The Best List of National Parks in the US in 2021: Everything you need to know

The United States of America has a 63 protected areas that are classified as National Parks. These parks are maintained and operated by the National Park Service.

The National Parks are considered to be the Crown Jewels of the United States. These National Parks contain everything from Glaciers, to geothermal pools to some of the best white sandy beaches in the world it is no wonder so many travelers have them as one of their US bucket list trips.

No matter what sort of adventures you are interested in, at least one of the beautiful parks should be on your US National Parks Bucket List.

Keep reading to find out the Ultimate list of National Parks in the US, whilst not all 63 National Parks are on this list, we have compiled the BEST national parks in the United States.

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Printable List of National Parks by State

The Best List of National Parks in the US by State

As of the January 2021, a new National Park was created in West Virginia which means there are now 63 Nationals Parks in the United States.

Some of my favourite travel bloggers have come together to bring you a list of the top National Parks in the USA.

National Parks in Montana

Glacier National Park

Julia, Well Planned Journey

The sun setting over a mountain peak brushed with clouds behind a field filled with trees

Glacier National Park is one of the best places to visit in the United States in the Summer. From epic hikes to bucket list scenic drives, there’s something for every type of traveler.

Located in northern Montana, Glacier National Park is accessible from a small airport in Kalispell, Montana. It’s also the perfect destination to add to a road trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.

If you only have a few days in Glacier National Park, don’t miss the park’s best hikes: the Highline Trail, Grinnell Glacier, and Iceberg Lake.

A scenic drive on the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is also an essential part of every Glacier National Park itinerary.

The large imposing mountains surrounding a bright blue glacial lake

The best time to spot wildlife and capture the beauty of Glacier National Park is at sunrise or sunset. Sunrise at Two Medicine Lake is peaceful and serene, a perfect escape from the crowds. Sunset at Many Glacier Hotel followed by dinner at the Ptarmigan Dining Room is a must.

Glacier offers plenty of places to stay, from famous lodges like the Many Glacier Hotel to in-park campgrounds. If you want to stay outside the park, consider renting a house in nearby St. Mary or West Glacier.

Summer is the busiest time of year in Glacier National Park. To beat the crowds, start your day at sunrise! Don’t forget to pack plenty of water, bear spray, and binoculars for every hike in Glacier.

National Parks in Oregon

Crater Lake National Park

A view of the rocky mountains surrounding the blue lake at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon

Crater Lake is the crown jewel of Oregon, is Oregon’s only National Park, and is one of the cleanest National Parks in the country. On a clear day, you’re able to see views up to 100 miles.

Crater Lake was created over 7,700 years ago after a volcanic eruption that caused the tall peak of Mount Mazama, a 12,000-foot tall volcano, to collapse.

The lake that you see today resulted from filling up with rainwater and snowmelt over 600 – 800 years, following the cooling of the volcanic hole.

The 33-mile Rim Road drive within Crater Lake is one of the most scenic byways in America. Witness the bold blues at more than 30 different pullouts and perspectives.

The famous Wizard Island view is the best from the pullout just north of Watchman’s Peak. You’ll find an orange ‘castle’ on the side of Redcloud Cliff at Pumice Castle Overlook.

A view through the trees of a small island in the middle of a lake surrounded by rocky mountains in the Crater lake National Park in the US

If you love to hike, you’ll enjoy more than 100 miles of trails. Mount Scott Trail is a 2.5-mile gradual walk up to the high-point of Crater Lake, another great place to witness breathtaking views.

If you do not make many stops, you’re able to drive Rim Road in a couple of hours. However, once you see the lake, you will want to take some time to enjoy its beauty. Allow at least a day to explore Crater Lake.

For a different view of the lake, take a boat tour to Wizard Island. The tour includes a stop at the island to view the 800-year-old trees growing on the island.

Crater Lake is located in Southern Oregon, closest to the cities of Klamath Falls and Medford. The most popular time to visit Crater Lake is during the summer months.

If you would like to extend your stay in Crater Lake, there are campsites available, or stay at the Crater Lake Lodge, where you’ll enjoy more incredible views of the lake.

National Parks in Wyoming

Yellowstone National Park

Adriana, Czech the World

A natural hot spring in Yellowstone National park. Bright orange circle with a large deep green spring in the middle

Yellowstone National Park is a great place for summer vacation. It belongs among the most fascinating national parks in the USA.

There is over 60 % of all the world’s geysers and about 10,000 other geothermal features because the whole park sits on top of a giant supervolcano! 

With an area of nearly 4000 square miles (8980 km²) of wilderness, it is home to bears, bison herds, wolves, coyotes, deers, and elks. 

You will be amazed to see all these colorful hot springs, erupting geysers, bubbling mud pots, fumaroles, and steam coming out of the earth. There are so many beautiful places to see in Yellowstone National Park, that you should rather plan a longer visit.

If you want to get the best pictures, plan your hot springs photographing around noon. Those geothermal features have the best colors when the sun is right above you.

A bright blue waterfall falling between rocky cliffs

Also, beware of steam or water drops from geysers, and dry your lenses immediately after it gets wet.

The highlights of Yellowstone National Park are the Old Faithful geyser – a predictable geyser, which erupts about every 90 minutes, the Grand Prismatic – the 3rd largest hot spring in the world, and last but not least the monumental Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

Yellowstone offers accommodation for all kinds of travelers whether you prefer camping or staying in lodges, the most fascinating building is the Old Faithful Inn.

You can explore Yellowstone by yourself or choose some of the guided tours. The easiest way to get there and explore the whole park is by your own or rented car. The closest airport is in Bozeman, Montana.

National Parks in Maine

Acadia National Park

Tegan + Alex, Why Not Walk Travel Guides

A view from a rock platform over acardia national park including the blue river and a forest with changing leaves

Acadia National Park is one of the dreamiest places in the U.S., pairing its remote Maine location with rugged coastline, wraparound views from its various trail summits, and an abundance of places to explore for all activity levels.

Summer is the best time to visit, due to Maine’s gorgeous, mild summer temperatures and great weather. Those seeking a challenging hike should consider the less-trafficked Pemetic Mountain Trail, which offers sweeping vistas of the North Maine Woods, the ocean, and the granite formations Acadia is famous for.

A must-see is the Jordan Pond, which has a flat, paved trail around its 3.3-mile loop, as well as the quick ascent to Bubble Rock, a curious natural formation that looks like it’s about to fall off the mountain.

Many people like to see the sunrise at the peak of Cadillac Mountain, which you can drive up to, but be sure to book your parking ahead of time as it fills up very rapidly.

Rocks lining onside of a river looking over to trees lining the other side of the river

Overall, it’s recommended that you plan what you want to do in Acadia before arriving, and arrive early in the morning for uninterrupted views of Jordan Pond or other popular tourist destinations, as it can get very crowded during the summer months.

For the best uninterrupted photos, make a beeline for Jordan Pond and the Bubbles early in the morning, and choose a less-trafficked trail for the afternoon. Don’t miss driving for a bit on Park Loop Road for beautiful views of the water and the rocky outcroppings rising around you.

The rangers at Hulls Cove Visitor Center are eager to recommend lesser-known hikes, and are a wealth of knowledge. Many people choose to stay in nearby Bar Harbor, the largest town near the park, which has great restaurants and hotel options.

If you want to stay closer to the park, there are several options for rooms on Airbnb, though these can get pricey during peak season.

National Parks in Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park

James, Parks Collecting

A rock outcrop with natural rock formations lined with trees

Mesa Verde is a great place to visit in summer.  Although it can be hot, summer is when the cliff dwellings are open for tours. 

The national park is home to a large number of ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings – small villages and houses literally built in alcoves in the cliffs.  Many can be seen from overlooks. 

For the best photos, go there early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun shines directly on the buildings below the overhangs. 

Although seeing the dwellings from an overlook is cool, actually walking through them gives a much clearer insight into the life the ancestral Puebloans lived in the 12th and 13th centuries.  There are two main types of tours. 

Ranger-assisted tours have timed entry and larger groups and run throughout the day, every day in the summer.  These include Cliff Palace and Long House, which are the largest and second largest dwellings in the national park. 

They are below the top of the mesa, so visiting the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings does require walking along narrow paths with steep drop offs on one side, walking down steep steps and even climbing down and/ or up ladders, so you do need some mobility. 

You will be rewarded with seeing these former villages up close.  You can look down into the circular kivas (religious sites), peer through windows and see the brick walls up close.

To take any of these tours, you need to book online through the national park’s website.

A few of the smaller sites are also opened each year to ranger-led special tours that run only in summer, albeit less frequently than the main ranger-assisted tours. These sites are typically more remote and more difficult to access.

Spring House, for example, is reached by an eight-mile roundtrip backcountry hike, so visiting it is an all-day experience.  Most of them require you to climb down the same footholds that the ancestral Puebloans carved into the sheer cliff face hundreds of years ago. 

These days, there is a rope you can hold on to, but it is still not for the faint-hearted. 

There is only one lodge inside the park – the Far View Lodge – and one campsite – Morefield Campground, which is at the bottom of the mesa, near the park entrance.  Many people stay in the nearby towns of Mancos and Cortez or Durango, about 45 minutes away.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Dani, Fox in the Forest

The sunsetting behind the mountains and a lake

Rocky Mountain National Park is an outdoor lover’s paradise year-round, but it becomes extra special when summer arrives.

With over 110 hiking trails, putting on your hiking shoes is one of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain, and options are aplenty for both beginner and seasoned hikers. Think crystal-clear mountain lakes, rugged ridge lines, and epic landscapes to get an idea of what hiking here is like.

If you’d rather not break a sweat, another must-do here is to go on a scenic drive to hit the main viewpoints: Peak-to-Peak Highway and the ever-famous Trail Ridge Road are considered two of the most beautiful hikes in Colorado!

For photography enthusiasts, Rocky Mountain isn’t short of photogenic scenery. A few of the best spots for amazing shots are the Many Parks Overlook, the Gore Range Overlook, Sprague Lake, and Bear Lake. Getting to these requires little effort, which means you can bring all your equipment along.

The Colorado Rockies are set on an extremely high altitude, so make sure to acclimatize safely by taking it slow and drinking plenty of water throughout your visit.

There are many lodging options around Rocky Mountain in the nearby Estes Park and Grand Lake, but they’re not very easy on your wallet.

For more budget-friendly options, consider driving a bit further away to towns like Lyons, Nederlands, or Boulder. Camping is also an option – in fact, it’s considered some of the best camping in Colorado!

There are 5 campgrounds: Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, and Moraine Park (which you can reserve in advance), and Timber Creek and Longs Peak Campground (first-come-first-serve).

Getting there: Rocky Mountain is really close to both Denver (just an hour and a half), which makes it really accessible. In addition, several bus services run between Denver and different locations in Rocky Mountain.

National Parks in California

Pinnacles National Park

Elaina, Mind Over Matter Travel

A lake between two rocky cliffs covered in trees

Pinnacles National Park is a hidden gem of California and one of the most underrated national parks! Located to the East of the Salinas Valley, Pinnacles is in an ideal location to take a day trip from the bay area, Monterey area, or the central valley.

You can access Pinnacles from the west entrance via highway 101 or from the east entrance via highway 25. It’s important to remember that the road does not meet in the park, so choose your entrance carefully!

If you’re interested in getting to the other side of the park, you’ll either have to hike or drive an hour all the way around the park.

Pinnacles National Park is not ideal for a scenic drive, but it provides some of the best hiking trails to choose from. The trails consist of talus caves, rock climbing, rock scrambling, wildlife, and stunning views along the way.

With trails ranging from easy to strenuous and from 0.9 miles to 9.4 miles, there is something for every skill level.

A view over mountains covered in green trees

Before making the trip to Pinnacles, make sure to prepare:

  1. Check the National Park Service website beforehand for closures. This is especially important if you plan to explore the caves; they are only open during certain times of the year.
  2. Bring flashlights for the caves (your phone light will only go so far).
  3. Carry plenty of water! Some hiking trails can take as long as 8 hours to complete. Trails may also be in direct sunlight for the majority of the hike.
  4. There is no lodging, gasoline, or food in the park.
  5. There is limited cell phone service in the park.

Pinnacles National Park can be a day trip, but there are also accommodations available to those planning a longer adventure. A campground is available to those wanting to stay right in the park, but it can only be accessed from the East entrance! Otherwise, you can find hotels in surrounding cities.

Sequoia National Park

Ale, Sea Salt & Fog

Large trees including pine trees in Sequoia National Park

Home to some of the largest trees in the world, Sequoia National Park is a must have on your summer bucket list. 

Nestled in the Sierra Nevada of California, Sequoia often gets overlooked for its more famous neighbor, Yosemite.

However, spending a day in Sequoia will give you similar Yosemite vibes without the huge crowds, especially in the busy summer months. 

There’s a ton of things to do in Sequoia. You absolutely have to make the short hike to see General Sherman, the largest tree in the world.

The path to get here is paved, and shady. General Sherman itself is HUGE, you can’t fit the whole tree into a photo! 

A view over the sweeping hills of Sequoia

For sweeping vistas, you’ll need to head over to Moro Rock. This large rock formation has a narrow set of stairs that’ll take you to the top, with beautiful views of the valley below. This is a great spot for photos, and you absolutely shouldn’t miss it. 

If you have the time, make sure to drive through the Auto Log – a large sequoia log on its side with plenty of room for cars to drive through it. This is a super popular spot for photos, so be prepared for long lines! 

When visiting Sequoia, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of gas. There’s gas in the nearby National Forest, but none within the park itself. You’ll be climbing windy mountain roads, so get to the park with a full tank. 

For peace and tranquility, get an Airbnb. This host leaves plenty of snacks and farm fresh eggs, making for a great experience. 

Redwood Forest National Park

Dhara, Roadtripping California

A forest full of thick green trees

Redwood National Park in California is one of the best national parks you can visit in the summer. The weather is beautiful, and while summer is high season at Redwood, it still does not get as insanely crowded as some of the other famous national parks. Plus, long daylight hours mean that you can get in more sightseeing and hiking!

Redwood is actually a group of four parks: Redwood National Park plus three beautiful California state parks. The parks are located on the northern coast of California, and driving is the best way to get here. You can drive up from San Francisco in about 5.5 hours if you take the freeway.

Hiking among the world-famous redwoods is the most popular activity in the parks. The redwood groves here feature some of the tallest trees in the world, and it is awesome to walk among them. You can also do several scenic drives through the redwoods and along the beautiful coast.

Wildlife viewing and wildflower viewing are other popular activities, in season. Elk reside in the park, and you are almost certain to see some when you visit. From the overlooks along the coast, you can look for whales, other sea creatures, and birds.

Allow at least 2 to 3 days, more if you have the time, to explore the parks in depth. There is a lot to see and do here! And you will need your own set of wheels to get from one place to another within the parks, which are quite spread out.

Klamath is a centrally located spot from which to explore Redwood National and State Parks. The Historic Requa Inn is a highly rated place to stay. They have onsite dining as well.

National Parks in Alaska

Denali National Park

Patricia, Ze Wandering Frogs

Dark clouds rolling in over snow capped mountains

Denali National Park is by far the one park to visit in Alaska come summertime.

Indeed, the peak period to visit the famous park is from June to October, when the temperatures are mild.

Located about four hours north of Anchorage, Denali, the scenic drive will pass by stunning landscapes like the 200-foot Thunderbird Falls near Old Glenn Highway and some of the best viewpoints of Mt Denali, the highest peak in North America at over 20,000 feet.

There is only one entrance to the Denali National Park as no private cars are actually allowed in the park to preserve its pristine habitat and wildlife.

Once in the park, guided bus tours and park shuttles run on specific schedules and help visitors explore the park. 

Things to do in the park include visiting the sled dog kennels, going ziplining or whitewater rafting, or joining one of the many ranger-guided tours that will let travelers explore the backcountry.

Thanks to its infinite trail opportunities, hiking and multi-day trekking adventures are among the park’s most popular activities. 

Wildlife is another major attraction in Denali. Bears, both grizzly and black, roam freely through the park and are a regular occurrence along the roads. Caribou and moose are also easily spotted, though wolves are more elusive.

Bring binoculars, and wildlife photographers might want to bring lenses from 300 mm to get the best closeup shot opportunities.

Most people who visit either camp within the park in one of the six Denali National Park campgrounds. or stay in one of the lodges in the cities near the entrance – Healy in the north or Cantwell in the south. 

Visiting Denali is definitely a must-do while in Alaska, and one of the top national parks in the US, thanks to its unique landscape and wildlife. 

National Parks in Virginia

Shenandoah National Park

Jennifer, Family Trip Guides

A car side mirror over looking a small rock wall to a view over the flat planes of Shenandoah National Park

Summer is great at Shenandoah National Park because it can feel much cooler in the mountains than in the swamp of nearby Washington, D.C! The park is over 300 square miles of gorgeous mountain views, waterfalls, and dozens of great hikes.

If you are driving from Washington DC, there are several entrance stations you can enter. The closest one is Front Royal Entrance Station but that can get backed up at the station and you are entering at the far north of the park.

The main road in Shenandoah National Park is Skyline Drive which is 105 miles long along the “spine” of the mountain range. So I recommend entering at Thornton Gap Entrance Station as it is less busy, and you are entering at the middle of Skyline Drive so you can go North or South.

There are seemingly endless lookouts and dozens of pull-over spots along Skyline Drive. Hawskbill and Old Rag are great spots for photography as well.

The 2 hikes above (Hawsbill and Old Rag) and very popular and not kid-friendly but have epic views. There are also easier, and more kid-friendly hikes like from the Pinnacles Picnic Ground to the Jewell Hollow Overlook.

This one is great because it follows the Appalachian Trail! If you want a fully accessible trail, check out the Limberlost Trail which is 1.3 miles but there are no sweeping views. And for waterfalls, check out the Dark Hollow Falls Trail! 

If your travels take you to northern Virginia, there are tons of amazing playgrounds to explore!

Shenandoah National Park offers basic cabins at the park, but they can book up quickly. We’ve stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn Harrisonburg and it’s great for families and couples. Love the kitchenettes in each room, pool, and free breakfast.  

National Parks in Utah

The Arches

Mike, FivePax

A large rock arch surrounded by rock mountains

Arches National Park in Utah is home to some of the most iconic landscapes in the United States.  Summertime is an especially great time to visit as long days lead to packed itineraries and pleasant nights are ideal for stargazing.  

Exhilarating white water rafting from spring runoff down the Colorado River is available early summer, while the free concerts in Swanny Park every Friday night starting in July are a great way to mingle later on. 

While many of the landmarks are visible from the car along the Arches Scenic Drive, the best way to experience what mother nature has to offer is by hiking Arches National Park. 

The most iconic photo opportunities are along the Delicate Arch and Double Arch trails.  Delicate Arch is a 5km difficult hike with a stunning payoff at the end.  The view features Utah’s most iconic sandstone formation in the foreground with the La Sal Mountains as the backdrop. 

A large rock arch surrounded by rock mountains

The Double Arch loop features the highest concentration of arch formations in the park. 

The best time to hike is in the early morning to beat the heat, beat the family tourists during the day, and beat the instagrammers trying to capture the golden hour sunset in the evening. 

A morning hike may just yield complete and peaceful solitude on most hikes with the golden hour sunrise.  

Just be sure to bring plenty of water and save some energy for when the sun goes down.  Those who are into either photography, astronomy, or basically anyone interested in having their mind blown are in for a nighttime treat. 

A large rock arch surrounded by rock mountains

The skies above Arches are some of the darkest in the world, and the stunning natural landscape provides an ideal frame for some of the clearest views of the Milky Way on earth.  

The best way to experience Arches is by camping, and while the absolute best camping is in the park itself, it does sell out for the entire season within minutes of becoming available. 

The best alternative camping is available at Bureau of Land Management (BLM) locations along Highway 128.  None of the BLM sites are reservable, and are first come first serve.  Most are tucked in the shadows of the canyon walls next to the Colorado River for a bit of respite from the sun and a quick 5 minute drive to the park. 

If camping sounds a bit too rustic, there are a lot of good AirBnBs in nearby Moab. 

Day or night, and all year round, the natural wonders of Arches National Park always deliver.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Lisa, Planning Away

A canyon filled with rock formations

Bryce Canyon is located in Southern Utah. It is one of the five National Parks in Utah!  

Bryce Canyon is one of the best parks to visit during the summer.  The temperatures are nice and cool! The average temp in July is 79 degrees.  This is the perfect temperature to hike.  There are over 15 hiking trails.  What is nice about Bryce Canyon is if you are not up for intense hikes you can also enjoy the beautiful views from the overview.  

Bryce Canyon is remote.  There is camping,glamping, airbnbs, and a few hotels located within about 10 – 40 miles outside the park. 

One place that I would recommend is the Whispering Pines Covered Wagon Resort.  This is glamping at its best. Staying in a covered wagon is a unique experience. 

This resort is located in between Zions National Park and Bryce National park so if you are planning on visiting both parks this is a great spot! 

Bryce Canyon is one of the best National Parks to visit in summer. 

National Parks in Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Stephanie, Explore More Clean Less

Pink clouds over a road surrounded by tall pine trees with mountains in the background

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular park in the country, straddling Tennessee and North Carolina with over 500,000 acres of public land.

It is free to enter and easily accessible by a number of major U.S. cities; the closest airports are in Knoxville, TN and Asheville, NC or it is within a day’s drive from several other major cities.

Photographers will want to target visiting in spring or fall; the wildflowers in spring are plentiful and stunning while fall foliage can’t be beat!

There are a number of scenic vistas accessible by car or paved path, some of the most popular include Clingman’s Dome, NewFound Gap, Cades Cove, or the Roaring Fork Motor Trail.

There are a number of dirt trails to get fully immersed in nature as well; be sure to put visiting a waterfall on your list and keep your eyes open to spot salamanders, black bears, elk, or wild turkeys while you hike and drive.

Relax after exploring the park at nearby Dollywood DreamMore Resort, with a pool and splash pad for the whole family. This luxurious hotel will shuttle you to the park into a special entrance just for DreamMore guests.

There are a number of guided tour options both within and on the edges of the park; outdoors enthusiasts will enjoy fishing for wild mountain trout in one of the park’s rivers or take a relaxing ride in the famous Pink Jeep tours to see the sights.

National Parks in Colorado

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Kiersten, Hiking in my flip flops

A woman standing on a sand dune surrounded by large sand dunes as the sunsets

Summer brings a natural phenomena that few are lucky enough to experience at The Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve in Colorado. In late May through early June, the snow melt runs down from the Sangre de Cristo mountains into the Medano Creek, not only filling it with water, but the mysterious surge flow creates ocean-like waves too.

For just a few short weeks, visitors can wade, surf, and skimboard at the temporary beach in the middle of the Colorado mountains.  

The easy (mostly highway) drive is less than 4 hours from Denver. The drive is a bit further from Grand Junction, but with the scenery on this route, you won’t mind the extra time on the road a bit. 

Pinon Flats Campground provides easy, walkable access to the creek and the dunes, but it books up quickly this time of year. Great Sand Dunes Oasis has more traditional lodging options, including cabins. Or check out nearby Alamosa for many favorite economy hotel options too.

Hike the unmarked trails to High Dune or Star Dune to reach the highest point of the sand dunes for the perfect photo ops. The vast mountains of sand are filled with many spots for unique photos, but we think the best ones come when the sun sets.

A man standing on a sand dune with a head lamp on looking into the starry night sky

After dark, get your red-lights out and head into the dunes to see the starry skies. The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is certified by the International Dark-Sky Association, so you’ll get some of the best Milky Way views out in the dunes.

Another one of our favorite spots is found down the 4WD Medano Pass, where less traffic means untouched sand – and more gorgeous sunset views.

National Parks in Washington

Olympic National Park

Matt, West Coast Wayfarers

Large rock formation on a beach low tide

Olympic National Park is massive, sprawling over nearly one million acres on the Olympic Peninsula at the northwest corner of the contiguous United States.

Within the park boundaries, you’ll find several distinct ecosystems – the Pacific Coast, the alpine region, and the temperate rainforest – that make it one of the most diverse National Parks in the country.

Summer is the perfect time to visit thanks to warm, dry weather and long summer days, which will give you plenty of daylight for exploring. 

To get there from Seattle, the closest city, you’ll take the Bainbridge Island Ferry out to the Olympic Peninsula, and take US-101 to Port Angeles, which is a good starting point for your Olympic National Park itinerary.

Waves coming into a beach lined with pine trees

While you’re in the park, you’ll want to explore all three of the aforementioned ecosystems that live within the boundaries of Olympic National Park.

To do that, you’re going to want to make a big loop around the Olympic Peninsula, which will take you two days. Spend your first night at the Lake Crescent Lodge, which is situated along the shores of a large lake just west of Port Angeles, and your second night in the town of Forks, which is an ideal home base for exploring the coast and rainforest.

Yes, that Forks. 

Start with the alpine region, which is most easily accessible at Hurricane Ridge, just south of Port Angeles. Hike the Hurricane Hill trail, which climbs along a paved path to panoramic views of the surrounding area, including Vancouver Island, Mt. Baker, and the Olympic Range.

A bright blue lake surrounded mountains lined with pine trees

Go early in the morning or at sunset for the best light and fewer crowds. If you’re up for a harrowing drive, head out to Obstruction Point along the narrow gravel road to be rewarded with stunning views around every bend in the road. 

Next, the Pacific Coast. The best time to be out on the coast for photos is going to be the afternoon, about an hour before sunset when everything is bathed in a golden glow.

Cape Flattery is at the northwestern tip of the contiguous United States, and an easy boardwalk trail takes you out to the viewpoint at the end. Shi Shi Beach involves a little more of a journey to get to, but the reward is worth the effort. Point of Arches, a stretch of sea stacks just off the coast, sits at the southern edge of the beach, and is a great sunset photography spot.

The hike at Rialto Beach to Hole-in-the-Wall is a must-do, taking you out to a unique rock formation created from thousands of years of erosion. Look up – there are bald eagles everywhere along the beach!

Last, but certainly not least, explore the Hoh Rainforest, one of the biggest temperate rainforests in the country. The best time to be here is early in the morning, when the sunlight breaks through the dense canopy.

Morning also gives you the best chance to spot the native Roosevelt elk, who scamper away for a quieter spot when the crowds of tourists show up later in the day. 

Mount Rainier National Park

Chantelle, Flannels or FlipFlops

A large snow capped mountain behind a lake surrounded by trees

Mount Rainier is one of 3 National Parks in Washington State. Mount Rainier is a wonderful summer destination! You can spend anywhere from one day to a full week here and never be bored! 

Mount Rainier National Park is located in Washington State about 2.5 hours SE of Seattle.  The park is 369 sq miles. There are so many beautiful things to see and do in the park.  In the summer, you can hike, camp, or just drive through the park.  The glaciers on Mount Rainier are beautiful anytime of year, but in the summer, when wildflowers are blooming with color the mountain is breathtaking! 

The park itself is divided into 5 developed areas; Longmire, Paradise, Carbon River/Mowich , Ohanapecosh, and Sunrise.
Longmire-  Located in the South West corner of the park.

To access the Longmire area of Mount Rainier you will want to use the Nisqually Entrance via SR 706. Longmire is the historic district of the park, featuring a museum and some great low elevation hikes.  

Wild flowers surrounding a stream

Paradise- Also SW in the park, and also accessible from the Nisqually entrance.  Paradise is just a past Longmire.  During the summer, many of the parks most popular hikes start from the Paradise Visitor Center Parking lot.

You can stay in a lodge right there in Paradise, which makes a fantastic home base for the parks best hikes! You’ll have beautiful views of the mountains, several of Mount Rainier’s waterfalls and fantastic wildflower blooms.

Carbon River/Mowich is the NW part of Mount Rainier National Park. Accessible via SR 165. Note : Vehicle access is only permitted to the park entrance, bike and pedestrian traffic is allowed past that. Carbon River area features temperate rain forest and the largest and deepest lake in the park (Mowich)

Ohanapecosh is the SE corner, and accessed through the Stevens Canyon Entrance via Hwy 12. The area is dryer and warmer than Paradise and features amazing old growth forests. Be sure and check out the Grove of Patriarchs while you are in this area of the park. 

A large snow capped mountain surrounded by trees and wild flowers

Sunrise/White River entrance is the NE portion of Mount Rainier National Park. It is located off SR 410, the Chinook Scenic Byway. Sunrise is the highest drivable point in the park, and my favorite place to see wild flowers. There are several fantastic hikes from this area.  In August the flowers are blooming and the hike to Berkley Park is phenomenal. 

There are no tours available at Mount Rainier, so you’ll definitely need to have your own car to visit.  There are a few small towns just outside the park, the ones with lodging and supplies are Ashford, Cougar and Elbe.

There are some great little cabins to rent in each of these towns. Rainier Cabins, are a great option just outside the Nisqually entrance.  You can also camp or stay in the lodge inside the park. 

If you don’t want to hike, you can still experience the parks beauty by driving through.  Start at the Nisqually entrance and drive to Paradise, and then follow the road through to Sunrise. This will give you SO MANY great pull outs for photo ops, and a fantastic overview of the park.

National Parks in Hawaii

Haleakala National Park

Jess, I’m Jess Traveling

Grass plane leading to a mountain

Haleakala National Park is one of the best National Parks to visit not only in the summer but year round because it can be found on the beautiful tropical island of Maui.  

Haleakala is the dormant volcano on Maui and there are 2 separate entrances to this National park.  The Kipahulu district and the Summit district.

The Kipahulu district is found on the remote Eastern part of the island and can only be accessed by driving the infamous road to Hana. 

The road to Hana is 52 miles of twisting windy road that connects the East Side of the island to the rest of Maui.  Along the way you’ll pass road side waterfalls, dreamy seascape views and through lush rainforests.

Inside this entrance are the infamous Oheo Pools and the Pipiwai Trail.  There are several optimal photo opportunities on this trail including a dreamy bamboo forest, an ancient banyan tree and the awe inspiring Waimoku Falls, a 400 foot waterfall.  Make sure you have a full battery and lots of space on your memory card, you’re gonna need it.

Volcanoes with smoke in a grass plain

The Summit District can be found Upcountry Maui.  The Summit of Haleakala is above the clouds at 10,000 feet and one of the best ways to experience this is for sunrise.  You must make a reservation in advance as it fills up quickly.  

Opt for staying in a Maui Airbnb near the crater such as the Kula star dome to get an early start, otherwise it will take a couple hours to reach the summit if you are coming from South or West Maui. 

It also gets very cold at the summit so dress warm and wait in preparation to watch the sun rise over the volcano floor.  

If you’re craving a bit more adventure opt for a bike Maui tour that shuttles you up to the summit then unloads the bikes.  You then get to cruise the 26 miles down the switchbacks to the charming town of Paia.  An adventure of a lifetime.  

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Noel, This Hawaii Life 

One of the top attractions to visit on the east side of the Big Island is Volcanoes National Park which is a wonderful park to visit and always in constant change.

With an active volcano located in the caldera called Halemaumau, the crater is also located in the huge and expansive caldera of Kilauea right in the middle of the park.

You’ll see so many impressive things to explore in the park including the overlook areas to the active lava eruption at Halemaumau all day. The lava eruptions are even more dramatic at night time with red fiery ash and lava with steam plumes that burst out of the crater walls and into the sky.

You can explore the chain of craters road, walk through lush forested areas and into pure and barren lava rock areas of dark black smooth and rugged aa rocks.

There are so many wonderful overlook areas that you can visit to capture a variety of fantastic panoramic vistas and selected views of the entire park and other photo studies of the area.

If you are visiting the area of East Hawaii make sure you spend some time visiting the town and attractions of Hilo!

A map of the US National Parks

How many US national parks have you visited? What US state park would you recommend in the state you live in? Let me know in the comments below

Don’t forget to download your list of all national parks by state

Fiona xoxo

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Pinterest Graphic for the list of national parks in the US

My BEST Travel Resources

Here are my favourite travel resources for planning travel like a pro

Flights: To find the best flights I always search on Google Flights or Skyscanner. For even cheaper flights, fly mid week and pack in a carry on!

Accommodation: I always use booking.com (I love their price match and flexible cancellation policies) or Airbnb (if I want a little more space) to book trip. If you prefer hostels, I suggest Hostelworld.

If you are new to Airbnb you can get an awesome discount using this link

Travel Insurance: After a few hairy moments on my travels, I ALWAYS purchase travel insurance. It may seem like a big cost now, but if the worst happens, it will save you a lot of money and heartache. I personally use World Nomads (and love them!), but I recommend that you do some research to find the insurance company that suits your needs.

Tours: While I prefer to travel independently, I do love doing some tours once I’m in a destination. It is a great way to find out history, hidden gems, taste local food and get a local insight into your destination. I always use Viator to book my tours.

Train Travel: If you are planning on taking the train in Europe, I cannot recommend the Eurail enough! Check out The Ultimate Guide to the Eurail Pass to find out why

Car Hire: Planning an epic road trip across the US or through Europe, or anywhere! Check out Europcar, they are my go to for car hire all over the world!

Luggage Storage: Some times when we are travelling our check in and check out times don’t match with our departure times so we have to put our luggage into storage. Stasher Luggage Storage is the biggest Luggage Storage Network across the UK, France and Germany

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