The 10 Best National Parks in the U.S. (& Hurry, They're Extra Popular Right Now)
World traveling is on the backburner for now, but that doesn’t mean all sense of adventure just goes out the window. If you’re itching to try something new and discover new places, consider taking a toe-dip trip to one of these national parks. You can bring your entire family along, make it a pod thing or fly solo. Check out the ten best national parks in the U.S., according to Google Maps data below.
Remember: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, certain attractions may be closed in an effort to reduce spreading of the virus, so if you do pick one destination, make sure you confirm all the places you want to see are open and that you can responsibly follow safety guidelines.
10. Arches National Park in Moab, Utah
Talk about an Instagrammable location. Arches National Park features a slew of natural stone arches, soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins and giant balanced rocks that are #views worthy. Located in Utah, this national park has been around for 65 million years and continues to evolve. Its most recent evolution happened in 2008 when the Wall Arch collapsed overnight, and the once 71-foot-tall sandstone arch piled onto the Devils Garden hiking trail. Many of its arches are still standing though and you can rock climb and go canyoneering without worry.
To catch a glimpse of this grand creation of nature, you pay $30 for a private vehicle (15 passenger capacity or less), $25 if you’re riding in on a motorcycle and $15 if you’re flying solo. Your pass is available for seven days unlimited, so you can double back as much as you’d like. Arches is open all year round, 24 hours per day, however, certain services are still limited due to the pandemic.
Places to stay near Arches National Park:
- Entrada at Moab (9 guests): $367/night
- Moab Springs Ranch (12 guests): $372/night
- Bella Casa Retreat (12 guests): $400/night
9. Glacier National Park in Glacier County, Montana
Dubbed the “Crown of the Continent,” Glacier National Park is any nature lover’s dream destination. Covering 1,583 square miles, the park is comprised of pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, and spectacular lakes. You can hike, bike, camp, go down the Going-to-the-Sun Road for a peek at the beautiful mountains and as the name of the park suggests, you can try to spot some glaciers depending on the time of year.
To get the full Glacier National Park experience, your best bet will be to plan your visit between May and September. Though Glacier National Park is open all year long, certain parts are closed off due to inclement weather in the wintertime and accommodation is limited. Passes are $35 per person when traveling in a private vehicle, $20 for an individual and $30 if you’re coming in on a motorcycle. The park also offers winter pricing—from November to April— which is $25, $15, and $20 respectively.
Places to stay near Glacier National Park:
- Newly Remodeled Cabin (3 guests): $160/night
- Sunny Cottage near Glacier National Park (6 guests): $221/night
- The Raven's Nest Treehouse (7 guests): $499/night
8. Bryce Canyon Park in Garfield County, Utah
Boasting the largest collection of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock), Bryce Canyon Park promises red rocks, pink cliffs, and endless vistas. The park offers a number of exciting activities regardless of the time of year you decide to go. In the summertime, you can channel your inner cowboy with horseback riding as well as backcountry hiking and camping. If you gun for a July visit, you may make it just in time for the annual GeoFest, which includes activities such as guided hikes, family-friendly geology programs, bus tours with a geologist and more.
If you plan your visit for the wintertime, not only will you be delighted with opportunities for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and winter hiking, but you may also be able to catch the Bryce Canyon Winter Festival as well as the Christmas Bird Count. Seven-day unlimited passes are available for $35 for a private vehicle (15 person maximum), $30 for motorcycles and $20 for individuals.
Places to stay near Bryce Canyon Park:
- Modern Country Cabin (5 guests): $159/night
- Custom Chalet (7 guests): $270/night
- Beautiful Modern Farmhouse with Panoramic Views (10 guests): $159/night
7. Sequoia National Park in Tulare County, California
If you’re looking for dramatic landscape, Sequoia National Park is the place to be. With gigantic trees, towering mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons and vast caverns this park houses as much wildlife as it does foliage. Depending on what time of year you decide to visit, you may spot some red-tail hawks or find yourself face-to-face with some (ultra-adorable) yellow-bellied marmots. The forest is also home to bigger animals such as black bears, coyotes, and mountain lions though with enough room to roam, they often don’t bother visitors.
Sequoia National Park is open 24/7, 365, but harsh weather may force some roads to close during the winter months. The park gets most of its visitors during the summer months since the weather permits for more activities. However, the winter months also allow for skiing, sledding and snowshoeing. Passes are $35 for private vehicles, $20 for individual entry and $30 for a motorcycle.
Places to stay near Sequoia National Park:
- Charming Family House Near Sequoia Park (8 guests): $120/night
- Contemporary California Style Home (8 guests): $424/night
- Brand New Home Close to Sequoia (10 guests): $167/night
6. Big Bend National Park in Chihuahuan Desert, Texas
Nicknamed Texas’ Gift to the Nation, Big Bend is a gift that keeps on giving. Not only does it offer all the expected activities such as hiking and camping, but at 801,163 acres, it also houses 26,000 archeology sites featuring pictographs from Native people who used to live in the area. History lovers out there will also be delighted by the fact that Big Bend offers a scenic drive through portions of the Comanche Trail—where Comanche warriors used travel on raids into Mexico.
At the time of this writing, the park is experiencing a major surge in visitors due to the pandemic. However, even without COVID affecting the schedule, Big Bend sees a high volume of visitors between November and April. You can go horseback riding, birdwatching, stargazing and take river trips where you observe the park’s canyons from the Rio Grande. Passes are $30 for a private vehicle, $25 for a motorcycle and $15 for an individual.
Places to stay near Big Bend National Park:
- Big Bend Lodging at Ten Bits Ranch (2 guests): $99/night
- Terlingua Ranch Retreat (3 guests): $158/night
- Casa La Vista (6 guests): $236/night
5. Joshua Tree National Park in Riverside County, California
As one of the most popular parks in the country (it’s roughly an hour away from Coachella Valley), it’s only fitting that Joshua Tree rounds out the top five. Sprawled over 794,000 acres, this national treasure boasts two desert ecosystems—the Mojave and Colorado deserts—so naturally you can expect a plethora of wildlife living in there. Don’t be shocked when you run into little critters such as lizards, frogs and mice as they call the vast desert home. Expect to cross paths with deer, sheep, and squirrels in there as well.
While Joshua Tree offers a variety of climbing sites you can’t just do so willy-nilly because there are many pictographs and petroglyphs found in popular climbing sites. The park boasts plenty of prehistoric and historic sites, the earliest of which date back to the Pinto Culture, which was around over 8,000 years ago. Explore the space with a seven-day pass for $30 with a private car, $25 with a motorcycle or $15 if you’re by yourself.
Places to stay near Joshua Tree National Park:
- Exceptional Vacation Home in Joshua Tree (6 guests): $98/night
- Private Villa with Pool and Spa (6 guests): $2,200
- High-Desert Ranch with Pool (7 guests): $604/night
4. Zion National Park in Sprindale, Utah
Another one of Utah’s finest attractions, Zion National Park sees a whopping 4.3 million visitors per year, according to Trafalgar. Only three hours away from Vegas, it’s the perfect place to come and take a load off after a boozy weekend. Though one of its top attractions—Angels Landing—is currently closed for trail maintenance, your inner adventurer can still explore the Zion Canyon Trails, Kolob Canyon Trails and East Rim Area Trails. The park allows for backpacking trips as well, you just have to retain a wilderness pass in advance.
Consider booking your visit to Zion National Park in the spring and fall months when the weather is temperate. In the summertime, the heat often exceeds 100 degrees Fahrenheit and winters are often frigid and wet, with temperatures dipping well below freezing at night. The park is open all year long, and entrance passes are $35 for a private car, $30 for a motorcycle and $20 for individuals.
Places to stay near Zion National Park:
- West Canyon Wonderland (6 guests): $141/night
- Casa Comfort by Zion (10 guests): $182/night
- Zion’s Desert Star (11 guests): $178/night
3. Yosemite National Park in Tuolumne, California
In addition to the Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park also has plenty of meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area as well as other valleys for you to explore. Though it usually gets packed between April and November, the park is an ideal destination for the outdoorsy person who also has knack for art. Volunteer art teachers host classes every day ($20 to $40 per person) from spring through fall in Yosemite Valley. And for any farmers out there, the park also offers specific trails for stock use, so you can bring your animals for a day of free grazing.
Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Entrance fees are $35 per private vehicle, $30 per motorcycle and $20 if you’re biking in, walking on foot or on horseback.
Places to stay near Yosemite National Park:
- Classic Mountainside House with Wraparound Deck (8 guests): $472/night
- Rustic Mountain Home with Beautiful Views (8 guests): $767/night
- Expansive Upscale Property with Scenic Views (9 guests): $679/night
2. Yellowstone National Park in Park County, Montana
These days you may associate the word Yellowstone with the hit TV show starring Kevin Costner. However, Yellowstone National Park deserves some props on its own, considering it’s the world's first national park. It was made an official national treasure when President Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act back in 1872. History aside, Yellowstone earned the number two spot. Sitting at approximately 2,221,766 acres, Yellowstone holds 10,000 hydrothermal features—we’re talking hot springs, mud pots, fumaroles, travertine terraces and geysers. The park is home to 300 species of birds, 16 types of fish, 67 species of mammals and it’s the only place in the U.S. where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. So, if you happen to visit and find yourself stuck in traffic because bison are crossing the road, be patient, you’re in their home after all.
Seven-day passes are available for $35 for private, non-commercial vehicles; $30 for motorcycles or snowmobiles; or $20 for people on foot, bicycles or skis.
Places to stay near Yellowstone National Park:
- Denny Creek Cabin (2 guests): $225/night
- Whiskey Springs Cabin (4 guests): $263/night
- Rainbow Point Sabo Cabin (8 guests): $297/night
1. Grand Canyon National Park in Coconino, Arizona
Home to most of the Grand Canyon, it’s no wonder Grand Canyon National Park snags the top spot. Sprawling over 1,218,375 acres there is nothing this majestic destination doesn’t offer you—from backcountry hiking, to recreational fishing, photography (they even offer tips for capturing the best pics), various scenic drives, mule trips and even religious services. Want to brush up on your knowledge of the Grand Canyon? You could do some internet research before you visit. Or, you can wait to visit The Trail of Time—a 2.83-mile-long paved walkway designed to be a geologic timeline of the space. While you’re at it, you may also want to partake in The Skywalk—a horseshoe-shaped, glass walkway managed by the Hualapai Tribe and located on their tribal lands. (Note: The Hualapai Tribe charges fees for entrance to certain parts of the reservation as they are not for the general public.)
Certain parts of the Grand Canyon National Park are open all year round, though the park is following COVID protocols at the time of this writing. Passes are available for $35 per private vehicle, $30 for a motorcycle and $20 per person.
Places to stay near Grand Canyon National Park:
- Grand Canyon Bungalow (6 guests): $200/night
- Beautifully Restored Cabin (7 guests): $198/night
- Newly Renovated Home (8 guests): $242/night
- 7 Lodges near Grand Canyon