15 USA National Parks you must visit

 In Active Travel, Get Inspired, USA

USA National Parks are still a completely unexplored area of the world for me.

In fact, the USA in general is – given how big it is!

I’ve spent a bit of time in California, and of course I’ve been to Nevada for Burning Man. In the same year, I loved the start of my Arizona road trip, although the end wasn’t so good (read why here).

An Arizona + Las Vegas Roadtrip, USA | Where's Mollie? A travel and adventure lifestyle blog

I’ve recently been back to California and Burning Man again.

However those of you who know me will be well aware that I cannot stay away from nature. Mountains, lakes, forests, trails… I love it all! I’d absolutely love to see at least some of the 61 National Parks that are on offer in the US, and so…

Here’s my USA National Park adventure bucket list.

All images in this post have been legally labelled for commercial reuse.

1. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

The USA’s oldest National Park (1872) is spread across 3 states: Wyoming, Montana, Idaho. It’s home to an abundance of wildlife such as bears, wolves, and bison, and features stunning landscapes that include mountains, forest, lakes, rivers, hot springs, and even a volcano!

Things to do & see: 

  • Old Faithful geyser
  • Yellowstone Caldera
  • Yellowstone Lake
  • Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Grand Prismatic Spring
  • Grizzly & Wolves discovery centre
  • Hike Uncle Tom’s Trail (very steep!), leading to Lower Falls in the Yellowstone Canyon
  • Yellowstone Grand Loop road trip
  • Hike Mount Washburn
  • Boiling River – a natural hot tub
https://www.needpix.com/photo/38198/color-yellowstone-national-park-wyoming-volcanic-minerals-orange-nature-free-pictures-free-photos

2. Indiana Dunes National Park, Indiana

The USA’s newest National Park (2019) sits on the shores of Lake Michigan and is famous for its beautiful beaches.

Things to do & see: 

  • Sunrise at Lake Michigan
  • Ranger-led sunset hike
  • Hike around the 45 miles of trails
  • Horse ride Glenwood Dunes trail
  • Kayak or canoe on Lake Michigan
  • Watch for bird migration

3. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

The USA’s biggest National Park (32,375 km2) is in Alaska – along with the next 3 largest parks! However, despite its large size, it remains largely unvisited.

Fun fact: You can fit 6 Yellowstone National Parks in Wrangell-St Elias, yet it gets 98% less visitors! 

Things to do & see: 

  • Visit Kennecott
  • Drive along McCarthy Road and/ or Nabesna Road
  • Liberty Falls
  • Take a flight tour across the park
  • Nabesna Glacier
  • Explore the Taiga
  • The Northern Lights
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrangell-St.-Elias-Nationalpark

4. Gateway Arch National Park, Missouri

The smallest USA National Park (0.8 km2) is famous for ‘The Gateway Arch’, a 630-foot (192 m) (both high and wide) catenary arch built to commemorate the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Things to do & see: 

  • The Gateway Arch & museum
  • The Old Courthouse

5. Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas

The Hot Springs National Park is famous for its 60 degrees celsius thermal water, and was originally made a protected area as it is believed the water carries medicinal properties.

Things to do & see: 

  • Bathhouse Row
  • Hot Spring Water Cascade
  • Hot Spring Mountain Trail
  • Buckstaff Bathhouse
  • Superior Bathhouse Brewery

6. Great Smoky Mountain National Park, North Carolina & Tennessee

This the the USA’s most visited National Park, and it’s easy to see why. Mile upon mile of beautiful forests, wildflowers, streams and waterfalls makes for some epic hiking.

Things to do & see: 

  • Clingman’s dome
  • SUP on Fontana Lake
  • Cade’s Cove
  • Waterfalls: Grotto, Laurel, Abrams, or Rainbow Falls
  • Visit The Place of a Thousand Drips
  • Walk the Appalachian Trail
https://www.goodfreephotos.com/united-states/tennessee/great-smoky-mountains-national-park/dusk-skies-at-great-smoky-mountains-national-park-tennessee.jpg.php

7. Yosemite National Park, California

One of the USA’s most famous National Parks, Yosemite is popular for the famous sequoia trees and grey rockey cliff faces.

Things to do & see: 

  • Yosemite Valley Waterfalls
  • Half Dome
  • Merced River
  • Glacier Point
  • Olmsted Point
  • Wildlife watching (bears!)
  • Hiking, camping
  • Rock climbing

8. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

This National Park is a little different to the rest. Home to the world’s longest cave network, this one is for those of you who fancy a slightly different active adventure!

Things to do & see: 

  • Explore the underworld in the caves
  • Canoeing
  • Hiking
  • Horse-riding
  • Camping

9. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Famous as being one of the seven wonders of the world, this is obviously one you cannot miss!

Things to do & see: 

  • Hiking
  • Bike tours
  • Get some epic photos of the canyon
  • Helicopter flight
  • Raft through the canyon on the Colorado river
  • 4×4 tour
  • Grand Canyon Skywalk
  • Havasu Falls
  • Kaibab trail and bridge
  • Paragon skydive
  • Grand Canyon railway
  • Drive North Rim to South Rim
  • Run North Rim to South Rim (if you’re very active!)
https://www.needpix.com/photo/571220/grand-canyon-usa-national-park-arizona-canyon-nature-gorge-america-rock

10. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii

Despite being famous for having two active volcanoes, Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, it’s unlikely they’ll erupt while you’re there. However if you’re lucky you might see a lava flow!

Things to do & see: 

  • Hiking Kīlauea and Mauna Loa
  • Napau Trail to Pu’u Huluhulu
  • Stay and eat at Volcano House
  • See the steam vents
  • Kīlauea Iki Trail
  • Sunset at Halemaumau Crater

11. Acadia National Park, Maine

Perhaps more of a hidden gem, Arcadia isn’t full of mountains in the way other National Parks are. Think rugged green spaces and a great space to relax.

Things to do & see: 

  • Cadillac Mountain
  • Thunder Hole
  • Park Loop road
  • Jordan Pond
  • Bass Harbor Head Light
  • Sand Beach
https://www.goodfreephotos.com/united-states/maine/acadia-national-park/landscape-and-scenic-of-mountains-and-lake-at-acadia-national-park-maine.jpg.php

12. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

This one is great for those of you who looove climbing!

Things to do & see: 

  • Lakes: Dream, Nymph, Emerald, Bear, Haiyaha
  • Alberta Falls
  • Trail Ridge Road
  • Long Peak Campground
  • Forest Canyon Overlook
  • Hidden Valley
  • Rocky Mountain National Park Night Sky Festival
  • Full Moon guided walk
  • Snowshoeing
  • Continental Divide

13. Everglades National Park, Florida

One of the swampiest National Parks, but definitely worth visiting for the wildlife!

Things to do & see: 

  • Panthers, manatees, crocodiles, pelicans, eagles…
  • Corkscrew Swamp
  • Shark Valley panorama
  • Explore by boat
  • Diving, snorkelling
  • Wilderness Waterway
  • Hiking
https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=206707&picture=everglades-sunset

14. Arches National Park, Utah

This park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, pinnacles that reach the stars, humongous rock fins and gigantic balanced rocks.

Things to do & see:

  • Arches Scenic Drive
  • Balanced Rock
  • Delicate Arch
  • Fiery Furnace
  • The Windows
  • Turret Arch
  • Devil’s Garden Trail
  • Stargazing at the Garden of Eden viewpoint
  • Panorama viewpoint

15. Glacier National Park, Montana

The name says it all here…

Things to do & see:

  • Hike some of the 700 miles of trails
  • Lake McDonald
  • Going to the sun Road
  • Wild Goose Island
  • Many Glacier & Swiftcurrent Lake
  • Apikuni Falls
  • Grinell Glacier
  • Lake Bowman
  • Avalanche Lake trail
  • Logan’s Pass
  • Hidden Lake Overlook
  • Rafting
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Glacier_National_Park_-_St._Mary%27s_Lake_with_Goose_Island.JPG

Do you want to check off all the USA National Parks as you visit them?

Are you planning your next USA trip and want to make sure you go somewhere new?

Here’s a USA National Parks Bucket List, so you can check you’ve seen all of them!

Have you been to any USA National Parks?

What were your favourite trails? I’d love to know!

Love as always + happy adventuring,

Mollie.

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15 USA National Parks you must visit
15 USA National Parks you must visit
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