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Discover the wilderness of the United States

National parks

With 419 national parks, the United States is truly nature's open-air playground. A place filled with unique wildlife, geological formations, diverse and wondrous landscapes, and plenty of outdoor adventures. If you are a nature and wildlife lover, the national parks of the United States will be an unforgettable experience.

Discover the beauty of Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend
© TravelEssence

"We all know the United States from TV and the movies, but there is so much more to discover in this vast country with its countless national parks, each and every one stunning and unique."

Lisette, Content marketer

With approximately 84 million hectares of national parks to explore, there is no shortage of nature in the United States. Most national parks are managed by the National Park Service and some are free to visit. In other national parks, you will need to pay an entrance fee.

What is the most beautiful park in the United States?

The national parks in the United States are extremely diverse, each one unique with its own characteristics. From Yosemite National Park's green forests and massive granite rock formations to the Arches National Park's thousands of sandstone arches and the red desert landscape. And the Akaka Falls State Park in Hawaii is renowned for its spectacular waterfalls.

Which national park you visit is dependant of course on what you would most like to see. One of our travel specialists will be more than happy to provide more in-depth information to help you decide which parks you should visit.

Have close encounters with unique wildlife
Marvel at the Grand Canyon, South Rim
© TravelEssence

In each national park, there are plenty of outdoor adventures to choose from. From leisurely walking, hiking, and kayaking to whitewater rafting and rock climbing. Most national parks are easily accessible by car. At the entrance of each park, you will be given a map of the area. Along the way, you can park the car on the side of the road and go and discover all of the natural treasures.

8 national parks to visit in the United States

Hike through the Glacier National Park
© TravelEssence
Observe birds of prey in special locations
© TravelEssence

1. Hawaii

Hawaii is a tropical paradise, featuring an abundance of nature, including no less than 50 national parks. The nature of Hawaii is characterised by waterfalls, rainforests, volcanoes, and a diversity of tropical and sometimes unique flora and fauna. Some wildlife and plant species can only be found in Hawaii.

Discover the natural beauty of Hawaii
© hawaii tourism authority | ben ono

2. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is literally and figuratively a hotspot. The park is situated on a dormant supervolcano, amidst countless active geysers and heat sources. Geysers such as Old Faithful, Anemone, Beehive, Plume, and The Lion Group erupt daily at precise times.

It is, therefore, no wonder that Yellowstone attracts more than three million visitors a year. As well as all the bubbling, roaring, and other quirky noises, you can enjoy forests, alpine meadows, a magnificent large lake, and a large canyon with waterfalls in the gigantic Yellowstone.

The park is beautiful in the summer, but an off-season visit means fewer crowds. Another way to find peace and quiet is to go further into the park, away from the extensive network of paved roads. Yellowstone has hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails that wind through the vast Lamar Valley and along canyon ridges. The further you go, the greater the chance of spotting the park's famous wildlife (such as bison, elk, and bear).

Be dazzled by nature's spectacle at Yellowstone National Park

3. Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is the crown jewel of California, or as President Teddy Roosevelt once described it: a cathedral more beautiful than a man could ever build. The park's biggest attraction is Yosemite Valley. This valley was carved out by a glacier and is flanked by two gigantic granite rock walls. The most famous of the two is called El Capitan and is up to 900 metres high.

Before visiting the park, you might like to watch the film, Free Solo (2018). This documentary shows how daredevil Alexander Honnold, climbs El Capitan without a rope. The film also shows the prevailing climbing culture in the park.

Not so keen on climbing? Then visit the beautiful waterfalls or take a relaxing walk through Mariposa Grove. Here, the trees are so high that you cannot even see the tops. Other figurative and literal highlights are Glacier Point, where you have a spectacular view of the valley, and Tioga Road, the highest road in the US. The park is home to hundreds of species of birds and mammals.

Spot deer in Yosemite National Park
© Chloe Leis, Unsplash
Be mesmerised by spectacular waterfalls

4. Glacier National Park

With its mountain lakes, alpine meadows, glaciers, and white mountain peaks, Glacier National Park secretly resembles Switzerland. That is if wild grizzly bears were to roam Switzerland (the park is also home to beavers, otters, moose, and mountain goats). Glacier National Park is located in the Rocky Mountains on the border with Canada. Most park visitors explore the park via the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.

This scenic highway is only open in summer and runs from West Entrance all the way to St. Mary. You can stop frequently to enjoy the views. Film buffs may recognise Wild Goose Island from the opening scene of Stanley Kubrick's film The Shining. You can also explore Glacier National Park on foot.

There are endless hiking trails of varying levels of difficulty. There is also plenty to do on the water. Go kayaking on Lake McDonald (a good spot for spotting sea eagles) or visit Two Medicine Lake in the early morning and watch the sunrise.

Hike and conquer Glacier National Park
© TravelEssence
Marvel at crystal clear streams
© TravelEssence

5. Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park is characterised by the imposing Teton Range, which you can reach via various hiking trails. If you walk briskly, a spectacular view awaits you of Jackson Hole, a silvery-green valley with crystal-clear mountain lakes. This valley is approximately 70 kilometres long and twenty kilometres wide.

Many wild animals live here, including black bears and grizzly bears. In the spring months, the bears come out of hibernation and you have the best chance of spotting a bear. No guarantees, however, and beware: bears are dangerous animals, so observe park rules. Besides bears, you can spot herds of wild bison. These are also called 'buffalo' in the United States, although they are only found in Asia and Africa. Anyway, they remain fantastic animals.

Two highways run through the park, namely the US89 and the Teton Park Road. Along both roads there are several sights worth seeing. The weather in Grand Teton sometimes leaves something to be desired. Always bring warm clothes, even in the summer months.

Grand Teton National Park is a natural wonderland

6. Zion National Park

The eye-catching Zion National Park lives up to its name. Zion means 'sanctuary' in Hebrew. The park received this name from Mormon pioneers who settled in this area in 1860. Various parts of the park also have Biblical names such as Angel's Landing, the Three Patriarchs, the West Temple, and The Great White Throne.

Zion National Park consists of huge orange rock formations that are cleaved by deep canyons. The most beautiful of these canyons is, of course, Zion Canyon. This canyon is 24 kilometres long and eight hundred metres deep. The fertile Virgin River (pun unintentional) runs through the canyon. The green vegetation that rises from the water contrasts beautifully with the warm glow of the orange sandstone formations.

The park offers many hiking possibilities. From short family-friendly walks to long strenuous hikes to remote viewpoints. The good news is that even the easy trails lead to fantastic views. You can also explore different driving routes, such as the Kolob Canyons Road or the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.

Discover all the colours of Zion National Park
© TravelEssence
Climb and discover Zion National Park from another vantage point
© TravelEssence

7. The Umpqua National Forest

The Umpqua National Forest is located on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains in southwestern Oregon. It is well worth a visit. Admire the Toketee Falls, a short drive from Highway 138. Here, you can park your car and take a short walk to the viewpoint of the waterfall. This huge waterfall is an important symbol of the region. Be careful on the path, the rocks can be slippery.

Another beautiful waterfall is Watson Falls. Umpqua National Forrest is also known for its hot springs. There are approximately eight small natural pools big enough for two to four people. For a nice view of the surrounding mountains, you should go to Diamond Lake.

If you have time, you can drive around the lake. The backbone of the Umpqua National Forest is the North Umpqua Trail, a 128-kilometre multi-day hiking or biking experience along the North Umpqua River.

Be astounded by magical waterfalls

8. Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah. In the course of time, wind and rain have hollowed out the rock floor here, leaving only extremely remarkable rock pillars. Between them grow dark green conifers, which contrast beautifully with the orange glow of the rocky landscape.

Experience all that the park has to offer by taking a walk through the peaceful hinterland on the Riggs Spring Loop. Or wander through the pine forests on the Under-the-Rim hiking trails. If you're feeling a little more excited (or tired of hiking), you can also explore these forests in an off-road vehicle.

Make sure you have time to visit Fairyland Point, Bryce Point, or Sunset Point. These places offer beautiful views of the park. Bryce Canyon National Park has a rich history that the park rangers will be happy to tell you about.

"Bryce National Park stands out for me in particular because of its unique rock formations (hoodoos), colour contrasts, and amazing views. Walking through the hoodoos was like being on a different planet, with a surprise around every corner!"

Lisette, Content marketer
Admire the extremely remarkable rock pillars of Bryce Canyon National Park

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More is possible than you may think

You probably already have ideas for your holiday to the United States and Canada. Nature tours through the Rocky Mountains, spotting orcas near the San Juan Islands, or exploring the streets of San Francisco on the iconic cable car?

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