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America has the finest national park system in the world. Given the incentive to travel locally at the moment, there has never been a better time to visit a national park.
But which parks should you visit first? That’s the big question and one that we hope that our picks for the best US national parks list will answer.
We’ve split the 12 into the six best overall, three best for camping and the three best for birding. Enjoy!
Yosemite | Near Universal Agreement
It’s the most visited park in America for a good reason. Yosemite in California is one of the most picturesque and impressive parks there is.
You can see amazing falls (like Vernal and Bradlveil).
There are granite rock formations that will blow your mind (Half Dome and El Capitan, for example).
Most of all there’s the view over Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View Outlook that cannot be equaled in nature.
Don’t miss it.
Yellowstone | The First And Still One Of The Best
Yellowstone is the reason that America has national parks.
It was the first and it remains one of the greatest.
Covering over 2.2 million acres, if you can’t find something to marvel at in Yellowstone, you’re not trying very hard.
The geysers and hot springs are the top attractions.
But the mountains, lakes and buffalo all keep your attention too.
Glacier National Park | UNESCO Seal Of Approval
The Glacier National Park is also a UNESCO world heritage site and it’s one of the country’s most striking hiking parks.
You have more than 700 lakes and two mountain ranges to roam and wherever you go, you’ll see wonders galore.
We love the Iceberg Lake Trail and the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park is very much worth your time too.
Grand Canyon | Iconic Is Iconic For A Reason
If you asked any visitor to America what the most iconic natural feature was, they wouldn’t hesitate to name the Grand Canyon.
The park is huge and covers over 18 x 277 miles!
It’s also a world heritage site and you’ll never get bored of hiking the trails here.
We’d also recommend visiting the North Rim if you want to avoid the crowds and just drink in the natural beauty of it all.
Zion National Park | The Jewel Of Utah
If you like to drive rather than hike, then the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive might be your cup of tea.
However, if you love to hike then a 10-mile trip through The Narrows is a unmissable highlight at this Utah’s finest natural wonder.
Don’t miss Angel’s Landing and it’s 1,500-foot-high natural staircase, either.
Grand Teton National Park | A Truly Wild Wonderland
You could spend a happy lifetime wandering the 200 miles of trails in this incredible park.
The big draw is the snow-capped peaks that are the highlights of the Grand Teton mountains.
However, there’s much more to this park than peaks and you’ll instantly see why this area drew so many early American settlers.
It’s absolutely stunning.
3 Best National Parks For Camping
If you want to enjoy a bit of camping when you visit a national park, why not visit a park that’s known for its amazing campsite(s)?
You might also want to check out our guide to pop up campers, which offers the perfect way to camp.
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah: The Fruita Campground
Fruita Campground is a jewel in the crown of this wonderful desert park of rolling canyons and cliffs carved from the reddest of rock.
It’s green and fertile with orchards offering shade.
You can get access to fire pits, running water, grills, flushing toilets and more too.
You’ll need to reserve a slot in peak season.
Denali National Park, Alaska: Wonder Lake Campground
We love going to Wonder Lake Campground.
It’s a touch on the primitive side but that makes it feel like being a real explorer rather than a coddled tourist.
The compensation for the minor hardships it brings is the best view of wildlife and North America’s tallest mountain.
Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado: Pinon Flats
Pinon Flats, on the other hand, is set in among the sand dunes but has no sand in sight.
It’s surrounded by cottonwoods and conifers and remains delightfully cool even in mid-summer.
Picnic tables, fire pits, flushing toilets, etc. are the order of the day here.
The Top Three Best National Parks For Birdwatching
Birders can grab a camera and their bins (check out our guides to the best birding cameras and the best binoculars here) and visit a national park to bask in the amazing variety of bird species they bring.
Point Reyes National Seashore, California | 400+ Bird Species
If you love birds, then there’s no better park in the country than Point Reyes in California.
Much of this is due to the incredibly varied habitats that it provides the 405 species that make their home there.
There’s also the fact that it’s on a peninsula which entices coastal birds to stop on their way from one place to another.
Don’t miss the American Kestrel here.
Gateway National Recreation Area, New York | 375 Species
The big draw here is the Least Tern but there are plenty of other species to see if there’s not one around.
You’ve only got to travel a few miles from Central Park (where the local birders boast of the “Central Park Effect” bringing in migrating birds) to get the best of New York’s bird life.
The shoreline habitat combined with marshy areas helps keep it super attractive to America’s birds.
Big Bend National Park, Texas: 360 Species
We’d advise keeping your eyes open for the Colima Warbler in Big Bend.
The park’s position on the Mexican border means it gets many Central American visitors that you simply can’t see anywhere else in the country.
And the Colima Warbler is the star of the show.
Last Word on National Parks
America’s National Parks are the nation’s greatest resource. We hope that you’ve found one you want to visit on our picks for the best US national parks list.
Everyone should visit them and given the current conditions for travel, there’s never been a better time to stay local and enjoy your heritage!