- South Carolina
Americans and those who visit the USA from abroad have access to 59 national parks, whose characteristics and opportunities, taken together, are more diverse than those of anywhere else in the world.
From the frigid peaks of Gates of the Arctic’s Brooks Range, to the subtropical wetlands of Florida’s Everglades. From the below-sea-level simmer of California’s Death Valley, to the mist lifting off the ridges of Shenandoah in Virginia. From glaciers to mangroves to waterfalls to canyons to towering forests. If you visited all 59 of the USA’s national parks, you would have a good understanding of our planet’s geology and ecology. Many of these park names may be familiar to you. Some you may be hearing for the first time. But whether they see 10 million annual visitors (Great Smoky Mountains) or barely a 1,000 (Kobuk Valley), all are worth a trip. Here’s some inspiration to get you planning.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
The largest park in the country, Wrangell-St. Elias lies in a corner of southern Alaska, adjacent to the Yukon's Kluane National Park just over the border. Its 52,000 square kilometers make for a whole lot of potential exploration. Go on a hike along the Skookum Volcano Trail.
Aerial view of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Canyonlands National Park
Just south of Moab and the more recognized Arches National Park, Canyonlands also features some impressive sandstone arch formations, as well as canyons of monumental scale, carved by the Colorado and Green rivers.
Striking landscape in Canyonlands National Park
Shenandoah National Park
Encompassing a long strip of both the Blue Ridge Mountains and adjacent Shenandoah River Valley, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia gets super popular during the fall, when leaf peepers arrive to complete the 169-kilometer Skyline Drive.
Cascading waterfall in Shenandoah National Park
Yellowstone National Park
The world's first national park is also one of its most unique and well visited. The 8,806 square kilometers of Yellowstone hold geysers, mountain lakes, forests, river canyons, waterfalls, and many threatened species. The park's Grand Prismatic Spring is the third-largest hot spring in the world.
Congaree National Park
Congaree protects a vast tract of marshy hardwood forest along the river of the same name just southeast of Columbia, South Carolina. Its old-growth cypress trees are some of the tallest in the eastern USA.
Cypress trees in a marsh at Congaree National Park
Death Valley National Park
Low and hot – Death Valley is home to both the lowest elevations and hottest temperatures in the USA, but the landscape in this part of California is actually incredibly diverse, ranging from saltpans like the Devil's Racetrack to snow-capped mountains reaching 3,353 meters.
Mountains and desert terrain in Death Valley National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce sits in southern Utah and features a massive collection of natural amphitheaters covered in rock formations known as hoodoos.
Colorful spires called hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Great Smoky is surrounded by kitschy tourist towns and is the most visited national park, thanks to its location near the East Coast and free admission. Still, once you're there, you can see scenes like this.
Stream cutting through a forest in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Named for the largest of its three signature peaks, Grand Teton National Park also contains lakes, forest, and a section of the Snake River. It sits just south of Yellowstone in western Wyoming, and together they represent one of the largest protected ecosystems in the world.
Rugged mountains and a serene valley in Grand Teton National Park
Olympic National Park
Covering nearly 405,000 hectares on the peninsula of the same name in northwestern Washington, the terrain of Olympic National Park is super variable, ranging from Pacific coastline to alpine peaks to temperate rainforest.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
One of the country's newest national parks (designated in 2004), Great Sand Dunes lies in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. Featuring the tallest sand dunes on the continent, backed by multiple 3,9620-meter mountains, this is also one of the few places in the country where you can try sandboarding.
Exploring the terrain at Great Sand Dunes National Park
Yosemite National Park
The central draw of Yosemite is the 18-square-kilometer valley of the same name, with its glacially carved peaks, sequoia groves, and spectacular waterfalls. To beat the crowds, get out and explore some of the other areas in this massive park in the Eastern Sierras.
Yosemite National Park, the jewel of California's national parks
Arches National Park
This aptly named park in eastern Utah, just north of Moab, is home to some 2,000 sandstone arches that come in all shapes and sizes. One of the most photographed in Arches is the Delicate Arch.
Glacier Bay National Park
There are no roads leading to Glacier Bay in southeastern Alaska, so your choices for getting there are: by raft via the Tatshenshini and Alsek Rivers (from Canada), by plane (usually out of Juneau), or, most commonly, by cruise ship.
Stunning scenery in Glacier Bay National Park
Kings Canyon National Park
Like Sequoia National Park next door, Kings Canyon is home to some seriously massive trees. Seen above is a stout ponderosa pine on the Bubbs Creek Trail.
Tall mountains and sequoias in Kings Canyon National Park
Big Bend National Park
Expansive desert plains, 2,377-meter mountains, and high Rio Grande canyons, including the Santa Elena Canyon, define Big Bend National Park in western Texas. It's also distinguished as an International Dark Sky Park, marking it a great place for stargazing.
Denali National Park
As far as views from the visitor center go, this one is pretty spectacular. The 2.54 million hectares of Denali, in central Alaska, include the highest section of the Alaska Range (with the peak that gives the park its name), glaciers, river valleys, and abundant wildlife such as grizzly bears, caribou, gray wolves, golden eagles, wolverines, and Dall sheep.
Bears roaming in Denali National Park
Everglades National Park
Preserving one of the most significant wetland ecosystems anywhere in the world, southern Florida's Everglades protect rare species such as the Florida panther and American crocodile. The water in Everglades National Park is actually an enormous river that runs from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.
Everglades National Park, known as The River of Grass
Gates of the Arctic National Park
As its name suggests, this is the northernmost park in the USA, and is also one of the largest. Its predominant geographic feature is the Brooks Range. With zero road access, you have to hike or fly in, but once there, you've got pretty much an endless list of wilderness hiking and camping options.
Remote river in Gates of the Arctic National Park
Grand Canyon National Park
For the past several million years, the Colorado River has been slowly but steadily grinding its way through the rock of the Colorado Plateau in northern Arizona. Reaching a width of 29 kilometers and a depth of 1,829 meters, the Grand Canyon is on a scale of few other places on Earth.