With summer just around the corner, now is the time to start planning your next great vacation, whether you’re into epic cross-country road trips or crave a peaceful escape in a beautiful natural setting. From coast to coast, the U.S. is home to 63 national parks and more than 6,600 state parks, leaving plenty of options for anyone planning to spend more time outdoors this summer. Here’s a look at some of our favorite national parks in the country, all within driving distance of major cities, full of great hiking and camping opportunities, and worthy of a spot on your U.S. travel bucket list.
Note that most parks require timed entry tickets during the busy summer months, so check their websites before you go to avoid disappointment. Each park also charges its own entrance fee, so consider purchasing an annual pass if you plan to visit multiple times or multiple parks in a year.
Yellowstone National Park
Measuring 3,472 square miles (or more than 2.2 million acres), Yellowstone National Park stretches across northwestern Wyoming, extending into parts of Montana and Idaho. Opened in 1872 as the world’s first-ever national park, Yellowstone attracts visitors with its hydrothermal features and geothermal activity — roughly four million people visit each year to see the Old Faithful geyser do its thing — rock formations like the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River, and the chance to see elk, bison, black bears, grizzly bears, wolves, moose, and other wildlife in their natural environment. Reach the park by flying into Jackson (which is closed due to construction until June 28, 2022) or Cody in Wyoming, Billings or Bozeman in Montana, or Idaho Falls in Idaho, and renting a car to explore the area.
Grand Teton National Park
Located just outside Jackson, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park offers 330,000 acres of pure natural beauty, whether you choose to explore it on snowshoes or cross-country skis in winter or during a scenic summer hike. Enter via Moose, Moran Junction, or Granite Canyon, and spend a few hours admiring the impressive Teton Range, Emma Matilda Lake, Jenny Lake, the Snake River, Jackson Hole valley, and all the different birds, mammals and other fascinating creatures who call the area home. Note that Jackson’s airport is closed for construction until June 28, 2022, but you can still fly into Idaho Falls and either drive two hours or take a bus to downtown Jackson.
Arches National Park
Use Moab as your base to hike or cycle the Arches National Park, known for its vast collection of natural arches, giant balancing rocks, and impressive pinnacles among other geologic formations dating back to 65 million years ago. Make the 1.9-mile hike from the Devils Garden trailhead for impressive views of Landscape Arch, the longest in the world at 306 feet. Don’t forget about Delicate Arch, which can be seen from two viewpoints located a mile away near the parking lot. Otherwise, enjoy the challenging three-mile return hike to its base, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views and a closer look.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Hoodoos are the name of the game at Bryce Canyon National Park, where you can see this fascinating rock formation in all its glory whether you drive, take the free shuttle, hike, or cycle your way around the park. Located four hours from Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, the popular park sports pink cliffs, red rocks, and amazing views from its perch at the top of the Grand Staircase plateau. Visit Bryce Amphitheater, home to the Sunset Point, Sunrise Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point overlooks, which lead to some of the park’s best hiking trails. Make time to visit the Natural Bridge and Rainbow Point side of the park for even more memorable views.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park impresses with vast and colorful sandstone cliffs, narrow canyons, and plenty of opportunities to go hiking and cycling. While cars aren’t allowed in the park, a free shuttle takes visitors around to the most popular scenic overlooks and trailheads, including easier hikes like the Grotto Trail and Riverside Walk, moderate hikes like the Kayenta Trail and walks to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools, and more strenuous hiking adventures to The Narrows or Angels Landing via the iconic West Rim Trail. Be aware that in response to concerns about crowding and congestion on the trail, on and after April 1, 2022, everyone who hikes Angels Landing needs to have a permit.
Rocky Mountain National Park
About 90 minutes from Denver or 10 minutes from Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to more than 300 miles of scenic hiking trails, taking visitors through impressive alpine terrain past beautiful lakes and waterfalls, and giving you a chance to spot bobcats, moose, coyotes, deer, black bears, bighorn sheep, and more than 280 species of birds, among other wildlife. Start with a relaxing walk near Bear Lake, Cub Lake, or along the Lily Lake Loop before moving on to moderate hikes to Ouzel Falls and Cascade Falls, or a challenging hikes to the Deer Mountain summit.
Yosemite National Park
One of the most popular national parks in the country and just a four-hour drive from San Francisco, Yosemite is home to 1,200-square-miles of natural wilderness featuring waterfalls, ancient sequoia trees, vast valleys and meadows, and lots of opportunities to go hiking, biking, fishing, stargazing, birdwatching, rock climbing, horseback riding, and camping — you’ll need to apply for a permit to do overnight hikes or climb to the top of Half Dome, though. Try an easy day hike in Mariposa Grove or the Wawona meadow before taking on more difficult treks to Chilnualna Falls or around the Guardians Loop Trail. Note that Glacier Point Road is closed until May 2023.
Kings Canyon National Park
Located about 4.5 hours from either Los Angeles or San Francisco, Kings Canyon National Park is a beautiful place to take a hike, especially on Congress Trail, which passes by the largest sequoia in the world at 275 feet tall and more than 36 feet in diameter at its base, the 2,200-year-old General Sherman Tree. For incredible views of the Great Western Divide and Kings Canyon, try the 4.4-mile return hike along Big Baldy Trail. Don’t miss Giant Forest, home to enormous redwood trees, and scenic hikes to Tokopah Falls or through Cedar Grove, Grant Grove, and Mineral King.
Death Valley National Park
At a whopping three million acres, Death Valley National Park is the largest national park in the country outside Alaska as well as the lowest, with an elevation of –282.2 feet. A great day trip from Las Vegas just two hours away, the park is known for its many scenic hikes of varying difficulty, as well hundreds of miles of paved and dirt roads perfect for cycling. “Star Wars” fans can also visit several film locations, including Artists Palette, Dante’s View, Desolation Canyon, Golden Canyon, Twenty-Mule Team Canyon, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, which doubled as Tatooine in “Episode IV: A New Hope” and “Episode V: Return of the Jedi.”
Crater Lake National Park
For a memorable West Coast road trip through the wilderness of southern Oregon, head to Crater Lake National Park, located about five hours south of Portland or 7.5 hours north of San Francisco. Formed by a violent volcanic eruption roughly 7,700 years ago, Crater Lake is the deepest in the U.S., with depths of up to 1,949 feet and the bluest water you’ve ever seen. Take a few hours to enjoy a scenic drive around the lake, stop by Sinnott Overlook for a closer look at the caldera, or hike to the summit of Mount Scott, Watchman Peak, or Garfield Peak for a different point of view.
Badlands National Park
About an hour outside Rapid City, enter Badlands National Park and drive or cycle along the Badlands Loop Road, where you’ll find 12 scenic overlooks, each offering incredible views of the area’s otherworldly landscapes, unique wildlife, and ancient geology. Stop by the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to learn more about the national park, the history and culture of the Oglala Lakota people who live in the area, and to see the working fossil lab. For a real treat, stick around after dark for stargazing and a ranger-led astronomy talk with telescopes at the Cedar Pass Campground Amphitheater, offered nightly between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park makes a great day trip from anywhere in South Florida, especially if you’re driving from Miami to the Florida Keys. The 1.5-million acre UNESCO World Heritage site is the largest subtropical wilderness area in the country and you’ll be able to spot alligators, American crocodiles, manatees, over 360 species of birds, and the elusive Florida panther, among its mangroves and sawgrass prairies. Stop by the Shark Valley Visitor Center to learn more about the park’s natural inhabitants, hit the Ottercave Trail or Bobcat Boardwalk (each under 0.5 miles), then rent a bike or take a two-hour guided tram tour along the 15-mile loop to the observation tower for beautiful views of the park and its wildlife.
Denali National Park
Accessible by plane, Alaska Railway, or car, Denali National Park is about 2.5 hours from Fairbanks or four hours from Anchorage. Once inside the park, take one of the free buses — the Riley Creek Loop shuttle, Savage River shuttle, or the Sled Dog Demonstration shuttle — or choose from several narrated tour buses or non-narrated transit buses to get around. Either way, you’ll want to try the scenic 6.5-mile Curry Ridge Trail, which offers excellent views of alpine lakes and the highest point in North America, 20,310-foot-tall Denali (formerly Mount McKinley). Remember to keep an eye out for the big five: grizzly bears, caribou, moose, wolves, and Dall sheep.
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