Top 10 National Parks in The USA For Nature Lovers

Top 10 National Parks in The United States For Nature Lovers

The United States is an incredible destination for nature lovers. The country has 63 national parks spanning more than 50 million acres of wilderness. From alpine regions to pristine beaches and rainforests, these parks protect a remarkable variety of ecosystems. Along with their well-preserved natural beauty, each of them offers bountiful opportunities for exploring wildlife. Here are the top 10 national parks in the USA that should be on every nature enthusiast’s must-visit list.

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A Quick Glance Through

Map – Best U.S. National Parks For Nature Lovers

Map - Top 10 National Parks in The USA For Nature Lovers

Top 10 National Parks in The USA

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Set along the Tennessee–North Carolina border, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is well known for its natural landscapes and plentiful wildlife.

The park embraces almost 800 square miles of protected lands featuring towering mountains, lush forests, and flowing streams.

It is the most popular and the most visited national park in the United States. In 2020, the park drew more than 12 million visitors, according to the 2020 visitation highlights.

Things To Do

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park encompasses some of the most magnificent sights in the United States. It is home to a myriad of scenic waterfalls and cascades.

Great Smoky Mountain National Park
Great Smoky Mountains – Counted Among The Top 10 National Parks in The USA

Drive the 5.5-mile long Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. It offers splendid views of the wooded forests and sparkling streams. Rainbow Falls and Grotto Falls, two of the park’s charming waterfalls, are located along this trail.

Climb the Clingmans Dome which is the highest point in the park. From the observation tower at Clingmans Dome, you can see panoramic views of the Smoky surroundings.

Take a tour of Cades Cove to explore the remains of the early settlements in the park. Besides that, you may see a variety of wildlife while hiking this 11-mile loop trail.

The park is a flourishing habitat for more than 200 varieties of birds, 65 species of mammals, and several types of reptiles, amphibians, and fish. Some of the commonly seen species are white-tailed deer, black bear, groundhog, and gray squirrel.

How To Get There

The main entrances to the park are located in Gatlinburg (Tennessee) and Cherokee (North Carolina).

Depending upon your preferred entrance, you can choose to fly into the McGhee Tyson Airport (TYS) in Tennessee, or the Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) in North Carolina.

The McGhee Tyson Airport lies about 45 miles west of the Gatlinburg entrance. And, the Asheville Regional Airport is roughly 60 miles east of the Cherokee entrance.

Where To Stay

The best places to stay near the park are Gatlinburg, TN, and Sevierville, TN. 

Gatlinburg provides great access to the park. Sevierville offers a lot of budget lodging options. It is approximately 17 miles from the Gatlinburg entrance.

If you want to stay in North Carolina, look for accommodation in Cherokee. You will find many options from cabin rentals to B&B Inns.

2. Glacier National Park

In northwest Montana, south of the Canadian province of Alberta lies the Crown of the Continent, Glacier National Park. It was established as America’s 10th national park in 1910.

Glacier National Park - Amongst The Top 10 National Parks in The USA

Glacier National Park is listed as the world’s first International Peace Park along with Waterton Lakes National Park of Canada.

Miles upon miles of rugged wilderness, spectacular mountain scenery, and pristine beauty of the region, all these earn it a mention on the list of the top 10 U.S. national parks for nature lovers.

Things To Do

There are endless things to do in Glacier National Park. However, some of the must-do things in the park include:

Going-To-The-Sun Road: It is one of the most scenic drives in the park with several pullouts.

Logan Pass: At 6,646 feet, Logan Pass is the highest point on Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Many Glacier: There are several hiking trails in this area. A few of the popular hikes are Iceberg Lake and Grinnell Glacier.

Lake McDonald Valley: Massive glaciers carved out this beautiful u-shaped valley thousands of years ago. The valley is home to the park’s largest lake, Lake McDonald. Hiking and horseback riding are a few of the most popular activities here.

The park has more than 700 miles of trails. From beginners to expert hikers, it offers hiking opportunities to everyone.

Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife on these hikes. The park is a natural habitat for several types of mammals and birds.

Bighorn Sheep in Glacier National Park
Bighorn Sheep

Elk, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and moose are some prominent forms of wildlife in Glacier National Park.

How To Get There

The main entrance to the park is the West entrance that provides access to the popular Going-to-the-Sun-Road.

Glacier Park International Airport (FCA), is the nearest airport to the park’s West Entrance. The airport is located in Kalispell, approximately 30 miles away from the park. 

If you are coming by car, then use U.S. Highway 2 to access the park from the West or East entrance.

Another option is to take Amtrak’s Empire Builder train that brings you to West Glacier, Montana. From there, you can take a shuttle to the park.

Where To Stay

Glacier National Park offers basic accommodation within the park. On the west side, Lake McDonald Lodge and Village Inn at Apgar are some of the available options.

There are a few beautiful cabins and lodges on the east side as well. If you prefer staying outside the park, then look for accommodation in Kalispell or Whitefish. Both towns are within an hour’s drive to the park’s West entrance.

3. Yellowstone National Park

Established in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is the first national park in the United States. 

It is widely famed for its geothermal landmarks and opulent wildlife. The United Nations enlisted it as a World Heritage Site in 1978.

Old Faithful in Yellowstone
Fascinating Nature Destination To Visit; Features Among The Top 10 National Parks in The USA

The park covers 3,472 square miles spanning three states, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. About 96% of the park is in Wyoming. The remaining 4% is spread across Montana and Idaho.

In 2020, Yellowstone National Park welcomed 3.8 million visitors.

Things To Do

The major highlights of Yellowstone include the Grand Prismatic Spring, the Old Faithful Geyser, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Lamar Valley, and Mammoth Hot Springs.

The Grand Prismatic is the largest hot spring in America and the third-largest in the world.

With its most vibrant hues of blue, orange, yellow, and green, it is one of the popular attractions and an absolute must-see in the park.

There are nearly 500 geysers in Yellowstone, but the eruption interval is highly unpredictable for most.

However, the Old Faithful erupts much more regularly than any other geyser in the park. Its eruption period varies between 35 to 120 minutes. Watching the Old Faithful Geyser is one of the best things to do in Yellowstone.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a breathtaking sight in the park. Created by the mighty Yellowstone River, the canyon is believed to be more than 10,000 years old.

Two gorgeous waterfalls, the Upper Falls and the Lower Falls, are the prime attractions at this spot.

Yellowstone Bison
Bison in Their Natural Habitat

Lamar Valley is a paradise for wildlife lovers. Bison are the most conspicuous animal in the valley. Grizzly bears, coyotes, pronghorns, badgers, wolves, and deer are also found here.

At Mammoth Hot Springs, you can see fascinating limestone formations created due to geothermal activities in the area. This area is also good for spotting elk.

How To Get There

There are five entrances to Yellowstone – North Entrance, Northeast Entrance, West Entrance, South Entrance, and East Entrance. 

The North entrance, situated in Gardiner, Montana, is open year-round. All other entrances operate seasonally.

The nearest airport to the park is Yellowstone Airport. It is just about a 3-mile drive to the park’s West entrance.

However, Yellowstone Airport is open from June to September only. So, you can fly to this airport during these 4 months of the year.

Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, located in southwest Montana, is the nearest airport to the park’s North entrance. From the airport, it is a 90-mile (1.5-hour) drive to this entrance.

Where To Stay

Yellowstone National Park has lodging facilities inside the park. You can check hotel availability on Yellowstone’s official website. If you don’t find accommodation inside the park, look for hotels in nearby towns of West Yellowstone and Gardiner.

West Yellowstone, located just outside the park’s west entrance, offers a good range of budget and mid-priced hotels. Check prices of West Yellowstone hotels.

Gardiner is the perfect place to stay if you plan to access the park from the North entrance. Check prices of Gardiner hotels.

4. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park was created as America’s third national park in 1890. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yosemite National Park - Features in The List of The Top 10 National Parks in The USA
For Nature Enthusiasts, Yosemite is Among The Top 10 National Parks in The USA

Set in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, Yosemite is one of the most beautiful national parks in California. It is dotted with majestic cliffs, cascading waterfalls, glistening lakes, and massive giant sequoias.

Also Read: 12 Must-Visit Places in California.

Things To Do

Yosemite’s top attractions include Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and Mariposa Grove. 

Half Dome is one of the most iconic sights in the park. You can enjoy a great view of Half Dome from Tunnel View. Another must-see rock formation in Yosemite Valley is El Capitan.

Yosemite Falls is a spectacular three-tier waterfall. Gushing down from an impressive 2,425 feet, Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America. There are hiking trails leading to the top of the waterfall.

The largest sequoia grove in Yosemite, Mariposa Grove protects some 500 giant sequoia trees. The oldest tree in the grove is the Grizzly Giant, estimated to be around 3,000-year old.

While driving through Yosemite Valley, keep an eye out for wildlife. Mule deer and coyotes are some of the commonly seen animals in Yosemite.

How To Get There

The Yosemite National Park is best explored by car. It is conveniently accessible by road from the cities located close by.

  • San Francisco to the Big Oak Flat entrance via Highway 120: 170 miles
  • Los Angeles to the South entrance via Highway 41: 280 miles
  • San Diego to the South entrance via Highway 41: 400 miles

Tioga Pass serves as the closest park entrance for those coming from Las Vegas. It is generally open for vehicles from June to October. When Tioga Pass is closed, use the park’s South entrance.

You can choose to fly into several airports if Yosemite is beyond the driving distance of your city. The approximate distance mentioned below is from the airport to Yosemite Valley.

  • Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT): 95 miles
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO): 195 miles
  • San Jose International Airport (SJC): 180 miles

Where To Stay

From hotels to tent cabins, Yosemite offers a range of accommodations. Reservations can be done about a year in advance. You can check more on the Yosemite National Park website.

Besides those, there are plenty of options available outside the park in nearby towns. 

Oakhurst is one of the best locations to stay outside the park’s South entrance. It is within 30-minute driving distance of the park. Check prices of hotels in Oakhurst.

If you plan to use the Big Oak Flat entrance, then Groveland will be the closest town. It lies 24 miles west of the Big Oak Flat entrance. Check prices of hotels in Groveland.

5. Olympic National Park

Occupying 1,442 square miles of the Olympic Peninsula, Olympic National Park is located in the northwest corner of Washington. It became a national park in 1938.

UNESCO designated it as a Biosphere Reserve and a World Heritage Site.

Olympic National Park
Spectacular Place To Explore; Counted Among The Top 10 National Parks in The USA

Olympic National Park is widely recognized for its unique diversity of ecosystems comprising glacier-capped peaks, temperate rain forests, and 73 miles of rugged coastline.

It is one of the most-visited national parks in the United States, with 2.5 to 3.5 million people visiting annually.

Things To Do

The park has mainly four areas: the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, the temperate rainforests on the west side, and the forests on the park’s east side. There are best things to do and see in each area.

Along the Pacific coastline, some of the best beaches to visit are Rialto Beach, Shi Shi Beach, and the group of La Push Beaches.

In the alpine areas, the must-visit places include Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent.

Hurricane Ridge offers stunning views of the Olympic Mountains. Lake Crescent is an amazing place to visit with so much scenic beauty scattered all around. Several hiking trails begin from Lake Crescent including the Mount Storm King trail.

On the western side of the park, Hoh Rainforest is a star attraction. You simply can’t miss this! There are gigantic old-growth trees in the forest and some date back over a thousand years. 

Most trees are covered with moss and ferns. Some old-growth forests are also found on the eastern side of the park.

How To Get There

The Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is the most convenient airport to get to Olympic National Park. It is about a 130-mile journey to the Olympic National Park Visitor Center in Port Angeles.

You can also take a ferry to reach here. There are mainly two ferry options from Seattle: the Bainbridge Island Ferry and the Edmonds-Kingston Ferry.

The Bainbridge Ferry drops you at Bainbridge Island. From there, take State Routes 305 and 104 to U.S. 101 which serves as the main access for the park.

The Edmonds-Kingston Ferry brings you to Kingston. Take State Route 104 across to US 101.

Where To Stay

Within the park, there are four historic lodges. Kalaloch Lodge and Lake Crescent Lodge are some of the most popular choices to stay inside the park.

Outside of the park, you will find several lodging options in the city of Port Angeles. Check prices of hotels in Port Angeles.

Alternatively, you can look for hotels in Sequim, located 17 miles east of Port Angeles.

6. Zion National Park

Established in 1919, Zion National Park is the oldest of the five national parks in Utah. It protects 229 square miles of wild land in southwestern Utah.

The park boasts awe-inspiring sandstone cliffs, rugged slot canyons, monoliths, and several other geological formations.

Zion National Park - Amongst The Most Popular Top 10 National Parks in The USA
Stunning Scenery; Zion National Park Features Among The Top 10 National Parks in The USA

It is visited by millions of national park lovers each year. In 2020, Zion National Park attracted nearly 3.6 million visitors.

Things To Do

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is one of the most epic things to do in the park. Several attractions and hikes are found along this road including Angel’s Landing and Weeping Rock. 

Another scenic road is Zion-Mount Carmel Highway that connects the park’s South and East entrances.

Besides these, bicycling, horseback riding, climbing and canyoneering are some of the popular activities in the park to enjoy nature and outdoor recreation.

It is a great place for birding too. There are more than 280 bird species in the park. The world’s fastest bird, Peregrine Falcon, is also found here.

How To Get There

The main entrance to the park, the Southern entrance, is located on Utah State Route 9.

The Zion Canyon Visitor Center is accessible from this entrance. It is 40 miles from St. George (UT), 163 miles from Las Vegas (NV), and 307 miles from Salt Lake City (UT).

McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas is the nearest major airport, about 170 miles from the park.

There is a regional airport in St. George but with limited flight options. So, the best option is to fly to Las Vegas and rent a car from there.

Where To Stay

There are two campgrounds near the South entrance at Springdale, the Watchman Campground and the South Campground. While the Watchman Campground is open all year, the South Campground is closed in the winter season.

Apart from campgrounds, the only available accommodation inside the park is the historic Zion Lodge. It offers a nice range of choices from cabins to standard rooms and suites.

Outside of the park, Springdale is the best place to stay. The town is well-located to explore Zion National Park from the South entrance. Check prices of Springdale hotels.

7. Denali National Park and Preserve

Tucked in the  Alaska Range, Denali National Park and Preserve is home to vast swathes of wilderness and abundant wildlife.

Denali National Park - Beautiful Landscape

At a whopping six million acres, it is the third-largest national park in the United States. It was established in 1917 as Mount McKinley National Park. 

In 1980, it was renamed Denali National Park and Preserve after being combined with Denali National Monument. The highest mountain in North America, Denali, is located within the park.

Things To Do

The best way to explore the park is to take a narrated bus tour. It traverses the 92-mile long Denali Park Road and offers great opportunities to spot wildlife. 

The park supports many types of large mammals including Alaska’s Big Five: moose, caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bears, and wolves.

Small animals such as foxes, coyotes, and marmots also reside in the park. 

Furthermore, the park boasts an impressive variety of birds. Gray jay and American Robin are some of the commonly sighted bird species here. The best time to view wildlife is mid-May to mid-September.

Besides wildlife, another major highlight of Denali is its breathtaking mountain scenery that will surely leave you awe-struck.

How To Get There

Anchorage, located about 240 miles south of the park, serves as the main gateway to all of Alaska. You can fly into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC).

From Anchorage, there are several ways to reach the park. You can rent a car, board a train, or take a bus. The train service is offered by the Alaska Railroad. There is a train station right at the park entrance.

Where To Stay

If you want to stay inside the park, accommodation options are limited. Besides campgrounds, there are a few privately owned lodges within the park. 

The park has six campgrounds. You can check Denali National Park camping details on the National Park Service website.

There are nice choices of lodges and cabin rentals outside the park. Check prices and availability.

8. Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park sits within the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in north-central Colorado. The park is blessed with 415 square miles of astonishing mountainous nature. It was established as a national park in 1915.

Rocky Mountain National Park - Astonishing Vistas

With elevations ranging between 7,860 feet and 14,259 feet, it is one of the highest national parks in the United States. The park features sixty mountain peaks over 12,000 feet.

In terms of park visitation per year, it is amongst the top 10 national parks in the USA. Approximately 4.5 million people visit this park each year.

Things To Do

The best things to do in the park include:

Trail Ridge Road: Drive this scenic road stretching between Estes Park in the east and Grand Lake in the west. The highest point on this road is at 12,183-foot elevation.

There are a number of overlooks along this road to enjoy the surrounding vistas. Many Parks Curve and Forest Canyon Overlook are popular ones. Due to snow, the road is closed during the winter season.

Hiking: With 355 miles of hiking trails, Rocky Mountains National Park is a hiker’s paradise. Bear Lake trail and Cub Lake trail are a few of the popular nature trails in the park.

Wildlife viewing: The park is home to a great variety of wildlife. Some of the most commonly seen animals are Elk and mule deer. In addition to mammals, more than 270 species of birds are found in the park.

How To Get There

The Beaver Meadows entrance is the most popular entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. This entrance is open year-round and provides direct access from the town of Estes Park. The Beaver Meadows Visitor Center is 68 miles from Denver via US Hwy 36. 

If you are looking to fly in for a visit to the park, the closest major airport is Denver International Airport (DEN). There is no public transportation from the airport to the park. So, you will need to rent a car.

On the west side of the park, the only entrance is the Grand Lake entrance, located just 2 miles north of Grand Lake.

Where To Stay

There are five campgrounds in the Rocky Mountain National Park and most are reservable in advance. If camping is not your thing, you can stay in one of the towns bordering the park.

On the east side of the park, Estes Park is the closest town to the park. From lodges to hotels and resorts, it offers a variety of accommodation. Check lodging options in Estes Park.

If you are planning to use the park’s west entrance, then you can stay in Grand Lake.

9. Grand Canyon National Park

Situated in the northwestern corner of Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park spans 1,904 square miles across Coconino and Mohave counties. 

The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River divides the park into South and North Rims. The canyon is massive and its beauty is unmatched. It is 277-mile long, up to 18-mile wide, and about a mile deep.

Grand Canyon National Park - Counted Amongst The Top 10 National Parks in The USA For Nature Lovers

The area was first established as a forest reserve in 1893, then a national monument, and officially became a national park in 1919.

With about 5 million people visiting the park each year, it features amongst the most sought-after top 10 national parks in the USA.

Things To Do

The park’s most popular viewpoints and hiking trails are in the South Rim. 

Mather Point, Mohave Point, and Grandview Point are some of the best lookouts affording spectacular views of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Hiking is a great way to explore the park deeper. One of the most famous trails in the park is the Bright Angel Trail.

The trail offers different hiking options, from a 3-mile Resthouse round trip to a 12-mile Plateau Point roundtrip. You can check the Bright Angel Trail hiking instructions on the National Park Service website.

How To Get There

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open year-round. It is served by a number of airports including Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG), Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), and McCarran International Airport (LAS).

Of the three airports, Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG) is the closest to the South Rim, roughly 90 miles away.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is located 30 miles south of Jacob Lake, Arizona, on Highway 67. It is closed in winters generally from mid-October to mid-May.

Where To Stay

The best place to stay inside the park is Grand Canyon Village. There are several choices: Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, Maswik Lodge, and a few more.

If you don’t find lodging within the park, you may consider staying in Tusayan. It is just 7 miles from the Grand Canyon Village and offers a good range of affordable hotels.

10. Everglades National Park

Encompassing nearly 2,400 square miles of subtropical wilderness, Everglades National Park is located in the southern part of Florida.

It is the third-largest national park in the lower 48 after Death Valley and Yellowstone National Park.

Everglades National Park Alligators
Rich in Wildlife; Everglades is Among The Top 10 National Parks in The USA For Nature Lovers

It officially became a national park in 1947. The park is also listed as a World Heritage Site and a Wetland of International Importance.

Things To Do

The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, the Anhinga Trail, the Pa-hay-okee Overlook, and Shark Valley are some of the best spots to visit during your Everglades trip.

At the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, you can get plenty of useful information about the park. Get the park map before heading to your next stop.

About a 4-mile drive from the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center brings you to the Anhinga trailhead. It is a short 0.8-mile round trip trail.

The main highlight of the Anhinga trail is its copious wildlife. Alligators are the most commonly seen animal here. In addition, you might see several types of water birds like anhingas, egrets, and herons.

Visit the Pa-hay-okee Overlook to enjoy captivating views of the Sawgrass freshwater marsh.

Shark Valley is another popular attraction of the park. There is a 15-mile loop road that offers amazing opportunities to see the Everglades wildlife.

You can take a tram ride along this road or walk, or bike as you may like.

How To Get There

The main entrance to the park is the South entrance at Florida City near Homestead. 

The Miami International Airport (MIA) is the closest major airport to the park. 

From the airport, the park’s South entrance is just about 42 miles away. The Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center is found at this entrance.

There are two more entrances, the North entrance at Shark Valley and the Northwest entrance at Everglades City on the Gulf Coast.

If you are traveling from downtown Miami, the park’s North entrance is the most convenient. The Shark Valley Visitor Center is located at this entrance.

Where To Stay

The park has no hotels within its boundaries. However, camping facilities are available. If you don’t want to camp, you can stay in one of the surrounding towns near the park.

Florida City and Homestead are located close to the park’s main entrance, the Homestead entrance. From budget to mid-range, you will find several lodging options in these towns. Check accommodation options in Florida City and Homestead.

Further Reading

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Over To You Now…

We hope this post ‘The top 10 national parks in the USA For Nature Lovers’ inspired you to explore the country’s vast wilderness.

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