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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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