If you’re looking for an awe-inspiring way to experience America’s natural beauty, touring the country’s national parks is definitely the way to go.
There are 63 parks in all, and each one offers something unique and wonderful.
From majestic forests to geological wonders, from unforgettable recreation opportunities to cherished wildlife, plants, and scenery, these national parks truly have it all.
Touring the national parks is also a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and really connect with nature (one of the best ways to reap mindfulness benefits).
And it’se an affordable travel experience thanks to the annual Senior Pass that gives you access to national parks and other federal recreation sites.
So if you’re looking for an amazing travel adventure, be sure to add touring the US national parks to your list.
For your convenience, we’ve categorized all US national parks into five themes:
- Majestic Forests
- Stunning Waters
- Geological Wonders
- Unforgettable Recreation & Adventures
- Treasured Wildlife & Plants
The Congaree National Park is a national park in South Carolina that features the largest intact tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest left in North America. In fact, it contains more than 1,500 acres of virgin timber and nearly two miles of riverbank. This makes it a great place to see wildlife and experience nature. The national park also has many trails for hiking, biking, and even horseback riding.
Denali National Park is a vast park located in Interior Alaska. It has a wide variety of landscapes, including glaciers, river valleys, taiga forests, and tundra. The spruce, birch, and aspen trees are a sight to behold, and the forest floor is blanketed in wildflowers in the summer. There are also many opportunities for wildlife viewing, including caribou, grizzly bears, Dall sheep and more.
#3 Glacier Bay
Glacier Bay National Park is one of the most beautiful national parks in the US. It’s located in Alaska and is known for its glaciers and stunning landscapes. If you’re touring the US national parks, a trip to Glacier Bay National Park is a must. You’ll be able to explore the park’s many glaciers and hike through its lush forests.
#4 Guadalupe Mountains
For those passing through Texas, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a beautiful place to visit for anyone who wants to really connect with nature. With its tall pines and pristine wilderness, the park offers plenty of opportunities for hikers, campers, and nature lovers of all kinds. The scenery is simply spectacular, and there’s something about being in the presence of such natural beauty that just can’t be beaten.
#5 Isle Royale
If you’re touring the US national parks, make sure to visit the Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior in Michigan. It’s home to towering evergreens, pristine lakes, and rushing rivers, all of which make for a stunning landscape. Visitors can explore the forests by hiking or canoeing or simply take in the view from one of the many scenic overlooks.
#6 Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon National Park is a US national park located in the Sierra Nevada in California. It has an area of 862,000 acres (3,440 km), making it the second-largest national park in California. The park is known for its sequoia trees, the largest living things on Earth. Taking a walk among these giant sequoias is an unforgettable experience.
#7 Mount Rainier
Mount Rainer National Park forests in Washington state are some of the most majestic in the United States. The park is home to towering evergreen trees, pristine rivers and lakes, and rugged glaciers. Mount Rainier is also a site of scientific research, with studies of volcanism, glaciology, and ecology taking place there.
Redwood National Park is located in Northern California, and it’s famous for its gigantic redwood trees, some of which are more than a thousand years old. Explore a pristine wilderness, filled with majestic old-growth redwoods, stunning coastal scenery, and acres of quiet forest.
The coastline of Acadia National Park can be seen as one continuous panorama stretching over to Mount Desert Island in Maine. The park has a rugged coastline made up of granite cliffs that rise straight out of the sea and headlands that reach into deep bays.
#10 American Samoa
If you’re willing to travel the distance overseas, the beaches in American Samoa National Park are some of the most beautiful in the world. The park is located on the island of Tutuila. The park’s natural features include rain forests, coral reefs, volcanic craters, and beaches. It is also home to a number of rare and endangered animal species, including the Samoan flying fox and the Samoan boa.
The waters surrounding the Biscayne National Park in southern Florida are a major attraction for visitors. The park includes many islands, the largest of which are called the Greater and Lesser Keys. It was established to protect coral reefs, tropical hardwood hammocks, mangrove wetlands and associated wildlife. The waters offer fantastic opportunities for touring, swimming, and scuba diving.
#12 Channel Islands
The Channel Islands National Park is a collection of five different islands in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Southern California. The park preserves some of the most pristine coastal areas in North America since it consists mostly of natural habitats, with minimal development to maintain as much of the original ecosystem as possible. The Channel Islands are home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, some of which are found nowhere else on earth.
#13 Crater Lake
Crater Lake National Park is the only national park in Oregon. The lake, the deepest one in the US, was formed when an ancient volcano collapsed, leaving a crater that fills with water and snowmelt to form a deep blue lake. There are plenty of trails for hiking and biking, as well as boat tours of the lake so you can travel through the park at your own pace.
#14 Dry Tortugas
The Dry Tortugas National Park is located in the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, and it is made up of a group of small islands. The park is known for its crystal-clear waters, which are some of the clearest in the United States. The water is so clear that you can often see the bottom even when the water is quite deep. And it’s home to Fort Jefferson. the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere.
#15 New River Gorge
The New River Gorge National Park is a US national park located in Fayette County, West Virginia. The park protects 53 miles (85 km) of the New River, including the Gorge which it was named by. You can enjoy variety of activities, including hiking, fishing, boating, and camping. The most popular attraction in the park is the New River Gorge Bridge, one of the world’s longest steel arch bridges.
#16 Gates of the Arctic
Located in Alaska, the Gates of the Arctic National Park is a vast and largely untouched wilderness. There are no roads or trails within the park, so visitors must rely on aircraft or hiking to access its many pristine rivers and lakes. The scenery is simply breathtaking, with soaring mountains and glaciers, pristine forests, and rushing waterways. One of the highlights of the Gates of the Arctic is experiencing the untamed beauty of its rivers. Whether you’re floating down a gentle stream or whitewater rafting down a wild river, you’ll be awed by the natural splendor of Alaska’s backcountry.
It’s impossible not to be awestruck by the stunning natural beauty of Haleakala National Park in Hawaii. The park is home to some of the most beautiful waters on earth, including Kipahulu Bay and Waimoku Falls. One of the most popular attractions in Haleakala National Park is the Seven Sacred Pools. These pools are located in a beautiful and serene setting and offer an excellent spot for relaxing.
#18 Hot Springs
The waters at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas are some of the most majestic in the country. The park is home to dozens of thermal springs that flow from the earth at 143 degrees Fahrenheit. These springs are what give the park its name, and they make for a unique and unforgettable experience.
#19 Lake Clark
Want off the beaten path? Lake Clark National Park in Alaska is one of the most remote and least visited parks in the US. But that’s what makes it so unique. It covers 4 million acres of pristine wilderness, including glaciers, mountains, lakes, rivers and forests. The park offers opportunities for fishing, backpacking, kayaking, rafting and wildlife viewing.
#20 Virgin Islands
If you’re willing to take your road trip off the road and to the seas, the Virgin Islands National Park consists of approximately 90 small islands and cays. It offers visitors great opportunities for snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, bird watching, and simply enjoying the beaches and natural beauty of the park.
At the north tip of Minnesota, the waters of Voyageurs National Park are among the most pristine and undeveloped in the national park system. The park’s 84 thousand acres of water hold many small islands and a wealth of aquatic life. The lakes and rivers of Voyageurs offer visitors a wide range of recreational opportunities, including fishing, boating, canoeing and kayaking.
The US national park Arches is located in the state of Utah and is one of the most popular parks in the country. It features more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the world-famous Delicate Arch, as well as a variety of geological formations and spectacular scenery. The park is also home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of natural stone bridges.
#23 Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a national park in Colorado that offers visitors some of the most spectacular geological features in the United States. The canyon was formed over millions of years as the Gunnison River slowly carved its way through the Rocky Mountains, and today it stands as a testament to the power of nature.
#24 Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park is a scenic, high-altitude plateau in southern Utah. The park features colorful, eroded spires of rock called “hoodoos.” The most well-known spot is the Bryce Amphitheater, which resembles an amphitheater in aerial view. In its center lies the highest density of giant hoodoos in the world.
Also in Utah, Canyonlands National Park is one of the most remote, rugged, and inaccessible parks. It’s a vast expanse of bare rock, towering mesas, deep canyons and sandy washes that are home to ancient Native American petroglyphs and an eclectic mix of wildlife. Canyonlands preserves some of the most pristine and wild landscapes in the lower states.
#26 Capitol Reef
The Capitol Reef National Park is a beautiful and underrated park located in the south-central part of Utah. The park is filled with canyons, sandstone cliffs, and domes that make for some breathtaking landscapes. There are also a variety of plants and wildlife to be found here, including some unique species that can only be found in this part of the world.
#27 Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is a US national park in southeastern New Mexico, just north of the Mexican border. The area includes over 100 caves, an abundance of wildlife, and it also features stunning limestone formations. Stalactites hang from the roof of the Big Room, which is a huge underground chamber in the cavern.
#28 Death Valley
Death Valley National Park is located in eastern California and is known for its extreme temperatures and rugged landscape. Some of the park’s most popular attractions include Badwater Basin, Dante’s View, and the Golden Canyon. Death Valley is a great place to experience the desert and learn about its unique history and geology.
#29 Gateway Arch
A different kind of geological monument, the Gateway Arch National Park is located in St. Louis, MO. The 630-foot high arch was built as a monument to westward expansion and is the tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere. If you’re looking for a more urban trip, be sure to check it out.
#30 Grand Canyon
One of the most popular tourist destinations in the US, the Grand Canyon is located in Arizona. The canyon was formed over millions of years by the Colorado River. The geology of the Grand Canyon is nothing short of majestic. The colorful rocks and cliffs that make up the canyon walls are a sight to behold, and the winding Colorado River below is a source of constant fascination.
#31 Hawaii Volcanoes
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is located on the Island of Hawaii. The park is home to two active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. Kīlauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. They illustrate the volcano’s tremendous power to mold and modify our landscape.
#32 Lassen Volcanic
Lassen Volcanic National Park is a national park in northeastern California. It spans over forested hills and volcanic features like cinder cones and steaming fumaroles. The park has a long history of volcanic activity with the last eruption taking place a century ago.
#33 Petrified Forest
In Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park is known for its fossils, especially petrified wood. The park’s geology is interesting and varied. The park sits on a large igneous plateau called the Painted Desert, which was created when molten rock cooled and solidified underground. Due to the minerals that make them up, the rocks in the park are a mixture of different colors. The most common mineral in the park is quartz, which is clear or white.
Located in northern California, Pinnacle National Park has a wide variety of interesting rock formations, which is why it’s such a popular destination for hikers and climbers. The trails are rocky and stony, the water is chilly, and the air is fresh. The rocks in this outing range from boulders as big as the Empire State Building to hillsides covered with colossal spires.
#35 Wind Cave
Wind Cave is a national park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It is noted for its cave system, the largest in the world measured by the length of its mapped cave passages, at over 154 miles (248 km). The park offers a variety of tours, from easy walks to strenuous hikes, so be sure to visit it if you’re an avid hiker when you’re touring the national parks.
The first national park in the world, Yellowstone in Wyoming is famous for its impressive geology. Formed over 2 million years ago, the park is home to various geological features, including geysers, hot springs, and mud pots. The most famous feature in the park is undoubtedly Old Faithful Geyser, which erupts every 91 minutes. Other popular attractions include the Mammoth Hot Springs and the Grand Prismatic Spring.
Unforgettable Recreation & Adventures
#37 Big Bend
The US national park Big Bend is located in southwest Texas and it’s a place of unparalleled beauty. The park has over 1,200 miles of riverfront and the Chihuahuan Desert covers most of the land. The scenery is spectacular with mountains, canyons, and desert all in one place. There are plenty of things to do at Big Bend National Park. You can go hiking, camping, backpacking, horseback riding, and much more. The park also has a variety of ranger-led programs that you can participate in.
#38 Cuyahoga Valley
The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located in northeastern Ohio and features 32,000 acres of forests, wetlands and rolling hills. The park is a popular destination for hikers, bicyclists, birders, and nature lovers. There are also plenty of opportunities for recreation, including scenic railroad rides, biking and hiking trails, canoeing, and much more.
In northern Montana, Glacier National Park is known for its beautiful scenery and recreation opportunities. Some of the most popular activities in the park include hiking, fishing, camping, and biking. There are over 700 miles of trails to explore in Glacier, so hikers of all levels will find something to enjoy. The park is also home to numerous glaciers and rushing rivers, making it a perfect destination for those looking for a scenic river or lake kayaking trip. And for those seeking an adventure, Glacier offers plenty of opportunities for whitewater rafting, rock climbing, and backcountry skiing.
#40 Great Sand Dunes
The Great Sand Dunes National Park has been a treasure to the people of Colorado and visitors from all over the world. The centerpiece of the park is its namesake: a field of huge sand dunes that to some people might seem out of place in the middle of all the rocky mountain peaks. But that’s what makes this national park so unique and definitely worth a visit. There are plenty of ways to explore the dunes. You can go for a hike or even try sandboarding or sledding down.
#41 Kenai Fjords
Located in Alaska, Kenai Fjords National Park is unique because it offers a variety of landscapes and ecosystems. You can find glaciers, rainforests, mountains, and more in this one park. Visitors can fish, canoe, kayak, spot whales and other marine life with whale watching tours in season. Be sure to bring your camera for the chance to see sea lions hauled out on rocky shores, seals sunning themselves on ice floes, or eagles perched in a tree. Nature lovers will also enjoy touring the national parks to see the variety of plants and wildlife.
#42 Kobuk Valley
Kobuk Valley National Park is located in the arctic region of northwestern Alaska and is known for its glaciers, caribou, and landscapes. The park is also home to the Kobuk Sand Dunes, which are the only active sand dunes in Alaska. And yes, you read that right. There’s sand in the arctic. It also offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, camping, fishing, and paddling. In Kobuk Valley National Park, visitors can truly escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and find solitude in nature.
#43 Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde in Colorado offers a look into the lives of the Ancestral Puebloan people. There’s no shortage of recreation and adventure to be had at Mesa Verde National Park. The park is home to over 4,000 archaeological sites, including the world-famous Cliff Palace. Visitors can explore the park by hiking, biking, or horseback riding. And for those looking for a more thrill-seeking experience, Mesa Verde offers opportunities for rock climbing, river running, and backcountry skiing.
#44 North Cascades
Near the northern end of Washington state, North Cascades National Park is unique because it is the most diverse park in the US national park system. It has over 300 glaciers and it’s a hiker’s paradise. It also has thundering waterfalls, winding rivers, and lush old-growth forests. Explore the park by foot, boat, or car — and prepare for an adventure.
#45 Rocky Mountain
Rocky Mountain National Park is a stunning area in the state of Colorado. The park is home to majestic mountains and pristine lakes. Visitors to the park can enjoy a variety of activities, including hiking, fishing, and boating. If wilderness camping is up your lane, don’t miss out on the backcountry campsites located in the park.
Sequoia National Park in California is home to the world’s largest living organism, the Sequoia tree. These trees can grow up to 275 feet tall and have a trunk that is up to 22 feet in diameter. There are also miles of trails for hikers to explore, including the popular Kings Canyon Trail. Visitors can enjoy camping, fishing, and swimming in the park’s many lakes and rivers.
In Virgina, the Shenandoah National Park is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are part of the Appalachian Mountains. The park has over 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail. It also offers panoramic views of the region, where you may see black bears, deer, and turkeys.
#48 Wrangell–St. Elias
From the dramatic volcanic landscapes of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park to the awe-inspiring glaciers of Kenai Fjords National Park, these natural wonders offer something for everyone visiting Alaska. This vast park is home to a wide variety of landscapes, including towering volcanoes, rushing rivers, and sprawling glaciers. Visitors can explore the park by car, bike, horseback, or on foot, and there are plenty of trails and campgrounds to choose from.
#49 White Sands
White Sands National Park in New Mexico gets its name from the vast stretches of white gypsum sand that cover the ground. The white sand is incredible to see, and it’s especially beautiful against the blue sky, making it a must-see destination for nature lovers. It offers a wealth of recreational opportunities for visitors, including hiking, camping, photography, and wildlife viewing.
Treasured Wildlife & Plants
The Badlands National Park is located in southwestern South Dakota, and it contains some of the most scenic landscapes on Earth. The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep and pronghorn. It also has an abundance of plant life, with more than 900 species found there so far.
The Everglades National Park in Florida is one of the most diverse national parks in the US. It is home to a wide variety of plant and animal species, many of which are threatened or endangered. The Everglades is also a great place to enjoy outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, canoeing, and bird watching.
#52 Grand Teton
Grand Teton National Park is a beautiful place to visit and see some amazing wildlife. The park is home to elk, moose, deer, black bears, grizzly bears, and wolves, among other majestic animals. It’s definitely a great place to go for a wildlife safari without leaving the state of Wyoming.
#53 Great Basin
The Great Basin National Park is located in eastern Nevada and is known for its incredible biodiversity. The park is home to more than 800 plant species, 61 mammal species, 238 species of birds, and even two amphibian species. Wildlife in the park includes mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and golden eagles.
#54 Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina are one of the most popular national parks in America. The park is home to an astonishing variety of wildlife and plants, including over 1,500 species of trees. Take in the beauty of the forest and hills, as well as the ancient mountain culture and history.
#55 Indiana Dunes
Indiana Dunes National Park has over 15,000 acres and it contains five different ecosystems: prairie grasslands, oak savannas, hardwood forests, wetlands,and beach dune plants. It’s home to 46 species of mammals and over 350 species of birds that can be found in the park.
If you’re willing to make the trek to Alaska, Katmai National Park is unique because it is home to the world’s largest population of grizzly bears. The park also offers opportunities to view other wildlife, such as caribou, moose, eagles, and salmon. If you’re touring the US national parks and are interested in wildlife, Katmai is a must-see.
#57 Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree National Park is located in the Mojave Desert of southeastern California. The park was named for the Joshua trees that are native to the area. It’s noted for its diversity of desert life. There are two distinct desert ecosystems in the park, each with its own unique plants and animals. The higher, cooler Mojave Desert is home to the Joshua tree, while the lower, hotter Colorado Desert is home to the Mojave cactus.
#58 Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave National Park in California is special because of its intricate cave system that is the longest in the world. And it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s known for its biodiversity. The park has a wide variety of plant and animal species. There are over 6,000 acres of forests in the park and there are many different tree species. The park also has a wide variety of animals, including mammals, fish, and amphibians.
Climb to the top of Olympic National Park peak in Washington state and you’ll see why these parks are called “Olympian.” The Olympics mountain range is just 35 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This rugged wilderness has been preserved as a national park for your enjoyment. And it encompasses three different ecosystems: the Pacific coastline, the rainforest, and the alpine areas which makes it one of the most biodiverse national parks in the US.
Saguaro National Park in Arizona is known for its large population of saguaro cacti, which can grow up to 50 feet tall and over 100 years old. Apart from the cacti, the park also has a variety of other plants and animals, making it a great place for nature lovers to explore.
#61 Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a beautiful and serene place, located in the Badlands of North Dakota. The park is named for President Theodore Roosevelt, who was instrumental in its creation. The park is home to a great diversity of plant and animal life. And the bison are a particularly iconic species found in the park.
Zion National Park is located in the southwest of Utah and it is known for its diverse landscape. It is also home to a large variety of wildlife and plants. Some of the park’s more notable wildlife includes bighorn sheep, deer, coyotes, and mountain lions. Not to mention that it contains over 800 species of plants, including fir and ponderosa pine.
Yosemite National Park in California is one of the most popular and well-known national parks in the US. It’s known for its dramatic cliffs, waterfalls, and forests, and it’s a favorite destination for hikers, climbers, and outdoor enthusiasts. The park is also home to some of the oldest and largest trees in the world, including giant sequoias that can reach heights of over 250 feet. But what makes Yosemite National Park truly unique is its diversity. There are all sorts of different landscapes and ecosystems to explore in the park, from rocky mountaintops to lush river valleys.
Best Vacations for Retirees
One of the best ways to explore the US is by touring the national parks. And it’s also one of the best vacations for retirees.
Whether you’re traveling on a budget, traveling with a group, or traveling solo, these are some of the most scenic and diverse natural areas in the country, making them a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike.
They are places of natural beauty and wonder. As a refuge from the noise, crowds, and chaos of everyday life, they offer visitors an escape from their daily lives to experience nature without interference.
The US national parks are also one of our most important treasures for future generations with many species found nowhere else on earth. It’s imperative that we protect these national treasures so they can be enjoyed by all people in the years ahead.
So dust off your hiking boots, grab your camera, pack up with sunscreen and bug spray — and get ready for one amazing adventure touring the 63 US national parks.