15 best national parks in the USA

A list of 15 of the best national parks in the USA, as well as useful information about when to visit, what to pack, where to stay, and more.


Jun 12, 2023


best national parks in the usa

If you're looking for beautiful scenery, unique geological formations, outdoor adventure, or interesting wildlife, the United States National Park Service has just the place for you! But with so many parks to choose from it can be hard to know where to start. 

America's national parks are diverse and varied, and there is truly no one answer to the question, "what is the best national park?" I've prepared a list of 15 of the best national parks in the USA to help you decide your next National Park adventure.

History of the United States National Park Service

Nearly 150 years ago, United States President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law establishing the 2.2 million acres of land known today as Yellowstone National Park as  "a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people", thus creating the first national park in the world.

This idea of preserving America's most precious landscapes and ecosystems continued to spread, and by the time President Woodrow Wilson signed the act that created the National Park Service in 1916, there were a total of 35 national parks already established in the United States.

Today the National Park Service manages the 52 million acres of land which make up America's 61 national parks, as well as 32 million more acres of historically and culturally significant sites throughout the United States territories, with the goal of protecting and preserving these national treasures for future generations. Over 330 million people visit the great American national parks each year.

National Park Service conservation efforts

The National Park Service plays a vital role in preserving America's lands and native species of plants and animals. The Wildlife Conservation Branch, whose goal is to protect rare and endangered species in the national parks, works hard to protect the over 1,000 rare and endangered species of plants and animals currently living in the United States national parks. These species include grizzly bears, Florida panthers, California condors, and Hawaiian monk seals.

National park entrance fees and passes

Less than half of the national parks charge entrance fees, although many of the most popular parks do. Individual entrance fee information for our park recommendations is detailed below.

One option to consider if you have several national parks on your radar is the U.S. Park Pass, which you can purchase for $80. The pass covers entrance fees to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the United States and is valid for one year.

There are also a handful of days throughout each year when entry to any of the national parks is free. You can find these dates at the National Park Service's website.

Camping in Arches National Park, USA

Where to stay when visiting the national parks

Many of the parks have lodges, hotels, cabins, and campsites available to rent. If you'd like to book lodging inside any of the parks on this list, it's a good idea to do so as far in advance as possible since accommodations inside the parks tend to book up several months in advance.

I consider myself lucky that I've been able to visit many national parks in the US thanks to work exchange. A year or so ago I signed up to work and travel with Worldpackers, which has since allowed me to see and explore a great deal more of my own country, the United States. 

Although work exchange opportunities typically do not exist in the National Parks themselves, the ability to work in exchange for accommodation around the US has allowed me to save tons of money while traveling. In turn, I've been able to plan many of the National Parks trips I've long been dreaming about! 

Worldpackers has literally opened up new worlds to me, as I wouldn't otherwise be able to afford long-term travel, and especially not in the US. If you want to explore more of America and experience all that the national parks have to offer, I highly recommend using Worldpackers to plan your trip.

What to pack for your national park trip

In addition to some park specific items listed below, it's a good idea to bring the following supplies with you when visiting any of the national parks on this list:

  • Sunscreen
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Daypack
  • Binoculars
  • Park Map
  • Hiking/sturdy athletic shoes
  • Activity-specific supplies (water shoes, swimsuit, fishing gear, snorkeling gear, etc.)
  • Binoculars for wildlife viewing
  • Camera
  • Plant-based insect repellent
  • Plastic bags for packing out trash
  • Water bottles or hydration system
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Snacks (also listed below if the park has limited or no food services)

Map of Yosemite National Park, USA

15 best national parks in the USA

  1. Yellowstone National Park
  2. Yosemite National Park
  3. Sequoia National Park
  4. Grand Canyon National Park
  5. Zion National Park
  6. Bryce Canyon National Park
  7. Glacier National Park
  8. Rocky Mountain National Park
  9. Acadia National Park
  10. Mammoth Cave National Park
  11. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
  12. Denali National Park
  13. Olympic National Park
  14. Biscayne National Park
  15. Channel Islands National Park

1. Yellowstone National Park — Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

Yellowstone National Park, USA

Yellowstone is one of America's best national parks and is hailed by outdoor adventurers as one of the top national parks in the world.

Yellowstone sits atop a gigantic supervolcano, and more than half of the geothermal activity in the world occurs within the park in the form of hundreds of geysers and hot springs. There is an abundance of wildlife, including moose, elk, grizzly bears, bison, wolves, and much more. 

The park is a nature lover's paradise, with its beautiful mountains, canyons, forests, and waterfalls. Yellowstone Lake is the park's largest body of water, and at 7,733 feet, it is the highest altitude lake in North America.

Yellowstone is a large park, bigger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware combined. You could easily spend an entire week exploring Yellowstone without running out of things to see. 

There are over 900 miles of backcountry trails for hiking, but at the same time, it is a fairly accessible park, and much of it can be seen without the necessity of long hikes, making it great for all ages and fitness levels.

When to go: May to September

Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle, passes are valid for seven days and include admission to nearby Grand Teton National Park

Lodging options: There are several options for lodging within Yellowstone. If you aren't able to secure lodging within the park, another option is to stay near one of the five entrances to Yellowstone. These can be fun destinations in their own right, but be aware that the entrance lines into the park can be very long and you'll likely deal with heavy traffic when entering each day.

What to pack:

  • Light layers and a coat/warm hat
  • Bear spray

Don't Miss:

  • Old Faithful
  • Yellowstone Lake
  • Grand Prismatic Spring
  • Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
  • Mammoth Hot Springs
  • Hayden Valley
  • Norris Geyser Basin
  • Upper Yellowstone Falls
  • Tower Fall

Bonus Tip: Beartooth Highway runs between the northeast entrance to Yellowstone and the quaint little mountain town of Red Lodge, Montana. This windy, high altitude stretch of road is often hailed as the most scenic drive in America, and it absolutely should not be missed!

2. Yosemite National Park — California

Yosemite National Park, USA

Many outdoor enthusiasts consider Yosemite one of the most beautiful national parks in the US

Yosemite National Park lies in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Yosemite is known for its many beautiful waterfalls, including the tallest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls. Hikers and rock climbers delight in the park's 800 miles of hiking trails and numerous climbing opportunities of various difficulty levels, including the 3,000 foot granite monolith, El Capitan.

Yosemite is also home to a huge variety of plant and animal species, including the famous giant sequoia trees as well as black bear, coyotes, bobcats, mule deer, and the endangered bighorn sheep. Depending on which activities you plan, your trip to Yosemite could be done in as little as a few days or last for several days.

When to go: Peak season is June through August, but the waterfalls are typically at their peaks in May

Entrance fee: $35 per vehicle, passes are valid for seven days

Lodging options: Lodging options in Yosemite range from tent camping to luxury accommodations. Backcountry camping is an option in Yosemite, but you need to have a wilderness permit to do so.

What to pack:

  • Light layers and a coat/warm hat
  • NOTE: Bear spray is prohibited in Yosemite

Don't miss:

  • Half Dome
  • Yosemite Falls
  • Glacier Point
  • Yosemite Valley
  • El Capitan
  • Bridalveil Fall
  • Tuolumne Meadows
  • Taft Point
  • Mirror Lake

3. Sequoia National Park — California

Sequoia National Park, USA

With trees that grow hundreds of feet tall, Sequoia National Park is famous for being of the coolest national parks in the US

Sequoia National Park sits in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains of California. A walk through the forest of giant sequoia trees, the largest in the world, is an almost otherworldly experience and one I highly recommend to everyone.

Apart from the impressive forests, Sequoia National Park also presents the opportunity to explore the underground side of the park in Crystal Cave, a marble cavern available to tour with a guide.

A trip to Sequoia National Park could last anywhere from a couple days to a week, depending on how much exploring you'd like to do.

When to go: The most favorable weather occurs from June through August

Entrance fee: $35, pass is valid for seven days and includes entry to nearby Kings Canyon National Park. Tickets for Crystal Cave guided tours are an additional $22/adult 13 years and older and should be purchased at least two days in advance

Lodging options: Lodging within the park is limited, but there are options in Kings Canyon National Park as well as in the nearby town of Three Rivers. Backcountry camping is allowed in Sequoia, but a wilderness permit is required.

What to bring:

  • Clothing depends on the season, but bring light layers even in summer time
  • Raincoat

Don't Miss:

  • General Sherman tree

4. Grand Canyon National Park — Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park, USA

Undoubtedly one of the greatest national parks in the US, the Grand Canyon should be on anyone's list of top US national parks to visit.

In 2018, 6.8 million people visited Grand Canyon to take in the awe inspiring views of the 277 mile long chasm, which is 18 miles wide at its widest point. The enormous canyon was carved by the Colorado River over a period of 3 to 6 million years and continues to evolve via erosion today.

The area is rich in opportunity to learn about Native American culture, with Hopi, Navajo, Havasupai, Pauite, and Hualapai tribes nearby.

Grand Canyon activities can typically fill one to five days.

When to go: Peak season is June through August and crowds are heavy. The shoulder season, March through May and September through November, is a great time to visit.

Entrance fee: $35 per vehicle, pass is valid for seven days

Lodging options: There are several lodging and camping options within the park. Backcountry camping is allowed with a permit.

What to bring:

  • General national park supplies listed above

Don't miss:

  • The Skywalk
  • South Kaibab Trail
  • Havasu Falls
  • Yavapai Point
  • Desert View Watchtower
  • Hopi's House
  • Hermit Drive
  • Mohave Point at sunset
  • Bright Angel Point

5. Zion National Park — Utah

Zion National Park, USA

Zion National Park is one of the smaller national parks in the United States, but it is also one of the most visited. It's also no less famous, and is often listed as one of the best parks in America

Here you'll find a treasure trove of outdoor activities suitable for all ages and fitness levels. The scenic byways make sightseeing from the car possible, but outside your vehicle you can enjoy hiking, rock climbing, canyoneering, swimming, and tubing on the Virgin River.

Famous for its slot canyons and dramatic sandstone cliffs, Zion also has ample opportunities for spotting rare birds, including the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, California Condor, and the Mexican spotted owl.

The recommended amount of time to spend at Zion National Park is 5-7 days.

When to go: Zion is open year round, but the shuttle buses in the canyon only run from April to October. The best weather for hiking typically occurs during the fall.

Entrance fee: $35 per vehicle, pass is valid for seven days

Lodging options: The only option for lodging inside the park is Zion Lodge in the main canyon. There are three campgrounds, and overnight backpacking is allowed with a permit but only at designated campsites. The town of Springdale, just three minutes from the south entrance, is an excellent place to stay if no lodging is available within the park.

What to bring:

  • Food/water

Don't miss:

  • The Narrows
  • Angel's Landing (for experienced hikers)
  • Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
  • Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
  • Weeping Rock
  • Riverside Walk
  • Lower Emerald Pool
  • Checkerboard Mesa
  • Human History Museum

6. Bryce Canyon National Park — Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park, USA

Bryce Canyon has the world's largest concentration of the tall, thin columns of rock known as hoodoos. The collection of these unique formations inside of Bryce Amphitheater provides a magical scene for visitors to the park, especially around sunset and sunrise. The park is an excellent location for stargazing, with 7,500 stars visible on a clear night and has regular Night Sky programs. During winter, visitors can enjoy skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding.

Bryce Canyon is considered one of the most beautiful national parks in the USA. Plan one to three days to visit Bryce Canyon National Park.

When to go: Peak season is May through September and crowds are heavy. A winter visit offers the chance of snow and related activities.

Entrance fee: $35 per vehicle, valid for seven days

Lodging options: There are one lodge and two campgrounds inside Bryce Canyon National Park. There are lodging options in Bryce Canyon City, and the nearby towns of Tropic and Panguitch are also good options. Overnight backcountry camping requires a permit and is limited to designated campsites.

What to bring:

  • Bear spray

Don't miss:

  • Bryce Point
  • Inspiration Point
  • Navajo Loop Trail
  • Natural Bridge
  • Agua Canyon
  • Rainbow Point
  • Peek-A-Boo Trail
  • Under the Rim Trail
  • Farview Point
  • Paria View (especially at sunset)

7. Glacier National Park — Montana

Glacier National Park, USA

Glacier National Park is known for being one of the prettiest national parks in the US.

Sometimes referred to as "the crown of the continent", Glacier National Park offers some of the most impressive scenery in America with its tranquil mountain lakes, wildflower filled valleys, and soaring peaks. Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park rivals Beartooth Highway near Yellowstone for the title of most beautiful drive in America.

This best US national park has one of the largest grizzly bear populations in the country and is famous for the beautiful turquoise lakes fed by its namesake glaciers. There are over 700 miles of trails, making it a favorite among backpackers and hikers. Other favorite activities among visitors include fly fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding.

Just north of the park and across the Canadian border is Waterton Lakes National Park. Together the two parks make up the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park so remember to bring your passport if you'd like to visit both.

Unfortunately, the park's glaciers have been shrinking due to global warming and could disappear completely by 2030 if temperatures continue to rise as expected. As of right now, there are 25 remaining active glaciers in the park.

Glacier is a large park, and there's lots to see. As one of the best parks in the USA, a minimum visit of one to two weeks is recommended.

When to go: The best time to visit is July to September. During the shoulder and off seasons parts of the park may be closed due to snow.

Entrance fee: $35 per vehicle, $25 from November 1 to April 30, pass is valid for seven days

Lodging options: There are several lodging options in the park as well as 13 campgrounds. Backpacking permits are required for backcountry camping, and it's recommended that you reserve your permits in advance.

What to bring:

  • Bear spray
  • Warm outer and base layers

Don't miss:

  • St. Mary Lake
  • Swiftcurrent Lake
  • Lake McDonald
  • Grinnell Glacier
  • Going to the Sun Road
  • Two Medicine Lake
  • Logan Pass
  • Hidden Lake

8. Rocky Mountain National Park — Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park, USA

Rocky Mountain National Park is easily one of the top 10 national parks in the USA. With an elevation range of 7,860 feet all the way up to 14,259 feet above sea level, the Rocky Mountains never fail to impress.

There's a little bit of everything available in the Rockies, including hiking, backpacking, white water rafting, horseback riding, and climbing as well as all the usual winter activities, making it an excellent destination for outdoor adventurers of all skill levels. The park also offers some great ranger led programs like snowshoeing and night sky activities.

Wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy the opportunity to view native black bear, moose, elk, mountain lions, beavers, and more.

Rocky Mountain National Park can be "seen" in a few days, but there are enough activities to easily fill a week.

Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle for a one day pass and $35 per vehicle for a 7 day pass

When to go: Hiking trails are most accessible from June to September, but crowds are also highest during these months. Winter activities and low crowds make October through May a good alternative, but some parts of the park may be closed due to snow.

Lodging options: There is no overnight lodging inside the park, but the nearby towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake have options. There are five campgrounds, and wilderness permits are available for those interested in backcountry camping.

What to bring:

  • Food/water

Don't miss:

  • Longs Peak
  • Trail Ridge Road
  • Mummy Range
  • Bear Lake
  • Sprague Lake
  • Glacier Gorge
  • Many Parks Curve Overlook
  • Gore Range Overlook
  • Old Fall River Road
  • Horseshoe Park
  • Emerald Lake
  • Alberta Falls

9. Acadia National Park — Maine

Acadia National Park, USA

The only national park in the northeastern part of the country, Acadia National Park covers land along the coast of Maine as well as about half of Mount Desert Island and several smaller islands. Acadia is often considered one of the best natural parks in the USA due to its many natural wonders and awe-inspiring beauty.

Visitors can watch the sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain, one of the first places the sun shines on the United States each day, then hop a ferry around the islands with a chance to spot sunbathing harbor seals or one of the area's whale populations. There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, water sports, and more throughout the park's 49,000 acres.

Most visitors spend an average of 3-4 days at Acadia.

When to go: July and August are peak season due to the favorable weather. This is also typically the best time for whale watching, but the crowd can be extremely busy during these months. September and October are great alternatives.

Entrance fee:$30 per vehicle, ferries and ranger-led cruises are additional

Lodging options: There are only campgrounds inside the park, and backcountry camping is prohibited. Bar Harbor and Southwest Harbor are good places to find lodging near the park.

What to bring:

  • Food/water

Don't miss:

  • Park Loop Road
  • Cadillac Mountain
  • Jordan Pond House
  • Thunder Hole
  • Ocean Path
  • Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse
  • Schoodic Point
  • Otter Cliff
  • Carriage Roads

10. Mammoth Cave National Park — Kentucky

Mammoth Cave National Park, USA

Mammoth Cave National Park is the world's longest known cave system, and it earns its spot on the list of best USA national parks by being a truly unique experience. A variety of cave tours allows visitors to explore some of the 400 mapped miles of the cave system below ground in addition to 30 miles of river banks and 70 miles of trails on the surface.

When to go: Peak season is June to August, but Mammoth Cave is a great park to visit any time of year.

Entrance fee: Entry to the park is free, but cave tours and camping require a fee. Backcountry camping is free but requires a permit. Adult cave tours range from $8 to $60/person, and reservations are strongly recommended.

Lodging options: There is one lodge and three campgrounds in the park. The nearest towns with accommodations are Horse Cave and Cave City, but some guests opt to travel further to stay in the bigger city of Elizabethtown or Bowling Green.

What to bring:

Check your chosen cave tour's information to find out what to wear.

Don't miss:

  • Cave tours
  • Canoeing or kayaking Green River or Nolin River

11. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park — Hawaii

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, USA

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii's Big Island encompasses a tropical rainforest and the two volcanoes that sit within it. Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and Mauna Loa, stretching 13,678 feet above sea level, provide visitors with the chance to witness and learn about volcanic activity.

Hawaii Volcanoes is one of the best national parks in the USA to visit. If your timing is lucky, you can spot glowing lava in various parts of the park. Regardless of when you visit, the otherworldly landscape of the lava fields and dramatic coastline views create a beautiful scene that you'll never forget!

The Kilauea eruptions of 2018 caused major damage to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and recovery and restoration efforts are ongoing. Most of the park has reopened, but parts remain closed, including many tourist favorites. Before planning your itinerary, check for the most up to date information about closings.

2-4 days are an ideal length of time to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, although some people make just a day trip of it.

When to go: June to August and December to March are peak season for the park and crowds can be intense. The weather in Hawaii is fairly consistent year round, making it a great park to visit in the off season.

Entrance fee: Entrance to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is currently $25 per vehicle, and the pass is valid for seven days. However, to help fund restoration efforts, the fee will increase to $30 per vehicle beginning January 1, 2020.

Lodging options: There is one hotel, Volcano House, and two drive in campgrounds inside the park. There are backcountry camping sites, and off-site backcountry camping is allowed. All backcountry camping, whether at a specified site or off-site, requires a permit.

  • What to bring:
  • Food/water
  • Long pants and gloves for protection should you fall on the sharp lava rock.

Don't miss:

  • Kilauea Visitor Center
  • Kilauea'iki Crater
  • Thurston Lava Tube
  • Chain of Craters Road
  • Volcano Art Center Gallery
  • Sulphur Banks Trail
  • Mauna Loa Road
  • Keanakāko'i Crater
  • Crater Rim Drive
  • Kīpukapuaulu Bird Park
  • Devastation Trail
  • Steam Vents

Save money on your trip with How much does a trip to Hawaii cost? Learn different ways to save money. And check the travel requirements in Do I need a passport to go to Hawaii?

12. Denali National Park — Alaska

Denali National Park, USA

Originally named Mount McKinley National Park, Denali was renamed in 1980 and tripled in size, making it the third largest national park in the country. The park's biggest claim to fame is Mt. McKinley itself, commonly referred to as Denali or "the high one", which stands at 20,310 feet, the highest peak in North America.

The park was originally created to protect the Dall sheep that inhabit the area, the only species of wild white sheep in the world. Today, the park's primary mission is the same, to preserve its native wildlife, which also includes caribou, grizzlies, wolves, moose, and more.

Because of the emphasis on preservation, there is just a single road that travels through the park and very few marked trails, making it the wildest American park on our list. Still, the incredible size of Mt. McKinley, coupled with the tranquility of "America's last frontier", draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Denali can fill three days to a week, depending on your list of things to do.

When to go: The best time of year to visit Denali is May 20 to mid-September. Outside of the summer months, extreme weather conditions can pose a challenge.

Entrance fee: $15 per person for a 7 day pass, ages 15 and under are free.

Lodging options: There are no lodges or hotels inside the park, and most visitors choose to stay in nearby Healy or Cantwell. There are a handful of campgrounds in Denali, and backcountry camping is allowed with a permit.

What to bring:

  • Warm base and outer layers
  • Eye mask for overnight camping in summer time
  • Compass or GPS
  • Food/water
  • Bear spray

Don't miss:

  • Sled Dog Kennels
  • Denali Visitor Center
  • Alaska Railroad Depot
  • Nenana River
  • Guided Bus Tour
  • Savage River Loop Trail
  • Mount Healy Overlook Trail
  • Horseshoe Lake Trail
  • Triple Lakes Trail

13. Olympic National Park — Washington

Olympic National Park, USA

Olympic National Park on Washington's Olympic Peninsula has a bit of everything! From the glacier topped Olympic Mountains to old-growth temperate rainforests to miles of rugged coastline, there's a huge amount of biodiversity within the park.

Visitors to the park can enjoy whale watching from the beaches, spot salmon leaping over waterfalls at Salmon Cascades during spawning season, or soak in a mineral pool at Sol Duc Host Springs Resort. A huge variety of seasonal activities are available year round, making Olympic National Park one of the best places in the US for adventurers!

A minimum of three days is recommended for Olympic National Park.

When to go: May to September is the safest bet as far as the weather goes. From November to April the park sees heavy precipitation, which brings the possibility of road closures and avalanches.

Entrance fee: $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 days

Lodging options: There are two lodges, two resorts, and several campgrounds inside the park. Wilderness camping is allowed with a permit.

What to bring:

  • Waterproof layers
  • Tide chart for exploring the coastline safely
  • Hard soled water shoes

Don't miss:

  • Quinault River
  • Enchanted Valley
  • Hall of Mosses
  • Hoh Rainforest
  • Lake Crescent
  • Sol Duc Hot Springs
  • Hurrican Ridge
  • Lake Crescent
  • Sol Duc Falls
  • Ruby Beach

14. Biscayne National Park — Florida

Biscayne National Park, USA

Just south of Miami is Biscayne National Park. Biscayne is 95% water and encompasses islands, barrier reefs, and a coastal mangrove forest, offering a unique national park experience. The park is home to over 600 species of native plants and animals, including 20 endangered and threatened species such as sea turtles and manatees.

At one of Biscayne's most popular attractions, the Maritime Heritage Trail, visitors can dive underwater and explore the remains of the six shipwrecks within the park, some of which are over 140 years old. Glass bottom boat rides and snorkeling are popular ways to view the brilliantly colored coral reefs. Other activities include sustainable fishing, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, and, of course, lounging on the beautiful beaches.

Biscayne can be seen in 1-3 days.

When to go: The best time to visit the park is winter, from mid December to mid April, when temperatures are more favorable and mosquitoes and other insects are more manageable.

Entrance fee: Entry is free, but activities and rentals require a fee.

Lodging options: There is no lodging inside the park apart from the two campgrounds, one on Boca Chita Key and the other on Elliott Key. There are plenty of lodging options outside the park, with the closest being in Homestead and Florida City.

What to bring:

  • Food/water
  • Reef-safe sunscreen

Don't miss:

  • Boca Chita Key
  • Elliott Key
  • Maritime Heritage Trail
  • Dante Fascell Visitor Center
  • Guided Boat Tours

15. Channel Islands National Park — California

Channel Islands National Park, USA

Just a short trip from the hustle and bustle of the California coast, visitors can embrace the tranquil vibes and peaceful scenery of the five islands sometimes referred to as "North America's Galapagos."

Channel Islands does not get nearly the amount of visitors as some of the other national parks, but it's hard to understand why. There's a huge variety of activities available, including spearfishing, whale watching, hiking, and kayaking through sea caves. The park is home to 145 species of plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world and provides breeding grounds for large populations of sea lions and seals.

Channel Islands is often done as a day trip, but there's no reason not to stay longer and fully embrace the "island time" mentality and full explore all that the islands have to offer!

When to go: Peak season is summer and fall, when ocean temperatures are warmer and visibility is highest for snorkeling and diving. However, winter brings the best sunsets of the year as well as gray whale watching and elephant and harbor seal pups.

Entrance fee: Entry is free, but activities and rentals require a fee.

Lodging options: There are no lodging options within the park, except for one campground on each island and limited backcountry camping opportunities. Backcountry camping requires a permit. Many visitors choose to stay in nearby Santa Barbara.

What to bring:

  • Food/water
  • Light layers
  • Mouse proof food containers
  • Reef-safe sunscreen

Don't miss:

  • Each of the five islands: Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel and Santa Barbara
  • Shore to Sea lecture series (Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center)
  • Arch Rock (Anacapa)
  • Inspiration Point (Anacapa)
  • Cavern Point Loop (Santa Cruz)
  • Scorpion Canyon Loop (Santa Cruz)
  • Water Canyon Beach (Santa Rosa)
  • Signal Peak (Santa Barbara)

Adventuring in America's national parks

I hope you enjoyed reading about these 15 top national parks in the US. In my opinion, these are some of the best US parks to visit, so keep them in mind when planning your next US National Park trip.

Ultimately, there is no definitive criteria for what makes a US national park a "best US national park." In truth, all of America's national parks have something incredible to offer, and I encourage you to research and learn beyond the parks on this list. Whichever park you end up visiting, you won't be disappointed.

Happy adventuring!

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