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How to Pick the Right National Park for Your Next Vacation

Whether you want inspiring scenery or wildlife-viewing opportunities, there's an ideal park for you.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Pick the Right National Park for Your Next Vacation

Merced River and El Capitan at Yosemite National Park.

Consider the park programs, locations and events that best match your interest to decide which park to explore next.(iStockPhoto)

The National Park Service's centennial in 2016 is fast approaching, and with a bounty of new programs and restored trails, there's no better time to enjoy America's 400-plus national parks. But how to choose where to explore among all these natural treasures? The National Park Service and the National Park Foundation are making it easier than ever to decide where to take your next adventure with their "Find Your Park" campaign launched for the centennial. At FindYourPark.com, you can filter your search by location, activities, travel dates and special centennial events. So, if you're ready to explore the places Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Wallace Stegner once called "the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst," we found six spectacular parks to fuel your inspiration and help you pick which park to visit next.

Acadia National Park, Maine

Acadia is celebrating its 100th birthday on July 8, 2016, in addition to the NPS centennial. One of the park's founders was John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who donated 10,000 acres to the park. Rockefeller also financed and directed the construction of its historic carriage road system that is still used by hikers, bikers and horseback riders. Each design of its 17 "broken stone" style bridges is unique. Mainly on Maine's Mount Desert Island, Acadia encompasses more than 47,000 acres, and features Cadillac Mountain, the tallest point on the U.S. Atlantic coast. Wildlife ranges from moose, bears, lynx, minks and many other mammals. It's also a major bird-watching area, with almost 340 bird species, even rare peregrine falcons and bald eagles.

President's Park, District of Columbia

Did you know that President Obama resides in a national park? In fact, John Adams was the first president to live on the park grounds, followed by all other presidents. To tour the White House, request a pass from any of your Members of Congress. You can tour the 82-acre President's Park and its iconic memorials and statues on your own or along hiking trails from the White House Visitor Center. The southern trail weaves through an area called the Ellipse, which has been used for patriotic concerts and major demonstrations and has served as a campsite for Union soldiers during the Civil War. Meanwhile, the northern trail weaves through Sherman Park, past the U.S. Treasury Building, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and notable statues of General Lafayette, General Sherman and other military heroes.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park welcomes more than twice as many visitors as the Grand Canyon, with more than 10 million visitors each year. Amid the mountains, waterfalls, and forests, you'll find diverse wildlife like black bears, elk, white-tailed deer and turkeys. And its 1,500 species of flowering plants, more than in any other North American national park, earned it the nickname "Wildflower National Park." The park's more than 522,000 acres are split almost equally between Tennessee and North Carolina.

Everglades National Park, Florida

The 1.5 million-acre Everglades National Park boasts rare and endangered species like the manatee, American crocodile, and the Florida panther. Different sections of the park can be explored by tour boat, tram, kayak, canoe and bike as well as from a 65-foot-tall observation deck at Shark Valley. The Everglades has well-preserved relics of the Cold War, including a Nike Missile Base that was created soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Located just 160 miles off of Cuba's coast, the anti-aircraft missile site was used until 1979. And even if you're not a history buff, there are plenty of natural splendors to enjoy in the Everglades, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its "outstanding universal value" to humanity. Across the sprawling park, you'll find prairies, mangrove swamps and unique estuaries, making it an ideal choice for visitors who enjoy bird-watching and wildlife-spotting.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming; Montana; Idaho

Yellowstone, another UNESCO World Heritage Site and America's first national park, is known for its geothermal activity, with plenty of geysers, including the iconic Old Faithful. Known for inspiring natural wonders, hot springs, canyons, waterfalls and grizzlies, Yellowstone's more than 2 million acres also has one of the greatest concentrations of mammals in the continental United States. In addition to grizzlies and black bears, mule deer and bison roam here, as do elk, bighorn and pronghorn sheep, wolves, moose and many more. Carrying bear spray is recommended; trying to take selfies with the animals is not, cautions Yellowstone Park Ranger Edward Christian.

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite is known for its spectacular waterfalls, ancient Sequoia trees, deep valleys, unique granite formations and diverse wildlife. Famed conservationist John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt once camped out under the stars in Yosemite Valley for three nights in 1903, and Muir encouraged Roosevelt to add Yosemite Valley to Yosemite National Park. Roosevelt did just that and far more, establishing a total of five national parks and protecting around 230 million acres of public land, including Yosemite's 748,000 acres. In fact, that's how Roosevelt became known as the "conservationist president," and Muir earned a reputation as "the father of the National Park Service."

As the NPS heads into its centennial, Teddy Roosevelt's words echo resoundingly when he described America's parks. "There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred," he wrote in "Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter" in 1905. 

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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