10 Greatest USA National Parks For Hiking
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
During spring and summer, millions of people flock to their nearest national park to get away from city life.
The United States is home to over 84 million acres of land dedicated solely to national parks.
With over 60 national parks across the country, choosing the best to visit can be confusing, not to mention time-consuming.
The Creme de la Creme of National Parks
To help you narrow your next vacation options down, I’ve made a list of the ten greatest US National Parks to hike in.
The following entries on this list are not arranged according to their level of greatness.
I’ll leave you to decide that for yourself.
1. Grand Canyon National Park: Home of the Immense Grand Canyon
Did you know that the Grand Canyon was formed by the Colorado River?
Through millions of years, the river slowly ate at the rock revealing nearly two billion years of the Earth’s geological history trapped in the red bands of rock.
Today the Grand Canyon is considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
Grand Canyon National Park is located in Arizona and is home to much of the Grand Canyon.
Most people enter the park through its south rim, located just 60 miles north of Williams, Arizona.
The best times to visit are March through May and September through November because daytime temperatures are relatively cooler and there are fewer crowds.
2. Acadia National Park: Scenic Beauty and Human History
Acadia National Park sprawls 47,000 acres across the Atlantic coast, primarily on Maine’s Mount Desert Island.
The park’s landscape consists of rocky beaches, woodland, and glacier-scoured granite peaks like the highest point on the US east coast, Cadillac Mountain. It’s common to see bears, moose, whales, and seabirds.
People often enter the park through the bayside town of Bar Harbor.
The best time to visit is between spring and fall, the latter lets you experience the park’s stunning fall foliage. Some people visit two weeks after labor day in September through mid-September before the leaf-peeping crowds show up.
3. Arches National Park: Home of Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch is a freestanding natural arch towering 52-feet tall.
It’s the most famous landmark in the park and is even depicted on Utah postage stamps and license plates. Called “the Chaps” and “the Schoolmarm’s Bloomers” by local cowboys, the arch is formed of Entrada sandstone through erosion and weathering.
The park itself is located north of Moab, Utah, and is bordered by the Colorado River in the southeast.
While Delicate Arch is the most famous of its arches, it’s just one of more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches found in Arches National Park.
The best times to visit are from April through May and September through October when daytime temperatures aren’t as hot.
4. Glacier National Park: Crown of the Continent Ecosystem
Glacier National Park is a wilderness area in Montana’s Rocky Mountains spanning 1,583 square miles.
The park is rife with glacier-carved peaks and valleys stretching to the Canadian border. The park also has over 130 named lakes which support over 1,000 species of plants and hundreds of animal species giving it the title of “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem”.
With over 700 miles of winding trails, the park attracts visitors from July through August — it’s peak season.
Don’t forget to pack a jacket or two as night time temperatures can drop to the 40s.
5. Yosemite National Park: Most-Visited National Park
Yosemite National Park is located in the western Sierra Nevada mountains and spans a whopping 748,436 acres sitting across the four counties of Tuolumne, Mariposa, Mono, and Madera.
Renowned for its old-growth giant sequoia trees and for Tunnel View which lets you take in the full splendor of Bridalveil Fall and the granite cliffs of Half Dome and El Capitan.
Known as California’s most-visited national park, it’s best to visit Yosemite in spring.
You can enjoy the picturesque landscape of the valley along with the wildflowers in full bloom before the summer crowds arrive.
6. Zion National Park: Unique Hiking Opportunities
Zion National Park is a nature preserve located in the southwest of Utah most renowned for Zion Canyon’s steep red cliffs.
While the park contains scenic forest trails along the Virgin River, it’s the opportunity to take the Zion Narrows wading hike that you should come for. The Zion Narrows are slot canyons 20 to 30 feet across formed through the eroding power of the river.
Needless to say, you won’t be keeping dry on this hike.
Zion National Park is typically crowded in spring through fall, May being the busiest month.
If you want to avoid the crowds, you may want to visit in December when the snow glistens on top of the towering cliffs — a perfect time to take photographs.
7. Rocky Mountain National Park: One of the First World Biosphere Reserves
Rocky Mountain National Park is located approximately 76 miles northwest of Denver International Airport.
It spans the Continental Divide and consists of alpine tundra, forest, and protected mountains (established by President Woodrow Wilson). UNESCO designated the park as one of the first World Biosphere Reserves in 1976.
Known for Trail Ridge Road and the Old Fall River Road, the park attracts visitors from summer to fall.
In 2018 alone, the park was visited by over 4.5 million people. If you want to avoid the crowds, you may want to visit between November and April.
8. Redwood National and State Parks: Home to Fern Canyon
This is one of my favorite places on Earth.
Redwood National and State Parks are a complex of multiple US national and state parks lying on the coast of northern California and spanning a total of 139,000 acres.
The park is most well-known for its majestic old-growth redwood groves that are related to trees living over 160 million years ago. Many of the park’s trees tower well over 300 feet and are hundreds, even thousands of years old.
The park has several notable trails like the Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail, the Tall Trees Trail, the Simpson-Reed Trail, and the Stout Memorial Grove Trail.
The best time to visit the park has to be in the summer when low rainfall and warmer temperatures create ideal hiking conditions.
9. Grand Teton National Park: Miles and Miles of Hiking Trails
Grand Teton National Park is located in northwestern Wyoming (just 10 miles south of Yellowstone) and spans approximately 310,000 acres.
The park is home to the major peaks of the 40-mile long Teton Range and the northern sections of the Jackson Hole.
It’s renowned for the spectacular views provided by the distinctive canyons penetrating the Tetons from the east and Cascade Canyon.
The flora and fauna in Grand Teton are pristine and can be traced back to prehistoric times.
If you want to visit the park’s 235 miles of trails, you should do so in September when fall unveils a burst of vibrant color in the surrounding foliage.
10. Yellowstone National Park: World-renowned Icon
Yellowstone National Park is also located in northwestern Wyoming and extends into Idaho and Montana.
Established by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, the park is known as the first national park in the US — some say even the world.
The park supports several biomes (including active geysers and hot springs) which in turn supports hundreds of species of flora and fauna, the same species encountered by the first American explorers.
If you want to avoid the crowds, visit the park between April and May and between September and October.
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To your next adventure!