We recently wrote about the The 15 Most Beautiful National Parks in Europe but nowhere else in the world are there national parks that can compete with the USA† No, they don't run perfectly, but there is a vast amount of protected land and incredible landscapes just waiting to be visited and explored. In fact, you'll probably be surprised yourself by the variety that makes up the entire list of US National Parks!
This article is part of a large one-year tour the United States en Canada, with a Dutch 4×4 camper that we shipped ourselves… It is a bucket list worthy and an once in a lifetime experience that will never be forgotten.
We wrote almost 100 articles about this ultimate tour. Visit our North America page for more information.
Table of contents
When is a park a National Park?
National parks come into effect following a decision by the United States Congress. Only after approval of the US Congress can a park be called a national park. The national parks in the United States then fall under the National Park Service (NPS). To warm you up you can here download a giant map of all national parks in the US for free.
Also read: Route 66 | The ultimate Roadtrip through America
Also read: East Coast vs West Coast | United States
Also read: Shipping an Overlander vehicle, motorhome or motorhome bus | How much does that cost?
How many national parks are there in the US?
There are 62 national parks in the USA, including White Sands National Park, the newest protected area since December 2019 (formerly a National Landmark). To help you plan your route, we've arranged the list of national parks in the United States both by state and in alphabetical order.
List of National Parks (Alphabetical)
Alaska and California each have eight. The two overseas territories that have a national park are also included in this list. National parks vary greatly in size, but the largest are usually found in the western US and Alaska, where the government owns large tracts of pristine land. New national parks are still being established, such as the Pinnacles national park (2013) and the Indiana Dunes National Park (2019)
Acadia national park
Maine's only national park has something for everyone: ocean, mountains, forests, and more. Go out of season and you'll have the trails to yourself. It is usually an oasis of peace and nature.
American Samoa National Park
The only US National Park in the Southern Hemisphere! Located in the remote area of American Samoa, the national park spans four separate islands and offers a rare opportunity to explore the untouched nature of the South Pacific.
Arches National Park
The park contains not only arches, but also balanced rocks, spires, pinnacles, and smooth domes, all set against the vast Utah landscape. Arches is a photographer's dream with beautiful photos everywhere.
Badlands national park
Seriously, we're talking nearly a quarter of a million acres of wilderness, prairies, eroded rocks and pinnacles. There's a reason this South Dakota destination is protected. It is a huge area with a lot to see. Allow several days for it!
Big bend national park
Two days may not be enough for this Texas gem. This is one of the most remote national parks in the country. A long drive from any airport, but it has starry skies, incredible walks and lots of beautiful scenery to admire.
Biscayne National Park
Boating, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, fishing, diving, and snorkeling are all excellent ways to explore this Florida national park. If you haven't been there, add it to your travel plans.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Over the past two million years, the Gunnison River along with the weather has formed this huge vertical canyon. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is unique for its steep, deep canyon where sunlight can barely penetrate. Most of the canyon can be visited in one day. Put on your walking shoes and hit the road!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Most national parks in the US require you to set aside a few days. Bryce Canyon is an exception, Bryce Canyon is relatively easy to see in one day. Check out the beautiful panoramas, take a walk and don't miss the chance to take beautiful pictures.
There are several beautiful hiking trails available. To make your day and/or walk unforgettable, it is recommended to visit the visitors center in advance for additional information, beautiful viewpoints and walking routes.
Canyonlands National Park
In southeastern Utah, Canyonlands National Park is the largest park in the state at approximately 850 square miles. It is divided into four separate districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and The River.
Capitol Reef National Park
There is a lot of solitude, remoteness and tranquility to be found here. Along with its uniquely spectacular scenery, it is unique from all other US national parks.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a National Park and World Heritage Site located in the Guadalupe Mountains in the US state of New Mexico. The park is best known for its underground tourist caves.
Channel Islands National Park
One of California's best day trips. You can combine a whale watching, kayaking, and snorkeling expedition for an amazing excursion from the Santa Barbara area.
Congoree National Park
Who thinks of outback South Carolina for natural beauty? Almost nobody. But take your chance and see the largest intact, extensive old hardwood forests in the southeastern United States or look for alligators.
Crater lake national park
Seeing the huge blue lake surrounded by cliffs and hills along with a beautiful island in the middle of the lake is something out of a dream. There is no way to perceive the grandeur of the place unless you visit it. go there.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga is the only national park in the state of Ohio, easy to visit from Cleveland or Akron. Hike through deciduous forests and see the beautiful waterfalls of this national park. Oh, and don't forget to visit this beautiful building.
Death Valley National Park
The steady drought and record summer heat across California and Nevada make Death Valley a land of extremes. This sub-sea-level basin has bizarre landscapes that you don't want to miss. The famous 'Badwater basin' is something you have to see with your own eyes to believe.
Are you driving from Death Valley via the Tioga Pass to Yosemite? Then be sure to visit the South Tufa Area of Mono Lake at Lee Vining.
Denali National Park
To this day, Denali is the favorite national park for many. The wildlife there is unparalleled and it offers a truly spectacular wilderness experience if you're up for an adventure.
Dry Tortugas National Park
The next time you're in Key West, leave commerce behind and take a day trip by boat to this archipelago. You'll find pristine beaches, snorkeling, bird watching and even a fortress!
Everglades National Park
About an hour's drive from downtown Miami is the Everglades National Park (Google Maps location here† It is a large swamp reserve mostly run by the native Indians. The wetland is the ideal way to admire alligators in the wild, among other things, and it is therefore a very popular attraction for travelers visiting Miami.
The area is vast, wildly overgrown and the swamp is really only accessible by airboat or hovercraft. A normal boat would immediately get stuck in all the plants and roots just below the surface of the water!
Come for nature and stay for hiking, biking and other adventures. This makes a great day trip from many Florida destinations. Pack bug spray and water, you'll need it. Oh, and watch out for the alligators.
Gates of the Arctic National Park
Gates of the Arctic is a wilderness park, with no roads or trails, so visitors must fly or hike into the park. That alone is an experience, but you'll also love wild rivers, caribou migrations, and a chance to see the Northern Lights.
Gateway Arch National Park
While most national parks are wilderness areas, the Gateway Arch is a man-made arch built in Missouri to commemorate the Lewis and Clark Expedition and our nation's westward expansion.
Glacier National Park
Full of mountains, lakes, waterfalls and wildlife such as wolves, bears and pumas. Glacier is more than just a vacation destination; it is an unreal beautiful adventure.
Glacier Bay National Park
Most people visit this national park by cruise ship. If you're lucky enough to visit, you'll love the glaciers, icebergs, wildlife, and unique scenery.
Grand Canyon National Park
Is this natural wonder on your bucket list? Here's the good news: you can get a good feel for it in just 24 hours from the many viewpoints. Do you want more? It's big enough to spend a whole week if you like walking. And yes, walking into the canyon is definitely recommended.
Another tip: from the Grand Canyon it is only a 2 hour drive to Page, where you can see the amazing Horseshoe Bend can admire and also the beautiful Monument Valley, which is not a national park but which should absolutely not be missed on your tour through America.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park is a national park in the state of Wyoming in the USA, south of Yellowstone. The park is named after the Grand Teton, one of the mountains of the Teton Mountains. The mountain is 4197 meters high and it is also the highest mountain in the park.
The Teton Mountains rise over a landscape rich in extraordinary wildlife and pristine lakes. It stands as a monument to the people who fought to protect it. These are mountains of the imagination. Mountains that led to the creation of Grand Teton National Park.
Great Basin National Park
You may not have heard of this park, but it is special because of the juxtaposition of mountain lakes and forests in the middle of the desert. You've never seen anything like it.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a national park in the southern US state of Colorado. The park has an area of 342 km², of which about 80 km² consists of dunes. Some dunes are 230 meters high and are among the highest of North America.
These ever-changing hills lie to the west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and their height creates a bewildering, desert-like landscape surrounded by snow-capped peaks of 4,3 kilometers.
Whether you are 5 or 50 years old, rent a sandboard in Great Sand Dunes National Park! Sandboarding from the dunes is really fantastic to do. For those who are not good on a board, there are also knee boards for rent that you can sit on with your knees or buttocks. Like a kind of sled. Sandboarding is therefore a really fun activity for young and old.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Mountain views, a scenic drive, plenty of waterfalls, and a park that spans across two US states: there's plenty to do while visiting Great Smoky National Park.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
This Texas park is home to multiple ecosystems, including those in the mountains of the same name and the desert below. You will enjoy the variety here, even if you only come for a day.
Haleakala National Park
Haleakalā National Park is a national park located on the island of Maui in the state of Hawaii in the United States. You would swear you were on the moon. March even.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Seeing eruptions at night is magical, but this park also offers great hiking, up-close lava beds, and a host of other geothermal features.
Hot Springs National Park
One of the most unique national parks in the country since it borders the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas. This area has more to do than just soak in the springs. Year-round fun!
Indiana Dunes National Park
The coast along Lake Michigan in Indiana is an incredible combination of sandy beaches, grassy prairies and swamps.
Isle Royale National Park
This park is only accessible by water. Even though it is an island, there is much to see and discover. There are many sunken ships near the coast, there are beautiful lighthouses and many challenging hiking trails.
Joshua Tree National Park
Leave the hustle and bustle of Southern California behind and enter this beautiful desert paradise. If you like hiking, climbing or stargazing, you will love this park.
Katmai National Park
Buying flights to this Alaskan park is a costly joke, but you get the chance to get a closer look at grizzly bears! Add volcanoes and beautiful scenery to make this an unforgettable experience.
Kenai Fjords National Park
This is one of the best places in Alaska to see wildlife, including whales, otters, seals, sea lions, puffins, black bears, and more.
Kings Canyon National Park
Chances are if you don't know the area you haven't been to Kings Canyon. This hidden gem of the Sierra mountains in California is beautiful and not particularly crowded.
Kobuk Valley National Park
If you want to see caribou, this is the national park for you! Plus, you'll also find sand dunes—yes, Alaskan sand dunes.
Lake Clarke National Park
Lake Clark has a turquoise sheen, a ring of mountains and glaciers, and tons of grizzly bears. This isn't a park for first-time visitors to Alaska, but it's great for anyone who loves (and is prepared for) the backcountry.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Not only is this park home to a volcano, it also has all four types of volcanoes: shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and compound volcano. You will also find opportunities for hiking and exploring.
Mammoth Cave National Park
This park in Kentucky is actually the world's largest cave system! You'll find plenty of tours to choose from to see the best formations, or you can plan a wild caving adventure for some dirty underground caving.
Mesa Verde National Park
This corner of Colorado is filled with natural landscapes, but Mesa Verde focuses instead on man-made cliff dwellings, incredible history, and archaeological sites.
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier, one of the most beautiful mountains in the United States, is worth a visit. There are countless beautiful hiking trails and with a bit of luck you will also encounter these cute Marmot friends.
North Cascades National Park
There is no excuse to miss this FREE national park! Plan a scenic drive through the mountains of Washington, plan a hike to breathtaking lakes, and spot distant glaciers.
Olympic National Park
Olympic has more variety than the average park, with rainforests, beaches, mountains and more. See a little bit of everything with this guide to four must-sees.
Petrified forest national park
Find petrified wood, petroglyphs, and colorful desert landscapes during a visit to this Arizona park. It's within a day of Flagstaff or Sedona and an easy detour from I-40 roadtrips.
Pinnacles national park
I visited it when it was "only" a national monument, but it is well worth its new title! The area is great for hiking and climbing – watch out for mountain lions here in the California wilderness.
Redwood National Park
Redwood National Park has more to offer than just trees (although those are impressive enough to warrant a visit). There are also many large animals to see, including bears.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The park is located in the north of the state of Colorado. The mountains, the rocky mountains, stretch from northwest Canada all the way to New Mexico, a southern state of the USA. The park therefore only covers a small part of the entire Rocky Mountains. In the park you will (of course) find mountains, mountain lakes, waterfalls, forest and wild animals.
If you like hiking, this Colorado park is your playground! Limit the best of the park to a variety of different routes that you can complete in just 3 days. It's a tough walk but absolutely worth it.
If you don't like walking, you can of course also explore the park by car or camper. Please note: there are no crash barriers and the cliffs are sometimes miles deep. Not suitable for people with a fear of heights!
Saguaro National Park
This part of the Sonoran Desert is one of my favorite day trips from Tucson, so it's easy to see why it's a national park. Visit in the spring to see wildflowers in bloom, including the cactus.
Sequoia national park
I am a hiker at heart, but this California park is amazing no matter how you choose to visit. Enjoy the beautiful old growing trees and the rest of the majestic forest.
Shenandoah National Park
In the heart of Virginia, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah National Park protects a historic mountain landscape characterized by endless mountain ranges, dense forests, vast tracts of wilderness, and abundant wildlife.
Theodore roosevelt national park
What an underrated park (as is all of North Dakota). Buttes, canyons, petrified woods, bison, prairie dogs and much more. See it from a new angle, like horseback riding.
Virgin Islands National Park
You can easily spend a week here for hiking and snorkeling before relaxing on the beach. It is also wonderful to rent a jeep or car and just drive around.
Travelers National Park
The Land of 10.000 Lakes is also home to a water-based national park. This is the place to go if you like boating, fishing and guided canoe trips. Come in winter for snowshoeing and the chance to see the Northern Lights.
White Sands National Park
The newest national park, White Sands, is home to vast expanses of gypsum sand dunes that are soft on your feet and white for as far as you can see. You can sled through the dunes, go for a walk or watch colorful sunsets.
Wind Cave National Park
Unlike other cave parks, this one is incredible both above and below ground. Spend half a day exploring the best cave formations, then head above ground for a hike and wildlife watching.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
This park is the perfect balance between wilderness and backcountry accessibility. Flying is optional and in fact the scenic drive to the park can be a highlight. You will love it.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is a national park in the United States and is mainly located in Wyoming. The park also has small areas in the neighboring states of Montana and Idaho. Yellowstone covers an area of 8983 km², making it one of the largest national parks in the United States. In addition, Yellowstone National Park borders Grand Teton National Park, which makes a combined visit to the two completely different parks extra attractive.
Yellowstone remains special as America's first national park. The park is large, diverse and otherworldly – a complete adventure for those wanting to experience the wilderness.
The Old Faithful is one of the most active geysers in Yellowstone. In the Upper Geyser Basin, this faithful geyser erupts every 60 to 80 minutes. An eruption lasts between 1:30 and 6:00 minutes depending on the amount of water.
Of course, Yellowstone is much more than the active geyser Old Faithful. Yellowstone is an immense national park where you can enjoy hiking.
Also read: Tips for Yellowstone National Park | Roadtrip USA (36)
Also read: Yellowstone National Park at Travel Legend.
Yosemite National Park
I think what makes Yosemite so special is the sheer variety of landscapes here. Enjoy waterfalls, forests, mountains, valleys and anything you can imagine.
Do you want to go to the most beautiful and most famous viewpoint of Yosemite? Then pay a visit to Glacier Point. From here you have the most epic view over the valley.
Zion National Park
Zion is one of those epic destinations that can be as adventurous or easy as you'd like. Enjoy the mystical gorge and the river itself, along with a rainbow of colors in the rocks.
Extra tip: North of Las Vegas is another beautiful nature park. The Valley of Fire State Park is great fun for a day trip from Las Vegas or en route between Las Vegas and Zion. The park has a few beautiful sights so take your time here.
Overview National Parks (by state)
The image below lists all 62 national parks in the United States. The names of the parks are deliberately not translated into Dutch to avoid confusion. Who in the US, for example, searches on the TomTom for 'death valley' or 'the fearful forest' will probably not get very far? So to keep it simple, all names below are as written in the US. The image below can also be downloaded (click on the photo for the full version) so that you can print it out and take it with you.
- Denali National Park
- Gates of the Arctic National Park
- Glacier Bay National Park
- Katmai National Park
- Kenai Fjords National Park
- Kobuk Valley National Park
- Lake Clark National Park
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
- American Samoa
- National Park of American Samoa
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Petrified forest national park
- Saguaro National Park
- Hot Springs National Park
- Channel Islands National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Kings Canyon National Park
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Redwood National Park
- Sequoia national park
- Yosemite National Park
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Rocky mountain national park
- Biscayne National Park
- Dry Tortugas National Park
- Everglades National Park
- Haleakala National Park
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Mammoth Cave National Park
- Acadia national park
- Isle Royale National Park
- Travelers National Park
- Glacier National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
- Great Basin National Park
- New Mexico
- Carlsbad Caverns National Park
- North Carolina
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- North Dakota
- Theodore roosevelt national park
- Cuyahoga Valley National Park
- Crater lake national park
- South Carolina
- Congoree National Park
- South Dakota
- Badlands national park
- Wind Cave National Park
- Great Smoky Mountains National Park
- Big bend national park
- Guadalupe Mountains National Park
- Arches National Park
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Zion National Park
- Virgin Islands
- Virgin Islands National Park
- Shenandoah National Park
- Mount Rainier National Park
- North Cascades National Park
- Olympic National Park
- Grand Teton National Park
- Yellowstone National Park
Tips for a visit to the National Parks
Talk to a Ranger
National park rangers spend all day in the parks every day. They know the best trails, the best places to spot wildlife, and the history, ecology, and geology of the area. Rangers are the ultimate resource!
Rangers answer questions all the time – everything from information about wildfires to why certain parts of the park are closed (interestingly, Rocky Mountain National Park is about keeping the moose out of certain areas, and people are welcome to enter! ) And more. They also often have free ranger programs including lectures, campfire talks and group walks which can all be very informative.
Pack a picnic lunch
Some National Parks in the United States have great tourist amenities, including snack bars and/or restaurants, while others lack infrastructure. In most cases, even if there are restaurants, the food is not very tasty and can be expensive. Instead, pack a picnic lunch, find a cozy view, and enjoy. Not only will you save money, but you'll also have a great view while you dine.
Plan your sunset dinner for one of the most romantic meals you could ever have. You are already in one of the most beautiful places on earth; why would you stare at the inside of a building? (Bonus tip: If you tend to fall asleep on the picnic blanket because you're so relaxed, be sure to wear sunscreen!).
National Parks in the United States are very popular for a reason. Sometimes you may wonder if you accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up in Disney Land! Visits outside peak times are the easiest way to avoid these groups, such as during the week instead of Saturday or in February instead of July.
If you're traveling in high season, there are still ways to avoid crowds. The early mornings and evenings are always less crowded as day trippers usually don't arrive until 10am and leave at 16.00 or 17.00pm. The nights are often perfect for stargazing, with dark skies due to its distance from city centers.
If you're in the park in the middle of the day, don't despair: the further you are from a parking lot, the fewer people you'll meet. In Yosemite there were hordes at the first redwood trees in Mariposa Grove, but three miles away we were alone with the deer. If none of these ideas appeal to you, check out some lesser-visited national parks.
Plan more than one day
Most National Parks in the United States are huge. Olympic National Park, for example, covers over 1440 square miles! While you could see a few highlights in one day if you start early and finish late, you will never see everything in one day. Wildlife come and go, there are hundreds of miles of trails and dozens of scenic lookouts to enjoy.
Stay overnight within the park boundaries if possible. It can give you much more time to enjoy the park. Be aware of how different the parks are in each season. From bubbling rivers and waterfalls in the spring, wildflowers and fully accessible walks in the summer, great wildlife viewing opportunities in the fall and dramatic scenery in the winter. Enjoy what you can and make plans to return.
Visit the national parks for free
Not surprisingly, entry to most of these crown jewels requires an entrance fee. Small parks often charge $2-3 per person; larger parks usually charge per car ($15-30), but offer 7-day admission so you can return all week. That's a small price to pay for the amount of adventure you'll find, but free is even better!
The National Park Service typically offers ~10 days of free admission:
- Martin Luther King Day (January)
- President's Day (February)
- National Park Week (April)
- National Park Service Birthday (August)
- National Public Land Day (September)
- Veterans Day (November)
Save money with America's National Parks Pass
Still don't have a date that fits your plans? You can use the 'America the Beautiful Pass' or the National Parks Pass to buy. This pass covers all entrances to the National Parks in the United States for an entire year and costs only $80 per vehicle. You have already figured this out after visiting 3 national parks! Below is an example calculation:
Order the National Park Pass for the United States here on the official website.
This was the complete list of National Parks in the United States of America! Do you have any questions and/or comments about this list? Or maybe a very cool tip for others world travelers† Let us know in the comments!
Plan your vacation to America here
- Camper rental You can book this in combination with a tour Travelhome.
- Tours and Fly & drives compare to TUI, Americaplus, sawadee en Djoser.
- Flight tickets for America you book with TUI, KLM en Skyscanner.
- Rental cars : Sunnycars, Alamo en rental cars.
- Tours and Activities in America you book via GetYourGuide.
- Campsites in National Parks you book on RECREATION.gov.
- Travel insurance for America you will find at Allianz.
- Hotels & Resorts in America you can book with a discount Booking.com.
- SIM cards : USAsim en International sim.
- Parking at the airport you can arrange via Parkos, park care of iParking.
- travel items (suitcases, bags, world plugs, etc. can be ordered at Bol.com.