Top 10 U.S. National Parks

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As avid travelers, we have visited many countries, and seen some of the most remote places in the World. While there is something exotic about travelling to places like Thailand, Nepal, Europe, Brazil, and the Caribbean islands, many miss out on the great things right here in our backyard. Including us. That changed in 2012 when we started exploring a lot of the West Coast. We continued exploring, and in December 2015 we quit our jobs to travel the World. We kicked it off with a 3 month road trip from San Francisco to New York.

 

After 13,000 miles, 21 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces, we hit as many National Parks as we could. We saw mountains, bears, waterfalls, bison, redwood trees, canyons, gorges, wolves, rainforests, swamps, islands, beaches, snow, geysers, hoodoos, and so much more. With everything we saw, both Yana and I agree on one thing. The United States has some excellent National Parks. With 59 National Parks, there are many to explore year round that provide a wide array of activities and incredible things to see.

 

Not sure about summer plans this year? What about getting away for Winter break? Don’t let that summer heat or winter chill destroy travel plans, there is always a time to explore.

 

Our Picks for Top U.S. National Parks:

 

The Subway Hike, Zion National Park, Utah

Subway hike at Zion NP

1. Zion National Park, Utah

About the park:

This stunning park outrivals most with its endless beauty. The red rock cliffs are dramatic, with powerful rivers cutting through gorgeous valleys. The canyon scenic drive here is top notch, but most come for the famous hikes. The “Big 3” hikes of Zion are to be taken seriously, hiking on tiny ledges with straight cliffs on both sides (Angels Landing), traversing through waist deep waters (The Narrows) or repelling down into watering holes within a stunning canyon (The Subway).

Top Sights:

  • Angels Landing hike

  • The Subway Tunnel hike

  • The Narrows hike

  • Zion Canyon scenic drive

Season:

Some activities may be closed in the winter, however the park does not shut down. Depending on snowfall, the off-season is a great time to explore this park, with much less visitors, and escaping the summer heat. The Subway hike (from the bottom up), Angels Landing, and the scenic drive can all be done in the winter, although be aware of conditions, as ice in Subway and Angels Landing can make these hikes dangerous. The Narrows can only be done during the summer and fall.

Read more here about our Subway hike.

 

Yellowstone, Zion, Yosemite, Bryce, Dry Tortugas, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, Big Bend, Glacier, Denali

The Valley in Yosemite NP

2. Yosemite National Park, California

About the Park:

One of the most impressive and popular parks, Yosemite has it all. From incredible mountains, a valley with world famous landmarks, Half Dome and El Capitan, Yosemite is packed with sights to explore. This park also is host to some of the world’s biggest trees, stunning alpine lakes, waterfalls, and some of the best hikes in the Sierra Nevada range. Yosemite also has endless trails to explore, great for backcountry camping.

Top Sights:

  • Half Dome

  • El Capitan

  • Mariposa Grove

  • Yosemite Falls

Season:

Highway 120 (Tioga Road) through Yosemite is typically closed November through May, so plan trips accordingly. You can however cross country ski, snowshoe, and ice skate in the valley throughout the winter months. Hiking and exploring is best in the late summer and fall. Try to avoid major holiday weekends in the summer, as there is one road and traffic moves very slowly.

Read more here about our Half Dome hike.

 

West Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Hot Springs in Yellowstone NP

3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

About the Park:

Widely regarded as the world’s first National Park, Yellowstone is known for its abundance of wildlife and volcanic activity. There are many active geothermal areas, including the famous Old Faithful Geyser, mudpots, sulfuric lakes, and hot springs. Camping and hiking is plentiful, with the possibility to encounter some of the wildlife, including grizzly bears, bison, wolves, fox, bighorn sheep and elk.

Top Sights:

  • Old Faithful Geyser

  • Norris Basin

  • Grand Prismatic Spring

  • Mammoth Hot Springs

  • Lamar Valley

Season:

The roads through the park with the exception of the North entrance from Gardiner to the Northeast entrance through the Lamar Valley, are all closed in the winter. Exploring this park is best May through September, however winter still brings in lots of tourists. Winter activities include a scenic drive through the Lamar Valley, soaking up in the Mammoth hot springs, and racing around the park on a snowmobile tour in West Yellowstone.

Read more here here about visiting Yellowstone in the winter.

 

 

Bryce Canyon National Park

Queens Garden Trail, Bryce Canyon NP

4. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

About the Park:

Boasting some of the most unique scenery, Bryce Canyon is filled with amphitheaters of giant hoodoos (a hoodoo is a tall, thin spire of rock). Sunrise is out of this world, and a hike through the hoodoos is a must. Get up close and personal to these strange rock formations that are seen rarely anywhere else. This park is a photographer’s favorite and offers easy hiking trails for everyone.

Top Sights:

  • Sunrise Point

  • Sunset Point

  • Rim Trail

  • Queens Garden Trail

Season:

Depending on the snow, Bryce can still be explored in the winter. In fact, some of the best pictures are with the contrast of red rock and white snow. Yet, due to its location and high elevation, temperatures get very low at Bryce Canyon in the winter. Most visit the park during the summer, but off-season at this park is the best time to come because of the low number of visitors.

Read more here about visiting Bryce Canyon.

 

Top 10 U.S. National Parks, Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

The Moat at Dry Tortugas NP

5. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

About the Park:

The most remote park in the United States, Dry Tortugas is also the most expensive. Accessible by ferry or seaplane, Dry Tortugas is comprised of several mostly uninhabited islands 70 miles southwest of Key West. The main draw here is Fort Jefferson, one of the largest all-brick forts in the world. While most come for a day trip (4 hour visit), the best way to experience this park is by taking advantage of the beach side campsites.

Top Sights:

  • Fort Jefferson

  • Loggerhead Key

  • Fishing

  • Kayaking

Season:

Open year round, however the summer is low season due to high temperatures and hurricane season. Book far ahead during the winter. The boat only takes on 10 campers per day and sells out several weeks in advance for camping. If no sites are available do not get discouraged. Keep calling the reservation center and spots may open up.

Read more here about visiting and camping at Dry Tortugas.

 

View from the rim at Grand Canyon NP

6. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

About the Park:

The Grand Canyon may be the most widely recognized park in the world. The World’s largest canyon is so vast it could take weeks if not months to fully explore. Most come for the viewpoints alone, but take the time to set off on a hike, even a short one. For the experienced hiker, set out on the rim to rim hike. This epic 24 mile hike descends and ascends a total of 10,500 feet.

Top Sights:

  • Mather Point

  • Rim Trail

  • North Kaibab Trail

  • Bright Angel Trail

Season:

Due to snow fall hiking can be done May to November. Come during the spring and fall when temperatures are reasonable.

 

Emory Peak & South Rim Hike, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Summit of Emory Peak

7. Big Bend National Park, Texas

About the Park:

Big Bend’s stunning scenery is a surprise to many visitors. It is home to scenic drives, beautiful canyons, and excellent mountain hikes. Other activities include soaking in natural hot springs, enjoying world-class stargazing opportunities (it is one of five National Parks recognized as Dark Sky), and even a potential stop in Mexico for lunch.

Top Sights:

  • Emory Peak

  • Santa Elena Canyon

  • Hot Springs Historic District

  • South Rim Trail

Season:

This park is open year round, and is best during the winter months. Due to high summer temperatures, hiking and outdoor activities can be challenging. Spring and Fall is the best time to explore this park.  However, if cold nights are not an issue, come between the months of November and February for solitude.

Read more here about Big Bend National Park.

 

Hoh Rainforest in Olympic NP

8. Olympic National Park, Washington

About the Park:

This park in Northwest Washington, is just a couple hours drive from Seattle. The Olympic Peninsula has several different ecosystems, making this one of the most diverse parks. From the alpine regions and dramatic peaks, to old-growth forests, a rugged coastline, and one of the largest temperate rain forests in the U.S., Olympic has much to explore.

Top Sights:

  • Hoh Rainforest

  • Cape Flattery

  • Hurricane Ridge

  • Sol Duc Falls

Season:

Olympic can be visited year round, yet snowfall can shut down most of the alpine region in the winter months.  The best time to visit is between May and October to escape the cold winter nights.

Top 10 U.S. National Parks, Denali, Alaska. See more at www.beardandcurly.com

Denali National Park, Photographer: Steven M. Mair

9. Denali National Park, Alaska

About the Park:

Want to go to the real outdoors? Getting away doesn’t get much further than Alaska, and Denali is the main attraction in a state that hosts eight National Parks. Centered around Denali (previously known as Mount McKinley), is the tallest peak in North America at 20,310 feet. From tundra areas filled with glaciers, old-growth forests and rivers cutting through lush valleys, Denali is a haven for wilderness enthusiasts. The park is home to dense concentrations of wildlife, including grizzly bears, wolves, sheep, caribou, and moose. Some of the common activities include mountain biking, backpacking, mountain climbing, and day hiking.

Top Sights:

  • River rafting

  • Denali park road – bike our bus tours

  • Flight tours

  • Savage River

Season:

Come between late spring and early fall, when the park is accessible and the harsh winter conditions come to a halt. The bus system in Denali is typically open mid-May to mid-September. Mount Denali is typically covered in clouds and only visible about 20% of the year, but visibility is best in May/June.

 

Lake McDonald, Glacier NP

10. Glacier National Park, Montana

About the Park:

With some of the most stunning mountains in the U.S., gorgeous alpine lakes, and endless backcountry opportunities, Glacier has found a spot on this list. Just south of the Canadian border, the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is widely regarded as one of the most scenic roads in the world. There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails, making this a top choice for backpackers and campers.

Top Sights:

  • Going-to-the-Sun Road

  • Logan Pass

  • Iceberg Lake Trail

  • Lake McDonald

  • Hidden Lake

  • Grinnell Glacier

Season:

Nearly off limits in the Winter besides cross country and snowshoe opportunities, come during the summer to best explore this park and its amazing hiking trails.

 

 

Top 10 U.S. National Parks, Kenai Fjords, Alaska. See more at www.beardandcurly.com

Kenai Fjords, Photographer: Steven M. Mair

 

Top 10 U.S. National Parks, Denali, Alaska. See more at www.beardandcurly.com

Crater Lake NP

Honorable Mentions:

  • Acadia National Park, Maine

  • Arches National Park, Utah

  • Canyonlands National Park, Utah

  • Cascade National Park, Washington

  • Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

  • Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

 

 

Sunset at Saguaro NP

Most Underrated National Parks:

  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

  • Channel Islands National Park, California

  • Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

  • Lassen National Park National Park, Colorado

  • Saguaro National Park, Arizona

  • Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands

Top 10 U.S. National Parks, Denali, Alaska. See more at www.beardandcurly.com

Lassen National Park, California

 

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Top 10 National Parks in the United States. Check out more at www.beardandcurly.com

 

 Published on 01/22/2017 by Beard and Curly.

 

3 comments on “Top 10 U.S. National Parks”

  1. Zach Reply

    Rock the West Rim trail in zion. 16miles. You’ll need to hire a car to drop you off but saw less than 10 ppl on the trail. Killer views. You can backcountry it for a night or crush it in a day. The sunset/sunrise is worth the overnight.

    • Beard and Curly Reply

      Thanks for the recommendation Zach! We love Zion, there is so much to explore.

  2. Zach Reply

    Fairyland loop same deal- you beat the crowds on the shorter hikes in Bryce and the changing landscape is killer. You can off trail along a dried creek to get some more miles and views.

    Cable mountain and deertrap in Zion were recd to me by the locals. No crowds, no amateur hour and in my opinion some of the best views in the park.

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