Top 10 US National Parks You Can’t Miss

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In 2023, the attraction of the great outdoors continued to draw millions to the United States National Park Service (NPS) sites, with ten parks leading the charge in visitor numbers. These sanctuaries of natural beauty offer a diverse range of landscapes, from the rugged mountains of the West to the serene forests of the East. This guide explores the essence of each park, providing a comprehensive overview, insider tips, and essential travel advice to ensure a memorable visit.

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (13.29 million visitors)

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / anthony heflin

Great Smoky Mountains National Park embraces Appalachian culture and natural beauty by crossing the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is famed for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture. With over 800 miles of trails, visitors can explore lush forests, discover cascading waterfalls, and observe a wide array of wildlife. The park’s historical significance is highlighted through preserved structures such as log cabins, barns, and churches, offering a glimpse into the lives of early settlers. The mystical quality of the smoky fog that gives the mountains their name creates an ethereal backdrop for hiking, photography, and simply soaking in the serene landscapes.

2. Grand Canyon National Park (4.73 million visitors)

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Javen

The Grand Canyon, a vast natural wonder, stretches 277 miles across the arid landscapes of northern Arizona. Carved by the Colorado River over millions of years, the canyon’s layers tell the story of Earth’s geological history. The park is divided into the South Rim, known for its easily accessible viewpoints and services, and the North Rim, which offers a more secluded experience. Visitors can engage in various activities, from scenic drives and educational programs to backcountry hiking and river rafting. The Grand Canyon Skywalk, on the West Rim, provides a unique perspective with its glass walkway extending over the canyon. Whether standing at the edge of the rim, watching the play of light at sunrise or sunset, or exploring the depths of the inner canyon, the Grand Canyon National Park offers an unparalleled experience of nature’s grandeur.

3. Zion National Park (4.62 million visitors)

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / VivL

Zion National Park, located in southwestern Utah, is a sanctuary of massive sandstone cliffs soaring into the clear blue sky. The park’s unique geography has created a variety of habitats, making it a hotspot for biodiversity. Hiking trails range from easy walks along the Virgin River to challenging climbs up sheer cliffs. Iconic hikes such as The Narrows, where visitors wade through the river between towering canyon walls, and Angel’s Landing, with its breathtaking views, are must-dos. Beyond hiking, Zion offers canyoneering, rock climbing, and bird-watching opportunities. The park’s human history is equally fascinating, with ancient petroglyphs and pioneer cabins dotting the landscape. Zion’s natural beauty and cultural significance provide a profound sense of awe and a deep connection to the natural world.

4. Yellowstone National Park (4.50 million visitors)

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / CherylRamalho

Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the world, is a vast wilderness area known for its geothermal features, including the iconic Old Faithful geyser and the Grand Prismatic Spring. The park spans Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, featuring dramatic canyons, alpine rivers, lush forests, and expansive lakes. It is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, allowing them to see bison, elk, wolves, and bears in their natural habitat. Yellowstone’s volcanic activity creates a constantly changing landscape, with bubbling mud pots, steaming fumaroles, and over 10,000 hot springs. The park’s 2.2 million acres are a testament to the power and beauty of nature, inviting exploration and offering endless opportunities for adventure and discovery.

5. Rocky Mountain National Park (4.11 million visitors)

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Greg Meland

Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado showcases the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains. The park offers a diverse ecosystem with elevations ranging from 7,860 to 14,259 feet, including montane, subalpine, and alpine environments. Visitors can explore over 300 miles of hiking trails that lead to breathtaking vistas, serene alpine lakes, and vibrant wildflower meadows. The park’s diverse wildlife, including elk, bighorn sheep, and moose, adds to the richness of the visitor experience. The Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the United States, offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Rocky Mountain National Park’s rugged beauty and diverse landscapes make it a premier destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.

6. Yosemite National Park (3.89 million visitors)

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / sixfournorth

Yosemite National Park, located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, is famed for its towering granite cliffs, ancient giant sequoias, and powerful waterfalls. The park’s iconic landmarks, such as Half Dome and El Capitan, are known worldwide and offer challenging adventures and breathtaking views. Yosemite Valley, the heart of the park, is home to diverse wildlife and offers easy access to its most famous sights. Beyond the valley, the park’s vast wilderness areas provide opportunities for solitude and exploration. Yosemite’s extensive trail system includes paths through serene meadows, alongside rushing streams, and to the tops of towering waterfalls. The park’s commitment to conservation and its role in developing the national park idea make it a cornerstone of American natural heritage.

7. Acadia National Park (3.87 million visitors)

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Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Eric Urquhart

Acadia National Park, located on the rugged coast of Maine, offers a unique blend of natural beauty and cultural history. Woodland, rocky beaches, and glacier-scoured granite peaks, such as Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the U.S. Atlantic coast, mark the park’s landscape. Visitors can explore over 120 miles of hiking trails, enjoy scenic drives like the Park Loop Road, or cycle the historic carriage roads. The park’s diverse habitats support a wide variety of wildlife, from marine mammals to bird species. Acadia’s rich history is reflected in its landmarks, including lighthouses, cultural landscapes, and the stories of the Wabanaki people, the area’s original inhabitants. The park’s combination of natural beauty and accessible adventures makes it a cherished destination for visitors seeking to experience the splendor of the Atlantic coast.

8. Grand Teton National Park (3.41 million visitors)

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Oomka

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming is renowned for its stunning mountain landscapes, pristine lakes, and abundant wildlife. The Teton Range, with its jagged peaks rising dramatically from the valley floor, dominates the park’s skyline. The park offers a range of outdoor activities, including hiking, mountaineering, fishing, and wildlife viewing. The Snake River winds through the park, providing rafting and fly fishing opportunities. Historic ranches and homesteads scattered throughout the park offer a glimpse into the area’s past. The park’s diverse ecosystems support a wide array of flora and fauna, making it a vital area for conservation and study. Grand Teton National Park’s breathtaking scenery and rich biodiversity make it a must-visit destination for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers.

9. Joshua Tree National Park (3.27 million visitors)

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / BlueBarronPhoto

Joshua Tree National Park, located in southeastern California, is characterized by its stark desert landscapes, fascinating geologic formations, and the distinctive Joshua trees that give the park its name. The park encompasses two distinct desert ecosystems: the Mojave and the Colorado, each supporting a variety of plants and animals adapted to their unique environments. Rock climbers and hikers are drawn to the park’s rugged terrain, while stargazers take advantage of the dark night skies. The park’s cultural history is rich, with evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years, including petroglyphs and historic mining sites. Joshua Tree’s otherworldly landscapes inspire creativity and provide a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

10. Olympic National Park (2.94 million visitors)

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Image Credit: Pexels / Robert Schrader

Olympic National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, encompasses nearly a million acres of diverse and untouched wilderness. From the rugged Pacific coastline to the temperate rainforests and the majestic peaks of the Olympic Mountains, the park offers an extraordinary variety of landscapes to explore. The Hoh Rain Forest, one of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S., offers lush, green canopies and a network of trails that invite visitors to immerse themselves in its tranquil beauty. The park’s remote beaches, such as Ruby Beach, offer dramatic sea stacks and tide pools teeming with marine life. Olympic’s alpine regions, accessible via Hurricane Ridge, provide stunning vistas and opportunities for hiking amidst wildflowers and wildlife.

The Bottom Line

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Maridav

Each of these national parks offers a unique opportunity to discover the natural beauty and diversity of the American landscape. Whether you’re drawn to the desert vistas of Joshua Tree, the alpine peaks of the Rockies, or the rugged coastline of Acadia, these parks provide a backdrop for adventure and exploration. By planning your visit with these insights, you can ensure a more enjoyable and fulfilling experience. Remember, the beauty of these places lies not only in their landscapes but in the stories they tell and the experiences they offer. So pack your bags, respect the natural environment, and set out to explore the wonders of America’s most visited national parks.

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The post Top 10 US National Parks You Can’t Miss republished on Passing Thru with permission from The Green Voyage.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Bob Pool.

For transparency, this content was partly developed with AI assistance and carefully curated by an experienced editor to be informative and ensure accuracy.

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