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18 cool National Parks in the U.S. to visit – including 1 of the deadliest!

Whether you’re to get into the great outdoors for Spring Break, a day trip, or other vacation dates, we’ve rounded up this list of the best National Parks in America to get some fresh air and fab photos.

As winter bids adieu and nature stirs from its slumber, spring break presents the best time to revel in the breathtaking landscapes of national parks, and before the peak season of the summer months.

Across the country, these sanctuaries come alive with blooming flora, cascading waterfalls, and rejuvenated wildlife. 

An entrance fee applies to each park, and you can purchase those at the National Park Service (NPS.gov) or from the Visitor Center at each park. If you plan to visit more than about three parks in the next 12 months, an annual pass will be cheaper.

Each of these exceptional U.S. national parks offer an unparalleled experience where nature’s artistry unfolds in vivid colours and awe-inspiring vistas await. I upgraded my phone to one with a great camera for my last trip.

This post contains some affiliate links. That means if you make a purchase I may make a commission at no extra cost to you.

Couple sitting at South Rim looking at the Grand Canyon
Couple sitting at North Rim looking at the Grand Canyon. Takes your breath away!

1. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park was also dedicated as a National Monument by Teddy Roosevelt in 1908. It is located in northern Arizona and is a geological marvel that showcases the immense power of nature. Carved by the Colorado River over millions of years, this iconic park boasts stunning vistas of layered red rock formations that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Spanning over 1.2 million acres, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited parks in the United States.

Highlights of Grand Canyon

  • The Grand Canyon’s South Rim offers some of the most breathtaking panoramas. 
  • Viewpoints like Mather Point and Yavapai Observation Station provide awe-inspiring vistas of the vast canyon.
  • Hiking trails like the South Kaibab Trail and Bright Angel Trail beckon adventure seekers to explore the canyon’s depths.  
  • The North Rim, though less accessible, offers a quieter, more serene experience and equally mesmerising views.
  • During spring, the canyon adorns itself with a vibrant display of wildflowers, enhancing the already awe-inspiring vistas. 

Top Activities/Things to Do

  • Visitors can explore the canyon through various activities, such as hiking the iconic Bright Angel Trail or the more challenging South Kaibab Trail, both offering unparalleled views of the canyon’s layers and rock formations. 
  • Other popular activities include mule rides along the rim, helicopter tours for a bird’s-eye view, and ranger-led educational programs.
Glass bottom viewing deck over Grand Canyon
Would you step on this glass-bottomed viewing deck?

Getting Here

The South Rim, more accessible and open year-round, is reachable via Arizona State Route 64. The North Rim, closed during winter, is accessed through Highway 67. Both rims have airports nearby, and shuttle services operate within the park.

Most people head to the Grand Canyon using Las Vegas as their base, and if you’re doing a road trip, stopping at the engineering marvel that is the Hoover Dam, is also a great detour.

I have been to Vegas lots of times and you’ll find tons of things to do in Las Vegas in this post.

But believe it or not, there is also a bunch of cool things to do with kids in Las Vegas too.

The magnificent Hoover Dam
It’s hard to photograph the magnificence of the Hoover Dam, but this is my best shot!

Where to stay in Grand Canyon

  • El Tovar Hotel: Step back while indulging in modern luxury perched on the canyon’s edge. El Tovar welcomes you with breathtaking canyon vistas and a rich historical charm.
  • Bright Angel Lodge: If you’re seeking an affordable yet fantastic family retreat at the South Rim, look no further. Bright Angel Lodge offers budget-friendly rates while ensuring convenient access to popular trails and thrilling activities.
  • Phantom Ranch: For a truly unique and exclusive canyon experience, choose Phantom Ranch. Accessible only by mule or foot, it’s an unforgettable luxury escape with limited availability.

2. Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park is nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains in northern California, and is a mecca for nature enthusiasts.

But it also holds the shocking title of second-deadliest National Park in the U.S. (behind Lake Mead National Park with about 20 drownings a year). At Yosemite, 152 deaths were recorded throughout the ten-year period from July 2013-July 2023* but you can take some comfort that medical emergencies were found to be the main cause of death, while falling was the second-most common.

Its natural wonders range from the iconic granite cliffs, waterfalls, to sequoia groves creating an awe-inspiring landscape that has captivated visitors for generations. Make sure your phone is well charged for all the photos you’ll be taking.

*Data analysed by Connecticut Trail Firm

Highlights of Yosemite

  • Among the park’s highlights are the monumental granite rock formations like El Capitan and Half Dome.
  • The mesmerizing Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America.
  • Spring breathes new life into the park as the snow melts, giving rise to thunderous waterfalls like Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls. 
  • Witnessing the blooming dogwoods and wildflowers is an added treat during this time of the year, adding bursts of color to Yosemite’s scenic landscapes.
Driving towards El Capitan
Driving towards El Capitan

Top Activities/Things to Do in Yosemite

Yosemite offers an array of activities:

  • Trails such as the Mist Trail and the hike to Half Dome showcase the park’s magnificence, offering glimpses of these majestic falls and captivating vistas at Vernal and Nevada Falls. 
  • You can also explore the ancient Giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove.

Getting Here

Access to Yosemite can be gained from various entrances. The most common route is via California State Route 41 from Fresno or California State Route 140 from Merced, leading to the park’s South and West Entrances.

Where to stay in Yosemite

  • The AhwahneeImmerse yourself in luxury at the heart of the park. The Ahwahnee is synonymous with elegance, offering opulent rooms and an unforgettable dining experience.
  • Curry VillageFor families seeking affordability without sacrificing comfort, Curry Village is the ideal choice. You’ll find family and tent cabins, creating a communal atmosphere with easy access to the park’s trails.
  • Rush Creek Lodge: For those desiring contemporary amenities and luxurious living amidst nature, Rush Creek Lodge stands as the perfect selection. This modern lodge features spacious family suites, ensuring a memorable stay amidst the beauty of Yosemite.

Or make it part of your Pacific Coast Highway road trip, and start in Los Angeles heading through to San Francisco and further north. I did this road trip in five days and could have easily taken ten to take more time and just admire the whole journey.

Yosemite at dusk with the last of the snow
Yosemite at dusk with the last of the snow

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in America, straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina.

It

It boasts lush forests, diverse wildlife – including around 1,500 black bears, and ancient mountains. Renowned for its biodiversity, it’s a haven for nature lovers.

Highlights of the Great Smoky Mountains

  • The park’s beauty lies in its mist-shrouded mountains, cascading waterfalls like Laurel Falls and Clingmans Dome, the highest peak, offering sweeping panoramic views.
  • The park’s iconic Cades Cove Loop Road provides a scenic drive amidst rolling hills and historic homesteads. 
  • Trails like Alum Cave Trail and Clingmans Dome offer opportunities to witness the beauty of migrating birds and the awakening of nature after winter’s slumber.
  • Spring transforms this park into a canvas of blooming wildflowers, including trilliums and violets, painting the landscape with vibrant hues. 
Observation deck at Clingman's Dome
Observation deck at Clingman’s Dome

Top Activities/Things to Do

  • Hiking trails, such as the Appalachian Trail and Alum Cave Bluffs Trail, provide opportunities to explore the park’s diverse ecosystems. 
  • Visitors can also enjoy scenic drives along Newfound Gap Road or Cades Cove Loop.

Getting Here

The park can be accessed through various entrances. Routes from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, or Cherokee, North Carolina, offer entry to different park sections.

Where to stay in The Great Smoky Mountains

  • LeConte Lodge: A rustic mountain refuge atop Mt. LeConte, ideal for hikers with stunning views.
  • Harmony Laurel Inn: An inn within the family-friendly embrace of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offering a snug park retreat.
  • Blackberry Farm: A luxurious retreat outside the park offering gourmet dining and upscale amenities.

4. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, featuring majestic peaks, alpine lakes, and abundant wildlife. Its diverse ecosystems offer a unique experience for visitors.

Highlights of the Rocky Mountains

  • As spring arrives, melting snow uncovers lush meadows dotted with colorful wildflowers like columbines and Indian paintbrushes. 
  • Trail Ridge Road, one of the highest paved roads in the US, offers breathtaking vistas of snow-capped peaks, rocky mountains, and wildlife sightings alongside notable peaks like Longs Peak and the picturesque Bear Lake.
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road

Top Activities/Things to Do in the Rockies

  • Hiking trails like the Emerald Lake Trail and the challenging ascent to Longs Peak provide glimpses of cascading waterfalls and stunning vistas. 
  • Wildlife viewing and scenic drives along Old Fall River Road are also popular.

Getting Here

Estes Park serves as the primary gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. You can reach Estes Park via US Highway 36 from Denver or Colorado State Highway 7 from Boulder.

Where to stay in the Rocky Mountains

  • Stanley HotelAn historic lodging that inspired “The Shining,” offering modern comforts and a glimpse into the past.
  • YMCA of the Rockies: This family-friendly resort in the Rocky Mountains has various comfortable lodging options.
  • The Ridgeline HotelThis hotel is a cozy, family-friendly, pet-friendly choice with mountain views that provide comfort and luxury.
Bear Lake
Bear Lake

5. Everglades National Park, Florida

Everglades National Park in Florida is situated in one of the warmest cities in the country and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a vast subtropical wilderness brimming with mangrove forests, sawgrass marshes, and unique wildlife, notably alligators and manatees.

If you’re also planning a Miami to Key West road trip down the Florida Keys, visiting the Everglades is a great stop on the way.

alligator in the Everglades
Keep your eyes peeled for alligator spotting in the Everglades

Highlights

  • Shark Valley, Anhinga Trail, and the mesmerizing Ten Thousand Islands are notable highlights.
  • The park comes alive with bird migrations and sightings of alligators and other wildlife. 

Top Activities/Things to Do in the Everglades

  • You can explore the park and sawgrass prairies by taking fun airboat tours, hiking trails like Anhinga Trail or Gumbo Limbo Trail, and kayaking through mangrove tunnels.
Screaming through the Everglades in an airboat
Screaming through the Everglades in an airboat

Getting Here

The main entrance to the park is near Homestead, Florida. From Miami, take the Florida Turnpike south to Exit 6 and follow the signs to the park entrance. 

If you’re driving from Miami, you must stop at Robert is Here. You won’t miss it, the signs are huge. This quirkily named store is filled with fresh fruits and they make amazing ice creams and smoothies for the road!

Megan with Robert of Robert is Here
Robert IS indeed here! Stop for a smoothie or a snack before the alligators

Where to stay in Everglades National Park

  • Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort in Naples presents has a range of lodging choices, from waterfront villas to eco-friendly lodges. It’s an excellent choice for those looking for a different experience in the Everglades.
  • Everglades Adventures Hotel Suites by Ivey House: This is your ideal choice right in Everglades City for a family-friendly stay with kitchenettes.
  • Anhinga Trail Cottages: If you’re seeking luxury in the park’s heart, Anhinga Trail Cottages are the perfect pick. These modern cabins provide top-notch amenities in a pristine wilderness setting.

6. Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia National Park, situated along the rugged coast of Maine, boasts a diverse landscape of granite peaks, woodland, and shoreline. It’s a paradise for adventurers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Highlights of Acadia

  • The park’s Cadillac Mountain is the highest point on the US Atlantic coast and offers spectacular sunrise views. 
  • Jordan Pond and Sand Beach are other scenic spots within the park.
  • Springtime at Acadia welcomes the return of migratory birds and the emergence of blossoming flowers, creating a picturesque setting. 
Cadillac Mountain in the fall, Acadia National Park
Cadillac Mountain in the fall, Acadia National Park

Top Activities/Things to Do in Acadia National Park

  • You can explore carriage roads on bike or foot, hike along trails like Precipice Trail, or enjoy panoramic views from the summit of Cadillac Mountain after a challenging ascent. 
  • Coastal drives along Park Loop Road offer breathtaking vistas.

Getting Here

Bar Harbor serves as the primary gateway to Acadia. Access the park via Park Loop Road or Maine State Route 3 from Ellsworth. Acadia is also on my list for gorgeous places to visit in New England in the fall too.

Where to stay in Acadia

  • The Inn on Mt Desert: In the heart of Bar Harbor and an easy walk into the national park and plenty of restaurants nearby.
  • Atlantic Oceanside Hotel and Conference CentreThis beachfront hotel also has a pool. Restaurants are minutes away by car and it’s a 25-minute walk into Acadia National Park. Free breakfast. Great family option with a playground onsite.
  • The Inn at Bay LedgeFor a charming and secluded bed-and-breakfast experience, choose The Inn at Bay Ledge. Serene surroundings and oceanfront views, it’s the epitome of luxury in Acadia National Park.
View from Cadillac Mountain
View from Cadillac Mountain

7. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming/Montana/Idaho

Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world, is a geothermal wonderland with spouting geysers, vivid hot springs, and diverse wildlife like bighorn sheep and mountain lions, offering a glimpse into the earth’s natural processes.

Yellowstone’s vivid geothermal springs

Highlights

  • Notable highlights include the iconic Old Faithful geyser, the Grand Prismatic Spring, and the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone with its stunning waterfalls.
  • Miles of trails like the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the Lamar Valley offer encounters with bison herds, grizzly bears, and the park’s unique geological formations.
  • As spring unfolds, the park emerges from winter’s grasp, unveiling a spectacle of gushing waterfalls, rejuvenated landscapes, and an array of wildlife sightings. 

Top Activities/Things to Do in Yellowstone

  • Hiking trails like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone Trail or boardwalks around geothermal areas provide close encounters with the park’s unique features. Wildlife watching and scenic drives are also popular.

Getting Here

Yellowstone has multiple entrances. Reach the park via West Yellowstone in Montana, Gardiner in Montana, or Cody in Wyoming, among others.

Where to stay in Yellowstone

  • Old Faithful InnStay at the iconic Old Faithful Inn, close to the famous geyser. Its rustic charm enhances your Yellowstone adventure.
  • Lake Yellowstone Hotel & CabinsEnjoy timeless elegance with stunning lake views. Perfect for families, this historic hotel in Yellowstone National Park offers comfort.
  • The Lodge at Big SkyExperience luxury and convenience near the park’s entrance. The Lodge at Big Sky combines luxury with easy access to Yellowstone’s wonders.
Bison drinking in Yellowstone
Spotting bison in Yellowstone

8. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Joshua Tree National Park, where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge, boasts surreal landscapes with its namesake Joshua trees, unique rock formations, and stargazing opportunities.

It can also be done as a day trip from LA, and is one of 12 fab day trips from Los Angeles I have written about. But it’s on the doorstep of Palm Springs, which is such a cute town – especially for midcentury modern architecture fans.

Springtime brings relief from the intense desert heat, making it an ideal season to explore this otherworldly terrain. 

Driving through Joshua Tree National Park
Driving through Joshua Tree National Park

Highlights

  • The park’s Joshua Tree forests, Skull Rock, and Keys View, offering panoramic desert vistas, are among its standout features.
  • The park transforms as wildflowers, including desert dandelions and Mojave asters, add bursts of color to the arid landscape. 
  • Hiking trails like the Hidden Valley Trail and Ryan Mountain Trail offer opportunities to witness panoramic vistas and unique rock formations that make Joshua Tree a haven for climbers and nature enthusiasts alike.

Top Activities/Things to Do in Joshua Tree

  • Hiking trails like Hidden Valley or Barker Dam Trail provide glimpses into the park’s distinctive flora and rock formations. 
  • Nighttime stargazing is exceptional due to the park’s dark skies.

Getting Here

Joshua Tree is accessible via various entrances. I’ve been to Palm Springs several times, so my advice would be to stay there and take California State Route 62 east toward Twentynine Palms for a day trip. Unless you plan to camp in the park, that is!

Where to stay in Joshua Tree

  • Joshua Tree Inn: Experience desert charm and music history at Joshua Tree Inn, which is known for hosting Gram Parsons. A unique blend of modern amenities and music nostalgia for your stay.
  • Casa Luisa Joshua Tree Desert OasisGrab your friends or take the family to thisthree-bedroom holiday home, with a hot tub, set the park amidst rugged landscapes.
  • Joshua Tree Ranch House: A cozy, family-friendly retreat near the park, with spacious rooms and easy access to park attractions for families exploring Joshua Tree National Park.
Joshua Trees
It’s like Dr Seuss’s world out here

9. Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park is located in southeastern Utah and is renowned for its striking red rock arches, spires, and fins carved by wind and water over millions of years, creating a surreal desert landscape.

I have a detailed post on everything you might like to do and see, and where to stay, on a southeastern Utah road trip.

The famous arch at Arches National Park
The famous arch at Arches National Park. Getting here for sunrise or sunset is amazing.

Highlights of Arches

  • The park’s iconic Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, and the Windows Section showcase nature’s architectural marvels amidst vibrant sandstone.
  • Arches National Park in Utah showcases nature’s artistry, adorned with over 2,000 natural sandstone arches and unique rock formations. 
  • The landscape comes alive with vibrant wildflowers, including the iconic prickly pear cacti and Indian paintbrushes. 

Top Activities/Things to Do in Arches National Park

  • You can hike to arches like Delicate Arch or Landscape Arch, exploring unique geological formations along trails such as Devil’s Garden
  • Scenic drives along the main park road offer panoramic views.

Getting Here

Access the park via Moab, Utah. From Moab, take US Highway 191 and follow signs to Arches National Park.

Where to stay in Arches

  • Redstone Inn: This 2-star accomodation offers the perfect blend of comfort and Southwestern charm at Moab’s unique Redstone Inn.
  • Sorrel River Ranch Resort: For those seeking a touch of luxury along the Colorado River, Sorrel River Ranch Resort is a haven of serenity. It’s the perfect place to indulge in a lavish retreat.
  • Moab Springs RanchMoab Springs Ranch is 3-star accommdation with Exceptional reviews. A welcoming getaway, cozy accommodations and easy access to the nearby park. It’s an excellent choice for families exploring the natural wonders of Arches National Park.
People hiking Arches National Park
Adding people into your photo shows perspective

10. Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic National Park in Washiongton State, encompasses diverse ecosystems from glacier-capped mountains to old-growth forests and rugged coastline. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Highlights of Olympic National Park

  • The park’s attractions include Hurricane Ridge, Hoh Rainforest, and the dramatic coastline of Rialto Beach and Ruby Beach.
  • Springtime rejuvenates the park with blooming rhododendrons and trilliums, adding a colorful touch to the verdant landscapes. 

Top Activities/Things to Do

  • Hiking trails like the Hurricane Ridge Trail or Hall of Mosses provide glimpses into the park’s varied landscapes. 
  • Beachcombing, wildlife watching, and exploring tide pools are popular coastal activities.
Hoh Rainforest Road
Hoh Rainforest Road

Getting Here

Access the park through various points. From Seattle, take the Bainbridge Island Ferry, then follow US Highway 101 to the park’s entrances.

Of course, you’ll probably want to add a couple of nights (at least) in Seattle and if you do, I loved this underground tour. Did you know Seattle used to be located at sea level – until it all burned down and they rebuilt the city above it? You can take a tour underground and see some of the original store fronts.

Where to stay in Olympic National Park

  • Lake Crescent LodgeLakeside lodging in a serene setting. Lake Crescent Lodge offers a peaceful escape.
  • Log Cabin Resort: If your family likes lakeside escapades, the Log Cabin Resort stands as an exceptional choice worth your consideration. Situated on the shores of Lake Crescent, it offers cozy cabins with scenic views and easy access to water-based activities, making it an excellent family-friendly option in Olympic National Park.
  • Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort: Relax in their 3 mineral hot springs. Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is a luxurious retreat.
Reflections in Lake Crescent, in Olympic National Park
Lake Crescent, in Olympic National Park

11. Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park in Utah is a playground of towering sandstone cliffs, narrow slot canyons, and an array of desert flora. Spring brings relief from scorching temperatures, making it an ideal time to explore the park’s wonders. 

Highlights of Zion

  • Key highlights include the awe-inspiring Zion Canyon, the iconic Angel’s Landing or The Narrows, where we hiked through the Virgin River dwarfed by its towering walls. You only need to hike as far as you like too, as you turn and come back the same way (or you could go on for the whole day, but really?) See my post on Hiking the Narrows which also covers hiring waterproof boots if you need them.
  • The vibrant display of wildflowers, including desert marigolds and globemallows, adds a splash of color to the rugged landscape. 
Hikers in the breathtaking Narrows
The breathtaking Narrows

Top Activities/Things to Do in Zion

  • Hiking trails like the Observation Point Trail and the Riverside Walk cater to various skill levels. 
  • Scenic drives along Zion Canyon and exploring Weeping Rock add to the experience.

Getting Here

The park is accessible through the town of Springdale, Utah. State Route 9 leads to the park’s south entrance, offering access to Zion Canyon and its attractions. We stayed in Springdale, which is a cute desert town with nice restaurants and outstanding red rock views.

Where to stay in Zion National Park

  • Zion Lodge: Immerse yourself in the heart of Zion Canyon at Zion Lodge. It’s ideal for those seeking easy access to hiking trails while enjoying a rustic ambiance. 3 stars with excellent revviews.
  • Zion Mountain RanchFor a memorable, family-friendly stay, consider Zion Mountain Ranch. Nestled on a sprawling property in Mt Carmel, this accommodation offers cozy cabins and a chance to experience the area’s natural beauty. An excellent option for families looking for a comfortable and serene retreat in the heart of Zion National Park.
  • Under Canvas Zion: For those searching for a dash of luxury amidst Zion’s natural wonders, Under Canvas Zion offers incredible glamping at its finest, with luxury tents offering stunning views.
Hiking in the Narrows
Hike as far as you like in the mighty Narrows

12. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park is situated in northwestern Wyoming and boasts a dramatic landscape dominated by the towering peaks of the Teton Range. The park’s pristine alpine terrain and glacial lakes make it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.

Highlights of Grand Teton

  • The iconic Teton Range, including Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot, creates a stunning backdrop against the park’s serene lakes, notably Jenny Lake and Jackson Lake.
  • Spring unveils a sheet of blooming meadows and thawing lakes against the backdrop of the majestic Teton Range. 
Jenny and Jackson lakes
Jenny and Jackson lakes

Top Activities/Things to Do

  • Hiking trails like Cascade Canyon Trail and Taggart Lake Loop offer picturesque views of the mountains and lakes. 
  • Scenic drives along Teton Park Road and wildlife viewing are popular activities.

Getting Here

Access the park via Jackson, Wyoming. From Jackson, take U.S. Highway 191/89/26 north to reach the park’s entrances.

Where to stay in Grand Teton National Park

  • Jackson Lake LodgeExperience lakeside lodging with breathtaking views at Jackson Lake Lodge. It’s the perfect choice for those seeking 3.5-star comfort amidst stunning surroundings.
  • Colter Bay Village: This 2-star Village accommodation is best for families with cabin options and various outdoor activities. Plus, it offers easy access to the beautiful lakeside.
  • AmanganiFor a truly luxurious retreat with mountain views. Enjoy upscale amenities, fireplace, and a year round experience.

13. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park took my breath away. Just two hours down the road from Zion, the landscape couldn’t be more different.

Bryce Canyon is a geological wonderland in southern Utah, showcases a unique landscape of hoodoos —tall, thin spires of rock carved by erosion. Its distinct rock formations create a mesmerizing amphitheater of natural artistry.

Beautiful Bryce Canyon hoodoos
Bryce Canyon looks like a movie set. But I actually took this photo.

Highlights of Bryce Canyon

  • The park’s main attraction is the Bryce Amphitheater, home to the largest concentration of hoodoos, including formations like Thor’s Hammer and the Silent City.
  • Spring transforms the park as snow melts and gives way to vibrant displays of wildflowers, contrasting beautifully against the pink and orange hues of the hoodoos.

Top Activities/Things to Do

  • Hiking trails like the Navajo Loop or Queen’s Garden Trail offer immersive experiences amid the hoodoos. 
  • Visitors can also enjoy sunrise or sunset vistas from viewpoints like Sunrise Point and Sunset Point.
Hike - or run - the Navajo Loop at Bryce Canyon
Hike – or run – the Navajo Loop at Bryce Canyon

Getting Here

Access the park via State Route 63. The closest major airports are in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Las Vegas, Nevada, with several hours’ drive to the park.

I loved SLC and was pleasantly surprised a cool brewery scene which I featured in this post of the best things to do in Salt Lake City.

Explore more of Southwestern Utah’s national parks through this post that covers lots more helpful info for your planning.

Where to stay in Bryce Canyon

  • Bryce Canyon Lodge: Historic lodging on the canyon’s rim. Bryce Canyon Lodge offers rustic charm and proximity to viewpoints.
  • Ruby’s Inn: A family-friendly, Best Western hotel, near the park entrance. Ruby’s Inn provides convenience and amenities for all ages.
  • Stone Canyon InnA peaceful 3-star retreat outside the park for a luxurious experience. Stone Canyon Inn offers modern comforts and starry night views.
The road to Monument Valley
The road to Monument Valley

14. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia (are you humming John Denver when you read that?) and offers a scenic escape with its lush forests, cascading waterfalls, and panoramic vistas along Skyline Drive.

Highlights of Shenandoah

  • The park features Skyline Drive, a 105-mile road, that provides stunning vistas and opportunities for wildlife spotting. There are between 300 to 1000 black bears in Shenandoah National Park.
  • Notable attractions include hiking trails like Old Rag Mountain and Dark Hollow Falls offering varying levels of challenge and reward hikers with breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley. 
  • The park bursts into color as dogwoods and redbuds bloom, complementing the emerald green forests. 
Shenandoah blue mountains
The famous blue ridge mountains John Denver sang about!

Top Activities/Things to Do

  • Visitors can hike along the Appalachian Trail or explore various trails leading to waterfalls like Whiteoak Canyon
  • Scenic drives, wildlife watching, and ranger-led programs are also available.

Getting Here

Access the park via the northern entrance at Front Royal or the southern entrance at Waynesboro, both accessible from major highways in Virginia.

Where to stay in Shenandoah

  • Lewis Mountain Cabins: Cozy cabins in a peaceful setting. Lewis Mountain Cabins provides a rustic family retreat.
  • Big Meadows LodgeA historic lodge with modern amenities. Big Meadows Lodge offers a touch of luxury in a natural setting.

15. Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier National Park is located in Montana along the Canadian border and is known for its rugged mountains, pristine forests, and over 700 sparkling lakes. It’s a wilderness paradise.

Highlights of Glacier National Park

  • The park’s iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road offers breathtaking vistas, while attractions like Lake McDonald and Logan Pass showcase the park’s natural beauty.
  • As spring unfolds, the park emerges from its winter slumber, revealing blooming meadows and the gradual thawing of glacial landscapes.
Going to the Sun Road views
Going to the Sun Road

Top Activities/Things to Do

  • Hiking trails like the Highline Trail or Grinnell Glacier Trail provide access to stunning alpine scenery and glaciers. 
  • Boat tours, wildlife watching, and scenic drives are popular activities.

Getting Here

Access the park via the west entrance near West Glacier or the east entrance at St. Mary, both accessible via U.S. Highway 2 in Montana.

Where to stay in Glacier National Park

Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park
Avalanche Lake, Glacier National Park

16. Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park, located in the heart of the Alaska Range, is a vast wilderness area encompassing six million acres of untamed terrain. The park is home to diverse wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, Dall sheep, and moose. 

I’ve only ever been to Alaska by cruise ship, and I always say to people, if you only want to ever do one cruise, make it Alaska. There is just so much to see from the sea.

Highlights

  • The park’s centrepiece is Denali, formerly Mount McKinley, towering 20,310 feet above sea level. The mountain is often shrouded in clouds but offers spectacular views on clear days. 
  • The park’s diverse ecosystems range from low-elevation taiga forests to high-alpine tundra.
Spectacular Mt Denali
Spectacular Mt Denali

Top Activities/Things to Do

  • Denali is renowned for its wildlife. Visitors often spot grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves, and Dall sheep along the park road.
  • The park offers bus tours along Denali Park Road, providing opportunities for wildlife viewing and access to trailheads for hiking.
  • Denali offers a variety of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging backcountry routes. The Savage River Loop Trail and the Horseshoe Lake Trail are popular options for day hikes.
  • For experienced climbers, Denali offers some of the most challenging and rewarding mountaineering routes in North America.

Getting Here

Denali National Park is accessible by road from Anchorage or Fairbanks. The George Parks Highway (State Route 3) provides access to the park’s entrance.

Where to stay in Denali

  • Denali Bluffs Hotel: Offers great value and a mid-sized property. Denali Bluffs Hotel is an excellent base for park exploration.
  • McKinley Chalet ResortExpansive property with family-friendly accommodations. McKinley Chalet Resort offers comfort and convenience.
  • Kantishna RoadhouseAll-inclusive lodges deep inside the park. Kantishna Roadhouse provides an exclusive and immersive experience.
Bull moose in Denali National Park
Bull moose in Denali National Park

17. Sequoia National Park, California

Sequoia National Park, located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains of California, north-east of Los Angeles and south-east of San Francisco, is renowned for its giant sequoia trees, including the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree on Earth by volume. The park also features rugged mountain landscapes, including the tallest peak in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney.

Highlights

  • The park is home to some of the largest trees on the planet, including the General Sherman Tree, which is estimated to be around 2,200 years old.
  • Moro Rock is a granite dome offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
  • Crystal Cave is a marble cave with striking formations accessible via guided tours during the summer months.
  • High Sierra Trail is a scenic backcountry trail that traverses the park, offering stunning views of the Sierra Nevada.
Mighty giant sequoia trees with a person for perspective
Mighty giant sequoia trees with the person for perspective

Top Activities/Things to Do

  • Sequoia National Park offers many hiking trails, from easy walks among the giant sequoias to challenging backcountry routes.
  • The park’s scenic roads, including the Generals Highway and the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway, offer breathtaking landscape views.
  • The park is home to wildlife, including black bears, mule deer, and various bird species, which is great for viewing wildlife.
  • Sequoia National Park offers several campgrounds, providing tent and RV camping opportunities.

Getting Here

Sequoia National Park is accessed via the Generals Highway (State Route 198) from the town of Three Rivers, California, which provides access to the park’s main attractions.

Where to stay in Sequoia

  • Wuksachi Lodge: The signature hotel with a creek-side setting near the General Sherman Tree. Wuksachi Lodge offers modern amenities and natural beauty.
  • John Muir Lodge: Family-friendly lodge within walking distance of Grant Grove. John Muir Lodge is perfect for families exploring the giant sequoias.
  • Cedar Grove LodgeIt is located in the heart of Kings Canyon on the banks of Kings River. Cedar Grove Lodge provides a serene and luxurious escape.
King's Canyon Scenic Byway
King’s Canyon Scenic Byway

18. Dry Tortuga National Park, FL

Dry Tortugas National Park, a remote and pristine oasis located approximately 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, offers an unparalleled natural beauty, history, and adventure. It’s not easily accessible by car, but the journey to Dry Tortugas is an adventure in itself.

From Miami, you can either take a direct flight to Key West and then board a ferry or seaplane to the park, or drive the scenic road trip along the iconic Overseas Highway, which takes about four or five hours. We loved our Miami to Key West four-day road trip. Adding Dry Tortugas would be a great addition for a longer vacation.

Fort Jefferson - in the middle of the ocean
Fort Jefferson – in the middle of the ocean

Once you arrive, you’re greeted by a breathtaking view of turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and lush coral reefs. The park’s main attraction is Fort Jefferson, a massive 19th-century coastal fortress located on Garden Key, one of the seven islands that make up the park. Built to protect the strategic shipping lanes of the Gulf of Mexico, Fort Jefferson offers a fascinating glimpse into America’s military history and architectural ingenuity.

Snorkeling and diving are great here, exploring the park’s vibrant coral reefs, underwater sea walls, and diverse marine life. The park’s clear, shallow waters offer excellent visibility to see colorful fish, sea turtles, maybe dolphins, and manatees, and other marine creatures – including sharks.

If you’re interested in birdwatching and wildlife, Dry Tortugas National Park is a haven for migratory birds, shorebirds, and seabirds. Expect to see herons, egrets, and ospreys. The pristine beaches and mangrove forests provide habitats for a variety of bird species, making it a paradise for birdwatchers and nature lovers.

It’s a great place for picnicking, swimming, sunbathing, and beachcombing on the scenic beaches, with panoramic views of the surrounding ocean and distant horizons. Camping is available on Garden Key, if you want to spend the night under the stars and enjoy the tranquility after the day-trippers have gone. Note, you’ll need to bring everything – including water! Dry Tortugas also features in my list of the best beaches in Florida Keys.

Dry Tortugas beach and sand
Snorkel in the shallows if the idea of nearby sharks scares you!

For more fun places to visit over Spring Break, I have a bunch of great suggestions here for US travelers.

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!