “refuge”, is now one of the most visited parks in the United States, with nearly 5 million visitors in 2021. Discreetly nestled in the heart of Utah, the park offers a mix of alpine landscapes and valleys where majestic rivers flow, the wonderful landscapes following one another as you walk, bike or boat.

Some spots in the park are appreciated by astronomers of all kinds. It is said that the stars are particularly visible and bright, the park being only slightly affected by the visual pollution of the cities, being located 170 miles from Las Vegas and over 300 miles from Salt Lake City.

Attendance is now a real concern, as the park has become the most visited park in terms of visitor to park size ratio, leading to flow management issues inevitably hurting the visitor experience. 

Landscape in Zion National Park

Landscape in Zion National Park - Envato Image

What to do in Zion National Park? 

The Narrows

This site is aptly named as it is located in the heart of Zion Canyon, at its narrowest section to be precise. It is one of the most popular trails for hikers. You can also enjoy the site from above with a short hike that is accessible to all and offers a great view of the Narrows.

As the trail joins the river at times, don't be afraid to get a little wet. Don't forget to bring technical clothing and a waterproof bag to protect your objects and accessories. The sun offers a magnificent play of light on the walls of the canyon at sunrise and sunset. Also, the site is less crowded at these times, so think about it!

Angels Landing

If you are a photographer or a lover of breathtaking views, head to Angel Landings. This site is a high perch at nearly 1,500 feet, reached after an intense and strenuous hike of about 2.7 miles with passages almost approaching via ferrata (not recommended for amateurs, visitors afraid of heights and children). It is often used during the week and more accessible on weekends.

Kolob Canyons

This site is intended for visitors who want a change of scenery, silence and pure nature. "Kolob" in Mormon means "residence closest to the sky". The canyon was so named because of its high and imposing peaks, rising towards the sky.

You can walk or drive through the canyon, as the trails are much less crowded than those in the rest of the park. You can even hike the one-mile Timber Creek Overlook Trail, which takes you to a unique vantage point where you can see up to 100 miles around.

"The Narrows" in Zion Canyon

"The Narrows" in Zion Canyon - Envato Image

When to visit Zion National Park? 

The best time to visit Zion National Park is from April through October, when the park shuttles are running and the park's weather is pleasant. The summer months are hotter and more popular, so you may want to avoid them or choose the less crowded Kolob Canyons. If you want to avoid the crowds and get some great photos, you can definitely go between December and February, but be prepared for much worse weather.

Scenic views in Kolob Canyons

Scenic views in Kolob Canyons - Envato Image


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