The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite and many more – we have selected the most iconic National Parks in the USA, so you can discover the natural treasures easily and repeatedly.
“Behind those entry kiosks lie landscapes that are vastly beautiful”. Wallace Stegner
The moment you roll up to a national park entry kiosk, you feel it: you are entering someplace special! Maybe it is the mountain air or the smell of the trees. Most likely, it is because you are about to see something big. Something indescribable.
Truely, America’s National Parks hold some of the earth’s most spectecular scenery. A collection of superlatives, they encompass the highest and lowest points in North America. One park is home to the greatest concentration of geothermic features on the planet. Another encompasses the world’s densest collection of natural stone arches.
Here is our list of America’s best National Parks in alphabetical order:
Acadia National Park
Founded in 1919, Acadia National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the USA. Especially in autumn, when the foliage of the countless trees shines in all colors, visitors flock to Mount Desert Island. A drive along the paved Park Loop Road and up to Cadillac Mountain leads at Sand Beach to Thunder Hole, where the Atlantic Ocean rushes through deep rock holes, and to Jordan Pond, a wide and quiet lake. Fortified carriage roads accompany you into the wooded hinterland. Away from the circular road you can hear the mysterious call of the Loon, also called the “Nightingale of the North”.
Arches National Park
The red-brown arches, which have been washed out of the rock by wind and weather over a period of 150 million years, have been under government protection since 1929. They have been part of Arches National Park in Utah since 1971. The Arches Scenic Drive leads to the most impressive viewpoints. Walks lead through Park Avenue, an avenue lined with steep cliffs, and to Balanced Rock. Other attractions include stone windows such as the North Window, the Delicate Arch, which can be reached via a 3-kilometer hiking trail and is the height of a seven-story house, and the Landscape Arch, which is 90 meters long and is even in the Book of Records. Devil’s Garden has over 60 stone arches; a short hiking trail starts at the Double O Arch.
Biscayne National Park
The only National Park in the USA, most of whose attractions are underwater, is located about 15 kilometers east of Homestead in southern Florida. Only with a glass-bottom boat, diving or snorkeling you can discover the beauties of this park, founded in 1980: living coral reefs with an unbelievable variety of colors and shapes, where more than 600 different species of fish have been counted. Among the animals that are rarely seen are the mighty manatees, which are now threatened with extinction. Small marine animals such as crabs, sponges, lobsters and crabs also cavort in the water. Many rare plants thrive on the approximately 40 small coral islands and on the mangrove coast – the longest undeveloped coast of its kind in the Eastern USA.
Bryce Canyon National Park
The red rock towers of Bryce Canyon rise from the stony ground like organ pipes. The colourful limestone formations, created by wind and weather over millions of years, bear imaginative names like Thor’s Hammer, Queens Castle, Gulliver’s Castle, Hindu Temples and Wall Street. Nowhere else, not even in the Grand Canyon, has nature been so moody as here. John Wesley Powell was the first white man to explore the Canyon in the 1870’s. The later Ebenezer Bryce National Park owes its name to the man who built a ranch in Bryce Canyon but soon moved on to Arizona because he had to search for his cattle in the winding canyons for weeks on end. Since 1924 Bryce Canyon is a national park. With the Indians it is called “red rocks that stand like men in a bowl-shaped gorge”.
Canyonlands National Park
The Canyonlands in southern Utah are among the most exciting landscapes on earth. The area, which in the first half of the 20th century was only accessible to Indians and skilled riders, was declared a national park in 1964. Many hiking trails lead into the deep canyons and hidden valleys. They open up a fairytale world of colourful stone. Green River and Colorado run like a green ribbon through the rock formations. Only on a hike you get to know the whole beauty of the park. Drivers have to be content with two dead-end roads. From the Grandview Point Overlook you have a great view of the canyons of the Green River and the Colorado River, at the Needles Visitor Center trails start, which pass the needles in the south. The Maze District in the backcountry is reserved for hikers.
Death Valley National Park
The famously infamous Death Valley, stretches across an area of about 10,000 square kilometers in the far east of California. It includes the hot desert valleys between Panamint and the Amargosa Range. In summer temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius are measured there. The area has been a national park since 1994. The first white people to enter the valley almost died there. They belonged to a wagon train that was on its way to the gold fields of California in 1849. They took what they thought was a shortcut and were stranded in the blistering heat. Twenty days they hammered out, then they were rescued. “Good-bye, Death Valley!”, one of the settlers is said to have shouted – hence the valley’s name. Even today, extreme caution is required when crossing it. In midsummer you should only set off with plenty of water.
Everglades National Park
The Everglades, a swampland in southern Florida, cover an area of 5661 square kilometers. Founded in 1947, the National Park extends from the Tamiami Trail in the north to Florida Bay in the south and from the Keys in the east to the Gulf of Mexico in the west. “Pay-hay-okee” is what the Indians called the Everglades, “sea of grass”. When the wind blows over the Jamaica sawgrass, the swamps resemble a stormy ocean. For centuries, the tough grass was fed by the south-flowing water of Lake Okeechobee. Today, the water is slowed down by artificial dams and canals – an intervention in the cycle of nature that is not only condemned by ecologists. Wooden sidewalks lead into the wetlands and allow visitors to see the flora and fauna. The national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Grand Canyon National Park
The hike over the Bright Angel Trail to Indian Gardens and on to the banks of the Colorado River is more strenuous than some people think and is like a journey through time into prehistoric layers of our earth. The slate at the bottom of the gorge is almost 2 billion years old. In Indian Gardens, a shadowy oasis, the hiker can refill his field bottle in the river. It is seven kilometres from the edge of the canyon to Indian Gardens, from there to the river eight kilometres. The much steeper South Kaibab Trail from Yaki Point to the river is only 10 kilometres long. Experienced hikers climb the North Kaibab Trail to the northern rim of the Grand Canyon. At the North Rim the Cape Royal Drive leads from the Grand Canyon Lodge to Cape Royal. The North Rim is lonelier, more pristine and more forested than the southern rim of the National Park, which was founded in 1919.
Grand Teton National Park
The Grand Teton National Park is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the US American West. It was founded in 1929 and is located in northwest Wyoming, south of Yellowstone.The park includes the approximately 4,000-meter-high peaks of the Teton Range, which rise like teeth from the rugged land, and the elongated valley of the Snake River. The highest mountain is the Grand Teton at 4,197 meters. One of the most famous peaks is Mount Moran. The Jackson Hole is surrounded by picturesque lakes like Jackson Lake and the romantically situated Jenny Lake. On the Snake River, moose and deer graze within sight of the few hotels. One of the most beautiful hiking trails is the eleven kilometre long trail through Cascade Canyon. On the way you can see moose, eagles and marmots.
Joshua Tree National Park
The Joshua Trees rise like silent forests against the mostly clear sky east of Palm Springs. These cactus-like plants are related to the Yuccas and grow up to 12 meters high. They got their name from the Mormons, who felt reminded of the raised arms of the Prophet Joshua by the stretched branches of the agave plants. A paved road leads through dense stands of Joshua Trees and Teddy Bear Chollas (a type of cactus), which reveal their beauty especially in the evening light. Of particular interest are the trails in the Hiden Valley and at Barker Dam. Other plants in the park, founded in 1994: the Creosote bush, which spikes a poisonous substance to destroy competing plants, and the Palo Verde. Its wood is green because photosynthesis takes place on the trunk and branches.
Mount Rainier National Park
Surrounded by dense spruce forests and alpine mountain meadows, the mighty Mount Rainier, an active volcano, rises from the imposing mountain landscape of the Cascade Range. The English navigator George Vancouver named the mountain after his friend Peter Regnier, a British naval officer. The Indians called the mountain “Ta-ho-ma” – “Weather Maker” – because it supposedly produces its own weather. From Paradise, the center of this national park, numerous hiking trails lead into the mountain wilderness, which especially in summer overwhelms with its colorful flowers. The Paradise Valley Highway also allows motorists to enjoy the wilderness. The area has been a national park since 1899, and about 10 percent of it is covered by ice. Attractive glaciers include Nisqually and Emmons Glacier.
Olympic National Park
The Olympic National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, combines an alpine mountain landscape with rugged peaks, lakes and waterfalls, a wild and romantic coast with rocky shores and wide sandy beaches, and a dense rainforest unlike anywhere else in the United States. “From the mountains to the coast” is the motto of the nature reserve. The Hoh Rain Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in the Western Hemisphere, was already protected in 1909. Heavy rainfalls helped a grandiose nature to unfold. West of Port Angeles, the commercial center of the park, is Lake Crescent, which is rich in fish. A road leads to hot springs, the Sol Duc Hot Springs. From Port Angeles, a panoramic road leads up to Hurricane Ridge, a 2.000-meter high plateau.
Redwood National Park
Three nature reserves in northern california, which were already established at the beginning of the 20th century, owe their existence to the powerful Save-the-Redwoods League conservation association. All three parks – Jedediah Smith, Del Norte Coast and Prarie Creek – together with Redwood National Park form a unique protected zone. The mighty redwoods (or coastal sequoias), close relatives of the sequoias, grow to over 100 metres in height, with an average age of 500-700 years, with some reaching more than 2000 years. The highest trees are found in the Tall Trees Grove near Orick. In Prarie Creek the dense rainforest on the Del Norte Coast impresses the rugged rocky coast. Mighty redwoods can also be found at Mill Creek in Redwoods State Park. The Avenue of the Giants leads right through the dark forests.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The mountain wilderness beyond the continental divide in northern Colorado was declared Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915 and is considered one of the most beautiful and exciting parks in the American West. One third of the National Park is above the tree line. Englemann spruces and colorful wildflowers grow in the 3,000-meter high mountain wilderness. Marmots bask in the tundra between overgrown spruces and mosses. Even by car you can drive up 3,660 meters on the Trail Ridge Road between Estes Park and Grand Lake (only open in summer). The approximately 80 kilometre long highway, the highest asphalt road in North America, winds through the impressive mountain world of the Rocky Mountains and opens up breathtaking views of the magnificent wilderness.
Saguaro National Park
The two-part nature reserve – declared a national park in 1994 – is located in southern Arizona in the tuscon Mountains. Within the park boundaries one finds a particularly dense and beautiful collection of Saguaro cacti. These mighty plants grow up to 15 meters high. The weight of a full-grown saguaro can reach up to 15 tons. Each of the small flowers (flowering time is in May) blooms only one day. They are pollinated by bats. The dried flesh is very tasty and is appreciated by papago-Indians as a delicacy. The “Cactur Forest drive” road winds through the cactus forest, the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail leads to the top of Mica Mountain. Saguaros are found throughout the Sonora Desert, which covers the southern part of Arizona and parts of northern Mexico.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park
The Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park includes an impressive high mountain landscape in the south of the Sierra Nevada and the legendary sequoia trees. From the rugged mountain range rises the 4,418-meter-high Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the USA outside Alaska. Here, the sequoia trees do not grow quite as high as the redwoods in northern California, but instead they reach a trunk diameter of up to eleven metres. The two national parks are connected by the Generals Highway: this single asphalt road also leads through the Giant Forest in the west of the national park, where you can study all the growth phases of the giant trees that even survived the last ice age. The mighty tree in this area is the “General Sherman” with a height of 83.8 meters and a circumference at the ground of 31.1 meters.
Shenandoah National Park
Established in 1935, Shenandoah National Park occupies a large part of the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains, which extend east of the Appalachian Mountains between Pennsylvania and Georgia. From east to west, the Shenandoah River flows through the valley. In the 19th century, numerous European settlers had settled here in the mountains. Their descendants still live outside the protected areas in tiny villages and on farms. The 164-kilometer Skyline Drive, one of the most beautiful scenic roads in the USA, crosses the park from north to south and offers fantastic views of the mountain valleys and forests. There are more than 800 kilometers of marked hiking trails in the National Park, including the 162-kilometer long Appalachian Trail, which runs through several states.
Yellowstone National Park
Founded in 1872, Yellowstone National Park is a melee wilderness of mountains, rivers and lakes and over 300 geysers. Cold water sinks into deep heat chambers where it is heated and forced to the surface through narrow channels. Old Faithful” is the most reliable of all, spewing its boiling water columns from the ground about every 70 minutes. The Steamboat Geyser, which erupted for the last time in 1978, is the highest geyser in the world with a fountain of 100 meters. Misty sulphur smoke hangs in thick clouds over the Norris Geyser Basin. Other highlights in Yellowstone National Park are the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone with two huge waterfalls, the Upper and the Lower Falls, as well as the impressive fauna: bison, bears, and wapiti deer often venture right up to the road.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of the most impressive nature reserves in the American West and is particularly popular in summer. Especially in the Yosemite Valley, in the middle of one of the most densely forested areas of the Sierra Nevada, visitors are bustling. The picturesque Merced River flows through the valley basin. The grant walls of the surrounding rocks rise up to 1500 meters. The Indians called the magical valley “O-ha-mi-te”: the “Valley of the Bears”. This eventually became Yosemite. Frederick Law Olmsted, the creator of New York’s Central Park, came up with the idea of placing Yosemite Valley under conservation. But it was only the conservationist John Muir that led the government to found Yosemite National Park in 1890. Today it is one of the most popular travel destinations in the American West.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is located in southern Utah and fascinates with high plateaus, deep canyons and bulky table mountains. The Virgin River carved its way through the colorful rock to form Zion Canyon, which owes its biblical name to the Mormons who first settled in the area. They had searched for fertile farmland and believed they had found heaven on earth. They also gave the imposing rock formations biblical names such as East and West Temple, Great White Throne. Zion has been a national park since 1919. On the Virgin River, a tributary of the Colorado, an asphalted road leads through the canyon and to the Temple of Sinawava, thirteen kilometers away. From there, a hiking trail leads to Weeping Rock, an overgrown rock overhang, and Angel’s Landing, a prominent rock outcrop.