USA: The Best National Parks for your Bucket List


The Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone: national parks are a wonderful combination of conservation and beauty, and the USA – with its wide ranging climate and geography – boasts an unparalleled range of incredible, hyperbolic national parks. In fact, there are over 400 in the States alone – here are our top picks for your bucket list, including Visit the USA’s top picks for an off-the-beaten-path experience. (Just make sure to book your National Park pass in advance to ensure entry!).

The Best National Parks in the USA to Add to Your Bucket List

Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Inside a dimly lit cave in Mammoth Cave National Park

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In south-central Kentucky, Mammoth Cave National Park protects the longest known cave system on Earth. With complex labyrinths and giant mammoth chambers, visitors can explore the 600km long caves on their own, or by taking one of the informative tours offered by park rangers. For those who’d rather keep their head above the surface, there’s lots to explore above ground, too, including hiking trails through the impressively diverse nature and along the two rivers that run through the park. 

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand canyon at sunrise with river Colorado

Perhaps the USA’s most famous national park, and for good reason. 446 km long, up to 29 km wide, and over 1,800 metres deep, the Grand Canyon is a hyperbolic – almost incomprehensible – natural landscape carved by the Colorado River over 5 billion years ago. Visitors can lodge and camp, embark on guided hikes, and you can even get married there if you really want the most dramatic wedding ceremony ever.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

Soft light at sunrise illuminating the sand dunes at White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

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In the middle of the New Mexico desert, a sea of white sand rises, glittering from the heart of the Tularosa Basin. The otherworldly White Sands landscape formed the bottom of a shallow sea that covered the region 250 million years ago, and the dunes still move at a rate of up to nine metres per year. Visit for hyperbolic views, sand-sledding and sunset strolls – but be warned, temperatures can exceed 40°C.

The Rocky Mountains, Colorado

Longs Peak and Glacier Gorge reflecting in blue Bear Lake on a calm Summer morning, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA.

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This major mountain range is one of the US’s most famous, and a classic example of the country’s wide-ranging landscapes. From wooded forest to alpine tundra, the National Park itself spans a range of environments, and visitors can explore a spectacular range of vistas in the 415 square mile space. Visitors can camp, backpack and view wildlife, with opportunities for large groups and families, too.

North Cascades National Park, Washington State

Medicinal homeopathic plant. North Cascades National Park. Washington. USA

To experience pure wilderness, head to North Cascades, a park covering more than 2000 square kilometres in the high mountains of Cascade Range. Truly off the beaten path, it is the least visited national park in the US outside of Alaska – but that doesn’t make the views any less incredible. In fact, more than three hundred glaciers can be discovered by foot, and travellers can enjoy a host of activities in the park including fishing, boating, horseback riding and camping.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho

Castle Geyser erupting in Yellowstone in strong back light.

The world’s first national park – declared in 1872 – Yellowstone National Park spans an area of almost 3500 square miles, comprising lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountain ranges, and is known for its hydrothermal and geologic features. Visitors can camp or lodge, boat or drive, and there is a vast range of wildlife living in the park, too. 

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park - Wetherill Mesa - Long House View Into the Past

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West of the Rocky Mountains, on the densely forested Colorado Plateau, lies Mesa Verde National Park (Spanish for ‘green table’), the US’s most culturally and historically significant national park. Over 4,000 archaeological sites provide a glimpse into the culture of the early Pueblo Indians, who lived in southwestern Colorado for more than 700 years. Take a guided tour to learn more about their history, hike to vantage points for panoramic views of the desert landscape, or stay in the evening for stargazing opportunities.

Isle Royal National Park, Michigan

The National Park Service Vessel Ranger III at the dock at Rock Harbor in Isle Royale National Park, Lake Superior, Michigan, USA.

Spanning several islands across Lake Superior and only accessible by boat or floatplane, this remote island is characterised by dense forests, pristine lakes, cool caves, and its fauna, which includes wolves, beavers, foxes and moose. Hikers are likely to encounter roaming wild animals, but should also keep an eye out for chlorastrolite deposits – striking green semi-precious stones. The 69 km Greenstone Ridge Trail traverses the ridge that bears the island’s name, and takes an average of 16 hours to complete, but can be enjoyed in both shorter and longer hiking stints.

National Park of American Samoa

Si'u Point Trail, Ta'u Island, National Park of American Samoa

Located in the South Pacific Ocean, American Samoa is a U.S. territory and home to one of the most idyllic national parks in the US. Although the journey there is long, it’s worth it. Covered in sandy beaches, stunning rainforests, archaeological sites and hiking trails through Lata Mountain, the park boasts some of the most untouched landscapes left anywhere in the world.  Perfect snorkelling conditions await with a pristine coral area home to more than 800 species of fish, or visitors can take a boat to Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Featured image: The Rocky Mountains, courtesy of Getty


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