Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips. Due to overwhelming demand, some national parks have implemented reservation systems while others have instituted intermittent closures due to reaching capacity limits. Visit nps.gov before heading out. This article was last updated July 11, 2021.
There are 423 national park sites to choose from in the U.S. when you include parks, monuments, and recreation areas. 423! That makes choosing a destination this summer almost impossible. 29 states contain actual national parks: California has the highest number at nine, followed by eight in Alaska and five in Utah.
Not surprisingly, the largest parks are found in Alaska. But the most visited national park in the country is the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina. That might be surprising that it beats out Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park, which comes in at number two.
With so much choice, we needed help and decided to reach out to our favorite bloggers in the travel community. Check out our picks and hopefully this list will inspire your travel plans for this summer… and maybe next summer too!
Devils Tower, Wyoming
Often referred to as the country’s first national monument, the Devils Tower sits in a national park in Wyoming. You might recognize it from a fair few alien encounter movies. It’s a must visit. Its unique and towering position is steeped in Native-American legend and is a one-of-a-kind natural wonder. It also happens to be quite the climber’s dream. The tower is an 867-foot butte composed of igneous rock in the Bear Lodge Mountains. The surrounding environment is a pleasure to walk through, and the sun setting off the cliffs is incredible.
–Erin Bender of Explore With Erin
Alcatraz Island, San Francisco
Most people only think of Alcatraz Island as a prison that once housed the country’s most notorious prisoners. However, it also houses beautiful wilderness that you encounter as you walk the grounds. There’s a group of people who tend to the gardens, and there are always a lot of seabirds who stop by for a visit (so make sure to pack your binoculars). Nowadays, Alcatraz is considered a sanctuary for its many seabirds and waterbirds that visit the island. Alcatraz Island is my favorite U.S. national park site because there seems to be a surprise around every corner and bonus, it’s right in San Francisco!
–Pattie Cordova of Living Mi Vida Loca
Zion National Park, Utah
Sandstone cliffs dominate the terrain in Zion National Park, catching fire as they turn red, orange and purple when the sunsets. Travelers can hike trails from easy to hard through the valley or up more strenuous terrain. The Narrows is the most popular trail, but be warned – this seasonal trek is best done with a guide and can be closed due to flash floods, especially in the spring. Families shouldn’t be afraid to explore Zion National Park with kids, as there are plenty of easy hikes and spots to explore, including the Emerald Pools and Riverside Walk. Several animals call this park home, including elk, Peregrine falcons, bats, Canyon tree frogs, and even mountain lions. Cars are not allowed inside most of the park, so be prepared to park at the visitor’s center and take the tram to the trail heads on your itinerary, or just take it easy and let the tram show you the lay of the land before you decide to hop off. Either way, you will never regret exploring one of our favorites of Utah’s “Mighty 5” national parks.
–Keryn Means of Walking on Travels
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Think Florida ends where the road stops? Nope! Nearly 70 miles west of Key West is Dry Tortugas National Park, 100 square miles of islands and sea. The road actually does end in Key West, so the only way to get there is by boat or seaplane. You can explore Fort Jefferson, one of the country’s largest 19th-century forts, or cool off with some fantastic snorkeling.
–Angie Orth of Angie Away
North Cascades National Park, Washington
Not a household name like Yosemite or the Smoky Mountains, North Cascades National Park is a hidden gem! We loved that it was full of Washingtonians, avid hikers, and kayakers rather than tour bus-goers. The mountains were so sheer and jagged, they reminded us of Patagonia – one of our favorite destinations in the world! The park is ringed with rivers and waterfalls and full of glacial lakes. For lodging, they have unique and fabulous options – from floating cabins to a free lakeside campground right in the center of the park.
–Mike & Anne Howard of HoneyTrek.com
Glacier National Park, Montana
We love Montana’s Glacier National Park. It’s absolutely stunning, with mountains, glaciers, lakes (over 700), rivers and waterfalls, plus it’s extremely kid-friendly with horseback riding and a lot of easy hikes. Like a hundred national parks in one. It couldn’t be more convenient to get to, only 45 minutes from Kalispell Airport. The nearby ski town of Whitefish is utterly charming as well.
–Eric Stoen of Travel Babbo
Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Grand Canyon National Park is in my adopted home state of Arizona. It is, quite literally, a massive hole in the ground – averaging 10 miles wide and about a mile deep extending for more than 275 miles through the vast Arizona desert. Formed through red rocks where the Colorado River cut its way through soft layers over the years, it switches back and forth creating swirls and shapes that catch the light in the most astounding ways at different times of the day and year. Located in the high desert several hours north of Phoenix, the Grand Canyon will be chilly in winter, and you will need a jacket. If you are lucky enough to arrive when there is snow on the ground, it will be one of those life moments that changes your perspective on the universe. Nothing can quite prepare you for the sheer size, the magnificence or the grandeur of the snow scattered across the canyon, contrasting with those red rocks, creating a true winter wonderland. This was definitely one of my all-time favorite travel wow moments, even though it happened more than 25 years ago.
–Susan Lanier-Graham of Wander With Wonder
Congaree National Park, South Carolina
Just 20 minutes from downtown Columbia, SC is where biodiversity is alive at Congaree National Park. It is the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeast. Escape the bustling city and get lost in your thoughts amidst fresh air, cool waters, and old growth forest in next to no time flat. Come late May through mid-June, when locals flock to Congaree National Park to witness the rare phenomena of synchronized fireflies. For approximately two to four weeks each year, hundreds of lightning bugs blink in unison, turning the dark forest into a magical wonderland.
–Ava Roxanne Stritt of Spa Travel Gal
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
I have been to a great number of national parks; all are grand in their own way. However, there is something about the Grand Tetons that sets it apart from the other parks. Unlike the foothills of most mountains, the Grand Teton range is met by expansive land where the mountains abruptly rise more than 7,000 feet above the plain. The Tetons are rugged and breathtaking, with white peaks on display in dramatic fashion against the clear blue skies. Glacier-fed lakes are in abundance and so, too, is the peacefulness of the surrounding wilderness.
–Mike Shubic of Mike’s Road Trip
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park is easily one of my favorite national parks in the United States. The terrain here is unlike anywhere else in the nation with boiling hot springs and geysers spouting into the air. Not to mention the endless amount of things to do here including hiking, biking, fishing, camping, and more. While you are in Yellowstone, I recommend biking around to various geysers including the famous Old Faithful geyser and the lesser known Lone Star geyser. Hike to a waterfall or two – I suggest Lower and Upper Falls. And be sure to visit Mammoth Hot Springs!
–Meagan Wristen of MommyTravels
Shenandoah National Park, Washington D.C.
Shenandoah National Park is located just over an hour from Washington, D.C., but it feels a world away. Visitors to the park can enter through one of four access points from Fort Royal to Waynesboro, Virginia. Skyline Drive runs 105 miles through the park and offers 75 pull offs with views of the Shenandoah Valley on one side and rolling hills and grasslands on the other. The park has an abundance of wildlife, with black bears, deer, and wild turkey often making an appearance for visitors. Shenandoah Park offers over 500 miles of hiking trails, some that meet up with the Appalachian Trail or show off spectacular waterfalls. Don’t miss a stop at Skyland Resort, a historical lodge with delicious farm to table dining and spectacular sunset views.
–Kirsten Maxwell of Kids are a Trip
Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.