Explore the great outdoors at one of America's can't-miss national parks.
If you're dreaming of an outdoor vacation filled with gushing geysers, animal encounters, towering rock formations and more, odds are you'll enjoy exploring a national park. But with so many parks scattered throughout the U.S., finding the locale that's best for your next adventure can seem daunting. That's where U.S. News can help. Considering factors like the uniqueness of sights, historical significance and park accessibility, we determined which of the country's 59 national parks qualify as the Best National Parks in the USA. No matter which destination you choose, you'll find picturesque landscapes and activities suitable for all ages and interests, such as hiking, whitewater rafting and junior ranger programs.
10. Zion National Park
Southwest Utah's Zion National Park appeals to fitness buffs, nature lovers and amateur archaeologists. Active travelers can break a sweat during a canyoneering trip in Orderville Canyon or a hike along Weeping Rock's Hidden Canyon Trail, while those with kids in tow can traverse one of Zion Canyon's less strenuous paths, such as Pa'rus Trail and the Archaeology Trail. Birdwatchers will be happy to learn the park boasts more than 200 kinds of birds, including threatened and endangered species like the Mexican spotted owl and the California condor. And tucked within Zion's cream-, pink- and red-colored sandstone cliffs, visitors will discover archaeological sites with rock paintings and carvings, some of which date back to 7,000 B.C.
9. Mount Rainier National Park
The main draw of Washington's Mount Rainier National Park is its active volcano (which you can climb for a fee, weather permitting), but you'll find more than just its namesake natural wonder here. The park is a winter haven for snow bunnies who want to ski, snowboard, ride snowmobiles or snowshoe. You can also participate in an array of activities once summertime rolls around, including fly-fishing, canoeing and cycling. Plus, Mount Rainier National Park features more than 260 miles of hiking trails.
8. Yosemite National Park
One of America's most popular national parks is Yosemite National Park in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. Granted protection by the U.S. government in 1864, Yosemite and its natural wonders woo 5 million-plus visitors annually. Waterfalls are the main reason to visit, which are best viewed in spring. You'll also discover massive rock formations like Sentinel Rock and El Capitan, as well as giant sequoia trees and the Crane Flat meadow. Stunning vistas are hard to miss inside the park, but for some of Yosemite's best panoramas, hike to Half Dome or drive to Glacier Point.
7. Rocky Mountain National Park
Though you'll be tempted to focus all your energy on hiking some of Rocky Mountain National Park's 355 miles of trails, save some time for this Colorado park's unique pursuits. History buffs can see what life was like 100 years ago at the Holzwarth Historic Site, while animal lovers will enjoy sitting in on ranger talks about bears, beavers and bighorn sheep. If you want more action, time your visit during the winter months, when you can sled and cross-country ski. But remember, winter sports equipment is not available on-site, so bring your own gear or rent it from shops situated in Estes Park and Grand Lake.
6. Sequoia National Park
As its name implies, Sequoia National Park is named for its iconic sequoia trees. Located about 205 miles north of Los Angeles, this park features roughly 40 giant sequoia groves, the most notable of which is Giant Forest, where the park's largest living sequoia – the General Sherman Tree – and multiple hiking trails reside. But there's more to do at Sequoia National Park than hike and gaze at towering redwoods. Travelers can go rock climbing at Moro Rock, join a guided horseback ride or take a tour of Crystal Cave, among other activities.
5. Yellowstone National Park
The world's first national park is also one of its most impressive. Spread across Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, Yellowstone National Park is home to verdant forests, idyllic lakes, majestic canyons and, of course, world-renowned geysers and hot springs. Can't-miss sights include Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring and Mammoth Hot Springs, but don't forget to carve out ample time to hike throughout the park's 2.2 million-plus acres. Pathways are available by all of Yellowstone's popular natural wonders, but for some of the area's best views, hike the South Rim Trail or Uncle Tom's Trail at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
4. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Hawai'I Volcanoes National Park is undoubtedly one of the National Park Service's most unique sites. Situated in Hilo, Hawaii, on the Big Island, this park offers a picturesque setting for hiking, camping, scenic drives and biking. You'll have access to two of the world's most active volcanoes here, which can be seen during guided ranger walks. Junior ranger programs are also available. If you'd rather check out the park without a guide and only have time to visit one volcano, make sure it's Kilauea; the volcano can be seen by traveling along Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road.
3. Grand Canyon National Park
A UNESCO World Heritage site worthy of any vacationer's bucket list, Grand Canyon National Park is a must-see. Nearly 6 million visitors make an annual pilgrimage to check out this sprawling natural wonder, which spans 277 miles of semi-arid Arizona desert. You'll have several hiking paths to choose from, but for some of the area's best vistas, travel the South Rim's Bright Angel and Rim trails. Or, explore some paths (like the Bright Angel Trail) by mule. You can also raft down the Colorado River, hop aboard the historic Grand Canyon Railway or shop for local artwork and authentic Native American souvenirs at Grand Canyon Village.
2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
More than 11 million travelers come to Great Smoky Mountains National Park each year, and it's easy to see why. Straddling the Tennessee-North Carolina border, this national park is known for its abundant wildlife, its historic Southern Appalachian architecture and its breathtaking panoramas. Hiking is one of the park's most popular activities, thanks in part to its multitude of options. Families can traverse kid-friendly paths like Porters Creek Trail and the Kephart Prong Trail, while experienced hikers will enjoy trekking to Alum Cave Bluffs, Charlies Bunion and Rainbow Falls. Dogs are even permitted on two walking paths: the Gatlinburg Trail and the Oconaluftee River Trail.
1. Grand Teton National Park
An area once inhabited by Native Americans and early American explorers, Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park now attracts vacationers interested in hiking and water sports. More than 200 trails are located inside the park, including several scenic waterfront paths. Plus, Jackson and Jenny lakes can be used for motorized boating. Eight additional lakes are available for activities like canoeing and paddleboarding. Animals are also plentiful here; travelers are bound to spot bison, moose, black bears and more roaming throughout the park. Winter sports enthusiasts, meanwhile, will discover prime conditions for cross-country skiing, and guided snowshoe hikes are offered between late December and mid-March.