Are you interested in the best national parks in the west?
USA West Coast national parks are truly extraordinary. Visiting some of the best western national parks is a must-do in a lifetime. And, here’s the ultimate collection of the best west coast national parks!
37 MUST-SEE NATIONAL PARKS IN THE WEST
THIS POST MAY CONTAIN COMPENSATED LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLAIMER FOR MORE INFO.
The award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns and the outstanding screenwriter Dayton Duncan called US national parks America’s Best Idea.
Wallace Stegner, a notable American novelist, historian, and environmentalist, stated first that national parks were the best idea we ever had.
Regardless of who called the US national parks the ‘best America’s idea‘ first, the national parks are the most famous landmarks of the states and a must-see in a lifetime.
US National Parks are true America’s best idea! And, the best part of that idea is on the west coast of the USA. In support of this claim, here are a few facts about west coast national parks that everyone needs to know:
- the tallest peak in North America is Mount Denali in Denali NP, Alaska
- the lowest point in North America is Badwater Basin in Death Valley NP in California
- the tallest sand dunes in North America are in Great Sand Dunes NP in Colorado
- the largest cave chamber in North America is in Carlsbad NP in New Mexico
- the largest active volcano in North America is Mount Wrangell in Wrangell-St. Elias NP in Alaska
- the tallest waterfall in the USA is Yosemite Fall in Yosemite NP in California
- the deepest lake in the USA is the Carter Lake of Crater Lake NP in Oregon
- the largest national park in the USA is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska
- the oldest national park in the world is Yellowstone NP
Here’s the ultimate guide to the best national parks in the west for all nature enthusiasts who would like to explore amazing national parks on the west coast of the US.
MUST SEE NATIONAL PARKS IN ALASKA
1. DENALI NATIONAL PARK
Home to North America’s highest peak, Denali National Park is one of the most picturesque places in the United States and a must-stop on any Alaskan itinerary.
Most come to Denali to see its impressive peaks, vast wilderness, and its wide variety of wildlife, including the Alaska “Big 5”, which includes bears, wolves, Dall sheep, caribou, and moose.
Your time in Denali is not complete without seeing its highest and most famous peak, Mount Denali or the Great One.
The National Park protects Denali’s important habitats so individual cars can only drive 1.5 miles into the park. So the best way to see Mt. Denali, and the Alaskan “Big 5” is on a National Park’s Tundra Wilderness Tour. Visitors can also take a plane ride over the park.
However, the park’s vast wilderness provides opportunities to explore on your own including hiking, backpacking, and camping. Denali also has the very unique feature of being patrolled by rangers on a dogsled. So visitors to the park can spend time meeting the canine rangers who help to protect the park.
Denali is only open in the summer from May 15 through mid-September. The average daily temperature in the summer varies from 33-75 F (around 1-24 C). So visitors should come prepared with warm layers.
There are no direct commercial flights to Denali National Park. Visitors typically fly into Anchorage or Fairbanks and travel to Denali by bus, car, or train. Of those three choices, the train is definitely the most scenic and unforgettable way to arrive at this vast and amazing wonderland.
The Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge is a great place to stay. Located just one mile from the park’s entrance, the lodge is the largest in the area and features a complimentary shuttle into the park.
Recommended by Faith of 3 Tickets Please
Plan your trip to Denali NP, AK
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Denali National Park!
Check out car rentals at Anchorage International Airport, or Fairbanks International Airport
Book your stay at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge
Denali: Highway Jeep Excursion
Talkeetna: Grand Denali Flight with Optional Glacier Landing
Visit Katmai NP, Kenai Fjords NP and Denali NP on a 10-day Magnificent Alaska Tour
2. GATES OF THE ARCTIC NATIONAL PARK
Gates of the Arctic National Park is one of the last true wilderness regions in the United States.
Stretching across much of the northern part of Alaska, the park is larger than numerous states and is located entirely above the arctic circle.
Due to its remoteness, only about 10,000 people visit the Gates of the Arctic each year. It’s one of the most underrated national parks in the US, and visiting the park provides you with an experience unlike anything else in this world.
There are no established roads or trails within or to the park. It’s a true wilderness zone with no services, no cell signal, and no civilization. There’s only one thing to do in Gates of the Arctic and that is to set out on foot to explore the amazing pristine arctic landscape. With no trails, movement can be taxing on the soft arctic tundra, so don’t plan on more than 6-7 miles per day. But before you set out, you should visit one of the park’s visitor’s centers – ideally the one in Fairbanks – and let the rangers know your plan and how long you intend to stay. When visiting the Gates of the Arctic, safety is your number 1 priority.
The best time to visit Gates of the Arctic is in the summer, from mid-June to mid-September.
The park is technically open year-round, but winters are dangerously cold and nearly completely dark. Spring and fall can still be awfully cold. You’re in the Arctic after all.
In the summer the temperatures can get quite warm during the day, but overnight freezes are not uncommon.
Just remember that from May through August it won’t ever actually get dark. This is the land of the midnight sun. Summer also means grizzly bears, so ensure you have bear spray and a bear-proof food canister.
There are two ways to get to the park.
The first is to hike in from the Dalton Highway, a long dirt road that runs from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean. The hike into the park is difficult, with no trails and difficult footing on the arctic tundra. You only scratch the surface of the park this way as well.
The best way to get to the park is to take one of the daily flights from Fairbanks to Anaktuvuk Pass or hire a private bush plane.
Anaktuvuk Pass is a native village deep in the park and it’s the starting point for most people. From there, you set out into the wilderness with no connection to the outside world until your return! On your journey, you will have to carry everything with you, including your tent. You can set up camp anywhere. Just remember to keep all food in the bear-proof canister and you will have an amazing time in the most epic of all US national parks!
Recommended by Chris of Around The World With Me
Plan your trip to Gates of the Artic NP, AK
Check out daily flights from Fairbanks to Anaktuvuk Pass
3. GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK
Glacier Bay National Park is a stunning natural wonder located in Alaska, USA.
Known for its glaciers, fjords, and wildlife, this park is a must-see for nature enthusiasts.
Taking a boat tour to see the glaciers up close is among the best things to do in Glacier Bay NP. The park has one daily tour that will take you to the base of the glaciers, where you can see the massive ice formations and hear the thunderous sound of ice calving.
Kayaking and canoeing in the park’s waterways are also popular activities in Glacier Bay NP. This is a great way to experience the park’s serene beauty and see wildlife such as seals, sea otters, and whales.
Hiking the park’s trails for incredible views of the glaciers and fjords is one of the many awesome things to do in the park. The park has several hiking trails that range from easy to strenuous, so there’s something for every skill level.
Fishing in the park’s rivers and lakes, which are home to various fish species such as salmon, halibut, and trout is also a top thing to do in Glacier Bay in Alaska.
And, taking a scenic drive through the park is a must. The park has a road that leads to the park’s visitor center, which offers great views of wildlife.
The best time to visit the park is during the summer, from late May to early September, when the weather is mild and the park is open to visitors. The average daily temperatures during this time range from 40°F (around 4°C) to 60°F (around 15°C).
To get to the park, you can take a ferry from Ketchikan, Alaska, or fly from Juneau Alaska to Gustavus. Glacier Bay National Park is a short drive from both the ferry and the airport.
The best place to stay in the park is the Glacier Bay Lodge. It is located within the park and offers comfortable rooms, delicious dining options, and an on-site gift shop.
The location of the lodge is perfect for exploring the park as it houses the Glacier Bay National Park Visitor Center!
Recommended by Anh of Luxury Under Budget
Plan your trip to Glacier Bay NP, AK
Fly from Juneau Alaska to Gustavus, or take a ferry from Ketchikan to Gustavus
Book your stay at Glacier Bay Lodge
4. KATMAI NATIONAL PARK
Katmai National Park and Preserve in southwest Alaska is home to more than 2,000 brown bears and is one of the best places to observe bears in their natural habitat.
The best activity in Katmai is watching brown bears fishing for salmon at the famous Brooks Falls. There are huge wooden platforms for tourists that allow you to admire the wild nature from a safe distance.
But there are other exciting things to do in Katmai National Park. The goal of establishing this park in 1918 was to protect the volcanically ravaged region around Novarupta and the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.
It’s worth taking a trip to the Valley to see the site of the Novarupta eruption. It took place in 1912 and was the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. You’ll also find exciting hiking trails. It’s worth hiking the Dumpling Mountain Trail and the Cultural Site Trail. Since the waters are full of fish, fly fishing in the designated areas is one of the best activities. But you must have a permit. It’s also possible to rent a canoe or kayak and enjoy water sports on Naknek Lake.
The best time to visit Katmai is from mid-June to mid-September. During this time, bear activity is highest, and the weather is pleasant. Daytime high temperatures are 60°F (15.5°C) and rarely drop below 55°F (12.7°C) or above 73°F (22.7°C).
There is no road access to the park, so the only way to get there is by air taxi or water taxi.
You can fly from Anchorage to King Salmon by plane and then take an air or water taxi to the park. Or take a day trip from Anchorage or Homer.
There is only one lodge in the park – Brooks Lodge – and a lottery is held each December to get a spot. Also, there is one campground, but you’ll need to book it months in advance.
Recommended by Agnes of The Van Escape
Plan your trip to Katmai NP, AK
Book your stay at Brooks Lodge, or
Visit Katmai NP, Kenai Fjords NP and Denali NP on a 10-day Magnificent Alaska Tour
5. KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK
An incredibly unique national park for many reasons, Alaska’s Kenai Fjords is home to over 35 named glaciers, dramatic fjords and coastline, and marine wildlife including seals, puffins, otters, and a variety of whales such as fin and orcas.
Over 51% of the park is covered in glacial ice and another significant chunk of it is water!
Being that so much of Kenai Fjords is under ice or water, it should come as no surprise that some of the best ways to see it are by boat and by air.
Taking a cruise around Resurrection Bay is among the top things to do in Kenai Fjords NP. There are two main companies that run day cruises and their offerings are similar, ranging from 4-9.5 hour tours. The longer you’re on the water, the better your chances of seeing bucket list-worthy wildlife like orcas and puffins!
Kayaking is a top activity in the park. Experienced kayakers can combine a cruise with the unique experience of kayaking right up to the face of a glacier! Note that you truly need to have kayaking experience, as these waters are notoriously a bit rough and frigid, plus you’ll be fully exposed to the elements.
Visiting Exit Glacier is one of the most popular things to do in the park. This glacier is part of the enormous Harding Icefield and is accessible from a different area of the park, about 20 minutes from Seward. It’s one of Alaska’s most accessible, and the only drivable part of the Kenai Fjords. There are a handful of short trails with closer views of the glacier, plus the visitor center.
For some more fun, hike the Harding Icefield and take a unique opportunity to hike on terrain unlike any other! Harding Icefield is also in the Exit Glacier section of the park, this is The 8.2-mile roundtrip hike is strenuous and will likely take all day, but is worth the effort!
And finally, take a helicopter tour. There’s absolutely nothing like seeing this unique park from the air, with its countless glaciers, floating icebergs, fjords, and waterfalls! A handful of companies offer short “flightseeing” tours, and some even do glacier landings!
The best time to visit Kenai Fjords is the summer, between June and May. This is when everything (including roads!) is open and tours are operating. During the off-season, the park is technically open but practically inaccessible. In July and August, the average daily high temperature is 62℉ (16℃). This also coincides with the wet season, so be prepared for rain at a moment’s notice.
Kenai Fjords is in Seward, about 2.5 hours south of Anchorage on the southeastern tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Most people fly into Anchorage, pick up a rental car, then drive the spectacular Seward Highway to Seward (allow plenty of time for all the stops you’ll want to make!). Alternatively, the Alaska Railroad runs directly between the two cities in the summer.
To make the most of your visit, stay in the heart of Seward. The waterfront Harbor 360 Hotel is within walking distance of the best restaurants and shops, plus all the cruises and tours depart from the harbor right in front!
Recommended by Taryn of Chasing Trail
Plan your trip to Kenai Fjords NP, AK
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore the Kenai Fjords National Park!
Check out car rentals at Anchorage International Airport
Book your stay at Harbor 360 Hotel
Book From Seward: Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise with Lunch, or
Visit Katmai NP, Kenai Fjords NP and Denali NP on a 10-day Magnificent Alaska Tour
6. LAKE CLARK NATIONAL PARK
Located about 100 miles (160 km) from Anchorage, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve protects Alaska’s largest lake with fantastic wildlife, unique shoreline, landscapes, and mountains. The park is also on the list of least visited national parks in the US.
Bear viewing in Lake Clark National Park is one of the best highlights because you can admire brown and black bears in their natural habitat here. They’re spotted in some park areas: Chinitna Bay, Crescent Lake, and Silver Salmon Creek. Brown and black bears also frequent the shoreline during the salmon run. The park also offers excellent water activities such as canoeing, kayaking, and rafting on wild rivers. The Tanalian Trail System from Port Alsworth offers wonderful day hiking opportunities. The best hikes include Tanalian Falls, the Beaver Pond Trail, and a hike to Tanalian Mountain. Lake Clark also offers excellent fishing for adventurous anglers, though a permit is required. Finally, Lake Clark is famous for backpackers and camping enthusiasts because it’s a trail-less wilderness.
The best time to visit Lake Clark National Park is between June and October when the weather is warmer, and accommodations and transportation are available. The average temperature in July ranges from 15°C (59°F) to 8°C (46°F). It’s also a humid and rainy area, so be prepared for rain and chill. However, visit the park between June and September if you plan on bear-watching.
There are no road connections to Lake Clark. You can get there from Anchorage, Kenai, or Homer by small charter plane or boat.
The Park is perfect for camping in a tent and backpacking if you are experienced in the wilderness, without amenities, and in a bear country. You’ll also find bed and breakfasts, cabins, or all-inclusive lodges that offer guided tours. They’re all private businesses.
In Port Alsworth, you can stay at Alaska’s Back Country Inn, Lake Country Lodge, or Farm Lodge. In Chinitna Bay, Bear Mountain Lodge is a good place to stay. At Crescent Lake, you should visit the Redoubt Mountain Lodge.
Recommended by Agnes of The Van Escape
Plan your trip to Lake Clark NP, AK
Book your stay at Alaska’s Back Country Inn, Farm Lodge (Port Alsworth), Bear Mountain Lodge (Chinitna Bay), or Redoubt Mountain Lodge (Crescent Lake)
7. WRANGELL – ST ELIAS NATIONAL PARK
Located in Alaska, the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is the largest national park in the United States. The park’s name is a combination of Mount Wrangell, the largest active volcano in North America, and St. Elias, the highest peak in the park.
Among the top things to do are glacier hiking on the Root Glacier, visiting the Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark to learn about the park’s mining history, and boarding a floatplane to explore the park from high above. Make sure to spend some time wandering McCarthy to get a feel of what a small “frontier” town feels like! Flying over glaciers and around high peaks is undoubtedly the way to explore Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
The best time to visit is during the summer months, though it is possible to travel there from mid-May and as late as mid-September. Snow can be present from the end of September. Summer temperatures average from 52°F to 68°F. (11°C to 20°C).
Anchorage International Airport would be the main travel hub. From there, a 5-hour drive from Anchorage reaches Chitinia before another 3-hour drive on the unpaved road to McCarthy. Alternatively, regional airplanes fly from Anchorage to Chitina. Whichever way offers stunning views of the Alaska region, with a possible glimpse of moose. The remote location of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park makes an excellent addition to any Alaska 10-day itinerary.
Accommodation is available either at the Ma Johnson’s Hotel in McCarthy or at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge, a short distance away from the historical mines and overlooking the Root Glacier.
Recommended by Patricia of Ze Wandering Frogs
Plan your trip to Wrangell – St Elias NP, AZ
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Wrangell – St Elias National Park!
Check out car rentals at Anchorage International Airport
Book your stay at Ma Johnson’s Hotel, or Kennicott Glacier Lodge (or Blackburn Cabins in McCarthy)
MUST-SEE NATIONAL PARKS IN ARIZONA
8. GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Grand Canyon is the most visited national park in the USA. About 4.5 million people visit Grand Canyon a year.
Grand Canyon is a natural wonder and one of the most recognizable national parks in the USA and worldwide. Millions of visitors come to see this vast geological site, created by the power and persistence of the Colorado river.
Besides seeing stunning colors of more than 227 miles (365 km) long, and 1 mile (1,6 km) deep national park, in northern Arizona, people mainly visit Grand Canyon because of their interest in hiking. Some of the other best things to do in the Grand Canyon are riding a mule or a bike. For adrenaline lovers, there is also the option of whitewater rafting, or helicopter tours to take in the greatness of the canyon. If you are short on time, and wondering how to spend a half day at the Grand Canyon, one of the best things to do is to take a drive alongside Desert View Drive (64 East) and admire panoramic views and stunning vistas along the South rim.
Since the Grand Canyon rim is at a high altitude, 7000 ft (2000 m), the best time to visit are spring and fall. For less crowded and more ideal weather springtime, between April and June, is the best. Rainfall averages are low, and temperatures are perfect for hiking and range from 56-60° (10-15°C) during the day in April and 70-80°(21-32°C) in June.
Fall is the second best time to visit Grand Canyon. There is more rainfall and the park gets crowded more than in summer.
The easiest way to reach Grand Canyon would be by flying into one of the nearest airports and then driving to the park. The closest airport to the Grand Canyon South Rim entrance is Flagstaff/Pulliam, but this would not be the best option. Travelers more often than not fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX) or Las Vegas McCarran (LAS) airport. They are a 3 to 4-hour drive away, but have better (international) flight connections, are more often than not cheaper, and open more options to your Grand Canyon trip itinerary.
Since towns around the entrances are rather limited, getting accommodation can be tricky. This is especially true during the Grand Canyon peak seasons and in summer. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, try to book your accommodation in advance.
The best place to stay around Grand Canyon would be in Tusayan, which is only a few miles away from the South Entrance. Other towns close by are Grand Canyon Junction and Cameron.
Other options are also Williams and Flagstaff, but the drive to the Canyon will be longer.
Recommended by Anja of Anja on Adventure
Plan your trip to Grand Canyon National Park
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Grand Canyon National Park!
Check out rental cars at Flagstaff Pulliam Airport (FLG),McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, or Phoenix Sky Harbor Intl Airport (PHX)
Book your stay in Tusayan
9. PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK
Protecting one of the world’s largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world, Petrified Forest National Park lies in one of the aridest, and most desolate areas of Arizona.
Yet it is one of the popular destinations in the state, featuring a unique landscape of the Painted Desert with layers upon layers of different pastel colors, unique petrified wood logs, and hundreds of archaeological sites.
Visiting the park offers several things to do, most starting from viewpoints along the 28-mile-long Main Park Road, a stretch of Historic Route 66. These viewpoints offer opportunities to take a closer look at the colorful Painted Desert, with all its hues, from deep purples, pinks, reds, and oranges, to several shades of grey.
Another stop offers the opportunity to see Agate Bridge, one of the world’s longest petrified logs that created a bridge over a gap. A cement bridge under it was created to keep the log from collapsing. Several trails offer short walks or longer hikes through large concentrations of petrified logs. This way you can walk through Jasper Forest and Crystal Forest.
And the park even has vestiges of ancient human civilizations, offering walks through archaeological sites at Puerco Pueblo and a look at one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in the world, called Newspaper Rock.
The best times to visit Petrified Forest National Park are the shoulder seasons, spring and fall, when daytime temperatures are pleasant, averaging between 65F (18C) and 85F (30C).
To get to Petrified Forest National Park fly into Phoenix, Arizona, and follow AZ-87 N out of town towards Holbrook. The drive from the airport to the park takes about three hours.
Though you can camp within the park’s boundaries with a permit, you won’t find hotels or restaurants there.
However, you can find amenities for different budgets in Holbrook. Holbrook is less than 20 miles (32km) away. A little farther, 55 miles (88km) from the park, Winslow is a larger town with more hotel and restaurant choices.
Recommended by Emese of Wanderer Writes
Plan your trip to Petrified Forest NP, AZ
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore the Petrified Forest National Park!
Check out car rentals Phoenix Sky Harbor Intl Airport (PHX)
Book your stay in Holbrook, or Winslow
10. SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK
Saguaro National Park is located in the south of Arizona and is one of the three national parks in the state.
Saguaro National Park is famous for a large number of saguaros, the largest cacti in the United States. Many of the saguaros in the park are over 40 feet tall.
The park surrounds the city of Tucson and has two districts: the Tucson Mountain District on the west side and the Rincon Mountain District on the east side. Both districts are very scenic and worth checking out.
There are lots of things to do in the park while you admire the gigantic cacti. There are a couple of scenic drives, like the Cactus Forest Loop Drive.
In addition, it’s a fantastic place for hiking. The famous Arizona Trail goes straight through the park, but there are also many fun short-day hikes that you can do in Saguaro National Park. Some great trails are the King Canyon Trail in Saguaro west and the Loma Verde Loop in Saguaro east.
You can also find some interesting wildlife in the park, like horned lizards, rattlesnakes, and kangaroo rats and you might even see a Gila monster! Visiting the park during dusk or dawn increases the chances of you seeing wildlife.
The best time to visit Saguaro National Park is in the spring. In February/March. Temperatures are usually between 70 – 80 F (21 -27 C) and you’ll see a lot of wildflowers. If you’d like to see the Saguaro cactus in bloom, visit the park in April.
To get to the park, you can fly to Tucson International Airport. From the airport, it’s only a 30-minute drive to either district. Tucson is also the best place to stay for visiting Saguaro NP since there are no hotels or lodges in the park. Consider staying at the 4-star Graduate Tucson in Tuscan. This fabulous hotel is only a 20-ish min drive from the park!
Recommended by Jacoba of Travel with Co
Plan your trip to Saguaro NP, AZ
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Saguaro!
Check out car rentals at Tucson International Airport
Book your stay at Graduate Tucson
MUST-SEE NATIONAL PARKS IN CALIFORNIA
11. CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK
One of the best national parks on the west coast of the United States is Channel Islands National park.
Located off the coast of Ventura, California, Channel Islands National Park is home to five unique islands and an incredibly diverse ecosystem of flora and fauna.
The Channel Islands is famous for its whale watching opportunities.
One of the most popular things to do in the park is to take a scenic whale-watching cruise around the islands. Due to the way how the channels connect around the islands, a large population of feeder fish hangs out in the area which in turn attracts many different species of whales to the area.
In addition to whale watching, sea cave kayaking in the Channel Islands is a unique activity to the park. This type of kayaking takes you out into the ocean, but also allows you to bravely kayak in and out of the sea caves that surround the main islands. If you prefer to spend your time on land, there are many camping and hiking options on the islands as well.
Due to California’s relatively mild climate, Channel Islands National Park is open and a wonderful place to visit year-round. The whale migrations vary based on the seasons, but there are always dolphins and at least one species of whale present in the area. The average temperatures on the islands and out at sea range from the 50s F(around 10 C) to the mid-70s F (around 21 C).
There are no lodging options on the islands themselves as they are heavily protected nature reserves. If you would like to spend the night on the island, you must reserve a campsite in advance and bring all of your own camping gear. There are also no restaurants on the islands so you must come prepared to be self-sufficient.
Recommended by Shannon of Adventuring With Shannon
Plan your trip to the Channel Islands National Park
Book Channel Islands National Park Sea Cave Kayaking Experience from Ventura Harbor
12. DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Death Valley is one of the most impressive national parks on the West Coast of the USA.
Death Valley is a must-see US national park in a lifetime!
As you might know, Death Valley is the lowest place in North America (the Badwater Basin stands at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level), the hottest place on Earth (with the world air temperature record of 134 F/57 C), and is the driest place in the USA (rain extremely rarely falls in Death Valley).
Block faulting of Earth’s crust formed the primal landscapes of this spectacular west coast national park about 30 million years ago. And then, water filled up the valley and made a lake about 50.000 years ago. But that is not all. Between 2.000 and 5.000 years ago, the lake evaporated and made the salt pan. During that time, volcanic activity, wind, and alluviation formed must-see unique landforms in the park.
Visiting the iconic Badwater Basin, the Devil’s Golf Course, and the Artis Pallette, hiking the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, the 1-mile long Golden Canyon trail, and the Twenty Mule Team Canyon trails are among the best things to do in Death Valley. But if you want to see a mysterious sailing stone, the Racetrack Playa is the place to go! And for the most impressive views of the Badwater Basin, head to the Dantes View viewpoint.
The best time to visit Death Valley is from mid-October to mid-May. December and January are the best months for visiting Death Valley.
The most popular season to visit Death Valley is spring because of the pleasant weather, but also for the natural phenomenon called Wildflower Super Bloom (when the desert gets covered with thousands of wildflowers). Death Valley NP is one of the best national parks to visit in March for the Wildflower Super Bloom.
Death Valley National Park is 126 miles from Las Vegas and 214 miles from Los Angeles.
McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is the closest airport to Death valley. It is only 130 miles from the park.
The most popular ways of visiting Death Valley from Las Vegas are to rent a car and head to Death Valley to explore the park on your own or to join a guided day tour from Las Vegas to Death Valley.
Bob Hope Airport in Burbank is another airport close to Death Valley. The Burbank airport is about 160 miles from Death Valley.
There are nine public campgrounds and two hotels within Death Valley park. If you prefer hotels, the iconic The Ranch At Death Valley, and The Inn At Death Valley are must-checks out in Death Valley!
Recommended by Milijana of World Travel Connector
Plan your trip to Death Valley NP
Check out rental cars at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, or Bob Hope Airport in Burbank
Book your stay at The Ranch At Death Valley, or The Inn At Death Valley
Or, take a guided day tour from Las Vegas to Death Valley.
13. JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK
Joshua Tree National Park is known for its Dr. Seussian trees with branches that twist in all directions with leaves and flowers that pop at the end of each branch. They are a sight to see. So, visiting is a must whether you’re only in Joshua Tree National Park for one day or a weekend!
There is so much to do in Joshua Tree. Start your day at the Hidden Valley Nature Trail, a one-mile loop where you’ll see Joshua trees, unique rocks, and beautiful desert plants. If you’re looking to learn about the history of the park, try a ranger-guided tour of Keys Ranch, where you’ll discover the Old West. Barker Dam is also a great, short 1-mile loop where you’ll see a water tank, petroglyphs, and of course, more Joshua trees. Skull Rock is an interesting rock formation that kids will love climbing on and it’s just on the side of the main road making it easy to get to. Finally, don’t miss Cholla Cactus Garden where multiple ecosystems meet making the plant life both beautiful and completely unique.
The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park is in the spring or fall because summers get brutally hot (think 100°F/ 38°C). Spring and fall temperatures are around 80 °F (27°C) not including September, which is still on the tail-end of summer heat. The winter can be a great time to visit as well, especially for the incredible stargazing you’ll find in the middle of the California desert. Temperatures in winter are in the mid-60s °F (around 16°C).
The closest airport to Joshua Tree is Palm Springs (PSP) but typically the most budget-friendly is Los Angeles (LAX), Ontario (ONT), or Burbank (BUR). Regardless, you’ll need a car to reach and traverse the national park.
The Joshua Tree desert has some of the most unique Airbnb and bed and breakfasts in the country so check out the 15 most amazing Joshua Tree rentals.
However, the fantastic Skylark Hotel in the heart of nearby Palm Springs is a perfect choice for visiting Joshua Tree. And Palm Springs is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the US. Check out the amazing 15 Vrbo Palm Springs vacation rentals!
Recommended by Alanna of Periodic Adventures
Plan your trip to Joshua Tree, CA
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Joshua Tree!
Check out car rentals at Palm Springs International Airport
Book your stay at Skylark Hotel
14. LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK
Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the most underrated National Parks in California even though it has so much to offer. It has hydrothermal volcanic activities, snow-covered mountain peaks, beautiful lakes, wildlife, and amazing scenery.
There are so many amazing things to do in Lassen Volcanic National Park. One of the most popular places to see hydrothermal activity in the park is Bumpass Hell Trail. There is a boardwalk trail here to see the boiling mud pools and sulfur vents up close. Driving through the scenic Volcanic Park highway and stopping at the vista points is another best thing to do here. Kings Creek falls hike will take you to an amazing waterfall. Lake Manzanita is a beautiful lake with water activities, camping, hiking, and fishing. If you are up for a strenuous hike then the Lassen Peak hike will reward you with amazing views of the park.
Lassen Volcanic National Park can only be visited during the summer months of July, August, and September as it is snow-covered for the rest of the year. The average temperature in the summer months is around 75 F (24 C) during the daytime and around 40 F (4 C) during the nighttime.
The best way to reach Lassen is to fly into San Francisco or Sacramento International airport and drive there. Lassen is about a 4-hour drive from San Francisco and a 3-hour drive from Sacramento.
Staying in the neighboring city of Chester or Redding is the best place to stay. Best Western Rose Quartz Inn in Chester is only 40 minutes from the park’s southern entrance and is a great place.
Contributed by Anu Agarwal of Destination Checkoff
Plan your trip to Lassen NP, CA
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Lassen National Park!
Check out car rentals at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), or Sacramento International Airport
Book your stay at Best Western Rose Quartz Inn
15. PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK
As one of the newest US National Parks, Pinnacles National Park is definitely a must-see one that still has plenty of off-the-beaten-path places to enjoy.
While there, be sure to explore at least one of the talus caves for which the park is famous. In Pinnacles, cracks in the volcanic rock caused canyons that shifted piles of boulders to form “caves.”
There are two talus cave systems within the park, Bear Gulch Caves and Balconies Caves, both of which are open most of the year for hiking and exploration. If you’re up for a longer hike, head into the spectacular high peaks for which the park is named.
Pinnacles NP has been instrumental in increasing the California condor population and is the only NPS unit that serves as a release site for captive-bred California condors, so don’t forget to keep your eyes open for them while you hike! The Bear Gulch Nature Center is a great stop for those who enjoy a slower pace within the parks. And don’t forget the dark hours – Pinnacles is a terrific spot for some stargazing!
While Pinnacles is open and wonderful year-round, spring and fall are ideal times to visit when the temperatures are moderate (it can get pretty toasty with little shade in the summer). March and October are particularly exciting times, as the upper portion of Bear Gulch Cave is only open for a few weeks during these months.
The closest major airport to Pinnacles National Park is San Jose International (SJC), which is about a 1.5-hour drive away. San Francisco and Oakland Airports are also good options that are just a bit further (around 2 hours away). You’ll definitely want to rent a car to explore the park as the public shuttle is seasonal and only serves one side of the park on weekends. Note that there is no road connecting the east and west sides of the park, so when choosing activities, be sure to check the sides on which they’re located.
The single campground within Pinnacles is clean and can accommodate tents and RVs. Beyond that, the nearby towns of Paicines and Hollister have plenty of lodging options from hotels to homestays.
Recommended by Preethi of Local Passport Family
Plan your trip to Pinnacles NP, CA
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Pinnacles!
Check out car rentals at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), or San Jose International
Book your stay in Paicines, or Hollister
16. REDWOODS NATIONAL PARK
Redwood National Park protects almost half of all remaining old-growth coastal redwoods on Earth.
It’s one of only three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in California. The world’s tallest tree lives here! Yet, despite all its wonders, it’s one of the lesser-visited National Parks in California. You can explore this magical, adventure-filled park in relative quiet most of the year.
Start by visiting a redwood grove, of course. Ladybird Johnson Grove is one of the most popular. Walking among the ancient trees through fog and clouds, you’ll feel like you entered another world.
Next, visit Fern Canyon. Scenes in Jurassic Park were filmed here, and it’s easy to imagine yourself in a prehistoric world while exploring this lush canyon lined with ancient ferns.
After hiking, head to the beach! Coastal redwoods are always located near the ocean, and the North Coast has some of the most wildly gorgeous, practically-deserted beaches in the state.
Redwood National Park is not just a place to bask in the scenery. There are also many opportunities for wildlife viewing. Roosevelt Elk create quite a stir. They roam the local meadows, and have even been seen walking near the Prairie Creek Visitor Center!
Finally, make time for adventure. A guided kayak ride on the Smith River is sure to make an impression, even when the water slows in the summer months. As a bonus, the tour includes a stop at Stout Redwood Grove, considered one of the world’s most scenic.
Summer is the best time to visit Redwood National Park. Average highs are 65o (18oC) with lows averaging 45o (7oC). Almost half of the parks’ visitors arrive during this season, but given the size and layout of the park, few areas feel crowded.
Redwood National Park is a road-trippers paradise. Expect a drive to get there. The closest airport is Medford Airport , Oregon, 3 hours north of the park. Rent a car right from the airport, and head to Redwood NP.
There aren’t any Redwood National Park lodges, but there are some great campgrounds.
Elk Prairie Campground is centrally located and offers camping cabins in addition to tent and RV sites. If camping isn’t for you, consider fabulous Emerald Forest Cabins & RV.
Recommended by Kris of JJ & The Bug
Plan your trip to Redwood National Park
Fly to the airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Redwood NP!
Check out rental cars at Medford Airport (MFR)
Book your stay at Emerald Forest Cabins & RV
17. SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK
The second established national park in the USA (beating neighboring Yosemite by just a few days!), Sequoia National Park sits roughly 200 miles northeast of Los Angeles and 260 miles southeast of San Francisco.
Best known for its namesake – the giant sequoia tree, the park is home to the largest known tree on earth by volume, the General Sherman Tree. In fact, Sequoia was the first park ever created to protect a living species.
When visiting Sequoia, it goes without saying that you can’t miss the General Sherman Tree, which is located in the popular Giant Forest section of the park. The Congress Trail is a great 2-mile hike that meanders past the General Sherman Tree and through a large portion of the Giant Forest. While in the area, The Giant Forest Museum is also worthy of a stop.
Next, climb the grueling 400 steps to the top of Moro Rock for incredible views of the Kaweah River and San Joaquin Valley. Lastly, don’t miss booking a tour of Crystal Cave, a large marble cavern that can be explored via a guided half-mile loop trail.
Sequoia National Park is open year-round but is generally best visited between May and September when the weather is warmest, and there isn’t snow on the ground. During summer, daytime temps average 70°F (21°C), and nights hover around the mid-40s (7°C).
To reach the park from afar, your best bet is to fly into LAX and rent a car. From Los Angeles, take the I-5 North to the CA-99 North, following the signs to Bakersfield. From there, merge onto the CA-65 North until reaching the Generals Hwy in Three Rivers.
In terms of where to stay, this Sequoia Lodging Guide covers every single lodging option in the park. Buckeye Tree Lodge is a superb lodge, and Lodgepole is the most popular campground.
Recommended by Jenna of Up and Away Magazine
Plan your trip to the Sequoia National Park
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Sequoia National Park!
Check out rental cars at Fresno Yosemite International Airpor, or Los Angeles International Airport Book your stay at Buckeye Tree Lodge
18. YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
Yosemite National Park in California is one of the best west coast national parks and among the most visited national parks in the USA.
Yosemite is one of the most spectacular national parks in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Glaciers, erosion, and weather shaped this mind-blowing 759,620-acre park for 30 million years. Yosemite is famous for its biodiversity, monumental granite cliffs, breathtaking waterfalls, numerous lakes and ponds, stunning hiking trails, and wildlife.
Yosemite is a true hikers’ paradise. There are 800 miles of hiking trails in Yosemite. But among the most popular are the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, Bridalveil Fall Trail, and Half Dome Trail ( a hiking permit for the Half Dome Trail is a must-get!). However, the most famous landmarks of Yosemite are El Captain (the iconic vertical granite monolith in Yosemite NP), Half Dome (the famous granite dome in Yosemite NP), and Yosemite Falls (the tallest waterfall in the USA).
But, if you want to see the last remains of a glacial lake from the Ice Age, visit Mirror Lake in Tenaya Canyon. If you enjoy great views, go to the famous Glacier Point for breathtaking views of Yosemite National Park. And head to Taft Point for the awe-inspiring views of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan.
The fabulous Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, with over 500 thousands-old sequoia trees, is another must-see site in Yosemite.
Yosemite peak season is summer. The park gets most visited from June to August.
However, the best months to visit Yosemite and avoid the crowds are May and September.
Yosemite facilities (roads, viewpoints, hiking trails, and campgrounds) are closed in winter because of the cold and snow.
Fresno-Yosemite International Airport(FAT) is the closest airport to Yosemite. The airport is an hour and a half drive from Yosemite. Another airport close to Yosemite is Merced Regional Airport (MCE). But, this is a smaller regional airport.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK), and San Jose International Airport(SJC) are international airports near Yosemite. They are all within a 3-4 hour driving distance from Yosemite. Renting a car at the airport is among the most popular options for visiting Yosemite independently.
For accommodation, the stylish Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite is a great accommodation choice in Yosemite. The lodge is only 45 min from the Yosemite Valley Visitors Center.
Recommended by Milijana of World Travel Connector
Plan your trip to Yosemite National Park
Fly to the airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Yosemite NP!
Check out rental cars at Fresno-Yosemite International Airport (FAT), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Oakland International Airport (OAK), or San Jose International Airport (SJC)
Book your stay at Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite
MUST-SEE NATIONAL PARKS IN COLORADO
19. BLACK CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP is one of the loveliest and least visited National Parks.
The Park protects an area of the canyon around the Gunnison River. While the canyon walls themselves are black, the name actually stems from the fact that much of the steep canyon area only receives up to a few minutes of light per day.
The canyon is really steep and even fewer visitors actually enter the canyon and travel to the river. The park is divided into two sections, the North and South rims, with hiking, camping, and sightseeing activities available in areas.
Black Canyon has quite a few activities to do in the park. While it’s not as big or extensive as other parks there’s still quite a lot to occupy a day or even several days in the area.
Hiking is a popular pastime in the park. The North Vista Trail provides some of the park’s best hikes with beautiful river views and canyon views. Most hikers walk out to Exclamation point where you can see the river only coming directly toward you.
Sunrise and Sunset viewing are popular in the park as well. Sunset Point and Painted Canyon Point are both great places to view the sunrise and sunset over the canyon walls. The minerals in the walls react differently to the light as it changes.
Stargazing and camping are also popular and perfect activities in the park. Given the location and distance from major cities, the park has great stargazing opportunities.
You can either stay in nearby towns and come into the park to view it or at one of the two campsites. The north rim campsite is more remote and thus is better for lack of ambient light. Inner-canyon travel and rafting are both possible within the park. However, due to the steep canyon walls and difficult terrain, it requires lots of planning and a permit for entering. You may even be the only person you come across in these areas of the park and river.
The park experiences hot summers and cold winters. Based in the mountains of Colorado, winter travel in the park can be difficult due to cold temperatures and snow.
The best time to visit the park is summer and autumn. Summer temperatures average in the high 80s F (around 27 C) and 60s F (around 15 C) low. September and October you find temperatures in the 70s – 80s (21-27 C) high and 40s – 50s (4-10 C) low.
The park is located in central Colorado about 5 hour drive from Denver.
While Denver is the largest airport in the region, other options for visitors include Grand Junction (90 minutes), Gunnison-Crested Butte Airport (90 minutes), or smaller Montrose Airport (20 minutes). These while closer do have fewer options for flights and may be more expensive and harder to rent cars. A car is needed for access to the park.
Visitors to the park can stay at either of the two campsites at each of the rims within the park. For those looking for more comfortable accommodations, Montrose CO located outside the south rim entrance is a great option. The Holiday Inn Express Montrose is a great option for convenience, comfort, and free breakfast.
Recommended by Anwar of Beyond My Door
Plan your trip to Black Canyon, CO
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Black Canyon!
Check out car rentals at Denver International Airport, Grand Junction Regional Airport, or Montrose Airport
Book your stay at Holiday Inn Express Montrose
20. GREAT SAND DUNES NATIONAL PARK
Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado is one of America’s hidden gems.
It’s a park that doesn’t often get mentioned among the amazing national parks of the American west. But Great Sand Dunes deserves a stop on any road trip through Colorado.
The park preserves the tallest sand dunes in North America as well as the surrounding mountains. Star Dune and Hidden Dune, the highest points in the 30 square miles of dunes, reach nearly 750 feet above the valley below.
The number one thing to do in Great Sand Dunes is to go hiking on the dunes. There are no set trails though, as it’s literally just sand. You’re free to wander up and down the giant sand mountains anywhere you want. Sandboarding and sledding are also popular activities in the park. Be sure to rent your gear outside the park though, as the park itself does not rent sandboards. Other top things to do in the park are hiking the mountain peaks (“normal” hiking), stargazing (as light pollution is incredibly minimal), and horseback riding.
The best time of year to visit Great Sand Dunes is in the summer.
At an elevation of about 8200 feet, even summer nights can get chilly. Summer temps are usually in the high 70s (25 C) (though the sand itself can be super hot).
The park is open year-round though. Winter can be brutally cold but is sunny more often than not.
Getting to Great Sand Dunes is not too difficult thanks to Colorado’s vast road network. The park is about a 3-hour drive from Colorado Springs Airport or about 4 hours from Denver International Airport. It’s best visited in combination with Colorado’s three other national parks or another region in Colorado like the San Juan Mountains and the phenomenal Ice Lake hike in southwest Colorado.
The only place to stay in the park is the park’s official campground, Pinon Flats Campground (book through recreation.gov). There are no restaurants or shops or anything in the park itself, so be prepared with your own food when camping. If camping isn’t your thing, the nearest hotel is just outside the park boundary.
For more options, the nearest town is Alamosa, about 40 minutes away. The Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Alamosa with an indoor pool is about 35 min drive from Great Sand Dunes in Colorado.
Recommended by Chris of Around the World With Me
Plan your trip to Great Sand Dunes, CO
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Great Sand Dunes!
Check out car rentals at Colorado Springs Airport, or car rentals at Denver International Airport
Book your stay at Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Alamosa
21. MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK
Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site that protects the cultural heritage of the ancestral Pueblo People.
Set among the Colorado mesas, you’ll find archeological sites that include pit houses, pueblos, and cliff dwellings.
Mesa Verde is a great park for all ages and abilities. It’s best known for its cliff dwellings.
You can visit Step House on your own but will need a guided cliff-dwelling tour to visit any of the others. Several of these tours include climbing tall ladders, hiking along narrow ridges, and squeezing through tight spaces, so read the descriptions carefully before booking.
Drive the Mesa Top Loop Trail to learn about the ancestral Pueblo and see examples of pit houses and pueblos. You’ll also find great viewpoints looking down at cliff dwellings.
Head to the Wetherill Mesa Area to see a different part of the park. This is a quieter part of the park and takes you along wonderful canyon views. This is where you’ll find the hike to Step House as well as the Long House Trail.
Don’t forget to check for lists of cultural activities happening during your visit. Mesa Verde was the first park to offer evening programs beginning in 1907, and proudly maintains this tradition. These include drumming or dance performances and are free to the public.
The best time to visit Mesa Verde Park is in May or September when the park is fully open, but without the summer crowds. Because Mesa Verde is at an elevation of over 8,000 feet, it can be quite cool in these months.
In May, the average high temperatures in Mesa Verde are in the low 70s F (around 21C) and can drop into the low 40s (around 4 C) at night.
During the summer months, highs are in the mid-80s (around 27 C), with lows in the high 50s (around 10 C) at night.
In September, expect highs around 75 F (around 24 C), and lows in the mid-40s (around 4 C). Whenever you visit, plan to bring a rain jacket and an extra layer for the cool mountain evenings.
You’ll need a car to explore Mesa Verde. You can fly into Santa Fe, NM, Albuquerque, NM, or Durango, CO to reach the park. Once you reach the park entrance you’ll have a 30-45 minute drive to the center of the park where you’ll find the only lodge in the park- the Far View Lodge.
The Far View Lodge is the best place to stay in Mesa Verde. This historic lodge is right at the center of the park and eliminates the drive in and out of the park each day.
There is also the Morefield Campground partway into the park. There are great facilities here, and a lot of the park’s cultural activities take place at the amphitheater here.
Recommended by Cynthia of Sharing the Wander
Plan your trip to Mesa Verde, CO
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Mesa Verde NP!
Check out car rentals at Albuquerque Airport, or car rentals at Durango Airport
Book your stay at Far View Lodge
22. ROCKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Rocky Mountains NP is the second-most visited national park in the USA. Only Grand Canyon NP is more visited than Rocky Mountains NP.
If you have ever visited Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, you will understand why it is considered a national treasure and one of the must-see US national parks on the West Coast.
The park covers an area of 415 miles square with the Continental Divide running north to south through the park. The Rocky Mountain range is dramatic with waterfalls and peaks, fantastic fall colors, and frequent wildlife sightings.
Whether you are mapping a road trip or planning to fly to Colorado, some of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages. Visitors of Rocky Mountain NP enjoy the scenic Drive Trail Ridge Road the most. Another popular activity in Rocky Mountain is climbing to the elevation marker at the Alpine Visitors Center. However, camping, enjoying picnics, hiking, horse riding, and snowshoeing in winter are some of the most popular things to do in this amazing park.
Due to the popularity of the park, Rocky Mountain National Park requires a timed-entry reservation through their online system from May until mid-October.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a four-season park, though you might find the most things to do in the summer months when the temperatures are welcoming and comfortable. The average daily temps in June, July, and August range from 68° F (20° C) to 78° F (25° C).
The closest airport to Rocky Mountain National Park is Denver International Airport. Travel by car is about 1.5 hours from the airport to the park entrance.
Lodging options within the park are limited unless you are a camping enthusiast. The closest place to stay is in the tourist town of Estes Park just outside the national park entrance. There are no main hotel chains, but a wide variety of cabins, camping, and vacation rental options nestled along the river with the stunning backdrop of the Rocky Mountains.
Recommended by Jolayne of simplyjolayne
Plan your trip to Rocky Mountains, CO
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Rocky Mountains NP!
Check out car rentals at Denver International Airport
Book your stay in Estes Park
MUST-SEE NATIONAL PARKS IN MONTANA
23. GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
Without a doubt, one of the best and must-see national parks on the West Coast, and in the country, is Glacier National Park.
Located in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, this national park acquired its name thanks to the number of glacier-carved valleys and peaks that spread all the way to the Canadian border. Famous for its number of glaciers, diverse wildlife, and pristine lakes.
There are so many amazing things to see in Glacier National Park, without a doubt the most popular attraction is the Going-to-the-Sun Road, which is a mountain road that cuts through the park and passes the Continental Divide when it’s fully open via Logan Pass for a short few-week window in the summer months. Otherwise, only sections of the road are accessible and can be enjoyed.
Other popular activities include scenic ranger-led boat tours on the pristine lakes, the ranger-led red bus tours (which also are the best way to visit Logan Pass so you can sit back and enjoy the views), hiking to glaciers, and enjoying the views and hiking along the turquoise Avalanche Creek.
June through September are the best times to visit Glacier National Park if you want to have the best chances to traverse through the park via Logan Pass on the Going-to-the-Sun Road as that’s typically when the road has been cleared.
However, this is peak season and the most competitive time to visit the park. You’ll need to secure a vehicle registration during this time to enter the park, this reservation system was introduced around the pandemic to prevent the park from exposure and consequences of over-tourism, which also means if you plan ahead you’ll also have more enjoyable experience.
Arguably, the best time to visit the park though is the shoulder season which includes May through early June and the month of October to get to enjoy the beauty of the park without as much competition or crowds. Keep in mind though, that if there are storms or heavy snowfall there’s a chance that Logan Pass won’t be open, which isn’t a deal breaker as there’s so much else to do and see in the park and areas of the Going-to-the-Sun Road you can still enjoy.
During the peak summer months (June – September) the park averages around 60°-70° F (15°-20°C) highs and lows in the 40s°F (4°C).
The closest airport is Glacier Park International Airport (FCA) in Kalispell, which is around a 40-minute drive to the West Glacier entrance to the park.
Alternatively, you can also take the Amtrak train for a scenic journey to the East Glacier park entrance, where you’ll want to secure a rental car in East Glacier so you can explore or book red bus tours from the East Glacier Park entrance.
For where to stay, it’s best to stay near West Glacier or in West Glacier. Glacier Outdoor Center is an excellent place to stay for visiting the park!
Recommended by Megan of Bobo & Chichi
Plan your trip to Glacier NP, CO
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Glacier NP!
Check out car rentals at Glacier Park International Airport (FCA)
Book your stay at Glacier Outdoor Center
24. YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK
Yellowstone National Park was the first national park in the United States and is in fact the oldest national park in the world.
The national park sits atop the caldera of an enormous, super volcano. It’s especially famous for its geothermal activity, its incredible diversity of wildlife, and the dramatic canyon and falls.
There are lots of things to do in Yellowstone National Park. The number one attraction is Old Faithful. This is the most famous geyser in the world because it erupts faithfully at regular intervals throughout the day. I recommend getting there early so that you can get a good spot. The area around Old Faithful has a boardwalk and it’s worth spending a few hours exploring the area, walking past colorful hot springs, bubbling cauldrons, and gushing geysers.
Another main attraction in Yellowstone is Grand Prismatic Spring. This is the largest spring hot spring in the park and is incredibly colorful. There is a boardwalk around a large part of the spring, but for the best views head up to the overlook nearby where you can see the enormous pool from above.
Another thing not to miss is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and the dramatic Yellowstone Falls. They’re divided into the Upper Falls and Lower Falls. For an incredible panoramic view go to Artists Point on the south rim of the canyon.
Also not to be missed is the wildlife. Yellowstone is often called the “Serengeti of America” because of how much wildlife there is. The best places to see wildlife, including bison and wolves, are Lamar Valley in the northeast corner of the national park and Hayden Valley in the east. I recommend getting there very early in the morning or late in the afternoon as this is when wildlife is the most active.
Summer and very early fall are the best time to visit Yellowstone National Park. Although this is when the park is the most crowded, it’s also when the weather is best. Average highs are 72°F/ 22°C and average lows are 38°F/ 3°C in July and August. It can snow in early September, which may cause snap temporary road closures.
Yellowstone is a large park and there are five entrances.
West Yellowstone is close to the West Entrance and has its own small regional Yellowstone Airport, which is the closest airport to the national park.
Gardner is just outside the North Entrance and is serviced by Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport.
The Northeast Entrance is reached by driving over the scenic Beartooth Highway (closed in winter). The East Entrance is closest to Cody, where there is Yellowstone Regional Airport.
The South Entrance lies just north of Grand Teton National Park and the nearest airport is Jackson Hole Airport.
There are several lodges inside the national park. For a truly amazing experience, it’s hard to beat the Old Faithful Inn, built of wood in classic ‘parkitecture’ style.
Recommended by James Ian of Parks Collecting
Plan your trip to Yellowstone NP
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Yellowstone NP!
Check out car rentals at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, or Jackson Hole Airport.
Book your stay at Old Faithful Inn
MUST-SEE NATIONAL PARKS IN NEVADA
25. GREAT BASIN NATIONAL PARK
Nestled in the corner of eastern Nevada along the border of Utah, Great Basin National Park is the west coast park that few people have heard of.
Yet this nearly 80,000 acre park is home to a stunningly diverse landscape of limestone caves, ancient bristlecone pine trees, and the 13,063 foot Wheeler Peak.
One of the highlights of Great National Park is a ranger-guided tour of Lehman Caves to see stalactites and stalagmites in cool limestone caverns. You’ll also want to make sure to visit one of the groves of bristlecone pines, amazing old-growth trees twisted into a variety of interesting shapes. You should also hit the hiking trails in Great Basin, like the Bristlecone/Glacier Trail, to really experience the landscape. And if you’re up for a challenge, hike to the summit of Wheeler Peak, the second highest peak in Nevada. Or at least take a ride along Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive to see the massive peak from afar, along with other beautiful parts of the park from the pullouts along the way.
While summer is the most popular time to visit Great Basin, the best time to visit is probably in early fall when you’ll have ideal temps and fewer crowds. The average daily high temperature in September is 75°F (24°C), with low temps at night around 47°F (8°C).
Great Basin is kind of in the middle of nowhere along “the loneliest road in America,” US Route 50. The best airports to fly into are Salt Lake City (a 4-hour drive) or Las Vegas (a 5-hour drive). Rent a car at Salt Lake City Airport, or McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and head to Great basin in Nevada!
If you want to stay in the park, there are five campgrounds to choose from, or you can find lodging in the nearby town of Baker, Nevada. Book a room in Hidden Canyon Retreat, which is a 30-minutes drive away from Great Basin National Park, and enjoy visiting the park!
Recommended by Allison of She Dreams of Alpine
Plan your trip to Great Basin National Park
Fly to the airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Great Bas!
Check out rental cars at Salt Lake City Airport or McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas
Book your stay at Hidden Canyon Retreat
MUST-SEE NATIONAL PARKS IN NEW MEXICO
26. CARLSBAD NATIONAL PARK
Driving through the Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the Chihuahuan Desert, southeast New Mexico it is hard to imagine that you are driving above an extensive cave system featuring some of the largest caverns in the world.
Although the surrounding Guadalupe Mountains have been inhabited by people for many thousands of years, the Carlsbad cave system was only recorded at the turn of the twentieth century.
With over 65 kilometers of caves, reaching down hundreds of meters, The Carlsbad Caves are some of the most impressive cave systems to be openly accessible to the public.
Modern facilities including lighting, pathways and even an elevator mean that the cave is accessible to most people.
Audio guides can be rented to learn more about the caves as you explore. Ranger-guided tours are also available to shed even more light on the mysteries of the caves.
There are four kilometers of trails open to the public. Perhaps the most impressive attraction is ‘The Big Room’ the largest cave chamber in North America. Along the trails, incredible geological formations created over many millennia are lit up.
Another natural phenomenon not to be missed in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park is the bat flight program. At sunset, each night between late May and October, hundreds of thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats exit the cave in an impressive corkscrew array before flying out to feed for the evening. A second opportunity to witness the bats happens again at dawn when the bats return home.
Other popular experiences within the national park include hiking and backpacking trails, nighttime star viewing programs as well as guided nighttime hikes
The Carlsbad Caverns National Park is about 30 kilometers southwest of Carlsbad, New Mexico, the city known as the gateway to the caverns. Carlsbad has a small airport. A larger airport can be found in El Paso (250 kilometers away).
Although there is no overnight lodging available within the park, backcountry camping is permitted, while RV camping is permitted just outside the park on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Official campgrounds with facilities can be found 11 kilometers from the visitors center in White City.
30 kilometers away in Carlsbad, there is further lodging and accommodation. Home2 Suites By Hilton Carlsbad New Mexico offers good value for money and is about 25 min drive from the Carlsbad Caverns NP.
Don’t forget to reserve your viewing time for the cave in advance online. Bring closed shoes and a sweater as the temperature drops quickly as you descend into the caves.
Recommended by Eddie of The Vanabond Tales
Plan your trip to Carlsbad, NM
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Carlsbad National Park!
Check out car rentals at El Paso International Airport
Book your stay at Home2 Suites By Hilton Carlsbad New Mexico
27. WHITE SANDS NATIONAL PARK
The White Sands National Park is located in the Tularosa Basin in New Mexico and is a true hidden gem worth a visit.
The glistering white desert in New Mexico is consisting of 275 square miles of gypsum sand and stretches out as far as the eye can see. It is one of the most beautiful must-see national parks on the West Coast – and for good reason.
There are many possibilities for things to do in the White Sands National Park. The most popular choice is taking a guided walk with one of the park rangers through the white sand dunes. The park ranger will give a great overview of the impressive flora and fauna of the place and some education on the history of the White Sands. During certain months you can even take a full-moon guided walk. At the visitors’ center is a small museum, which is very interesting to visit.
Obviously, you can also explore the park by yourself. There are three major hiking trails in the park: the Interdune Boardwalk, the Playa Trail, and the Alkali Flat Trail. The Alkali Flat trail is, with a length of 7 km, the longest of the walks and is for experienced hikers. If you plan on visiting the White Sands National Park with children, I suggest going sledding down the beautiful white sand dunes. Lastly, the White Sands is an amazing spot for barbeque, there are many fireplaces all over the park.
The best time to visit the White Sands National Park is in spring or fall when the average daily temperatures hover around 79 F (26 C). During the summer months, it can get unbearably hot in the white desert.
The closest city to the White Sands national park is Alamogordo.
Since there are no hotels in the White Sands National Park, staying in Alamogordo is your best option. The Hampton Inn is a great choice in the area.
The closest airport to the White Sands National Park is in El Paso, Texas. The El Paso international airport is roughly a two-hour drive away from the National Park.
Make sure to call ahead of your visit, due to the close proximity of the Missile Range the Park is closed from time to time without notice.
Recommended by Sabrina of Shade of Summr
Plan your trip to White Sands, NM
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore the White Sands National Park!
Check out car rentals at El Paso International Airport
Book your stay at Hampton Inn
MUST-SEE NATIONAL PARK IN OREGON
28. CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
Crater Lake is a stunning natural wonder located in the state of Oregon.
The lake was created approximately 7,700 years ago by the collapse of a volcano and became the centerpiece of Crater Lake National Park in 1902. Its deep blue waters are some of the clearest in the world, fed by snowmelt and rainwater.
The lake is the deepest in the United States and the ninth deepest in the world, with a depth of 1,943 feet (594 meters).
The best things to do at Crater Lake National Park are to take a scenic drive along the rim of the crater, explore a few of the many hiking trails, take a Crater Lake trolley tour, and book a boat tour on the lake. The Watchman Peak trail is unrivaled in Crater Lake National Park for its unparalleled scenic views and perfect photo opportunities. Get prepared to see some extraordinary scenery!
The best time to visit Crater Lake is from late June to early October when the weather is warm and inviting.
In June, daily highs average 58 F (14 C), and daily lows average 34 F (1 C). During this time, visitors can take advantage of all the activities available in the park such as camping, hiking, and sightseeing. During the winter, wheeled vehicles are not allowed on either North Entrance Road or Rim Drive.
Crater Lake National Park is located approximately 250 miles from Portland. For the most stunning journey to Crater Lake, take Interstate 84 E through the picturesque Columbia River Gorge to Hood River. Enjoy a scenic drive down to Mount Hood by taking US Route 26 E. Then, take the US Route 97 highway leading you straight through Bend and over to Crater Lake National Park. The closest airport to Crater Lake is the Rogue Valley Internationa -Medford Airport.
There are a variety of lodging and camping options within the park. One of the most popular spots to stay in is the historic Rim Village Lodge, which offers cozy accommodations with stunning views of the lake. Other nearby accommodations include multiple campgrounds and an array of private cabins and vacation rentals.
Contributed by Debbie of World Adventurists
Plan your trip to Crater Lake, OR
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Crater Lake National Park!
Check out car rentals at Medford Airport
Book your stay at Rim Village Lodge
MUST-SEE NATIONAL PARKS IN UTAH
29. ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
Arches National Park is one of the best national parks in the United States.
It is located north of Moab in eastern Utah and is known for its more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches across the entire park.
There are a ton of really great things to do inside the park such as go hiking, do the scenic drive, and go stargazing. There are a few really great hikes in Arches and one of the best is the loop Windows hike. It’s a 2-mile loop and takes you to 4 of the most incredible arches in the whole park. Another really great hike in Arches is the hike to Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch is by far the most famous arch in the whole park. The hike is 3 miles and is moderately challenging. Many people like to go here for either sunset or sunrise and see the incredible color the sun reflects onto the arch making it glow red. Another great thing to do in Arches is to drive the scenic drive and stop off at all the stunning viewpoints. Arches NP has incredible views out over the desert and La Sal Mountains that you can see right from your car. The most amazing thing to not miss while visiting Arches is the incredible night sky after the sun goes down. Arches is a national dark sky park, which makes the night sky simply incredible from here.
The best time to visit Arches National Park is in either the spring or fall. The average temperatures in the spring are between 50-70 F (10-21 C). The average temperatures in the fall are between 88-56 F (31-13 C). If you visit in the spring or fall this is the best time to avoid the crowds.
Salt Lake City (SLC) airport is the best airport to fly into to get to Arches.
Many people will then do a road trip from Salt Lake City to Arches National Park and stop off at the things to see along the way. The most convenient way to get to Arches from SLC is to drive South towards Provo and get on US-6. From US-6, merge onto l-70 after 128 miles. After exiting 182 towards Moab, merge back onto US-191 S.
The best place to stay to visit Arches National Park is in Moab. There are many options, but one of the best hotels is Hoodoo in Moab hotel. This hotel has great reviews, an awesome view, a pool, and a great breakfast.
Recommended by Jessica of Unearth The Voyage
Plan your trip to Arches National Park
Fly to the airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Arches National Park!
Check out rental cars at Salt Lake City Airport
Book your stay at Hoodoo in Moab
30. BRYCE NATIONAL PARK
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah and is a mesmerizing, otherworldly park full of tall, spindly, orange rock formations called hoodoos.
A relatively small national park, Bryce Canyon packs a big punch, with the majority of hikes and things to do being situated around the Bryce Amphitheater, a bowl-shaped formation filled with hoodoos, where you can observe the amazing vistas the park has to offer from the rim or hike down in and among the towering rocks.
While there are many great things to do in Bryce, one day in Bryce Canyon is enough to do a lot of things in the park! The first must-do hike is undoubtedly the Navajo Loop to Queen’s Garden Trail. Coming in at about 3 miles, this not-too-short, not-too-long hike takes you through narrow switchbacks, small slot canyons, and meandering trails down into the amphitheater and among the hoodoos. You also must take in the views from the Sunrise and Sunset Points on the north end of the amphitheater, and then get a totally different view from Bryce Point and Inspiration Point on the south end. For a longer, less trafficked hike, head out on the 8 mile Fairyland Loop Trail, and explore deeper into the amphitheater. Drive the Scenic Route and stop at the Natural Bridge Overlook, to see the stunning and very large arch in Bryce Canyon. Finally, walk the very short Mossy Cove Trail, where you can walk by and play in a shallow, scenic spring.
While you can visit any time of year, the best times to visit are late spring, summer, and fall. Thanks to its high elevation, Bryce Canyon stays significantly cooler than other places in southern Utah. Average temperatures in July are in the upper 80’s (31 C) – not at all bad for Utah.
Bryce Canyon is most easily accessible from Las Vegas, NV or St George, Utah. Most visitors come through the Las Vegas airport, which has the most flights and the best deals.
There are a number of campsites in Bryce Canyon National Park, and there is also a lodge inside the park: The Bryce Canyon Forever Hotel.
In the city of Bryce, just outside the park, there are a few hotel options – the best is the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel.
Recommended by Stephanie of The Unknown Enthusiast
Plan your trip to Bryce Canyon National Park
Fly to the airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Bryce Canyon NP!
Check out rental cars at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, or Saint George Airport in Utah
Book your stay at Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel.
31. CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK
Canyonlands National Park is a fun, family-friendly experience, and the park can be explored in many different ways.
Enjoy the beauty of southern Utah and jump into a Canyonlands adventure! Go off-roading!
You can explore the off-road trails by driving a jeep or other off-road vehicle through the park’s off-road trails. Take in the beauty of the red rocks and enjoy the adventurous spirit of Canyonlands!
Take a hike and enjoy the park on foot. Choose a trail or two to conquer and enjoy the picturesque views along the way. Mountain biking is another avenue to explore Canyonlands National Park. Hop on and enjoy the sights of this majestic area with tires rolling beneath you and wind in your hair.
Visit The Island in The Sky District of Canyonlands. It’s the most visited section of the park and the easiest to get to. Hike around and take in the scenery. The views are amazing. No trip to Canyonlands is complete without a genuine off-road tour. Tours in Canyonlands are a lot of fun, especially if you don’t have a 4×4 vehicle and want to explore down the White Rim Road.
April is a great time to visit Canyonlands! The weather is generally mild at this time, with daily high temperatures ranging from 60°F to 67°F and low temperatures ranging from 40°F to 46°F. Though it can still be quite cool in moments, an April visit will save you from the later summer heat. A spring visit will also enable you to beat the summer crowds.
Salt Lake City is the closest international airport to Canyonlands. The national park is a four-hour drive, roughly 240 miles southeast. However, a closer regional airport is Grand Junction Regional Airport.
SpringHill Suites by Marriott Moab and Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Moab are great options if you’d like a place to stay near Canyonlands.
Recommended by Candice by CS Ginger
Plan your trip to Canyonlands National Park
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Canyonlands National Park!
Check out car rentals at Salt Lake City International Airport, or Grand Junction Regional Airport
Book your stay at SpringHill Suites by Marriott Moab, or Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Moab
32. CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
Capitol Reef National Park is one of the Mighty 5 in Utah.
This is one of the lesser visited National Parks in Utah, but it is still worth at least a day or two in your Utah itinerary.
Some of the best hikes in Capitol Reef include Cassidy Arch, Cohab Canyon, and the relatively easy hike to Hickman Bridge. If you enjoy going off the beaten path, don’t miss the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon as well as Glass Mountain in Cathedral Valley.
The best times to visit Capitol Reef are in April (64 F/18 C – 37 F/ 3C), May (73 F/ 23 C – 46 F/ 8 C), September (79 F/ 26 C – 52F/11 C), and October (65 F/18 C – 41 F/5C). You are unlikely to get rain most of the year in Capitol Reef, but in recent years there have been some issues with flooding during the summer months of July and August thanks to the hard ground not soaking up the rains.
Many people choose to start a Utah road trip by flying into Las Vegas (341 miles away) or Salt Lake City (229 miles away).
Grand Junction, Colorado, Moab, and Saint George, Utah, all also have smaller airports you may be able to fly into depending on your airline of choice and origin city.
One of the best places to stay to explore this area of Utah is in Hanksville, Utah.
While you can also stay in Torrey, Utah, Hanksville offers more areas to explore including the Bentonite Hills. These famous hills back up to Capitol Reef, and you can find some of these colorful hills in the Cathedral Valley portion of Capitol Reef as well.
The lovely Whispering Sands Motel in Hanksville is centrally located in the grand circle of southern Utah’s national parks.
Recommended by Christine of Live Love Run Travel
Plan your trip to Capitol Reef National Park
Fly to the airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Capitol Reef NP!
Check out car rentals at Salt Lake City International Airport, or McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
Book your stay at Whispering Sands Motel in Hanksville, or Capitol Reef Resort in Torrey
33. ZION NATIONAL PARK
Typically when people think of visiting Utah, one of the first destinations that comes to mind is Zion National Park.
Zion National Park is located in the southwest corner of Utah and it is one of the top 10 most visited national parks in the United States.
Things you must do in Zion National Park include taking a scenic drive throughout the park, riding the shuttle through Zion Canyon and hiking.
Easier hikes include Canyon Overlook Trail, Emerald Pools, and the Pa’rus Trail. Harder hikes include The Narrows, Angel’s Landing (requires a permit), West Rim Trail, and Observation Point. Additional activities include visiting the Kolob Canyon section of Zion National Park and canyoneering in and around the park.
The best way to get to Zion National Park is by flying into St George Airport (SGU) or Las Vegas (LAS) and driving up to the park. LAS is just under 3 hours away from the park. SGU is about an hour from the park but it is a smaller regional airport so there are fewer flights and almost certainly added connections.
Summer and spring break are the most popular times to visit the park but it can be very hot and very crowded. Instead, consider a fall visit. In October, the average high is 66 F (around 19 C) and the average low is 39 F (around 4 C).
If you are planning on spending all of your time in the area at Zion National Park rather than exploring the other nearby parks, staying in Springdale, Utah is the best location.
If you are planning to explore the whole Southwest Utah area, then staying at the Zion Ponderosa on the east side of Zion might be a better spot as it is closer to Bryce Canyon National Park, Red Canyon, Coral Pink Sand Dunes, and Horseshoe Bend.
Recommended by Andrea of Our Beautahful World
Plan your trip to Zion National Park
Fly to the airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Zion National Park!
Check out car rentals at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas
Book your stay atZion Ponderosa , or SpringHill Suites by Marriott Springdale Zion National Park
MUST-SEE NATIONAL PARKS IN WASHINGTON
34. MOUNT RAINER NATIONAL PARK
Mount Rainier National Park is home to the tallest mountain in the Cascade Mountain range and Washington state, towering at 14.411 feet.
But Mount Rainier is so much more than just the eponymous mountain, with fields of vibrant wildflowers, abundant wildlife, and sparkling alpine lakes.
An awesome way to see the park is to explore some of the best hiking trails in Mount Rainier.
For example, the Skyline Loop trail, located in the famed Paradise section, winds through stunning wildflower fields and climbs upwards until you’re face-to-face with the Nisqually Glacier.
If you want to see a spectacular sunset, head, instead, to the Mount Fremont trail, where you can take in the views of Rainier from a historic fire lookout. There are also plenty of camping opportunities, like the Wonderland Trail, which is a bucket-list-worthy 93-mile trail that circumnavigates the entire mountain. If you’re visiting during a particularly hot period, there are a few alpine lakes to cool off in, like the turquoise waters of Mowich Lake by the incredible Mowich Campground – but be prepared, the glacial water is frosty!
For something a bit less intense, consider driving the Chinook Scenic Byway, a 107-mile drive that winds through the park and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest past some of the most breathtaking views in the Pacific Northwest.
The best time to visit the park is the short summer season, from July through September, when the skies are clear and the high-elevation hikes are generally snow-free. Average highs are usually in the mid-70s (around 21 C), which is perfect for hiking and outdoor exploration.
To get to Mount Rainier, fly into Seattle, rent a car the airport and make the two-and-a-half-hour drive southeast. Be sure to know where you’re headed in the park before making the drive- the park is enormous (370 square miles) and it can take hours to drive from one section of the park to another.
During your stay, consider making the town of Ashford, near the Paradise entrance, your home base. Ashford’s Paradise Village Inn provides an affordable yet comfortable stay and has some fun amenities, including a wood-fired hot tub.
Recommended by Jessica of Uprooted Traveler
Plan your trip to Mount Rainer National Park
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Mount Rainer National Park!
Check out rental cars at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Book your stay at Ashford’s Paradise Village Inn
35. NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK
North Cascades National Park is towards the north of Washington State and is often called ‘The American Alps’.
Inside the park, you’ll find glacial mountain peaks, emerald-green lakes and rivers, and beautiful forests. There’s also plenty of wildlife including bears, deer, marmots, and mountain goats!
Without a doubt, the best thing to do in the North Cascades is to go hiking to experience the beautiful scenery found in the park. One of the best hikes for a quick and easy walk is to hike the Thunder Knob Trail. This trail is 5.3 km return and takes you out to a fantastic viewpoint of Diablo Lake which is renowned for the emerald green color of the water.
More top North Cascades activities are driving the North Cascades Scenic Highway (check if it’s open beforehand as it’s closed over winter!), going to the Washington Pass Overlook and the Ross Lake Overlook both of which have amazing views and the latter even gives you a glimpse into Canada. You should also rent a boat or kayak to get out on Ross Lake or put your own boat in at the North End of Ross Lake if you have one.
The best time to visit Ross Lake is from mid-June to late September. This is when the majority of the snow has melted or is yet to fall and so the scenic route and longer hiking trails are open. Average temperatures during these months range from about 55 F (13ºC) to 61 F (16ºC).
North Cascades is easily accessible from Seattle with the drive from Seattle taking between 2 and 3 hours depending on traffic.
From Seattle, head north on the I-5 until you get to the WA-530 E/State Rte 530 NE. Follow the WA-530 ES tate Rte 530 NE WA-20 E Rockport and then continue until you’re in the park.
If you’re flying, fly to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) and then rent a car to get into the park.
Alternatively, you can drive from Vancouver, BC in about the same time if flying into Vancouver International Airport.
You will need to check you can take a rental car across the border and factor in additional time at border control.
North Cascades National Park is quite a bit more remote and wild than some National Parks on the West Coast. This means there aren’t many options for accommodation within the park itself unless you plan on camping.
However, there are plenty of places to stay just outside of the National Park.
The River’s Edge Resort in Winthrop to the east of the park is the best hotel nearby. Other options are to stay in Burlington to the west with the Fairfield Inn & Suites being one of the better options.
Recommended by Hannah of That Adventurer
Plan your trip to North Cascade National Park
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore the North Cascades National Park!
Check out rental cars at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Book your stay at River’s Edge Resort, or Fairfield Inn & Suites
36. OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK
Olympic National Park is located in the northwestern area of Washington, just west of Puget Sound.
What makes this park so beautiful? It’s actually one of the few rainforests in the United States.
This incredible park overflows with unique things to do and sites to see with a variety of activities for families, solo travelers, and people of all ages.
One of the best things to do in Olympic National Park is head to Hurricane Ridge where you’ll be nearly eye-level with endless views of the surrounding mountain tops. Then head to Crescent Lake and grab a rowboat on the lake. Crescent Lake is also the starting point for a hike to Marymere Falls, perfect for any age to access.
Next, relax in the hot springs at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. There are a few pools with various temperatures so you can find the just-right spot.
If you keep driving down highway 101, you’ll have plenty of beach options. Rialto beach is a popular beach with a mile hike to the “hole in the wall” formation, but if you’d like to keep the hike shorter you can visit the beautiful Ruby Beach and relax among the stone and driftwood.
Farther down 101 you’ll find the iconic Hoh Rainforest, which is not to be missed! This trail is short and easy but covered in mossy greens everywhere you look.
Summer months bring the most pleasant temperatures in the ’60s (around 16 C). Any other time of year, you’ll need a warm rain jacket and even an umbrella, but the lack of crowds makes up for the chilly temperatures.
Accessing Olympic National Park is fairly easy. Fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. From there, it’s about 2-1/2 hours to the north entrances of Olympic National Park, just past Port Angeles.
Top accommodations at Olympic National Park include the Sol Duc Hot Springs resort or Lake Crescent Lodge, both of which are inside the park and will give you faster access to all the sites.
Recommended by Megan of Let’s Jet, Kids
Plan your trip to Olympic National Park
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore Olympic National Park!
Check out rental cars at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Book your stay at Sol Duc Hot Springs resort or Lake Crescent Lodge
MUST-SEE NATIONAL PARK IN WYOMING
37. GRAND TETON
Grand Teton National Park is among the top five most visited national parks in the USA.
Grand Teton National Park protects the dramatic snow-capped peaks of the Teton Mountains as well as a broad river valley speckled with lakes and teeming with wildlife.
The scenery has inspired many photographers and artists.
There are dozens of great things to do in Grand Teton, but here are five you shouldn’t miss: Drive the scenic 42-mile loop around the heart of the park. It stops at lots of spectacular roadside viewpoints. Take a boat tour on Jenny Lake, which has a gorgeous setting right next to the mountains. If you want to sweat a little, go for a hike. An easy and popular option is Hidden Falls. The park is also a great place to spot wildlife along the roads. Pro tip: bring binoculars and go at dawn or dusk. And finally, visit Mormon Row to learn about local history and get iconic photos of the rustic barns against the mountain backdrop.
The best time to visit is in June, July, and August when the snow has melted. The park has a mountain climate, so expect highs of 68-77F (20-25 C) and lows of 36-41F (2-5 C) during those months. You will also want to bring a rain jacket as afternoon thunderstorms are common.
Grand Teton National Park is located in northwest Wyoming. The best airport to fly into is Jackson Hole Airport. It’s the only airport located inside a national park.
If you prefer to fly to a larger airport (which can be cheaper) Salt Lake International Airport is the closest but is still five hours away. Unless you book a bus tour, you will need to rent a car to see the park.
There are six campgrounds inside Grand Teton National Park. Book ahead well in advance as they sell out. There are also three lodges inside the park: Jenny Lake Lodge, Jackson Lake Lodge, and Colter Bay Village. The town of Jackson, Wyoming is a short drive outside the park and has dozens of accommodation options.
Recommended by Taryn of Happiest Outdoors
Plan your trip to Grand Teton National Park
Fly to the nearby airport, rent a car at the airport, and head to explore the Grand Teton National Park!
Check out car rentals at Salt Lake City International Airport
Book your stay at Jenny Lake Lodge, Jackson Lake Lodge, or Colter Bay Village