When I tell people that my goal is to cross two new national parks off my list this year, they usually begin recommending their favorites to me. The only problem is, they have no idea what actually qualifies as a national park.

If you’ve watched the PBS series The National Parks: One of America’s Best Ideas, then you already know that getting a national park set aside is extremely difficult. They must be established by an act of Congress and there are only 59 in the U.S. system. Here’s the official list if you’re curious.

Many of the parks my well-meaning friends and family have recommended are, in fact, national monuments, which can be signed into existence by any U.S. president, or state parks, which are far more abundant.

My goal revolves around real national parks. But I simply can’t visit all of them this year, so lately I’ve been trying to narrow the list down to my top 10. Here’s what I’ve come up with. If you don’t agree, leave your suggestions in the comments section!

Top 10 Don’t-Miss National Parks (in alphabetical order)


1) Acadia National Park: The only national park located in New England, Acadia boasts the highest peak on the Atlantic Coast and stunning views of the rugged coastline.

2) Arches National Park: The name says it all. The big draw at this Utah park is the more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches.


3) Biscayne National Park: This one wins for sheer originality and because I love to scuba dive. Biscayne is the only underwater national park and it’s located in the Florida Keys.

4) Denali National Park: No state is as wild as Alaska, and no national park is as beautiful. Denali is a don’t miss for its access to moose, grizzlies, and even, if you’re a lucky, a peek at snow-covered Mount McKinley.


5) Everglades National Park: If crocodiles and air-boat rides are your thing, then Everglades has to be on your list. This giant swampy ecosystem offers access to many rare and endangered species.

6) Glacier National Park: The breathtaking scenery of this alpine beauty is hard to match. Boasting 26 glaciers, miles of rugged hiking, and historic lodges, this national park is a crowd pleaser and easy on the budget.


7) Grand Canyon National Park: This is probably the one national park we can all name from memory and with good reason. Every American should visit this natural wonder at least once in his or her life.

8) Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: They say there’s no sight quite like a volcano erupting in the night sky. This national park found on Hawaii’s Big Island dazzles with theatrics.

9) Mesa Verde National Park: Part national park, part history lesson, Mesa Verde has been drawing visitors from all over the world for years thanks to the 600 cliff dwellings the Ancestral Pueblo people left behind.


10) Yellowstone National Park: Old Faithful. The geyser everyone knows by name. This park’s draw is the weirdly wonderful geothermal oddities it contains, like geysers and hot springs.


8 Responses to “10 Don’t-Miss National Parks”

  1. Tara Pisarczyk

    All these national park trips sound amazing, but my family would like to RV due to my lack of stamina brought on by spinal stenosis and a chronic pain condition. Any trips (even SUV rentals) out there for 3 adults and a 19 and 15 years olds and 2 small dogs? That’s a big request, but I hope, not impossible.

    • Dap

      Overall, I think the park looks very nice since it has reopened.I do think, thugoh, that I would like to see more overall green and vegetation, especially in the form of wild areas. A lot of trees came down, and while the current park is still very green, I would like to see it planned so that the vegetation can fill out more in the future.I maintain a page about , and according to the principles explained on that page, the current landscaping in Clark Park is good, but could be better. I think the weakest point is that there are virtually no wild areas. Yes, it is a small city park, but there is more than enough room for small wild areas, especially in the flower beds in various parts of the park. Maintaining these beds is labor- and resource-intensive. Leaving areas wild can both save on maintenance effort and costs, and also provide greater ecological value.Rather than planting these with purchased, cultivated plants, I think it would be better to grow native plants from seed, and then maintain the beds only by removing aggressive non-native plants and trimming the beds.People might say but we want the park to look nice , and it looks ugly if it’s overgrown. But personally, I think that the lusher and denser the vegetation, the nicer it gets. Air quality is also an issue in Philly in the summer, and the denser and more diverse the vegetation is, the more pollutants will be absorbed. Current, to me, the park looks too carefully manicured for my aesthetic sense. Everything in it is carefully landscaped and planted. I would appreciate a wilder, more lush park, filled out with dense vegetation in the flower beds, with native plants allowed to reproduce naturally in a number of areas.What do you think? I would like to work together with others to make this happen.

  2. Lillian

    Hi Tara. My family did an RV trip to Yellowstone last summer. We rented through Cruise America. You can also hire tour guides at Yellowstone N.P who will drive you and your family through the park It was well worth it (check out http://www.Xanterra.com) Our tour guide knew everywhere to go and everything to see including a mama grizzly and two cubs. KOA campgrounds is an excellent stop for RVing families. I highly recommend the KOA (on the eastside) in Cody, WY. Xanterra also manages the lodging and tour services at other parks like the Grand Canyon. I hope you get to make your trip. Have fun!

  3. Ginger

    Make sure to visit Grand Teton National Park while you are visiting Yellowstone. These two parks as so close in proximity that you can check off two parks in one trip! GTNP has breathtaking views and great day hikes.

  4. Diana

    We visited Yellowstone last year and they have a campground in the center of the park, which was very nice (also lots of laundry facilities). Most of the trails and walks were wheelchair friendly. They run tours from Lake Yellowstone hotel in the Yellow buses and probably from the other lodges. We stayed at Lake Yellowstone and Mammoth Springs. Both places were excellent. We also took the dinner trail ride from Roosevelt tower near Mammoth Springs, which was expensive but lots of fun, and good food. They take you out to the dinner site in big covered wagons with comfortable seats. I think you would do fine. The agents at Xanterra were very helpful in planning our trip. I am sure you will have a great time.

  5. Karen Hopkins

    There is an underwater national park off St. John in the US Virgin Islands. Your list of national parks is outstanding, and we have visited all but two on your list – so far. They are indeed our best idea. It is difficult to pick a favorite becasue each is awe-inspiring in a different way.

  6. SK Johnson

    Zion should be in the top 10; Bryce is beautiful, too, but there is just something special about Zion.

  7. MightyTravels

    The Grand Canyon is absolutley worth it – it’s a lot of driving but I clearly waited too long! 10 years :(


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