Throughout the United States of America there is a large amount of National Parks. These parks are operated by the National Park Service and can only be established by an act of the US Congress. Yellowstone was the first natural area to be designated a National park in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant; since then a plethora of other regions have joined the list, and the USA currently boasts 59 National Parks. To qualify as a National Park, the natural area must meet certain criteria such as providing an outstanding region of natural beauty, an unusual ecosystem or a plethora of recreational activities for example.
Due to the varied landscapes of the United States, these parks are hugely diverse. Yosemite National Park for example contains sweeping forest covered valleys and rock formations such as El Capitan, whilst Arches National Park contains over 2000 sandstone arches and a stunning desert landscape. These parks are a hugely important aspect of American culture and heritage, and the nation takes immense pride in the variety and beauty of its many protected regions.
Let’s have a look at all US National Parks listed by Popularity:
1. Great Smoky Mountains
As the most visited National Park in the US, the Great Smoky Mountains is hugely popular due to its beautiful and dramatic landscapes and myriad of hiking opportunities.
This national park spans the Great Smoky Mountains themselves which are in turn part of the Appalachian Mountain Chain.
The landscape of this park includes a range of mountains, deep valleys and luscious forests.
Within the boundaries of the park you can find an endless amount of hiking trails plus some interesting historical sites such as Cades Cove, the Roaring Fork stream and Cataloochee Valley.
2. Grand Canyon National Park
The Grand Canyon is one of the most well-known and renowned natural landmarks in the world – this is the largest canyon in existence and covers an area of 1.2 million acres in the northern region of Arizona.
This epic canyon has been formed over millions of years and was crafted by the Colorado River – indeed the river still runs through the canyon today.
Millions of visitors travel to the Grand Canyon every year and it is easy to see why – the enormity of this region is breath-taking and the views from the Northern and Southern Rims are simply superb.
3. Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is one of the most popular National Parks in California and spans Tuolumne, Marisposa, Madera and parts of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
This park actually has the accolade of being designated a World Heritage Site in 1984 and it continues to be a popular holiday destinations for Americans and tourists.
Yosemite is famous for its immense granite cliffs, abundance of beautiful waterfalls, giant sequoia groves and its epic wilderness.
Yosemite Valley itself is the most popular area and contains several prominent natural landmarks including the Half Dome, The Three Brothers and El Capitan.
Travel to Yosemite if you love the outdoors and enjoy hiking and climbing.
4. Rocky Mountain National Park
The Rocky Mountains are one of the most well-known mountain ranges in the USA and the section that sits in the northern region of Colorado above Denver is a sublime National Park.
This park was established in 1915 and has since been designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
The Rocky Mountain Park consists of a series of immense mountains and deep valleys and even several glaciers such as Andrews Glacier.
This region is also known for its diverse ecosystems and wide range of plant and animal life.
Wildlife within the park includes Elk, Wolverines, Grizzly Bears, Bison and Bobcats to name a few.
This is yet another fascinating park for those who seek adventure and appreciate the great outdoors.
5. Zion National Park
Zion is an immensely popular National park located in the southwestern United States in Utah – although this relatively small park only covers an area of 146,000 acres, it is one of the most visited in the state and has some fantastic attractions and features.
One of the main sites within the park is the impressive Zion Canyon – this natural landmark is 15 miles long and has a beautiful colouration from the Navajo Sandstone.
Notable landmarks within the park aside from the canyon include the Kolob Canyons, The Three Patriarchs, Horse Ranch Mountain and the Twin Brothers peaks.
The infrastructure within this park is fantastic and there is a tramline used for transportation and a plethora of information offices and ranches.
6. Yellowstone National Park
Most people will have heard of Yellowstone National Park and it is a wonder that this area of natural beauty is not the highest ranked by attendance.
Located in the north western corner of Wyoming, Yellowstone is famous for its epic super volcano system and geyser that is lovingly named “Old Faithful”. Old Faithful erupts like clockwork every 91 minutes and this is a major attraction within the park.
Aside from the volcanic landscapes, Yellowstone also has a varied ecosystem including vast meadows, pine forests and mountains.
This park is undoubtedly the main attraction in Wyoming and the visitors centre and facilities are second to none.
When visiting Yellowstone don’t forget to see the epic Grand Prismatic Spring and the Excelsior Geyser Crater.
7. Olympic National Park
The north western states of the United States are known for having vast areas of ancient forest and the Olympic National Park boasts one of the most extensive woodlands in the country.
This park is located in the far west of Washington just below Vancouver Island across the bay from Seattle.
Olympic Park actually has four different regions – the epic Pacific coastline, the western temperate rainforest, the alpine regions and the drier eastern forests.
The coastline has a series of sandy beaches and sweeping bays, whilst the centre of the park contains a series of glaciated mountains such as Mount Olympus and Mount Deception.
Camping and hiking within the forests or coastline are popular pursuits and the variety and enormity of this park provides an endless array of attractions and sites.
8. Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is one of the few parks that is located exclusively on an Island – this park can be found on the southern coast of Maine on Mount Desert Island and the surrounding archipelago.
This region was historically inhabited by the Wabanaki Native Americans and was turned into a National Park in the 1920’s.
Acadia has a varied landscape including woodland, mountains and rugged shorelines.
Notable landmarks within the park include Mt. Penobscot, Cadillac Mtn, Jordan Pond, Otter Cove, Echo Lake, Thunder Hole and the Schoodic Peninsula.
Wildlife found on the islands includes beavers, deer, minks, black bears, coyotes, chipmunks and Gray seals.
Acadia has a fantastic combination of marine and inland attractions and is one of the highlights of Maine.
9. Grand Teton National Park
The Teton mountain range is a grand landmark in the northern parts of Wyoming and the surrounding region is known as Grand Teton National Park.
This park covers an area of 310,000 acres and lies to the south of Yellowstone National Park.
The Tetons are actually part of the Rock Mountains and this range constitutes a large part of the park.
The other main feature is the immense valley known as Jackson Hole – this valley contains Jackson Lake, the National Elk Refuge and Snake River.
The whole park has a varied ecosystem and you can look at glaciers in the mountains or study wildlife in the forests and plains.
Grand Teton offers a range of hiking opportunities and scenic drives.
10. Glacier National Park
This amazing park sits on the border between the United States and Canada in the northern region of Montana.
Glacier National Park has some of the most pristine and beautiful landscapes in the country and covers an area of over 1,000,000 acres.
This park contains a series of mountains such as Chief Mountain, and also a plethora of frozen lakes and natural lakes like Two Medicine Lake and Hidden Lake.
Furthermore, Glacier has over 50 species of mammal including Bighorn Sheep, Bison, Moose, Black Bears and Cougars.
Notable landmarks of Glacier Park include Kintla Peak, Bowman Lake, Going to the Sun Road and Logan Pass.
Aside from hiking and climbing, fly fishing is also a hugely popular activity.
11. Joshua Tree National Park
This Park is one of the most recent additions to the National Park repertoire and was designated in 1994. This National Park can be found in the south western part of California to the east of LA and San Diego and is famous for its Joshua Trees and gorgeous desert wilderness landscapes.
The Joshua Tree Park is actually part of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts and features a myriad of rocky barren regions, desert forests, grasslands, dunes and scrub.
Popular activities within the park include hiking through regions such as the hidden valley, climbing, astronomy and bird watching.
The landscape of the Joshua Tree Park will leave you mesmerised and exhilarated.
12. Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley is one of the smaller national parks but due to its close proximity to the city of Cleveland it still attracts a high amount of annual visitors.
The Cuyahoga River runs through the centre of the park and the surrounding valley is full of verdant forests.
Notable landmarks within the park include Cuyahoga Falls, Lake Arkona, Lake Warren and Stanford House.
Furthermore the Ohio and Erie Canal trailhead is a popular walking route that passes by a range of historical sites and follows the path of the old Erie Canal.
Cycling and Hiking are the most popular activities within the park; additionally many people come to seek out the wildlife including falcons, otters bald eagles and herons.
13. Bryce Canyon National Park
Utah is a state that has several National Parks and preserved areas and Bryce Canyon is one of the most popular next to Zion National Park.
Bryce Canyon is located in the central southern region of Utah to the east of Zion National Park and in close proximity to the Grand Staircase Escalante.
The main feature of this park is Bryce Canyon itself which is actually a series of rocky amphitheatres that contain beautiful hoodoos formations.
These hoodoos are simply spectacular and have formed over thousands of years into some fabulous shapes such as Thor’s Hammer.
Although the canyon looks like a desert landscape, it contains a myriad of fir tree forests and during the winter months you can regularly see snow on the ground.
Horse Riding and Hiking are popular pursuits especially along Rim Trail.
14. Hawaii Volcanoes
The Island chain of Hawaii has some truly diverse and mesmerising landscapes and the Island of Hawaii itself is home to a series of active and semi-active volcanoes.
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on the southern coast of the island and encompasses two of the state’s largest and most active volcanoes – Kilauea and Mauna Loa.
Kilauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and Mauna Loa is one of the largest shield volcanoes.
The park covers an area of 323,000 acres and is an area of intense scientific interest.
Many people take guided tours of the volcanoes or head to the visitors centre, and Volcano Art centre.
15. Arches National Park
The Arches National Park is considered one of the most beautiful desert landscapes in the United States and has over 2000 natural sandstone arches – hence the parks name.
This park lies in the eastern part of Utah to the north of the town of Moab and covers an area of 76,679 acres.
For those who enjoy scenic drives, the Arches Scenic Drive is one of the most enthralling roads in Utah and cuts through the middle of the park – there are numerous laybys where you can stop to take photos or go hiking.
This park is also perfect for rock climbing and hiking although the named arches cannot be scaled to protect their integrity.
Notable landmarks include The Tower of Babel, the Delicate Arch, The Three Gossips and The Balanced Rock.
16. Hot Springs National Park
The Hot Springs National Park is one of the few parks that is located within a town and is based around a main street and buildings.
This park is located in the town of Hot Springs in central Arkansas and is a renowned spa area whose waters are said to have fantastic healing properties.
The main attractions of this park are the gorgeous historical bathhouses – Hot Springs has a myriad of bathhouses such as Lamar Bathhouse, Ozark Bathhouse and Quapaw Bathhouse; most of these are situated on Bathhouse Row and are available for public use.
Aside from the bathhouse, the park also has a wonderful array of walking trails that snake around Hot Springs Mountain.
17. Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah is located in the state of Virginia and is known for its gorgeous forests and the famous Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley.
This is the most famous park in Virginian and has even been mentioned in several iconic songs.
One of the main features of Shenandoah is the epic Skyline Drive – this 105m long byway runs the entire length of the park from north to south and offers some absolutely stunning views of the luscious forests.
For those who love wilderness camping and hiking, the forests of Shenandoah provide endless opportunities.
Furthermore the park contains a handful of gorgeous waterfalls and an abundance of wildlife such as Black Bears and Deer.
18. Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier National Park encompasses the Mount Rainier Stratovolcano which is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world.
This mountain is the tallest in the State of Washington and the National Park surrounds this prominent landmark and covers an area of 236,000 acres.
Wonderland Trail is the most popular attraction in the park aside from Mount Rainier itself – this 93 mile long hiking trail encircles the whole park and to complete it from start to finish could take as long as 14 days.
The park also contains several sub-parks such as Ohanapecosh Park that can be reached from the trail and offer a diverse variety of landscapes.
For the truly adventurous and ultra-fit, there is always the possibility of attempting the three day journey to conquer the summit of Rainier itself.
19. Death Valley National Park
Death Valley National Park sits in the westernmost region of California and partially spans into neighbouring Nevada.
This intrepid part of California contains vast stretches of the Mojave Desert, salt-flats, Badlands, canyons and gorgeous sand dunes.
Death Valley has been designated an International Biosphere reserve and contains some important ecological end environmental features.
Notable landmarks of the valley include Mosaic Canyon, Mesquite Springs, Lake Badwater, the Devil’s Golf Course and Badwater Basin.
Popular activities in the park include mountain biking, hiking, wilderness camping, and even motor biking.
20. Haleakalā National Park
Haleakalā is another fantastic National Park located in the state of Hawaii.
This park can be found on the Island of Maui and covers an area of 33,265 acres which makes it one of the smallest National Parks.
The main feature of this park is the immense but dormant Haleakalā Volcano that hasn’t erupted since the 17th century.
Another prominent feature is the Kipahulu forest reserve and the Haleakalā Observatory.
It is possible to take tours of the volcano and the surrounding regions, and for those who seek adventure there are numerous hiking trails throughout this amazing landscape.
21. Sequoia National Park
The Sequoia forests of the western regions of America are some of the oldest and largest trees in the world.
The Sequoia National Park is full of these ancient and immense trees and sits in the northern part of the vast forests that start at Lassen National Forest in the north.
The park spans over 404,000 acres and much of this region is covered in Sequoia groves.
This park is known in particular for containing General Sherman which is the largest living tree in the world.
Other features include the High Sierra Trail, Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow.
22. Capitol Reef National Park
Utah has a plethora of National Parks and Capitol Reef is one of the more understated – this fantastic desert landscape has some hugely interesting features such as canyons, monoliths, buttes and rock ridges.
The park is part of the Waterpocket Fold and extends for some 100 miles across this impressive landscape.
Most people visit the park from the town of Torrey and choose to camp within the park itself.
Capitol Reef is an epic region and for those who love exploring desert terrain there is no better place.
Notable landmarks include the Golden Throne Mountain, the beautiful natural Hickman Bridge, the narrow Capitol Gorge and the old Fruita School House.
23. Badlands National Park
The Badlands is a fascinating park in the southwestern region of South Dakota and contains a varied landscape that is like no other in the United States.
Part of the Badlands is composed of a series of eroded buttes, rock pinnacles and spires – these beautiful rock formations have a stunning coloration and have been formed other thousands of years.
The majority of the park is covered in vast grass prairie lands – these prairies were used as hunting grounds for the Native Americans.
Wildlife found in the Badlands includes Prairie dogs, Bison, Bighorn Sheep and Elk.
The Badlands has two overnight campgrounds, and a series of hiking trails that wind throughout the park – hiking and fossil hunting are popular pastimes in this amazing landscape.
24. Everglades National Park
The Everglades is one of the most well-known protected areas in the United States and some people may find it surprising that it does not receive more visitors.
This international biosphere reserve covers the southern part of Florida and represents just 20% of the original Everglades.
Most parks protect geographical features, but the Everglades protect an actual ecosystem – this is one of the most important ecosystems in the US and contains a wide range of flora, fauna and wildlife.
Most people will take guided boat tours through the Everglades and this is an amazing way to see the swamps and waterways.
It is also possible to camp in the Everglades and walk through the various hiking trails.
Don’t forget to watch out for the famous Everglades Crocodiles!