The 10 Best National Parks in the USA 2018-19

With the help of reader votes and expert insight, U.S. News ranked America's top national parks.

By Zach Watson, Staff WriterJune 19, 2018
By Zach Watson, Staff WriterJune 19, 2018, at 12:05 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

The 10 Best National Parks in the USA 2018-19

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Discover the country's most incredible national parks.

America's national parks are packed full of breathtaking natural wonders. Whether you're climbing Half Dome in Yosemite or waiting for a herd of buffalo to cross the road in Yellowstone, you'll no doubt leave with some unforgettable memories. But with 60 national parks spread from sea to shining sea, you'll have a lot of ground to cover. That's why U.S. News is here to help you decide which park is right for you. Considering factors like the uniqueness of sights, historical significance, park accessibility and sentiment from recent visitors, we determined which of the country's national parks qualify as the Best National Parks in the USA.
Peaks and wildflowers surround visitor center at Hurricane Ridge in Washington's Olympic National Park.
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10. Olympic National Park

Established in 1938, Olympic National Park, which sits about 75 miles west of Seattle, appeals to hiking and backpacking enthusiasts. Experienced hikers will love Mount Ellinor Trail, while beginners can stick to easier paths like Sol Duc Falls Nature Trail. Be sure to keep an eye out for Olympic marmots – Olympic National Park is the only place in the world where you can find these cat-sized rodents. There are also ample water activities, ranging from boating to fishing to exploring tide pools. Remember to stay off the rock formations (unless you're an experienced climber), as they are often covered in unstable snow and fractured rocks.
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Discover the country's most incredible national parks.

America's national parks are packed full of breathtaking natural wonders. Whether you're climbing Half Dome in Yosemite or waiting for a herd of buffalo to cross the road in Yellowstone, you'll no doubt leave with some unforgettable memories. But with 60 national parks spread from sea to shining sea, you'll have a lot of ground to cover. That's why U.S. News is here to help you decide which park is right for you. Considering factors like the uniqueness of sights, historical significance, park accessibility and sentiment from recent visitors, we determined which of the country's national parks qualify as the Best National Parks in the USA.

10. Olympic National Park

Established in 1938, Olympic National Park, which sits about 75 miles west of Seattle, appeals to hiking and backpacking enthusiasts. Experienced hikers will love Mount Ellinor Trail, while beginners can stick to easier paths like Sol Duc Falls Nature Trail. Be sure to keep an eye out for Olympic marmots – Olympic National Park is the only place in the world where you can find these cat-sized rodents. There are also ample water activities, ranging from boating to fishing to exploring tide pools. Remember to stay off the rock formations (unless you're an experienced climber), as they are often covered in unstable snow and fractured rocks.

9. Bryce Canyon National Park

Home to the most extensive collection of hoodoos – or thin rock formations – in the world, Bryce Canyon National Park spans 35,835 acres across southern Utah. Most visit the park to take advantage of its trails, such as Navajo Loop Trail and Tower Bridge Trail, which run the gamut in their degree of difficulty and subsequently appeal to all experience levels. The weather in Bryce Canyon National Park is extremely variable because of its high elevation, so plan on arriving during the summer months when it's safest to hike. Many previous visitors also note that the park is memorable in the winter when the snow offers a stark contrast to the desert landscape.

8. Rocky Mountain National Park

Sitting about 75 miles northwest of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park boasts 355 miles of hiking trails. Be sure to stop by the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center to learn more about popular routes like the Ouzel Falls Trail and Emerald Lake Trail before starting your trek. If you're not as enthusiastic about hiking and camping, the park is also a prime place for fishing, horseback riding and scenic drives on routes such as the Trail Ridge Road, a traveler favorite. Photography and wildlife enthusiasts can also seek out some of the 70 mammal species and roughly 300 kinds of birds that populate the park.

7. Arches National Park

Arches National Park encompasses a collection of red rocks that make visitors feel more like they're on Mars than near the northern edge of Moab, Utah. Sandstone monuments like Delicate Arch and Balanced Rock scatter the park, which spans nearly 77,000 acres. The otherworldly atmosphere draws avid photographers in droves, while the wonky landscapes attract adventurous hikers and rock climbers. Note that Arches National Park is in a high desert region, meaning temperatures can vary widely throughout the day, sometimes by as much as 40 degrees.

6. Zion National Park

Sitting pretty in southwestern Utah, Zion National Park provides some of the most unique color palettes found in nature. The precipitous cliffs that define the park transition from cream to pink to red as they rise, and they are complemented by the park's beautiful sunsets and often clear skies. Check out The Narrows if you want to see the most famous part of the park and Zion Canyon's narrowest section. Alternatively, make the expedition to the park's more remote areas, such as the Kolob Canyon, for some world-class rock climbing and hiking routes.

5. Grand Teton National Park

The area that makes up Grand Teton National Park has played host to groups ranging from a number of American Indian tribes to fur trappers to ranchers. Situated in Wyoming's northwest corner, the 310,000-acre national park is now one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the world. Grand Teton National Park encompasses the majority of the Grand Teton mountain range (where it derives its name), as well as the northern section of Jackson Hole. Climbing and mountaineering are the most adrenaline-pumping options available in the park, but you can also participate in lower-impact activities like fishing, bird-watching, hiking and horseback riding.

4. Grand Canyon National Park

Located in northwestern Arizona, the Grand Canyon is an awe-inspiring site. This national park and UNESCO World Heritage site consists of an 18-mile-wide and 1-mile-deep gorge, which was carved by the Colorado River. Nearly 6 million travelers entered the park in 2016, making it the second-most visited of all U.S. national parks. There are a variety of trails to appeal to both seasoned hikers (Bright Angel Trail) and first-time adventurers (Rim Trail). Not much of a hiker? You can also admire the views on the Grand Canyon Skywalk or while rafting the Colorado River.

3. Glacier National Park

This national park spans more than 1 million acres and encompasses three mountain ranges and 130-plus named lakes in Montana's Rocky Mountains. Thanks to Glacier National Park's size, countless activities are always available. Visitors can use the lakes for fishing and boating while avid hikers explore the park's multitude of trails. There are multiday treks that span large portions of the park, such as the Cracker Lake Trail, or shorter jaunts like Hidden Lake Overlook, which is known for its population of mountain goats.

2. Yosemite National Park

Sprawling across nearly 750,000 acres in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is home to some of the most iconic rock formations and waterfalls in the world. Yosemite Valley is the most popular area of the park, where you can snap photos of rock features like Glacier Point and Half Dome. There are also numerous hiking trails, including ones that travel through the picturesque Tuolumne Meadows and to the towering Vernal Fall. The park is world-renowned for its rock climbing, but you can also partake in more traditional park activities like camping, fishing and bird-watching. What's more, the park is home to the oldest downhill skiing area in California, Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area (formerly Badger Pass).

1. Yellowstone National Park

The first national park in the United States – and the world – Yellowstone National Park is best known for Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, Mammoth Hot Springs and other geothermal features. Spread across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, this massive park boasts a variety of breathtaking attractions, including Yellowstone Lake, Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley. You will be able to scratch the itch for any outdoor activity of your choice – the park offers everything from backpacking to biking to boating. While you're sure to see some buffalo during your visit, keep an eye out for bears, foxes, wolves and other Yellowstone inhabitants.
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Zach Watson, Staff Writer

Zach Watson is an Associate Editor for the Travel section at U.S. News, where he writes and ...  Read more

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