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Best u.s. national parks for 2023.

For more than 150 years, the National Park Service has managed millions of acres solely for the "enjoyment, education and inspiration of this and future generations." Today, 63 national parks in the United States draw millions of visitors a year to witness jaw-dropping natural wonders and unforgettable terrains. To determine the best U.S. national parks, U.S. News considered the opinions of both travel experts and recent park visitors. Do you have a favorite park? Cast your vote below.  (Note: Some of the below destinations require reservations for timed entry. Plan ahead to ensure you can visit on your preferred date.)

Glacier National Park

Grand canyon national park, yellowstone national park, yosemite national park, zion national park, grand teton national park, olympic national park, arches national park, bryce canyon national park, sequoia national park, rocky mountain national park, hawai'i volcanoes national park, crater lake national park, acadia national park, great smoky mountains national park.

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Considered one of the world's best places to visit , Glacier National Park spans two mountain ranges and includes more than 700 lakes across Montana. Take advantage of the park's expansive hiking trails, and be sure to hit traveler favorites like the Trail of the Cedars and Iceberg Lake Trail. Other activities include a ride along the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Road and a trip to the unique Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Canadian border. What's more, Glacier National Park hosts plenty of free ranger-led activities like guided hikes and stargazing events ideal for visitors of all ages.

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The Grand Canyon is so magnificent that even the highest quality photos don't do the Arizona park's vast beauty justice – you just have to see it in person. The 18-by-277-mile UNESCO World Heritage Site offers endless hiking opportunities with trails of various lengths and degrees of difficulty, as well as the chance to raft the Colorado River. For a slight break from the tourist crowds, head to the less-crowded North Rim. And if you're looking for a different vantage point, consider a helicopter tour to learn more about Grand Canyon National Park and see it in all its glory from above.

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Even if Yellowstone didn't hold the incredible distinction of being the world's first national park, the 2.2 million-acre park, which stretches across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, could easily stand on its own for its unique natural attractions and magnificent landscapes . Here, travelers can get lost in the splendor of Yellowstone's many lakes, mountains, bison-filled valleys and, of course, its unmatched hot springs and active geysers (of which the park boasts more than half of the world's supply). To avoid the crowds that often plague Yellowstone, plan to visit in April, May, September or October.

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One of California's most-visited national parks, Yosemite National Park stands out for its bevy of impressive waterfalls, such as Vernal Fall and Bridalveil Fall, as well as its unique granite rock formations like Half Dome and El Capitan. There are also ample scenic hiking and camping opportunities; just keep in mind that campsites sell out quickly after becoming available for booking, so make your reservations in advance. Whatever your itinerary may be, make sure to stop by the Tunnel View overlook, which offers showstopping panoramas of Yosemite Valley. What's more, the picturesque lookout spot is relatively easy to access (no hiking is required).

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Utah's Zion National Park is a paradise for thrill-seekers. Hike Angels Landing, which brings you up through a nearly 1,500-foot natural staircase (permits are required to hike this popular trail and are awarded through an online lottery system). You can also trek The Narrows, a roughly 10-mile hike through the thinnest section of Zion Canyon, which requires hikers to travel upstream through the Virgin River. For a less strenuous exploration of the park, join a shuttle bus tour to traverse the nearly 60-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which takes you past many of the park's most famous landmarks.

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Jackson Hole's backcountry is a wild wonderland begging to be explored. Once home to ranchers and fur trappers, this Wyoming park now offers more than 250 miles of trails that weave past prairies, lakes and the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the Grand Teton mountain range. The Cascade Canyon Trail – which takes travelers past waterfalls, glacier-carved canyons and more – shows off the best of Grand Teton National Park's stunning topography. Don't forget to stop by the Craig Thomas Discovery & Visitor Center to stock up on maps, check out its informational exhibits and watch the interesting documentary film about the park.

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Among the nearly 1 million acres that make up Olympic National Park, visitors can wander through the enchanting Hoh Rainforest, trek to stunning overlooks and relax on more than 70 miles of Pacific Northwest coastline. One of North America's top hiking destinations , this Washington state gem features top trails like Mount Storm King and the Hall of Mosses. However, you will also want to save time for trying out one of Olympic National Park's other popular activities, which range from canoeing on Lake Crescent to birdwatching on Kalaloch and Ruby Beach.

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Established in 1929, Arches National Park covers nearly 77,000 acres in eastern Utah. Oddly shaped sandstone monuments occupy every view, and the formations make the park an excellent place for backpackers, rock climbers and hikers, not to mention photographers. Visitors will find a whopping 2,000-plus arches in the park – the world's densest concentration of these natural structures. The most popular to see are Landscape Arch, Delicate Arch and Double Arch. Plus, travelers will want to check out the visitor center, which features a wealth of information and exhibits outlining Arches National Park's history, geology and more.

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Hoodoos are odd-shaped pillars of rock left standing from forces of erosion, and Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the most extensive collection of hoodoos in the world. Located in southern Utah, the nearly 36,000-acre park offers an array of hiking opportunities. All trails offer a glimpse of the impressive red rock formations; visitors can also sign up for guided horseback riding tours. While Bryce Canyon is most popular in summer, the park's stark white snow-covered landscape juxtaposed with the orange-red rocks is an unforgettable sight. Winter is also a prime time for activities such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

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Sequoia National Park is defined by its beautiful, towering sequoia trees – the largest trees in the world. Travelers can hike through this unique California national park to admire its trees, rivers, meadows and wildlife. A visit here is not complete without seeing the Giant Forest's General Sherman Tree, which measures 275 feet tall and more than 36 feet in diameter, making it the world's largest tree by volume. After you ogle the truly impressive evergreens, try some other adventurous activities like rock climbing, horseback riding or fishing.

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The Rockies earn plenty of points for their convenience. Sitting about 70 miles northwest of Denver, Rocky Mountain National Park makes for an easy daytrip. However, you could also spend days exploring this Colorado park. The Rockies' magnificent landscape is one for the books, featuring more than 350 miles of scenic trails, plenty of lakes and numerous mountain peaks taller than 10,000 feet. If you're short on time, Emerald Lake Trail is a popular trek that's less than 5 miles round trip and promises spectacular alpine views. If you'd rather skip the hiking, opt instead for an auto tour of Trail Ridge Road.

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Visit Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park for a chance to get up close and personal with two of the world's most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and K?lauea. The latter continually erupts, which visitors can witness from multiple points in the park, including Crater Rim Drive and the famous Chain of Craters Road. While driving along Chain of Craters Road, set aside time to stop at the Kealakomo Overlook. The scenic lookout offers expansive views of the Pacific Ocean and the ancient village of Kealakomo.

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Whether you're enjoying a scenic drive along 33-mile Rim Drive, working up a sweat on a bike ride or exploring America's deepest lake on a boat tour, you'll find plenty of ways to fill your time in this Oregon national park. Born from the massive eruption of Mount Mazama nearly 8,000 years ago, Crater Lake is almost entirely fed by snow and rainfall, making it one of the clearest lakes in the world. Must-see sights here include Rim Village, Toketee Falls and Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone situated in the middle of Crater Lake.  

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Considered the "crown jewel of the North Atlantic coast," and undoubtedly the state's top tourist attraction , Acadia National Park boasts nearly 160 miles of hiking trails on Maine's Mount Desert Island. If you're not up for the challenge of hiking Precipice Trail, which forces climbers to scramble up the side of Champlain Mountain, you'll find plenty of less strenuous sightseeing opportunities throughout the park. If you're not much of a hiker, drive along the 27-mile Park Loop Road or take a walk or bike ride along the 45 miles of Carriage Roads that run through Acadia National Park.

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Stretching across 500,000-plus acres in North Carolina and Tennessee, Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers ample opportunities for wildlife-viewing and hiking, including the popular Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail and Chimney Tops Trail. The mountains are also home to more than 1,500 types of plants and flowers, which visitors can see in the spring when the national park hosts a festival of programs and guided hikes to see the blooms. Meanwhile, those interested in a fall visit will be greeted with colorful foliage among the trees that line the hiking trails.

Vote to Add these Destinations to the Rankings

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Capitol Reef National Park

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Shenandoah National Park

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Mount Rainier National Park

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Denali National Park and Preserve

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Redwood National and State Parks

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Voyageurs National Park

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Dry Tortugas National Park

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Kenai Fjords National Park

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From Acadia to Zion: A complete guide to all 63 national parks in the United States

Mar 4, 2022 • 26 min read

View of the Yosemite Valley National Park with a huge waterfall

Yosemite National Park might just be the crown jewel of all 61 US national parks © Daniel Gonzalez / Getty Images

For almost a hundred and fifty years, the United States' national parks have been inspiring visitors.

Comprising a collection of stunningly diverse landscapes, from active volcanoes spewing lava to  crystalline glaciers creeping down snow-covered peaks to eerie deserts that look like someone pulled the bathtub stopper on an ancient ocean, US national parks have captured the imagination of millions of park-goers.

Full of history – both geologic, Indigenous  and more recent – and featuring trails that range from ADA-accessible boardwalks to challenging treks that test the hardiest of outdoor athletes, America's national parks are at once culturally significant, approachable and wild.

Want to learn more about national parks in the United States? Here’s a quick look at each one, with links where you can learn more about these incredibly diverse landscapes.

Just looking for the best of the best? Check out our roundup of top experiences in America's national parks .

Bass Harbor Lighthouse at sunset, in Acadia National Park, Maine

1. Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park  is the only national park in New England encompasses an unspoiled wilderness of undulating coastal mountains, towering sea cliffs, surf-pounding beaches and quiet ponds.

State: Maine Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Beaches, Cycling, Walking Read more:  Acadia National Park is introducing a timed reservation system for visitors Buy the guide:  Maine & Acadia National Park

Glowing Arch

2. Arches National Park

Giant sweeping arcs of sandstone frame snowy peaks and desert landscapes; explore the park’s namesake formations in a red-rock wonderland.

State: Utah Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Family Travel, Photo Op, Walking Read more:  17 top adventures in and around mighty Moab Buy the guide:  Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks

Scenic View Of Layered Badlands

3. Badlands National Park

It's easy to understand why the Lakota named this place  mako   sica  (badland) when you look over the rainbow-hued canyons and buttes that sit like an ocean boiled dry.

State: South Dakota Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Scenery, Wildlife, Cycling Read more:  South Dakota's best scenic drives Buy the guide:  Western USA travel guidebook

Mule Ears Peaks at sunset, Chihuahuan Desert in Big Bend National Park, Texas, USA

4. Big Bend National Park

From the moment you enter the national park, there's spectacular scenery everywhere you look. Head to the Chisos Basin for the most dramatic landscape, but any visit should also include time in the  Chihuahuan Desert , home to curious creatures and adaptable plants and down along the  Rio Grande , the watery dividing line between the US and Mexico .

State: Texas Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Wildlife, Walking, Scenery Read more:  Welcome to the West: discovering Texas' best national parks and reserves Buy the guide:  Texas travel guide

Boca Chita Key Lighthouse

5. Biscayne National Park

A portion of the world’s third-largest reef sits here off the coast of Florida, along with mangrove forests and the northernmost Florida Keys. This is some of the best reef viewing and snorkeling you’ll find in the USA, outside Hawaii and nearby Key Largo .

State: Florida Entrance Fee: Free Great for: Family Travel, Wildlife, Scenery Read more:  Aquatic thrills in coastal Florida Buy the guide:  Florida travel guide

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado, USA

6. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Here a dark, narrow gash above the Gunnison River leads down a 2000ft chasm as eerie as it is spectacular. In just 48 canyon miles, the Gunnison River loses more elevation than the entire 1500-mile Mississippi. No other canyon in America combines the narrow openings, sheer walls and dizzying depths of the Black Canyon.

State: Colorado Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Family Travel, Scenery, Walking Read more:  Where to find the USA's 12 newest national parks Buy the guide:  Colorado travel guide

Dawn over Bryce Canyon

7. Bryce Canyon National Park

Famous for its otherworldly sunset-colored spires punctuated by tracts of evergreen forest, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the planet's most exquisite geological wonders. Repeated freezes and thaws have eroded the small park's soft sandstone and limestone into sandcastle-like pinnacles known as hoodoos, jutted fins and huge amphitheaters filled with thousands of pastel daggers.

State: Utah Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35 Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Scenery Read more:  Utah's best national parks Buy the guide:  Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks

Inside Mesa Arch at Sunrise

8. Canyonlands National Park

A forbidding and beautiful maze of red-rock fins, bridges, needles, spires, craters, mesas and buttes, Canyonlands is a crumbling, decaying beauty – a vision of ancient earth.

State: Utah Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Cycling, Scenery, Walking Read more:  How to get around Moab, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks Buy the guide:  Southwest USA travel guide

Starry sky over butte in Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey, Utah, USA

9. Capitol Reef National Park

Giant slabs of chocolate-red rock and sweeping yellow sandstone domes dominate the landscape of Capitol Reef , which Indigenous Freemont people called the ‘Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.’

State: Utah Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20 Great for: Walking, Photo Op, Scenery Read more:  Best outdoor activities in southern Utah Buy the guide:  Southwest USA's Best Trips


10. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Scores of wondrous caves hide under the hills at this unique national park. The cavern formations are an ethereal wonderland of stalactites and fantastical geological features.

State: New Mexico Entrance Fee: 3-day pass per adult/child, $15/free Great for: Family Travel, Photo Op, Scenery  Read more:   See the Southwest USA's most iconic landscapes on this epic road trip Buy the guide:  Southwest USA travel guide

Family Fun

11. Channel Islands National Park

Tossed like lost pearls off the coast, the Channel Islands are California’s last outpost of civilization; the islands have earned themselves the nickname ‘California’s Galápagos ’.

State: California Entrance Fee: Free Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Beaches Read more:  A quick guide to California's Channel Islands Buy the guide:  Coastal California travel guide

Congaree National Park

12. Congaree National Park

Encompassing nearly 27,000 acres, Congaree National Park is the largest expanse of old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern US. The lush trees growing here are some of the tallest in the eastern USA, forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies left in the world.

State: South Carolina Entrance Fee: Free Great for: Wildlife, Family Travel, Walking  Read more:  Coastal leaving: the inland water adventures of South Carolina Buy the guide:  Georgia & the Carolinas travel guide

View of a snow covered island in Crater Lake, Oregon.

13. Crater Lake National Park

Despite the name,  Crater Lake  was formed not by an impact from outer space, but from a volcanic eruption so big it blew the top off this mountain almost 8000 years ago. The caldera has since filled with rain and snowmelt, creating a stunningly blue, pure lake – the deepest in the United States at 1943ft to the bottom.

State: Oregon Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle, $20 in the winter, $30 in the summer Great for: Family Travel, Photo Op, Scenery  Read more:  The 25 best hikes in Oregon past mountains, waterfalls and dunes Buy the guide:  Washington, Oregon & the Pacific Northwest travel guide

Blue Hen Falls, Cuyahoga National Park, Ohio

14. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Like a great, cold snake, the Cuyahoga River worms over a forested valley, earning its Native American name of 'crooked river' (or possibly 'place of the jawbone'). Either name is evocative and hints at the mystical beauty that Ohio's only national park.

State: Ohio Entrance fee: Free Great for: Cycling, Family Travel, Walking  Read more:  Where to find the USA's 12 newest national parks Buy the guide:  E astern USA Travel Guide

Teakettle Junction in Death Valley National Park, California

15. Death Valley National Park

In  Death Valley , nature is putting on a truly spectacular show: singing sand dunes, water-sculpted canyons, boulders moving across the desert floor, extinct volcanic craters, palm-shaded oases, stark mountains rising to 11,000ft and plenty of endemic wildlife. This is a land of superlatives, holding the US records for hottest temperature (134°F/57°C), lowest point ( Badwater , 282ft below sea level) and largest national park outside Alaska (more than 5000 sq miles).

State: California Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Scenery, Walking, Wildlife  Read more: Stay in a luxury 'oasis' in California's Death Valley Buy the guide:  Los Angeles, San Diego & Southern California travel guide

500px Photo ID: 123806719 - Denali: the highest peak on the North American Continent on a stormy day.

16. Denali National Park

Denali , once known as Mt McKinley and to native Athabascans as the Great One, is North America’s highest peak, rightly celebrated as an icon of all that is awesome and wild in a state where those adjectives are ubiquitous. Here, you can peer at a grizzly bear, moose, caribou or even wolves, or trek into 6 million acres of tundra, boreal forest and ice-capped mountains – a space larger than Massachusetts .

State: Alaska Entrance fee: 7-day pass per adult/child; $15/free Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Walking  Read more:  The last wild west: Alaska's Denali National Park Buy the guide:  Alaska travel guide

Fort on the ocean

17. Dry Tortugas National Park

Ponce de León named them Las Tortugas (The Turtles) for the sea turtles that roamed here. A lack of freshwater led sailors to add a ‘dry.’ Today the  Dry Tortugas  are a national park accessible only by boat or plane. The sparkling waters offer excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities. Stargazing is mind-blowing any time of the year.

State: Florida Entrance fee: 7-day pass per person $15 Great for: History, Photo Op, Scenery, Diving  Read more:  Land the perfect outdoor adventure in The Florida Keys Buy the guide:  Florida travel guide

Sunset at Pa-Hay-Okee Overlook, Everglades National Park, Florida

18. Everglades National Park

Called the ‘River of Grass’ by Native American inhabitants, this is not just a wetland, or a swamp, or a lake, or a river, or a prairie, or a grassland – it is all of those, twisted together into a series of soft horizons, long vistas, sunsets that stretch across your entire field of vision and the toothy grins of a healthy population of dinosaur-era reptiles.

State: Florida Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Family Travel, Wildlife, Winter Travel  Read more:  Three sustainable ways to experience the Everglades Buy the guide:  Florida travel guide

Morning aerial view of the Alatna River in Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, Arctic Alaska, Winter

19. Gates of the Arctic National Park

Unchanged in four millennia, this massive preserved space protects a contiguous wilderness that stretches for over 27,000 sq miles – the equivalent of nearly two Switzerlands – harboring no roads, no cell-phone coverage and a population of precisely zero.

State: Alaska Entrance fee: Free Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Scenery  Read more:  Top 8 road trips in Alaska Buy the guide:  Alaska travel guide

Gateway Arch across the reflection pool

20. Gateway Arch National Park

Gateway Arch may be one of the smallest national parks in the US (and one of the only urban parks), but its main attraction, the Gateway Arch, is the largest manmade monument in the US. It stands 630ft high and symbolizes St Louis' historical role as 'Gateway to the West.'

State: Missouri Entrance fee: to enter the monument, adult/child, $3/free; tramp to the top adult/child, from $11/$15 Great for: History, Family Travel, Photo Op  Read more:  Museums and more in Missouri: art, history and culture in St Louis and beyond Buy the guide:  USA travel guide


21. Glacier Bay National Park

Seven tidewater glaciers spill out of the mountains and fill the sea with icebergs of all shapes, sizes and shades of blue, making Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve an icy wilderness renowned worldwide.

State: Alaska Entrance fee: Free Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Scenery  Read more:  Introducing Alaska’s national parks Buy the guide:  Alaska travel guide


22. Glacier National Park

The glacially carved remnants of an ancient thrust fault have left us a brilliant landscape of towering snowcapped pinnacles laced with plunging waterfalls and glassy turquoise lakes. The mountains are surrounded by dense forests, which host a virtually intact pre-Columbian ecosystem where grizzly bears still roam in abundance.

State: Montana Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35 Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Walking  Read more:  Why you should take the train to Glacier National Park Buy the guide:  Banff, Jasper and Glacier National Parks

Sunset at Desert View Point, Grand Canyon National Park

23. Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon embodies the scale and splendor of the American West, captured in dramatic vistas, dusty trails and stories of exploration, preservation and exploitation. Ancestral Puebloans lived in and near the Grand Canyon for centuries, and their stories echo in the reds, rusts and oranges of the canyon walls and the park's spires and buttes.

State: Arizona Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35 Great for: Scenery, Family Travel, Walking  Read more:  Grand Canyon National Park is geological and human history writ large Buy the guide:  Grand Canyon National Park guidebook


24. Grand Teton National Park

Some 12 imposing glacier-carved summits frame the singular Grand Teton (13,775ft). And while the view is breathtaking from the valley floor, it only gets more impressive on the trail. This wilderness is home to bear, moose and elk in number and played a fundamental role in the history of American alpine climbing.

State: Wyoming Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35 Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Winter Travel  Read more:  5 US ski towns you can enjoy without hitting the slopes Buy the guide: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks guidebook


25. Great Basin National Park

Rising abruptly from the desert, and dominating Great Basin National Park , 13,063ft Wheeler Peak creates an awesome range of life zones and landscapes, including the richly decorated  Lehman Caves , glacial lakes and ancient bristlecone pines.

State: Nevada Entrance fee: Free Great for: Photo Op, Scenery, Walking  Read more:  What it's like to hike among 5000-year-old trees Buy the guide: Southwest USA travel guide

Sand dunes and mountain peaks. Great Sand Dune National Park, Alamosa, Colorado.

26. Great Sand Dunes National Park

For all of Colorado’s striking natural sights, the surreal  Great Sand Dunes National Park , a veritable sea of sand bounded by jagged peaks and scrubby plains, is a place of stirring optical illusions where nature’s magic is on full display.

State: Colorado Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25 Great for: Cycling, Family Travel, Walking  Read more:  Introducing Colorado's National Parks Buy the guide:  Colorado travel guide


27. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The sun-dappled forests of the Great Smoky Mountains are a four-season wonderland, from spring's wildflowers to summer's flame azaleas to autumn's quilted hues of orange, burgundy and saffron blanketing the mountain slopes and winter's ice-fringed cascades. This mesmerizing backdrop is also a Unesco World Heritage Site, harboring more biodiversity than any other national park in America.

State: North Carolina & Tennessee Entrance fee: Free Great for: History, Wildlife, Walking  Read more: First-timer's guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park Buy the guide:  Great Smoky Mountains National Park guidebook

El Capitan, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

28. Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a Texas high spot, both literally and figuratively. At 8749ft, Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in the Lone Star State. More than half the park is a designated wilderness area, and the park service has curbed development to keep it wild. With no paved roads within the park proper, you're going to have to hike to see its high-country splendor.

State: Texas Entrance fee: 7-day pass per adult/child, $10/free Great for: Scenery, Walking, History  Read more:  See the Southwest USA's most iconic landscapes on this epic road trip Buy the guide:  Texas travel guide


29. Haleakalā National Park

To fully experience Maui – or at least peer into its soul – make your way to the summit of Haleakalā . Like a yawning mouth, the huge crater opens beneath you, in all its raw volcanic glory, caressed by mist and, in the experience of a lifetime, bathed in the early light of sunrise.

State: Hawaii Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Walking  Read more:  Top 10 Maui travel experiences Buy the guide:  M aui travel guide

Hawaii, Big Island, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, tourists standing on lava field

30. Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

From the often-snowy summit of Mauna Loa , the world's most massive volcano, to the boiling coast where lava pours into the sea, is a micro-continent of thriving rainforests, volcano-induced deserts, high-mountain meadows, coastal plains and plenty of geological marvels in between.

State: Hawaii Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Family Travel, Photo Op, Scenery  Read more:  Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is still a hot destination Buy the guide:  Hawai'i the Big Island guidebook

Image made at Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, in early May of 2017.

31. Hot Springs National Park

The healing waters the town is named for have been attracting everyone from Native Americans – for centuries – and early-20th-century health nuts, to a good chunk of the nation's organized-crime leadership. Today the appeal of Hot Springs is less the actual springs than the elaborate, restored Bathhouse Row, which sits behind swaths of shady magnolias.

State: Arkansas Entrance fee: Free Great for: Family Travel, History, Scenery  Read more:  This US national park is full of hot springs - and it's turning 100 years old Buy the guide: Eastern USA guidebook

View of Lake Michigan over the dunes at Indiana Dunes National Park

32. Indiana Dunes National Park

In addition to being home to America's newest national park, sunny beaches, rustling grasses and woodsy campgrounds are the Indiana Dunes’ claim to fame. In addition to its beaches, the area is noted for its biodiversity, hosting over 2000 species of plants and birds.

State: Indiana Entrance fee: West Beach $6.00 per vehicle per day; Dunewood Campground $25 per night Great for: Beaches, Wildlife, Scenery  Read more:  Where to find the USA's 12 newest national parks Buy the guide: Eastern USA guidebook

Rock Harbor Lighthouse, Isle Royale National Park

33. Isle Royale National Park

The island is laced with 165 miles of hiking trails that connect dozens of campgrounds along Superior and inland lakes. Totally free of vehicles and roads, Isle Royale National Park gets fewer visitors in a year than Yellowstone National Park gets in a day, which means the 2000 moose roaming through the forest are all yours.

State: Michigan Entrance fee: 1-day pass per person $7 Great for: Scenery, Wildlife, Walking Read more:  Experience the Great Lakes on one epic road trip Buy the guide:  Eastern USA guidebook

Male boulderer moving up boulder in Joshua Tree National Park at dusk, California, USA

34. Joshua Tree National Park

This 794,000-acre  park  at the transition zone of two deserts: the low and dry Colorado and the higher, moister and slightly cooler Mojave. Rock climbers know ‘ JT ’ as the best place to climb in California; hikers seek out hidden, shady, desert-fan-palm oases fed by natural springs and small streams; and mountain bikers are hypnotized by the desert vistas.

State: California Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Cycling, Scenery, Wildlife  Read more:  Getting to know Joshua Tree National Park Buy the guide:  Los Angeles, San Diego & Southern California travel guide


35. Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park & Preserve  is famous for its wildlife, epic sport-fishing potential and unusual volcanic landscapes. Unconnected to the main Alaskan road network and covering an area the size of Wales , a visit here is a once-in-a-lifetime experience with a chance to stand spine-tinglingly close to formidable 1000lb brown bears pawing giant salmon out of the river.

State: Alaska Entrance fee: Free Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Scenery  Read more:  National Parks: The best free things to do in the US parks Buy the guide:  Alaska travel guide

One man on stand up paddle board (SUP) paddles past hole melted in iceberg on Bear Lake in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska.

36. Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park  was created in 1980 to protect 587,000 acres of Alaska’s most awesome, impenetrable wilderness. Crowning the park is the massive Harding Ice Field ; from it, countless tidewater glaciers pour down, carving the coast into dizzying fjords.

State: Alaska Entrance fee: Free Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Scenery  Read more: Experiencing Alaska's glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park Buy the guide:  Alaska travel guide

Kings Canyon National Park

37. Kings Canyon National Park

With a dramatic cleft deeper than the Grand Canyon , rugged Kings Canyon offers true adventure to those who crave seemingly endless verdant trails, rushing streams and gargantuan rock formations. Here you'll find General Grant , the second-largest tree in the world, as well as peaks over 14,000 feet high and some of the most dramatic scenery in California.

State: California Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35 Great for: Family Travel, Wildlife, Walking  Read more:  The best of California's amazing hikes Buy the guide:  Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Caribou bulls swimming across Kobuk River Arctic Alaska Autumn Kobuk Valley National Park

38. Kobuk Valley National Parks

Kobuk Valley National Park has a desolate, severe beauty and is best known for its Arctic sand dunes – like a Saharan desert in the midst of the tundra – and migrating caribou.

State: Alaska Entrance fee: Free Great for: Backcountry hiking and camping, boating, flightseeing Read more:  Introducing Alaska’s national parks Buy the guide:  Alaska travel guide

Sow Grizzly and three cubs walking along the shore of Crescent Lake, Lake Clark National Park, Southcentral Alaska, Autumn

39. Lake Clark National Park & Preserve

Lake Clark National Park & Preserve  has an awesome array of tundra-covered hills, mountains, glaciers, coastline, the largest lakes in the state and two active volcanoes.

State: Alaska Entrance fee: Free Great for: Wildlife, Walking, Scenery  Read more:  Introducing Alaska’s national parks Buy the guide:  Alaska travel guide

Landscape of Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, USA

40. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Anchoring the southernmost link in the Cascades’ chain of volcanoes, this alien landscape bubbles over with roiling mud pots, noxious sulfur vents, steamy fumaroles, colorful cinder cones and crater lakes.

State: California Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($10 in winter) Great for: Photo Op, Scenery, Walking  Read more:  Four scenic trips on four wheels in Northern California Buy the guide:  Northern California travel guide


41. Mammoth Cave National Park

Home to the longest cave system on earth, Mammoth Cave National Park has more than 400 miles of surveyed passageways. Mammoth is at least three times longer than any other known cave, with vast interior cathedrals, bottomless pits and strange, undulating rock formations. Guided tours delve into the spookily beautiful underworld.

State: Kentucky Entrance fee: Free; cave tours $6-60 Great for: Walking, Family Travel, Scenery  Read more:  The complete guide to Mammoth Cave National Park Buy the guide:  Eastern USA guidebook

Twilight At Cliff Palace

42. Mesa Verde National Park

More than 700 years after its inhabitants disappeared, Mesa Verde retains an air of mystery. No one knows for sure why the Ancestral Puebloans left their elaborate cliff dwellings in the 1300s. What remains is a wonderland for adventurers of all sizes, who can clamber up ladders to carved-out dwellings, see rock art and delve into the mysteries of ancient America.

State: Colorado Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20-30 Great for: History, Winter Travel, Scenery  Read more:  Gaze at the stars in Colorado's incredible new dark sky park Buy the guide:  Colorado travel guide


43. Mount Rainier National Park

The Native Americans called the mountain Tahoma or Tacoma, meaning the 'mother of waters;' George Vancouver named it Rainier in honor of his colleague and friend Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. As an active stratovolcano that recorded its last eruptive activity as recently as 1854, Rainier harnesses untold destructive powers in addition to reigning as the contiguous USA's fifth-highest peak.

State: Washington Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Walking  Read more:  Introducing Washington's national parks Buy the guide:  Washington, Oregon & the Pacific Northwest travel guide

Pago Pago Harbour

44. National Park of American Samoa

Created in 1988, the territory’s sole national park protects huge swathes of pristine volcanic and marine landscapes across the three Tutuila, Ta'ū and Ofu islands and 4000 acres of ocean. Here you'll find coral reefs, wildlife like fruit bats and king fishers and the rich fa'asamoa –  the sacred and ancient culture of the Samoan people.

Location: American Samoa Entrance fee: Free Great for: Snorkeling, Wildlife, Culture Read more:  American Samoa: an unsung South Pacific paradise Buy the guide:  South Pacific travel guide


45. New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

The New River is the United States' newest national park but is actually one of the oldest waterways in the world, and the primeval forest gorge it runs through is one of the most breathtaking in the Appalachians. The region is an adventure mecca, with world-class white-water runs and challenging single-track trails. Rim and gorge hiking trails offer beautiful views.

State: West Virginia Entrance fee: Free Great for: Hiking, paddling, extreme sports Read more:  New vs Gauley: find your river in West Virginia Buy the guide:  Eastern USA guidebook


46. North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park  feels like Alaska transplanted into the lower 48, a thousand square miles of dramatic, daunting wild country strafed with mountains furnished with names like Mt Terror, Mt Fury, Mt Despair and Forbidden Peak, lakes, glaciers (over 300 of them) and plenty of wildlife, but only one road.

State: Washington Entrance fee: Free Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Walking  Read more:  Top 11 US national parks that are total hidden gems Buy the guide:  Washington, Oregon & the Pacific Northwest travel guide

Shi Shi Beach Washington Coast

47. Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park shelters a unique rainforest, copious glaciated mountain peaks and a 57-mile strip of Pacific coastal wilderness relatively untouched by human habitation, with 1000-year-old cedar trees juxtaposed with pristine alpine meadows, clear glacial lakes and a largely roadless interior.

State: Washington Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Family Travel, Wildlife, Scenery  Read more:  8 US national parks where you can scuba dive Buy the guide:  Washington, Oregon & the Pacific Northwest travel guide


48. Petrified Forest National Park

The 'trees' of Petrified Forest National Park are fossilized logs scattered over a vast area of semidesert grassland, buried beneath silica-rich volcanic ash before they could decompose. Up to 6ft in diameter, they're strikingly beautiful, with extravagantly patterned cross-sections of wood glinting in ethereal pinks, blues and greens.

State: Arizona Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25 Great for: Walking, Wildlife, Scenery  Read more: Explore Arizona's natural beauty beyond the Grand Canyon on this epic road trip Buy the guide:  Southwest USA travel guide

Moon Rise and Condor in Flight at Pinnacles National Park

49. Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is named for the towering rock spires that rise abruptly out of the chaparral-covered hills east of Salinas Valley. Its famous formations are the eroded remnants of an long-extinct volcano that originated in present-day southern California before getting sheared in two and moved nearly 200 miles north along the San Andreas Fault.

State: California Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Walking Read more:  Where to find the USA's 12 newest national parks Buy the guide:  USA's National Parks


50. Redwood National Park

Hidden away in the upper reaches of California’s northwestern Pacific coast, Redwood National Park encompasses some of the world’s tallest and most ancient trees, along with a luxuriantly verdant mix of coastal, riverine and prairie wildlands. 

State: California Entrance fee: Free Great for: Family Travel, Walking, Wildlife Read more:  Majestic California condors to be reintroduced to Redwood National Park Buy the guide:   USA's National Parks

Family hiking on summer vacation in Colorado mountains.

51. Rocky Mountain National Park

The crown jewel of Colorado's national parks,  Rocky Mountain National Park  encompasses 415 sq miles of granite mountaintops, alpine lakes, wildflower-filled meadows, hiking trails and star-filled nights, not to mention moose, elk, bighorn sheep, black bear and more.

State: Colorado Entrance fee: 1-day pass per vehicle $25 Great for: Wildlife, Walking, Winter Travel Read more:  Rocky Mountain National Park’s best hikes Buy the guide:   Colorado travel guide

Desert Garden

52. Saguaro National Park

Saguaros (sah- wah -ros) are icons of the American Southwest, and an entire cactus army of these majestic, ribbed sentinels is protected in this desert playground. Or more precisely, playgrounds: Saguaro National Park  is divided into east and west units, separated by 30 miles and the city of Tucson itself. 

State: Arizona Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25 Great for: Cycling, Wildlife, Walking Read more:  Under the radar USA: Tucson is more than its cactus  Buy the guide:   Southwest USA travel guide

Man Looking At Trees In Forest

53. Sequoia National Park

With trees as high as 20-story buildings, Sequoia National Park is an extraordinary park with soul-sustaining forests and vibrant wildflower meadows.

State: California Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35 Great for: Family Travel, Scenery, Walking  Read more: Visit all of California's national parks on this legendary road trip​ ​​​​​​ Buy the guide:   Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Shenandoah, Virginia sunset

54. Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah  is like a new smile from nature: in spring and summer, the wildflowers explode, in fall the leaves burn bright red and orange, and in winter a cold, starkly beautiful hibernation period sets in. With the famous 105-mile Skyline Drive and more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail , there is plenty to do and see.

State: Virginia Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Walking  Read more:  Outdoor adventure awaits in Washington, DC Buy the guide:   Eastern USA travel guide


55. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wildlife abounds in these surreal mounds of striated earth in Theodore Roosevelt National Park ; sunset is particularly evocative as shadows dance across the lonely buttes.

State: North Dakota Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 Great for: Walking, Wildlife, Scenery  Read more:  National Parks: The best free things to do in the US parks Buy the guide:   USA's National Parks

Overview of Trunk Bay in US Virgin Islands

56. Virgin Islands National Park

Virgin Islands National Park covers two-thirds of St John, plus 5650 acres underwater. It’s a tremendous resource, offering miles of shoreline, pristine reefs and 26 hiking trails. Green iguanas, geckos, hawksbill turtles and wild donkeys roam the landscape.

Location: US Virgin Islands Entrance fee: Individual Day Pass $5.00, Annual Individual Pass $20.00 Great for: Walking, Snorkeling, Wildlife Read more:  Surprise! Everyone can explore a more accessible Caribbean Buy the guide:   USA's National Parks

Erik_Fremstad_Namakan view Horizontal from Aspen Bench looking North.jpg

57. Voyageurs National Park

Northern Voyageurs National Park, which marks the border between the USA and Canada, is a wet wilderness of some 218,000 acres. It's almost 40% water and only accessible by hiking or motorboat – the waters are mostly too wide and too rough for canoeing. In addition to offering waterborne fun, the park is filled with wildlife, including large populations of deer, moose, black bear and white pelicans.

State: Minnesota Entrance fee: Free Great for: Scenery, Walking, Winter Travel  Read more:  Gaze at stunning stars in Minnesota's first International Dark Sky Park Buy the guide:   USA's National Parks

Backpackers hiking on the desert dunes, White Sands National Park, New Mexico

58. White Sands National Park

Undulating through the Tularosa Basin like something out of a dream, these ethereal dunes are a highlight of any trip to New Mexico, and a must on every landscape photographer's itinerary. Try to time a visit to White Sands with sunrise or sunset (or both), when the dazzlingly white sea of sand is at its most magical.

State: New Mexico Entrance fee: $25 per vehicle or $15 per adult Great for: Scenery, Walking, Photography Read more:  See the Southwest USA's most iconic landscapes on this epic road trip Buy the guide:   USA's National Parks


59. Wind Cave National Park

The cave's foremost feature is its 'boxwork' calcite formations (95% of all that are known exist here), which look like honeycomb and date back 60 to 100 million years. The strong wind gusts, which are felt at the entrance, but not inside, give the cave its name. Inside, there are 148 miles of mapped passages. Outside, there are 44 sq miles of grassland and forest to hike.

State: South Dakota Entrance fee: Free Great for: Scenery, Walking, Wildlife  Read more:  South Dakota's best scenic drives Buy the guide:  USA's National Parks


60. Wrangell-St Elias National Park

Comprising more than 20,000 sq miles of brawny ice-encrusted mountains, this is the second-largest national park in the world.

State: Alaska Entrance fee: Free Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, History  Read more:  Introducing Alaska’s national parks Buy the guide:   Alaska travel guide

Yellowstone Park: Geyser.

61. Yellowstone National Park

The real showstoppers at the first national park in the United States  are the geysers and hot springs, but at every turn this land of fire and brimstone breathes, belches and bubbles like a giant kettle on the boil. Winter is prime time for safari-grade wildlife sightings. 

State: Wyoming Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35 Great for: Family Travel, Wildlife, Photo Op  Read more:  The complete guide to Yellowstone National Park Buy the guide:   Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks guidebook


62. Yosemite National Park

It’s hard to believe so much natural beauty can exist in the one place. The jaw-dropping head-turner of USA national parks, Yosemite garners the devotion of all who enter.

State: California Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35 Great for: Family Travel, Scenery, Walking Read more: How to spend your first visit to Yosemite National Park Buy the guide:   Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Utah, Zion National Park, Virgin River, Long exposure of flowing river, Canyon narrows.

63. Zion National Park

From secret oases of trickling water to the hot-pink blooms of a prickly pear cactus, Zion’s treasures turn up in the most unexpected places.

State: Utah Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35 Great for: Scenery, Walking, Family Travel Read more:  Utah's best national parks Buy the guide:   Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks guidebook

This article was first published August 2019 and updated March 2022

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US National Park Tours & Trips

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  • US National Park Tours & Trips

Embark on an unforgettable adventure in the United States' most spectacular national parks

From lunar-like deserts and striated canyons to snow-capped mountains and alpine valleys teeming with wildlife – as far as national parks go, the USA has it all. With a local leader by your side, you'll explore the most iconic sections of the parks, as well as lesser-known gems that you won’t find in the travel guides. Our United States national park tours offer something for all kinds of adventurers, whether you want to hike through slot canyons in Zion , join a real-life wolf tracker in Yellowstone , tick off bucket-list-worthy hiking trails in Yosemite or witness the most beautiful night skies you've ever seen in Denali . It’s time to dust off those hiking boots... the parks are waiting!

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The vivid colours of Grand Prismatic Spring as seen on an Intrepid Travel tour

Marvel at Grand Prismatic Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring is full of heat-loving microbes that create a rainbow rim of vivid colours around the edge of the water. At a mighty 370 feet wide and 160 feet deep (FYI, that's bigger than a soccer field and taller than a 10-story building), it's also the largest hot spring in the US. Walk along the boardwalk to get up close to the hypnotising colours or hike to the overlook for an impressive bird's eye view. Grand Prismatic Spring is the kind of site that needs to be seen to be believed.

A group of travellers hiking The Narrows on an Intrepid Travel tour

Hike Zion's Virgin River Narrows

Imagine wading through turquoise river passages and looking up to see giant canyon walls towering 1000 ft (305 m) above you. A 'hike' doesn’t quite cut it – tackling Zion's iconic Narrows trail is an exciting adventure that will have you wading through ankle-deep (and sometimes waist-deep) water passages, swimming in natural sandstone pools, and doing the odd bit of rock scrambling. Hidden away from the crowds, this is the Zion that most don't get to see.

The most geyser in Yellowstone NP, Old Faithful erupting water into the air

Watch Old Faithful erupt

Yellowstone is home to over 10,000 thermal features – including the highest concentration of geysers on the planet – but Old Faithful is the superstar. Watch safely from the sidelines as this mighty cone geyser shoots 14,000 litres of hot water high into the air. There are around 20 eruptions a day, with each lasting two to five minutes. Listen out for the powerful roaring sounds as Old Faithful begins to erupt as well as the gurgling plughole sounds of other geysers nearby.

A traveler on a hiking trail in the Grand Staircase Escalante Monument

Explore Grand Staircase Escalante

Escape the crowds and enjoy the endless vistas of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument   – an epic national monument brimming with otherworldly plateaus, arches and cliffs that you could spend a lifetime exploring. Get lost in the labyrinths of sandstone  boulders and rock formations, take a peek inside Peek a Boo slot canyon, hike to the hoodoos in Devil’s Garden, or cool off in the Utah heat by taking a refreshing dip in the Lower Calf Creek Falls.

A ice-covered lake in Denali National Park, Alaska

Go wild in Denali

Denali National Park  puts the 'wild' in wilderness. Wake up surrounded by dazzling snow-capped peaks, catch a glimpse of grizzlies and other Alaskan wildlife, watch the magical northern lights dance in the night sky, or lace up your hiking boots and tackle one of the park's many trails . You might also like to learn about the diverse traditions, language and culture of Alaska’s Indigenous peoples at the Alaska Native Heritage Centre.

The sun setting over Cathedral Lakes, Yosemite National Park

Take a dip in Cathedral Lakes

Most people hike to Cathedral Lakes to enjoy a picturesque picnic. We have a better idea: plunge into the cold, crystal clear water before coming up for air to see the huge steeple-looking peak towering over you. The views – and maybe the cold water – will take your breath away. If swimming in cold water isn’t your thing, follow the 8-mile trail around Lower and Upper Cathedral Lakes to enjoy Yosemite 's alpine scenery and impressive granite pinnacles reflecting perfectly on the water.

Popular US national parks

A group of Intrepid travellers on a hike in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park

A blue hot spring in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

A moose in the wild in Denali National Park

Denali National Park

An Intrepid traveller admiring the views of Horseshoe Bend

Grand Canyon National Park

A group of Intrepid travellers hiking in Zion National Park

Zion National Park

A blue lake in Glacier National Park in Montana, USA

Glacier National Park

The landscapes of Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Rugged peaks in Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Badlands National Park

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Sunset over Moab near Arches National Park

Arches National Park

A bird soaring over the pine trees of Olympic National Park with snow-capped peaks in the background

Olympic National Park

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Mount Rainier National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park from the water

Kenai Fjords National Park

A sunrise over the mountains at Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Us national park tour reviews, us national parks faqs, do i need a covid-19 vaccine to join a trip in a us national park.

Trips from 1 January 2023 onwards

From 1 January 2023, Intrepid will no longer require travelers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (excluding all Polar trips and select adventure cruises).

However, we continue to strongly recommend that all Intrepid travelers and leaders get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.

Specific proof of testing or vaccination may still be required by your destination or airline. Please ensure you check travel and entry requirements carefully.

Learn more about Intrepid’s COVID-19 policy

How many national parks are there in the US?

The US is home to an impressive 423 national parks, monuments, and protected sites. Of this number, 63 are classified as national parks. 

What is the best time to visit national parks in the US?

The best time to visit a national park really depends on what you want to experience on your trip. The US is a huge country with diverse weather, foliage, and wildlife. Most parks change quite dramatically from season to season. Our trips run all year round but spring through to early fall is the most popular time to go when the weather is mild, crowds are smaller, and hiking conditions are good. 

What are the top 10 most visited national parks in the US?

The 10 most visited national parks (The National Park Service, 2020) are:  

Great Smoky Mountains National Park  

Yellowstone National Park  

Zion National Park  

Rocky Mountain National Park  

Grand Teton National Park  

Grand Canyon National Park  

Cuyahoga Valley National Park  

Acadia National Park  

Olympic National Park  

Joshua Tree National Park 

What is cell phone service internet access like in US national parks?

Cell phone service, Wi-Fi, and internet access varies and some parks will have coverage while others may be completely cut off. Most visitor centers, lodges, and restaurants will offer free internet access but it’s worth reading up on coverage or checking with your guide before your trip begins so you can be prepared.  

Should I purchase travel insurance before going to national parks in the US?

Absolutely. Everyone that travels with Intrepid is required to purchase travel insurance before their trip begins. Your leader will log your travel insurance details on the first day of the trip. In addition to health and hospital care, travel insurance can cover you for things like personal liability, trip cancellation, curtailment, and loss/damage of personal belongings.  

Does my trip support the Intrepid Foundation?

Yes, all Intrepid trips support the Intrepid Foundation. In fact, we make a donation on behalf of every traveler. Trips to this country directly support our global Intrepid Foundation partner, Eden Reforestation Projects. 

Eden Reforestation Projects

Eden Reforestation Projects are helping to mitigate climate change by restoring forests worldwide; they also hire locally and create job opportunities within vulnerable communities. Donations from our trips support restoration across planting sites in 10 countries around the globe.

Find out more or make a donation

Read more about US national parks

travel national parks usa

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How to Plan Your US National Parks Road Trip | USA

Cover Photo - Road Trip

A US National Parks trip is kind of a right of passage for anyone who loves the outdoors. Sleeping in barren deserts. Going off-trail to explore strange rock formations weathered over millions of years. Wading through knee-deep water in narrow canyons. Bagging peaks during the short summer when the highest altitudes are within reach. The trip is about varied terrains and diverse landscapes. Visit both Yosemite and Big Bend, and you’ll doubt that you’re in the same country. And the stuff in Utah? Well, that might as well be in another world.

But unlike the good ol’ days of the American road trip, the US National Parks are no longer well suited to an off-the-cuff style of travel. There’s a lot of competition for campsites and backcountry permits. Planning a US National Parks trip takes time and effort, and A LOT of time and effort, at that. But you’ll get every bit of energy you pour into planning back when you’re out there, experiencing some of nature’s greatest works.

Ready to go on an adventure? Here’s a massive guide to planning a US National Parks trip including everything from route planning to suggested itineraries to making reservations to costs.

Choose Your Route

1. pick your parks.

The US is a BIG COUNTRY. There are vast distances between the coasts and you can even expect long drives between parks in the same state. So where do you start planning a US National Parks road trip itinerary? Start by making a list of parks you want to see. Grab a guidebook or check out some of our featured Outlandish National Park Guides.

An Outlandish Guide to the Grand Canyon

Focus on one park at a time and look at photos, watch videos, or check out things to do. Narrowing down your list of parks can be easy if you already know where you want to go, and very daunting if you don’t. If you fall into the second camp, ask yourself: how long do you have? What states are interesting to you? What season are you traveling in? What’s your overall budget for the trip?

Suggested US National Parks Road Trip Itinerary

Ultimate centennial parks road trip.

There are 61 National Parks in the US, which is A LOT of ground to cover; around 14,498 miles if you go the most efficient way. In 2016, data scientist Randy Olson created an interactive map that optimized driving times to create the ultimate US National Parks road trip itinerary. It excludes parks in Alaska, Hawaii, and other territories) but still manages to cover 47 US National Parks. 

  • Route 1: Grand Canyon to Everglades (map)
  • Route 2: Everglades to Badlands (map)
  • Route 3: Badlands to Zion (map)
  • Route 4: Zion to Lassen (map)
  • Route 5: Lassen to the Grand Canyon (map)

While that is the perfect, see-everything-save-on-gas route, obviously that won’t be the best route for everyone. You might want to spend some time in cities, pop into state parks, or skip some regions. If you’d rather customize your own National Parks road trip, here’s how you can go about it…

Other Suggested Road Trips

How to Plan a Utah National Parks Road Trip

2. Make Your Map

Once you have a shortlist, that means you can make a map.

Google My Maps is a complete lifesaver if you’re collaborating on trip planning or undertaking a complicated road trip itinerary. Add all the parks that you’re interested in to your map. This will give you a visual representation of which parks are nearest each other and which are way out of the way. From there, you can narrow your itinerary down further based on how much time you have or your other priorities.

Once you have your locations established, you can map directions between the two parks to determine drive time. In some cases, it can be quicker to alternate states (ie. Arizona and Utah) or more comfortable to add something into your itinerary to break up a long driving day.

Spend some time on this! Figure out how you can take the trip at your own pace while maximizing on everything you want to see.

Tip: Before you go, make sure that all the maps you need are available offline. Service can be spotty at best and you’ll always want to have your driving directions accessible.

3. Plan Your Time

Once you have a good idea of where you’re going, create a planner in Excel or Google Sheets. Begin with the first park you’re going to visit, and think about how much time you’d like to spend there. Consider how big the park is and what there is to do. Look at driving time between Park A and Park B and decide where you’ll sleep on your travel days. Then, do this park-by-park with this until you have a decent overview of your time spent in each park. It is tedious, but it’s a lot easier to do it this way than by trying to take in all the information and build an itinerary after.

Before looking in dates, take a look at all the activities that might require a backcountry permit or that otherwise limits access and establish your priorities. Check availability and book that first so that you don’t schedule your whole trip around something that might be booked up. 

Once that’s out of the way, you can get onto your next step.

US National Parks Road Trip: Planning Your Road Trip Itinerary

When to Start Planning

You should start looking into your US National Parks trip no less than 6 months out. Reservations for NPS campsites and lodges almost all open 3-6 months in advance. If you’re planning backcountry travel, the permits are usually reservable 3-6 months out, too. Reservations for the most popular campsites and hikes sell out within seconds of going online (no exaggeration!). So, if you have your heart set on something specific, do your research early and set a calendar reminder so you don’t miss out.

Already late? Some parks have walk-up campsites and permits available for that very reason. There are also plenty of campgrounds and hotels outside of the park boundaries and hikes that don’t require backcountry permits. You should always be able to find a hike and a campsite, even if they’re not the exact ones you had in mind.

Budgeting & Costs

Wondering how much it costs to do a US National Parks trip ? The short answer is that it really depends on what type of trip you want. But since I know this is a cop out for an answer, I’ll give you the long answer, too.

Unfortunately, a US National Park road trip probably costs more than you’d expect. Some costs you’ll want to factor in for your own trip are: park entrance or your America the Beautiful Pass , vehicle costs, gas, food & drink, entertainment, gear, campsites & accommodation, and permits. Even with camping and cooking, the US is notoriously expensive. But don’t let this stop you from going! You can keep costs down by being thoughtful about which regions you visit, altering your standard of travel, and borrowing (rather than buying or renting gear. For example, on our 21-day road trip through Arizona and Utah, we spent around $1,500. This was mostly camping and self-prepared food with a few motel nights and 3-4 meals out each week. We also had the benefit of traveling with our own vehicle and splitting many of our costs in half.

Read More: How Much Does a US National Parks Road Trip Actually Cost?

Most of the US National Parks are at their peak business between May and August. Of course, this is more based around the summer holiday than what is actually the best time to visit.

The best time to visit the desert parks like Zion  and the Grand Canyon is actually spring or fall when temperatures are more moderate and crowding is less. For summer travel, consider going to some lesser-known national parks like Capitol Reef to dodge the crowds, or go to parks like Glacier or Rocky Mountain that are only fully open in the summer. If you’re traveling in winter, consider parks in hotter regions like Everglades,  Death Valley, or Joshua Tree . Most of the parks are open in some capacity year-round, but be sure to check details about when you’re visiting to make sure that you’re not surprised by closures or bad weather when you get there.

Driving in Glacier National Park

Making Reservations

The US National Parks have gotten seriously popular in recent years (it’s called the Instagram effect ). This trip is no longer the spontaneous journey it once was. Making reservations well in advance is unfortunately part of the new process. Here are a couple of the things you’ll want to look into.

Reserving Permits

Wilderness permits (sometimes called backcountry permits) are needed to hike or stay overnight in many protected areas. In most cases, your backcountry campsite reservation is the same thing as your permit to hike in an area.

At present, demand for backcountry permits in most US parks well exceeds the supply. This is essential from a conservation perspective, but it also means it can be a major source of disappointment if you don’t plan ahead.

travel national parks usa

Permits are typically bookable online 3-6 months in advance, and sell out in seconds in the most popular areas. If you’re planning a backpacking trip, you’ll often need several permits sequentially. If there’s something you have your heart set on, take some time to plan your itinerary well before bookings become available. Come up with option 1, 2, and 3. Familiarize yourself with the booking engine and pre-fill basic details like your email and address. While there are no guarantees, this will definitely give you a better chance to snag the more elusive permits.

You’ll have a better chance of getting a permit for popular sites you apply during shoulder season or travel during the weekdays. Being flexible with your dates is a huge help here.

Didn’t get your permit?  Many parks have walk-up permits available. You’ll also sometimes be able to find alternate routes, or get permits for less-known hikes or backcountry sites that are just as awesome.

Booking Campsites & Lodging

Once you have your key dates anchored in, the next thing you should do is book your car campsites (or lodges if that’s more your style). There is no shortage of camping outside of the National Parks, but if you want to sleep inside the park boundaries, you usually need to book advance (or plan your travel days for early arrival if the sites are first-come-first-served).

Every park has an NPS website. Start by finding the page on accommodation within the park. Find out where each of the campsites are located within the park (they can sometimes be hours apart) and choose the best location before you book anything. Depending on how much effort you want to put in, there are sites like that post photos of campsites and suggest the best sites (ie. quiet, close to the bathroom, shaded by trees).

US National Parks Road Trip: Booking Campsites & Lodging

Once you know what you want, you’ll find most online campsite bookings are handled by . Bookings are relatively straightforward, but you will want to make sure that you book the proper resources (ie. a tent site vs an RV site).

Once your bookings are confirmed, it’s good to print them off and keep them where they’re easy to find (how about that glove compartment?). You won’t always have service in the campgrounds, and knowing your loop and site number will speed up your check-in process.

Before you Go

Preparing your vehicle.

Getting your vehicle sorted is a necessary step in planning a US Parks trip whether you’re renting a car or readying your own car for the trip. Some parks are easier to explore if you have a vehicle with high-clearance and 4WD though this isn’t always necessary.

If you own a car…

you have the benefit of traveling with a car that you know and trust. It’s generally cheaper to travel in your own vehicle, too! The main drawback is that you’ll be putting a lot of miles on your car.

Before leaving on your trip, schedule to have it serviced. Get the tires rotated, the oil changed, the fluids topped, the break pads tested, and everything else you can think of. You’re guaranteed to be in remote areas on parts of your trip, and you’ll want your car to be in the best possible shape. Just to be on the safe side, you might also want to upgrade your insurance policy, get a AAA membership. and gear up your car with a box or some emergency supplies.

Basics aside, there are lots of things you can get to make your car more comfortable for such a major trip! It’s going to be your home on wheels, after all. Take a look at some things you’ll want for your car.

travel national parks usa

If you’re renting…

You can choose any adventure vehicle you want! And the rental company will generally take care of the maintenance and insurance stuff for you. The big drawback is that this option tends to be more expensive and you might be less comfortable than you would in your own car.

Wanna rent a car? You can definitely do this trip in a standard car. Just be sure to choose a car with enough space for your stuff (and perhaps one with 4WD). And since you’re going to be driving it hard, be sure to check the insurance policy  thoroughly to make sure it covers everything you need it to. Hertz has pickup locations across the country and their car rentals are competitively priced (starting from about $50 per day including tax). They also have a program for drivers aged 20-25 who are unable to rent a car from other major agencies. Check prices and availability on . 

Going for a campervan? You’ll get a bit of extra room and plenty of road trip steez. Escape offers fully equipped campervans which can be a really fun way to travel! While they don’t have 4WD or get as good of gas mileage, you might be able to save by having an indoor spot to sleep on the nights you may have splurged on a hotel. Check prices and availability on .

And as for the stuff… Make a list of everything you need on your road trip. There are some obvious items (like a tent, sleeping bag, and a cooler), but would you have thought to bring a power outlet adaptor or a pair of chains for your tires? It’s a delicate balance between being prepared and cluttering your car. Try to streamline your gear and have what you need without going overboard. 

READ MORE: “ What to Pack for a US National Parks Trip” coming soon!

Hitting the Road

The best part about planning your National Parks road trip ahead of time is that it’s pretty easy by the time you finally go. The adventure of this kind of trip then changes of weather. The detours. The wildlife sightings and road closures. You do your best to prepare, then whatever the hell happens happens.

Photos of the Canyon on our Road Trip through Glacier National Park

What else do you want to know about planning your US National Parks road trip? Any questions you’d like answered or tips for planning your trip?

You Might Also Like

Taylor record.

I'm Taylor and this is Travel Outlandish. I’m an independent traveler kind of like you. I believe we deserve better than crowds of people and manufactured experiences when we explore. Whether you're going into the wild on a backpacking trip or planning a weekend in a foreign city, you'll find everything you need to plan something awesome on Travel Outlandish. Thanks for stopping by!


it is my dream to see one or more of these national parks. they are so unique and look so beautiful in photos! but im not a huge fan of road trips.

They are so beautiful! But most definitely require some time in the car. Utah is a good place to travel because driving times are usually 2-4 hours rather than entire days like you’ll get in other parts of the country.

Anthony @ Green Mochila

Such a great post that got me dreaming of the USA. Thank you for this moment of escape, Taylor! We’re grateful and happy that so much of nature is being preserved through National Parks. Hopefully it will stay like this for a long time still.

Hey, thanks so much Anthony! Going to these parks was the first thing I did when I moved back from Berlin – it was such a good way to remember the parts I love about the US. Hope the parks stay this way for a long time to come too

Ray Massucco

My wife and I, both in our 70’s, are planning a cross country trip in the summer of 2021 [assuming it’s not canceled; summer, not the trip]. We plan to rent an RV and want to hit at least 10-12 national parks. We will be leaving VT in late June and plan to be on the road for 8-9 weeks. Our three adult children and their families all live in Seattle, so we plan to hit there for about 2 weeks, then take a different roue home. Plan is to get back to Vermont in late August.

Where do we start?

Hi Ray! Sorry that I’m only just seeing your comment. Let me send you a quick email so I don’t miss your response.

Kim Birkner

Wondering about 6 parks with a dog & handicapped hubby, thinking Yellowstone, Pikes Peak, thru the Rockies to Grand Canyon to Bryce & Zion and ending with Yosemite. Thoughts? Thanks :}

Hey Kim. One hell of a trip! The drive through Utah on its own is worth it. * Here are all of my National Park Guides . * One thing that may be helpful is that all the parks have an accessibility page (ie. ) that overviews trails, camping, and overlooks with accessible access AND most have a pet page too ( ). * You also should be eligible for a discounted America the Beautiful Pass ( ).

Hope you enjoy your trip!

Go Wander Wild

This guide is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!

You’re so welcome! Hope you enjoy your trip 🙂

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One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the UNESCO-listed Grand Canyon National Park is a phenomenal feat of nature. You’ll walk the rim and learn from your Local Specialist how it formed over the past 40 million years. From sunrise to sunset, the Grand Canyon is truly mesmerising.

Mesa Verde National Park

Located in Colorado, this UNESCO-listed national park is filled with centuries-old history. You’ll drive the Mesa Top Loop Road past archaeological sites and lookouts, and see the ancient cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Puebloan people, that are chiselled out of the sandstone canyon walls.

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We’ll take you on a journey through the spectacular sandstone arches of Arches National Park. There are more than 2,000 natural arches carved by the wind, including the long Landscape Arch. You can hike to the viewpoint of the iconic Delicate Arch and discover other formations such as Balanced Rock, soaring over the desert.

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Wander in the shadows of Yosemite’s giant sequoia trees, as our Local Specialists reveal the ancient history of these incredible forests. You’ll see the Cathedral Rocks, the plunging Bridal Veil Falls, and the cliffs of El Capitan. We’ll also explore Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows, before taking a special tour of the Yosemite Valley floor.

Our top 5 things to do in US National Parks

When you visit US National Parks with Trafalgar, we’ll show you the top national parks in the country, from the giant Grand Canyon to the ancient trees of Yosemite.

Buffalo wings

Found across the country, buffalo wings are one of the most beloved dishes in the United States. An unbreaded chicken wing is deep-fried and coated in a vinegar cayenne hot sauce with melted butter. They’re best served hot and dipped in blue cheese or ranch dressing.


Hailing from Philadelphia, the cheesesteak is now a classic American dish found across the country. It’s a sandwich made from thin slices of beefsteak and melted cheese, stuffed in a long hoagie roll, and it’s a delicious meal after a long day of hiking through national parks.

Also known as the ‘Yankee pot roast’, this is a braised beef dish made from slow cooking a piece of beef with gravy and vegetables such as potatoes, onions and carrots. The cooking method produces a soft, succulent meat drenched in rich gravy, for a warm and hearty meal.

Best food in US National Parks

Exploring the trails of the national parks works up an appetite, and we’ll show you the best places to taste all the famous dishes of the United States.

What to pack for US National Parks

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Hiking shoes

The National Parks of the US are filled with hiking trails, and you’ll need a sturdy pair of shoes to explore these spectacular landscapes.

Versatile clothing

From sun-drenched canyons to snowy peaks, the weather changes throughout the national parks. Come prepared for all climates with layered and versatile clothing.

Reusable water bottle

National parks are pristine protected areas, and whatever you take in, you must take out. Bring a reusable water bottle to avoid adding to waste with disposable plastic bottles.

A book to collect stamps

You can collect unique stamps at the ranger stations of each national park. Bring a notebook to keep them in, as a special memento of your journey.

The national parks are filled with incredible animals like bears and bison, and a pair of binoculars will help you spot wildlife safely from a distance.

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How to Visit National Parks for Free in 2024

Alisha McDarris

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money .

From the towering mountains of North Cascades and underwater ecosystem of Biscayne to the geothermal marvels of Yellowstone and vast dunes of White Sands, the national parks encompass some of the best of what the U.S. has to offer.

However, national park entrance fees can be expensive — the most popular parks charge up to $35 per vehicle. Fortunately, the National Park Service (NPS) offers fee-free days to outdoor lovers throughout the year.

Whether you’re planning a vacation on a budget or just want to save a few bucks, on these dates you can hike, swim or simply enjoy the views without the usual entrance fee. Here are the free national park days in 2024, plus some other tips and tricks to save money the rest of the year.

Visit on Free National Park Days 2024

Though official dates haven’t yet been announced, it’s anticipated there will be five days in 2024 when you can visit all national parks for free. The holidays will remain the same as the free national park days in 2023, though exact dates may differ.

Here are the five dates in 2024 you can enter any U.S. national park without paying a fee:

Jan. 15, 2024 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day): To celebrate the birthday of this civil rights hero, parks are free on this holiday.

April 20, 2024 (National Park Week): In honor of the first day of National Park Week, entrance fees will be waived at all national parks.

Aug. 4, 2024 (Anniversary of Great American Outdoors Act) : To celebrate the Great American Outdoors Act, which was passed in 2020, park entrance is free for all on this day.

Sept. 28, 2024 (National Public Lands Day) : On the fourth Saturday of September, explore (and consider volunteering at) a new park for free in honor of National Public Lands Day.

Nov. 11, 2024 (Veterans Day): Whether you’re a veteran, know one or just want to visit the parks, everyone can visit for free on Veterans Day.

» Learn more: ​​ The best East Coast national parks

Other ways to gain free entrance to national parks

These five days a year aren’t the only way to score free entrance to the national parks. Here are some other ways to gain access for free year-round.

Show your military ID

Whether you’re active military or a veteran, you can get a free annual pass to enter the national parks. A Military Annual Pass is for those currently serving in a branch of the U.S. armed forces and their dependents.

You must present proof of eligibility (e.g. a military ID or other valid form of identification) but you can obtain it in person at a park or online (for a small fee).

Veterans with a valid ID and Gold Star Families (with a valid voucher) can get a free Military Lifetime Pass. Obtain one at a federal recreation site or the United States Geological Survey online store for a minimal processing fee.

Visit with a fourth-grader

One way to gain free access to national parks in 2024 is to go with a fourth-grade student. To obtain the pass, you must have a valid paper voucher from the Every Kid Outdoors website (a digital copy on a phone won’t cut it). When presented at a national park property, it can be exchanged for a free 4th Grade Pass, which will grant the student and their family entry to the parks for the entire school year plus the following summer.

Show proof of permanent disability

Those who can show proof of permanent disability, along with citizenship or residency, can get a free lifetime Access Pass to enter all national recreation areas. You can apply online, in person at a park or by mail for this pass. It also has the added benefit of offering discounts of up to 50% on some park-operated amenities like camping and interpretive services.

Log those volunteer hours

If you’re passionate about volunteering, you may want to consider doing so at participating Interagency Pass Program federal agencies, which include the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Once you rack up 250 volunteer hours (over one or several years), you can pick up a free annual pass.

» Learn more: Parks on points: popular Arizona and Utah national parks

These national parks are always free

Not all national parks charge entrance fees — many are free year-round.

Biscayne National Park.

Channel Islands National Park (ferry tickets required).

Congaree National Park.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Gates of the Arctic National Park.

Gateway Arch National Park.

Glacier Bay National Park.

Great Basin National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Hot Springs National Park.

Katmai National Park.

Kenai Fjords National Park.

Kobuk Valley National Park.

Lake Clark National Park.

Mammoth Cave National Park.

New River Gorge National Park.

North Cascades National Park.

Redwood National Park.

Voyageurs National Park.

Wind Cave National Park.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Note that if you want to see the caves at Great Basin, Mammoth Cave or Wind Cave national parks, you’ll need to pay a fee to join a tour. The same goes for riding the elevator to the top of Gateway Arch.

» Learn more: ​​ The cheapest ways to rent an RV for a month

Other ways to save money on a national park pass

Buy an annual pass : If you plan to visit more than two or three national parks in a year that charge an entrance fee, it may be worth it to purchase an annual pass. It costs $80, so if you visit three parks that charge $30 entrance fees, the pass will save you money.

Load up the car: Many parks charge an entrance fee “per vehicle,” not per person. That means your entrance fee or annual pass covers everyone in a single vehicle, so consider carpooling to save money. At parks that charge “per person,” four adults are covered by an annual pass, but more than that will be charged the per-person rate. 

Go with a senior: If you or someone you know is over the age of 62, a lifetime pass costs $80 or an annual pass costs $20 — an excellent value.

Check for timed entry and reservation requirements: Several of the more popular parks require timed entry reservations during parts of the year or to visit specific areas of the park. These often need to be purchased in advance, so check before you go to make sure you won’t be turned away when you arrive.

» Learn more: ​​ Glacier National Park 3-day itinerary

Visiting the National Parks for free in 2024 recapped

You don’t always have to pay to explore the wonders of America’s national parks. Just plan your visit on one of the national park days with free admission, or visit throughout the year with an applicable pass.

If neither of those options work, there are plenty of other tips you can use to save some cash.

How to maximize your rewards

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Open a new door in 2024, featured stories.

From skiing and snowboarding to ice-climbing and snowmobiling, discover all the ways you can play in parks during the winter season.

Explore winter wonderlands and start your wintertime adventure in national parks with the endless opportunities.

One app, every park at your fingertips. Experience and explore national parks using a new app for mobile devices.

Many summer jobs, internships, and other other opportunities accept applications in the winter. Explore adventures you can take with us!

Volunteers are an invaluable part of our team. Discover the countless ways that you can help protect our parks.

We are sharing our stories of personal connections with "park" places. What is yours?

Follow, share, and be a part of the conversation on official National Park Service social media channels.

Explore the national parks through multimedia. Search for photos, videos, webcams, and audio files on any topic.

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The national park community welcomes you! Together we can celebrate these special places and ensure they exist forever.

Discover America's Story: The National Parks

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Last updated: January 11, 2024

Lassen Volcanic National Park offers Yellowstone vibes without the crowds

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There’s a “hidden gem” in Northern California for travelers who prefer to stay off the beaten path, Lassen Volcanic National Park .

“We have volcanic features and hydrothermal features that you might find in, say, Yellowstone , but without all the crowds of Yellowstone,” said Carlo Arreglo, supervisory park ranger at Lassen Volcanic. “You can come out here and hike in the wilderness areas of the park and not see a soul, depending on time of year.”

There’s plenty else to see, though. Here’s what travelers should know about Lassen Volcanic National Park, the latest in USA TODAY’s yearlong park series . 

Why is Lassen Volcanic special?

It’s right in the name: volcanoes. 

“The four different types of volcanoes found around the world are found in Lassen Volcanic National Park, so people are definitely drawn to that,” said Arreglo. 

“They're also drawn to Lassen Volcanic because it's a winter wonderland,” he added. The park gets up to 30 feet of snow each year, according to its website. “People come out here to do a lot of skiing and snowshoeing .”

Other draws include the park’s more than 150 miles of hiking trails and dramatically dark skies .

“Lassen is blessed with having minimal light pollution, so the stars, no matter what time of year, are super incredible out here,” Arreglo said. 

The most beautiful national parks based on 2023 reviews

What are the four volcanoes in Lassen National Park?

The four types of volcanoes are composite, cinder cone, plug dome and shield.

The park’s website notes, “every rock at Lassen originates from volcanoes.”

Is ‘Lassen Volcano’ still active?

Lassen Peak hasn’t erupted in more than a century. According to the park, there were a series of eruptions between 1914 and 1917, with the biggest being in 1915.

“When it erupted back then, it was massive,” said Arreglo. “People across the country wanted to come to California to see Lassen Peak.”

All these years later, he added, “There's a lot of steam vents and mudpots and fumaroles. And these are all heated by magma below the surface of the Earth, so that's an indicator that there's potential volcanic activity. But the park does not have any active volcanoes at present. Knock on wood.” 

Is it safe to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park?

Yes, but there are still a few possible dangers , like avalanches in the winter and dehydration in the summer due to the sun and elevation.

Travelers are advised to stop by the visitor’s center to talk to park rangers about avalanche safety in the winter and to bring plenty of water, snacks and appropriate headwear in the summer.

What is the closest city to Lassen Volcanic National Park?

The closest city is Redding, California, less than an hour away by car. Sacramento is about three hours away.

“Redding has a regional airport. Sacramento has an international airport,” Arreglo said. 

There is a $30 entrance fee for cars.

Can you see Lassen Volcanic National Park in one day?

“You can hit quite a few highlights in one day if you go along the park highway, 89,” Arreglo said. “And if they download Lassen Volcanic National Park on their phone via the NPS app , they can get a little audio tour along the park highway.”

Areas of interest include Manzanita Lake , Sulphur Works, Bumpus Hell , Kings Creek Falls and “if people are feeling ambitious,” Lassen Peak.

“If visitors had a second day, I would say go out to Cinder Cone , “ Arreglo added. “Cinder Cone doesn't have any trees at the top, so the view of the Milky Way or the night sky won't be impeded by trees. That would be like a little ranger tip.”

Visitors should note Highway 89 closes for the winter, and snow clearing doesn’t begin until April, according to the park’s website. 

The Loomis Museum near the park’s northwest entrance is also closed until summer, but Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center remains open year-round.

What is the best time of year to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park?

“September is an amazing time to visit, especially after Labor Day weekend,” Arreglo said. “The weather's still really, really nice, and there's a good amount of daylight.”

He said spring is nice too, though there may still be snow on the ground.

“Summer can be really busy here, but that's also when we do our night sky programs,” he added. 

Busy is relative. Of the 63 national parks across America, Lassen Volcanic ranked 43rd for visitation with about 446,000 visitors in 2022. For perspective, Yellowstone saw nearly 3.3 million visitors that same year.

Who are the Native people of Lassen Volcanic National Park?

“The Lassen area was a meeting point for at least four Native American Indian groups : Atsugewi, Yana, Yahi, and Maidu,” according to the park’s website. “Because of its weather and snow conditions, generally high elevation, and seasonally mobile deer populations, the Lassen area was not conducive to year-round living. These Tribes camped here in warmer months for hunting and gathering.”

Their present day descendants include:

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These Are the Most Underrated National Parks in the U.S., According to Reddit

Reddit has spoken, and these (quite legit) recommendations are now on my next summer visit list.

Evie Carrick is a writer and editor who’s lived in five countries and visited well over 50. She now splits her time between Colorado and Paris, ensuring she doesn't have to live without skiing or L'As du Fallafel.

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Mariah Tyler/Travel + Leisure

When it comes to genuine, unfiltered travel advice from real people , there’s no place like Reddit. And every once in a while, the travel community really shows up, sharing their favorite spots, tricks, and hacks. Earlier this week, one user asked, “What is the most underrated national park in the US?” and over 1,200 people took the time to respond. The best answers, determined by user “upvoting,” rose to the top, revealing a genuine rundown of underrated national parks.

The “best” response to the question (determined by the highest upvote to downvote ratio) was Great Basin National Park , a park that covers most of Nevada, much of Utah, and portions of California, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, and Baja California. Beyond the vast desert, the park houses a 13,000-foot-peak, ancient pines, pitch-black stargazing skies, and mysterious subterranean passages. And considering the fact that the park saw just over 140,000 visitors in 2022 — for context, 12.9 million visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park that same year — there’s no denying the park is underrated.

Next up on the Reddit list, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, a park that’s best known for its Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, including the Cliff Palace, which visitors can walk inside. One user summed it up well: “Mesa Verde is very slept on, but has some of the coolest geology and oldest/coolest history of any park.” In 2022, less than 500,000 people visited the park.

Across the Colorado state line in Utah, Reddit users recommended skipping Arches National Park, which “was incredible but like Disneyland” and going to Canyonlands National Park instead. The center of the park, Island in the Sky, is a massive, flat mesa riddled with panoramic overlooks . One user said, “I think Island in the Sky rivals the Grand Canyon for mind boggling views.” In 2022, Canyonlands saw over 775,000 visitors, which is also almost half as many as Arches.

The fourth “best” recommendation is one I had to look up. Theodore Roosevelt National Park sits where the Great Plains meet the Badlands in North Dakota. There are three sections to it, with most of the park offering visitors an “otherworldly” feel. One user, a photographer, said, “Im a landscape photographer and one of my best images is from River Bend Overlook. So many people think the photograph is from Ireland or Scotland and are thus floored that there is such a stunning place in North Dakota.” In 2022, Theodore Roosevelt saw 668,000 visitors.

Below are some other underrated standouts, according to Reddit:

  • North Cascades National Park, Washington
  • Badlands National Park, South Dakota
  • Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
  • White Sands National Park, New Mexico
  • Olympic National Park, Washington
  • Channel Islands National Park, California

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US National Parks that Require Reservations – 2024 Guide

Julie Last updated: January 21, 2024 National Park , United States 4 Comments

US National Park Reservations Guide

Due to growing popularity and visitation, there are now eight National Parks that require a reservation in advance. This includes timed entry reservations, vehicle reservations to drive a particular road, or a hiking permit for select trails.

Table of Contents

Why are National Parks Requiring Reservations?

For the last 10 years, visitation in the US national parks has steadily been growing.

Contrary to popular thought, this is not due to COVID. The US National Parks were a travel hotspot, even before 2020.

Visitation in the US National Park system peaked in 2016, with 331 million visitors. This number was just a few thousand less in 2017 and visitation hasn’t hit 331 million number again, even during or after COVID (2022 was another big year for the parks, with visitation reaching 312 million, still 19 million shy of 2016 numbers).

However, some of the most visited US National Parks have received an even bigger increase in visitation after COVID, leading to overcrowding and creating long waits to enter the park, congestion on the hiking trails, and parking lots overflowing with cars and RV’s.

To combat these overcrowding issues, several National Parks are now requiring an advance reservation. It seems as if one or two National Parks join this growing list each year. Yosemite is the newest addition to the list.

US National Parks that Require Reservations

As of December 2023, there are eight National Parks and one National Monument that requires an advance reservation.

Here is the list of National Parks that require a reservation:

Acadia National Park

Arches National Park

Glacier national park, haleakala national park, mount rainier national park, rocky mountain national park, shenandoah national park, yosemite national park, zion national park.

These parks either require a timed entry reservation, an advance reservation for a hiking trail, or an advance reservation to drive a scenic road. Below we list the difference between the reservation types.

Yosemite | National Parks that require reservations

Advance Reservations, Timed Entry Permits & Hiking Permits

There are several types of “reservations.” Here is a basic overview but we go into this in more detail for each specific park.

Timed Entry Reservation: To enter the park within a specific time slot (for example, between 6 am and 4 pm on July 4). This gives you access to the park, or a specific portion of the park, depending on the National Park and reservation type. Rocky Mountain National Park and Arches National Park fall under this category.

Vehicle Reservation: Most of the park is accessible, but a particular road has an advance reservation (for example, Cadillac Summit Road in Acadia).

Hiking Permit: There is no advance reservation to enter the park but a particular hiking trail requires an advance reservation. The best example of this is Angels Landing in Zion National Park.

Travel has entered an age where it is difficult to just show up and enter a National Park, restaurant, or museum, as many of the popular places draw such big crowds that reservations have become a necessity.

So, like it or not, these timed entry and vehicle reservations are most likely here to stay. Here’s what you need to know, so you can plan your trip, make your reservation, and have an enjoyable, stress-free visit to our nation’s incredible outdoor spaces.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This guide does not cover lodging and campsite reservations. This guide only covers those reservations necessary to enter the park and/or drive a particular road or hike a particular trail. But if you plan to stay in a campground or lodge run by the National Park Service, this also needs to be reserved in advance, which you can do on the official website for each park.

Reservation Type: Vehicle Reservation for Cadillac Summit Road

Acadia National Park, located in Maine, protects a stretch of rocky coastline. Called the “Crown Jewel of the North Atlantic Coast,” granite coastal cliffs, estuary and intertidal habitats, and the tallest mountain on the Atlantic Coast of the United States are found here.

In 2022, 4 million people visited Acadia, making it the 5th most popular National Park that year.

Top Experiences: Drive Park Loop Road, watch the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain, hike the Precipice Trail , visit Sand Beach and Echo Lake, bike the carriage roads, and watch the sunset at Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

Plan Your Trip to Acadia National Park:

  • The Ultimate Acadia National Park Travel Guide
  • 14 Epic Things to Do in Acadia National Park
  • 10 Great Hikes in Acadia National Park
  • How to Plan the Perfect Acadia National Park Itinerary

Acadia National Park | National Parks that require reservations

Acadia National Park in October

Acadia National Park Advance Reservation

In Acadia National Park, visitors must have a reservation to drive Cadillac Summit Road between May and October. This road takes visitors to the highest point in Acadia National Park and it is an extremely popular sunrise location.

In order to drive Cadillac Summit Road between May and October, you will need to make a vehicle reservation in advance.

  • 2024 Dates: May 22 through October 27
  • Cost: $6 reservation fee
  • Purchase Your Ticket: Reservations are made online only at

There are two reservation types: sunrise reservations and daytime reservations.

The sunrise reservations are timed such that you arrive and park before sunrise. These are the hardest reservations to get so make your reservation as soon as you know your dates of travel.

The daytime reservations have timed entry spots throughout the day. You select the time that you plan to visit Cadillac Mountain, whether it is 10 am or 3 pm. You must enter Cadillac Summit Road within 30 minutes of your daytime reservation.

30% of the reservations are made 90 days in advance and 70% are released 2 days in advance at 10 am EST. The reservation fee is in addition to the park entrance fee.

For more information, visit the National Park Service website.

More Things to Know

The reservation fee is in addition to the park entrance fee.

You can visit the remainder of Acadia National Park without an advance reservation. The only place you need a vehicle reservation is for Cadillac Summit Road.

There is a lot more information about the details of the vehicle reservations on the official National Park website, which you can see here.

Reservation Type: Timed entry reservation

Arches National Park, located in Utah, is home to over 2,000 arches, the most famous being Delicate Arch. It is a gorgeous park to explore, with its short but sweet hiking trails, mesas, balanced rocks, hoodoos, and desert scenery.

In 2022, 1.5 million people visited Arches National Park, making it the 20th most visited park that year.

Top Experiences: Hike to Delicate Arch , see Balanced Rock and the Fiery Furnace, hike the Devils Garden Trail , visit Double Arch, Turret Arch, and Windows Arch, hike Park Avenue.

Plan Your Trip to Arches National Park:

  • The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park
  • 16 Amazing Things to Do in Arches National Park
  • One Perfect Day in Arches National Park
  • Utah’s Mighty 5: Travel Guide & Road Trip Itinerary

Things to do in Arches

North Window Arch

Things to do in Arches National Park | National Parks that require reservations

Park Avenue

Arches National Park Timed Entry Reservation

In order to enter Arches National Park, you must have a timed entry reservation. Without this, you will not be allowed to enter the park.

Dates: April 1 through October 31, 2024 from 7 am to 4 pm Cost: $2 (this is in addition to the entrance fee) Make your reservation: or by phone 877-444-6777

You can enter Arches National Park before 7 am and after 4 pm without an advance reservation.

The majority of timed entry tickets are released 3 months in advance. There will be a limited number of tickets available one day prior to entry at 7 pm MDT on

If you plan to visit Arches National Park in April (from the 1st to the 30th), tickets become available on January 2 at 8 am MST. And if you plan to visit Arches National Park in March, tickets become available February 2 at 8 am MST. And so on, through October. See the full schedule on the NPS website.

Reservation Type: Vehicle Reservation

With glacier-capped mountains, dazzling aquamarine lakes, and some of the most exciting hiking trails in the country, it’s no wonder that Glacier National Park is called the “Crown of the Continent.”

Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of the best scenic drives in the United States. With that being said, it also draws a huge number of visitors. Timed entry reservations are now necessary to drive this road and to access a few other popular areas of the park.

In 2022, Glacier was the 10th most visited US National Park.

Top Experiences: Drive Going-to-the-Sun Road, visit Many Glacier, hike to Grinnell Glacier and Hidden Lake, visit Logan Pass, hike the Highline Trail , visit Two Medicine, see Wild Goose Island, and spend some time at Lake McDonald.

Plan Your Trip to Glacier National Park:

  • The Complete Guide to Glacier National Park
  • Top 10 Things to Do in Glacier National Park
  • Planning Your Glacier National Park Itinerary
  • 10 Great Hikes to Do in Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park | National Parks that require reservations

Glacier National Park (photo taken on the hike to Grinnell Glacier )

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake

Glacier National Park Vehicle Reservation

In 2024, there are three areas of the park where you will need a vehicle reservation. These areas include Going-to-the-Sun Road, Many Glacier, and North Fork.

Dates that You Will Need a Vehicle Reservation:

  • Going-to-the-Sun Road (West Entrance): May 24 to September 8, 6 am to 3 pm
  • North Fork: May 24 to September 8, 6 am to 3 pm
  • Many Glacier: July 1 to September 8, 6 am to 3 pm

You will be able to enter Going-to-the-Sun Road from the East Entrance and Two Medicine without a reservation.

Vehicle reservations have a processing fee of $2 and are valid for one day. A portion are released 120 days in advance starting January 25, 2024 at 8 am MST and the remainder are released at 7 pm MDT the day before the effective date. These reservations are limited so make yours in advance!

The vehicle reservation is an additional fee. You also have to pay the park entry fee. If you have an America the Beautiful Pass, you still need a vehicle reservation.

Make your vehicle reservation on

There are checkpoints on each of these roads where you will show your reservation permit. You cannot purchase them at the entrance station…you must reserve the permit in advance.

You do not need a vehicle reservation if you are staying in lodging inside of the park (this includes campsites) or if you will be taking a commercial tour.

For a full list of exemptions, visit the National Park Service website.

Haleakala is a massive volcano that makes up more than 75% of the island of Maui.

Watching the sun rise above the clouds is the #1 thing to do in Haleakala National Park. It is such a popular experience that you now must have an advance reservation to drive to the summit before sunrise.

Top Experiences: Watch the sunrise above the clouds, hike the Sliding Sands Trail, visit the viewpoints on the Haleakala summit, hike the Pīpīwai Trail, visit the Seven Sacred Pools of ‘Ohe’o, and go stargazing.

Plan Your Visit to Haleakala National Park:

  • 13 Amazing Things to Do in Haleakala National Park
  • Hiking Guide to the Pīpīwai Trail & Bamboo Forest
  • Sliding Sands and Halemau’u Trails Hiking Guide

Haleakala Sunrise | National Parks that require reservations

Sunrise at Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park Reservation

In order to enter the park early enough to watch the sunrise, you must make a reservation in advance. This is such a popular experience that the National Park Service requires an advance reservation to avoid overcrowding at the summit. These reservations allow you to enter the park between the hours of 3 am to 7 am.

If you do not have an advance reservation, you cannot enter the park until 7 am. From the park entrance, it takes another 30 minutes of driving to get to the summit.

Reservations can be made online up to 60 days in advance. The tickets are released at 7:00 am HST and usually sell out in 15 minutes. A second batch of tickets are released 48 hours in advance. You can only make your reservation online using the website. You cannot call to make your reservation or get one at the visitor center.

The ticket is free although there is a $1 reservation fee per ticket.

For more information about the reservation process, here is the link to the National Park Service website. And here is the link to make your reservation on the website.

If you are unable to get a reservation, you can either visit at sunset instead, or join a tour that includes sunrise on the summit.

If the idea of waking up super early to watch a sunrise is not the way you plan to spend your vacation, sunset is also fantastic. And there is no reservation necessary for this experience.

Reservation Type: Timed Entry Reservation

Mount Rainier is a glacier-capped, active volcano that can be seen from hundreds of miles away. Hiking the trails and driving the scenic roads around Mount Rainier top the list of things to do here.

This is a fairly large park with multiple areas to visit. The Paradise and Sunrise corridors are the most popular areas to visit and visitors will now need a timed entry permit from late spring through summer to enter these areas.

In 2022, 1.6 million visited the park, making it the 16th most visited park that year.

Top Experiences: Hike the Skyline Trail, visit Sunrise and hike the Sourdough Ridge Trail, see Myrtle Falls, visit the Grove of the Patriarchs, hike the Wonderland Trail, ride the Mount Rainer Gondola to Crystal Mountain, and hike to a fire lookout tower.

Plan Your Trip to Mount Rainier National Park:

  • The Ultimate Guide to Mount Rainier National Park
  • Best Things to Do in Mount Rainier National Park
  • 15 Epic Hikes in Mount Rainier National Park
  • How to Plan the Perfect Mount Rainier National Park Itinerary

Mount Rainier and Myrtle Falls

Myrtle Falls (Paradise Corridor)

Hiking from Fremont Fire Lookout

Hiking from the Fremont Fire Lookout (Sunrise Corridor)

Mount Rainier Timed Entry Reservations

In order to enter the Paradise and Sunrise corridors, a timed entrance permit is necessary during peak season.

Dates for the Paradise Corridor: May 24 through September 2, 2024 between 7 am and 3 pm Dates for the Sunrise Corridor: July 3 through September 2, 2024 from 7 am to 3 pm Cost: $2; this is in addition to the park entrance fee Make your reservation:

A portion of the timed entry reservations are released 90 days in advance at 8 am PT in three separate blocks. The first reservations are released February 21, 2024, for permits between May 24 and June 30. Permits are also released on April 1 and May 1. Visit the National Park Service website for the schedule of release dates.

The remainder of the permits become available at 7 pm PT the day before the arrival date. So, a permit for July 1 becomes available at 7 pm PT on June 30.

Reservations are valid for a 2-hour entry time (you will have to enter the park some time during this 2-hour window, which you will choose when you make your reservation). If you will be in the park or visit a corridor multiple days, you will need a permit for each day.

You can enter the Paradise and Sunrise corridors of Mount Rainier National Park before 7 am and after 3 pm without a reservation.

If you are staying in lodging in the park, you do not need a permit for that section of the park (for example, if you are staying at Paradise Inn, you do not need a permit for the Paradise corridor, but you will need a permit for the Sunrise corridor).

I recommend reading the FAQ section on the NPS website because it is packed with information about the permit.

Reservation Type: Timed entry tickets

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the USA. There are sixty mountain peaks over 12,000 feet and many of these top out over 13,000 feet. Hiking and driving Trail Ridge Road top the list of things to do here.

In 2022, over 4 million people visited Rocky Mountain National Park, making it the 4th most visited park that year.

Top Experiences: Drive Trail Ridge Road, hike to Emerald and Dream Lakes , drive Old Fall River Road, hike to Sky Pond or Chasm Lake, take a stroll around Bear Lake, and take your pick from more of the great hikes to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Plan Your Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park:

  • The Ultimate Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Best Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park
  • 15 Epic Hikes to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park
  • How to Plan Your Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park | National Parks that require reservations

On the trail to Chasm Lake

Rocky Mountain National Park Reservations

To visit Rocky Mountain National Park from May 24 to October 20, 2024, you will need to reserve a permit in advance.

This has been implemented to limit crowds at the busiest sections of the park during the peak visitation season (the summer months).

Reservations are made online on the website. Each daily reservation costs $2 per vehicle, which is in addition to the $25 daily entrance fee or $35 weekly entrance fee per vehicle. 

There are two different types of timed entry permits.

Park Access +: This permit gives you access to everything in Rocky Mountain National Park. It includes Bear Lake Road and the hikes that start here (Bear Lake, Emerald and Dream Lakes, Alberta Falls, Sky Pond, Hallett Peak, and Sprague Lake). The permit is in effect from 5 am to 6 pm.

Park Access: This permit gives you access to everything in Rocky Mountain National Park except for Bear Lake Road. You can drive Trail Ridge Road, visit the Alpine Visitor Center, hike to Longs Peak and to Chasm Lake, and hike Gem Lake. The permit is in effect from 9 am to 2 pm. 

Timed entry tickets become available about one month in advance. On May 1, at 8 am MT, tickets become available for May 24 through June 30. On June 1, tickets become available for the month of July. And so on, with September 1 being the final release date (for tickets in October).

The official National Park Service website lists when the permits become available and has more information about the permits. Visit to make your reservation.

Reservation Type: Old Rag Day-Use Ticket

Shenandoah National Park preserves a section of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Skyline Drive is the main thoroughfare through the park, a road that twists and turns for 105 miles from north to south. For those who want to explore the park beyond Skyline Drive, 500 miles of hiking trails travel through the park.

This park’s most popular hiking trail, Old Rag, now requires a permit, to help ease crowd control.

Top Experiences: Drive Skyline Drive and visit the overlooks, hike to the top of Bearfence Mountain, hike Old Rag, visit Dark Hollow Falls, enjoy the view from Hawksbill Mountain, hike to Mary’s Rock, and hike a section of the Appalachian Trail.

Plan Your Trip to Shenandoah National Park:

  • 9 Amazing Things to Do in Shenandoah National Park
  • 10 Great Hikes in Shenandoah National Park
  • How to Hike Old Rag

Old Rag

The view from Old Rag

Shenandoah | National Parks that require reservations

Shenandoah National Park in October

Shenandoah National Park Reservations

From March 1 to November 30, you will need to have a day use permit to hike Old Rag. This is to limit the number of hikers on this very popular trail.

Tickets cost $1 and you can purchase it in advance on Tickets are not available at the trailhead. Every person is required to have a ticket, regardless of age.

800 tickets are available each day. 400 are released 30 days in advance of the reservation date and the second half are released 5 days in advance. Tickets are released at 10 am EST.

The remainder of Shenandoah National Park is accessible without a reservation.

Learn more on the National Park Service website.

US National Parks List

Reservation Type: Timed Entry Ticket & Hiking Permit (Half Dome)

Yosemite National Park is home to one of the most iconic landscapes in the United States. Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Valley are some of the most iconic and photographed landmarks in the US National Parks.

This is also one of the most visited parks, attracting 3.7 million people in 2022, putting it 6th on the most visited list that year. In 2023, there were wait times of over 3 hours to enter the park on some days. In response to this, visitors must now make a reservation in advance to enter the park during its busy seasons.

Top Experiences: See Bridalveil Falls, hike the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls, visit Tuolomne Meadows, hike to the top of Half Dome, enjoy the view from Glacier Point and Tunnel View, hike the Yosemite Falls Trail, visit Taft Point, and visit Mariposa Grove.

Plan Your Trip to Yosemite National Park:

  • The Complete Guide to Yosemite National Park
  • Yosemite for First-Timers: Best Hikes, Best Views & Best Things to Do
  • A Step-By-Step Guide to Hiking Half Dome

John Muir Trail Yosemite National Park

Hiking the John Muir Trail in Yosemite

USA Road Trip with Yosemite | National Parks that require reservations

The view from Glacier Point

Horsetail Fall

Horsetail Fall | Gregory B Cuvelier/

Yosemite National Park Reservations

There are two periods of time when a reservation to enter Yosemite is necessary: in February to see Horsetail Fall and from mid-April through October, when visitation is at its peak.

February 2024 Reservations

February is a busy time to visit Yosemite, when Horsetail Fall is illuminated at sunset, giving it an orange, fiery glow.

Visitors must have a reservation to enter the park on the weekends of February 10 and 11, February 17 to 19, and February 24 and 25. Even if you have no intention of seeing Horsetail Fall, you must still make a reservation.

April through October Reservations

Here are the dates and times when it is necessary to make a reservation to enter Yosemite National Park:

  • April 13 through June 30: A reservation is required on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays (May 27 and June 19) to enter the park between 5 am and 4 pm.
  • July 1 through August 16: A reservation is required every day between 5 am and 4 pm.
  • August 17 through October 27: A reservation is required on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays (September 2 and October 14) to enter the park between 5 am and 4 pm.

If you have a lodging reservation within the park, a wilderness or Half Dome permit , or a vacation rental in Wawona, Yosemite West, or Foresta, you do not need a reservation to enter the park.

You are allowed to enter the park before 5 am and after 4 pm with a permit.

How to Make Your Reservation

Horsetail Fall Reservations

For February reservations, 50% of reservations become available on December 1 at 8 am Pacific time on . The remainder of the reservations become available two days prior to the reservation date, at 8 am Pacific time. For more information, visit the National Park website and click on “Horsetail Fall Reservations: When and how to get them.”

Peak Season Reservations

For reservations from mid-April through October, reservations become available on January 5, 2024 at 8 am Pacific time on . Most of the reservations will be released at this time (the official website gives no indication how many this will be). The remainder are released seven days before the arrival date (for example, for an arrival date of July 10, the reservation is released on July 3).

These reservations cost $2 and are valid for 3 consecutive days.

Get more information on the National Park website.

Half Dome Permit

If you also have plans to hike Half Dome, you will need a permit to do so. This is done by a lottery system. From March 1 to March 31, enter the lottery on Lucky lottery winners are notified in April. Learn more here.

Half Dome Cables Yosemite

The Half Dome cables

Reservation Type: Hiking/Wilderness Permits: Angels Landing, Subway & hiking the Narrows from the top-down

Zion National Park is one of the most popular National Parks in the USA. In 2022, it received close to 5 million visitors, making it the 3rd most visited park that year.

Currently, the only reservation you will need is to hike one of three trails in the park (Angels Landing, the Subway, and from the Narrows top-down). There is no reservation necessary to visit the remainder of the park or to ride the park shuttle.

Top Experiences: Hike Angels Landing, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Riverside Trail, Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Canyon Overlook. One of the best experiences in the park is hiking the Zion Narrows.

Plan Your Trip to Zion National Park:

  • The Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park
  • 10 Epic Hikes in Zion National Park
  • Zion Itinerary: How to Spend 1 to 6 Days in Zion National Park
  • 5 Things to Know Before Visiting Zion National Park
  • Hiking the Narrows Top-Down or Bottom-Up: Which One Should You Choose?

Angels Landing Steps

The Angels Landing Trail

Zion National Park Reservations

Angels landing.

If you plan to hike Angels Landing, you must have a permit. Angels Landing has had record traffic in the past few years, creating long lines to get onto the chains. In response to this, the National Park Service now requires hikers to have a permit, in order to limit the number of people on the trail.

Permits are awarded by lottery, both seasonally and the day before your planned hike. It costs $6 to enter an application and if you are one of the lucky lottery winners, you will pay $3 per person.

A permit is necessary all year. Permits are released in groups, in roughly 3-month blocks of time. For dates of the seasonal lotteries, how the day-before lottery works, and the link to enter the lottery, visit the National Park Service website.

Tim on the Angels Landing Trail

Tim on the Angels Landing Trail

View from Angels Landing | National Parks that require reservations

The view from Angels Landing

To hike the Left Fork of the Subway in Zion, a wilderness permit is necessary from April through October, whether you plan to hike from the bottom-up or do the top-down canyoneering route. Permits are awarded in a lottery 2 months in advance. Get the full details here.

The Narrows from the Top-Down

The Narrows is another extremely popular hike in Zion. There are two ways to hike the Narrows.

Most people do this hike from the bottom-up, starting at Riverside Walk, hiking upriver for a few miles, then turning around and retracing their steps. No permit is necessary for hiking the Narrows from the bottom-up.

The top-down route is a 16-mile point-to-point journey along the entire length of the Narrows. It can be done as one big day hike or split into a 2-day backpacking trip. A wilderness permit is necessary for both options. Permits become available 2 months in advance and are required all year.

Zion Narrows

The Narrows

Zion Narrows Hike

Muir Woods National Monument

Reservation Type: Parking reservation

Muir Woods National Monument is located just outside of San Francisco, California. This national monument protects the old growth coastal redwoods that grow here.

To prevent overcrowding, visitors must have a parking reservation. These reservations are required all year and you will reserve a 30-minute arrival window. Reservations can sell out, especially on weekends and holidays, so make your reservation in advance. Reservations can be made up to 3 months in advance.

Learn more on the official website.

Muir Woods

When to Make Your Timed Entry Reservations

Here’s when to mark your calendars for making your reservations in advance. If you plan to visit one of these parks, double check the reservation dates on the official National Park website (these updates are accurate as of December 2023 but there is always the chance that something could change).

Acadia National Park: 30% of the reservations are made 90 days in advance and 70% are released 2 days in advance at 10 am EST.

Arches National Park: Timed entry tickets are necessary from April 1 through October 31. Tickets are released 3 months in advance (for example, tickets for the month of April are released on January 2 at 8 am MST).

Glacier National Park: Vehicle reservations are necessary from May 24 to September 8, depending on the area of the park you plan to visit. Tickets are released 120 days in advance, with the first batch becoming available January 25, 2024 at 8 am MST.

Haleakala National Park: Vehicle reservations are required all year in order to drive to the summit before sunrise. Reservations can be made online 60 days in advance at 7 am HST with a second batch that are released 48 hours in advance.

Mount Rainier National Park: Timed entry tickets are necessary from May 24 through September 2. Permits are released roughly 90 days in advance, with the first batch released February 21. 

Rocky Mountain National Park: Timed entry tickets are necessary from May 24 to October 20. These tickets become available roughly one month in advance, with the first release on May 1.

Shenandoah National Park: A day-use ticket is necessary to hike Old Rag from March 1 through November 30. These become available 30 days in advance of the reservation date. The remainder of the park is accessible without a reservation.

Yosemite National Park Timed Entry: To visit Yosemite in February, when Horsetail Fall becomes the park’s major attraction, reservations first become available on December 1 at 8 am Pacific time and the remainder become available 2 days in advance of the reservation date. For peak season reservations (mid-April through October), reservations become available on January 5 at 8 am Pacific time, with additional reservations available 7 days before the arrival date.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park: Enter the lottery between March 1 and March 31, 2024. The lucky lottery winners are notified mid-April.

Zion National Park: For those who want to hike Angels Landing, the Subway, or the Narrows from the top-down, you will need a permit. However, you do not need a permit or advance reservation to enter Zion National Park or to ride the shuttle.

Muir Woods National Monument: A parking reservation is necessary year round. Reservations can be made up to 3 months in advance.

Sky Pond

Sky Pond , Rocky Mountain National Park

Tips for Making Your Reservations

The first thing to do is to note when permits become available for the parks you plan to visit. For some parks, such as Glacier National Park, tickets become available as soon as January, so it’s important to start your planning at the start of the year, to avoid any unnecessary stress as it gets closer to your trip.

If a park requires a timed entry ticket and you are unable to get one, most parks still allow you to enter very early or late in the day. So, you don’t have to cancel your trip, but you will have to set your alarm clock early.

If you have a timed entry ticket, be aware that there could be a hefty number of people entering the park at the crack of dawn, those who were unable to score a timed entry ticket. Even if you have the first timed entry slot of the day, you could still find parking lots and hiking trails to be more crowded than expected, so it still pays to enter the park a bit early.

If you are on a tour, have an advance reservation for a campground or a backcountry permit, you may not need a timed entry ticket. I recommend checking the details of this on the official National Park website, because there’s a good chance it could save you the additional hassle of making timed entry reservation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which national parks require timed entry?

Acadia, Arches, Glacier, Haleakala, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Shenandoah, Yosemite, and Zion National Parks all require advance reservation. Muir Woods National Monument also requires a parking reservation made in advance.

Does Yellowstone require an advance reservation?

No, Yellowstone National Park does not require an advance reservation.

Can I enter Arches National Park without having a timed entry reservation?

Yes, you can enter Arches National Park without an advance reservation from November 1 through March 31. You can also enter Arches National Park without a reservation from April 1 through October 31, if you enter the park before 7 am or after 4 pm.

If you have any questions about which National Parks require reservations let us know in the comment section below.

More Information about the US National Parks

UNITED STATES : We have TONS of information about places to visit in the United States in our USA Travel Guide. In our Guide to the US National Parks, get the full list of national parks with important travel planning information, such as things to do in the parks and sample itineraries.

VISIT THE US NATIONAL PARKS: Looking for your next big adventure? Read our article about the 15 Best National Parks , where we narrow down the long list into 15 must-see parks. You can also get the full list in our US National Parks Checklist (which has a free printable PDF). Finally, if you are traveling as a family, here are the best parks to visit with kids.

USA ROAD TRIPS: Planning your next big adventure in the USA? Check our our USA Road Trip Guide for travel ideas and sample itineraries.

GREAT HIKES IN THE NATIONAL PARKS: From hikes to the tallest peaks to beautiful coast trails, read our Guide to the Best Day Hikes in the US National Parks. If you prefer to keep your hikes short and sweet, read our guide to the Best Short Hikes in the National Parks.

Read all of our articles about the US National Parks in our National Parks Travel Guide and about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.

US National Park Reservations Guide

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Related Posts

National Parks in October

Going to Glacier NP on September 6 & 7. Do I need 2 seperate reservations for each day? When do I need to get reservations?

Avatar for Julie

Yes, you will need a reservation for those dates. The reservations are valid for 1 day so you will need a separate reservation for the 6th and the 7th. They become available 120 days in advance. Learn more on the NPS website. Cheers, Julie

Avatar for Sheena

Do I need reservations for Zion park coming there end of may.??? What about Bryce Canyon ???

Bryce Canyon does not have any reservations. In Zion, you only need a reservation (hiking permit) for Angels Landing, the Subway, and the Narrows from the top-down. In Zion, you do not need a reservation to enter the park or ride the shuttle. Cheers, Julie

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  1. Best U.S. National Parks for 2023

    Yes No Glacier National Park #1 in Best U.S. National Parks for 2023 Considered one of the world's best places to visit, Glacier National Park spans two mountain ranges and includes more than...

  2. 15 Best National Parks in the U.S. You Should Visit

    Trip Ideas National Parks 15 Best National Parks in the U.S. You Should Visit These are the nation's most-visited national parks — for good reason. By Elizabeth Rhodes Updated on May 6, 2021...

  3. Plan Your Visit

    Plan Your Visit Important Links Find a Park Passes Events Maps Active Alerts in Parks Accessibility Trip Ideas Travel Tips Are you ready? Whether you want to explore local places or plan a vacation, you'll find a park to suit your interests! More Resources to Plan Your Visit Plan Like a Park Ranger

  4. The 25 Best National Parks in the U.S.

    Learn more about what makes this park so fantastic, and find out which other national parks made the cut, below. 1. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho. Sofia Jaramillo. March 1 ...

  5. Introducing the United States' 63 national parks

    For almost a hundred and fifty years, the United States' national parks have been inspiring visitors.

  6. US National Park Tours & Trips

    8 Days From $2,420 Explore rugged Utah on this eight-day adventure. Hit Zion National Park, Monument... View Trip LA to Vegas Adventure 5 Days From $1,470 Take a five-day road trip from Los Angeles to Vegas, stopping by Joshua Tree National... View Trip Vegas to San Fran 6 Days From $1,265

  7. Best US National Parks to Visit Month-By-Month

    If you have a park that you would like to visit (for example, Bryce Canyon National Park), scroll down to Bryce Canyon and the months highlighted in green are the best times to visit this park. The tables are broken up into 8 national parks each, just to keep them manageable. In the caption for each table, we have links to our national park ...

  8. Find a Park

    Find a Park (U.S. National Park Service) Plan Your Visit Find a Park By State

  9. National Park Itinerary

    Arizona Road Trip National Parks

  10. Best National Parks in the USA: 15 Amazing Parks for Your Bucket List

    In the winter, snowfall is likely. 4. Rocky Mountain National Park. With lofty mountain peaks, hiking trails that lead to alpine lakes and waterfalls, abundant wildlife, and a scenic drive along one of the highest roads in the USA, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best national parks in the United States.

  11. US National Parks Travel Guide

    The Mighty 5 of Utah Utah is world famous for being host to some of the United State's most spectacular scenery. Some of the most stunning US National Parks are home to the beautiful state of Utah. Maine Puffins Maine ocean islands provide the only nesting sites for Atlantic puffins in the United States.

  12. How to Plan a US National Parks Road Trip

    CAPITOL REEF GLACIER YELLOWSTONE ZION CANYONLANDS JOSHUA TREE GRAND TETON BRYCE CANYON MESA VERDE CRATER LAKE NORTH CASCADES Focus on one park at a time and look at photos, watch videos, or check out things to do. Narrowing down your list of parks can be easy if you already know where you want to go, and very daunting if you don't.

  13. US National Parks Tour Packages & Travel Guide

    US National Parks tours Travel guide See All US National Parks Tours As the world leader in travel experiences since 1947, we connect you to the real US National Parks in a way like no other. Breathe in the fresh mountain air. Listen to the whispers of the trees. Feel the spray of glacial waterfalls.

  14. The Perfect Road Trip to See Every U.S. National Park

    Photo by Randal Olson It's no easy task to plan the perfect itinerary… so we did the heavy-lifting for you. Well actually, Randal did. He created the most efficient cross-country route that hits all 47 national parks within the contiguous US. "Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit…"

  15. Maps

    Last updated: November 15, 2023 Find maps to help plan your trip to a national park and learn more about how the National Park Service makes maps.

  16. Tours of America's National Parks

    Tours of America's National Parks View All 136 Tours Tour America's spectacular canyons and national parks including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Zion, Mesa Verde and of course the Grand Canyon National Park.

  17. US National Parks: A list of the most beautiful based on 2023 reviews

    With 63 National Parks across the United States to choose from, a new analysis of reviews by Travel Lens has revealed its top 25 most beautiful national parks in the country. The online travel ...

  18. Ultimate US National Parks List for 2024 (+ Printable Checklist)

    At the time of the most recent update of this article, there are 424 national park units in the United States. In order to be a national park unit, that site must meet specific criteria relating to its national significance, suitability, and feasibility.

  19. Discover National Parks

    Book Now, Pay at the Counter. No Cancellation Fees. National Park admission fees not included except for Guided Vacations. Please check the National Park Service website for the latest details on the park's operating status and any advisories at

  20. 14 Day US National Parks Tour

    Discover the wonderland of Zion National Park, with its spectacular sandstone cliffs, considered one of the most awe-inspiring national parks in the U.S. Here, keep a look out for golden eagles, falcons and the endangered California condor, and marvel at the famous trio of peaks, known as the Three Patriarchs.

  21. US National Parks Reviews

    Visit US National Parks for Less! We would love for you to join us on an upcoming Gate 1 Travel US National Parks escorted tour. If you're looking to experience the best of USA's National Parks, here is your chance! Visit Mt. Rushmore, the largest statue-monument in the world; discover dramatic Grand Teton National Park; explore Yellowstone ...

  22. How to Visit National Parks for Free in 2024

    Visit with a fourth-grader. One way to gain free access to national parks in 2024 is to go with a fourth-grade student. To obtain the pass, you must have a valid paper voucher from the Every Kid ...

  23. Homepage (U.S. National Park Service)

    Plan Your Visit Learn & explore Get Involved Last updated: January 17, 2024 Stories of Places & People Discover History

  24. Yellowstone without the crowds. Meet Lassen Volcanic National Park

    1:12. There's a "hidden gem" in Northern California for travelers who prefer to stay off the beaten path, Lassen Volcanic National Park. "We have volcanic features and hydrothermal ...

  25. These Are the Most Underrated US National Parks, According to ...

    In 2022, Theodore Roosevelt saw 668,000 visitors. Below are some other underrated standouts, according to Reddit: North Cascades National Park, Washington. Badlands National Park, South Dakota ...

  26. US National Parks that Require Reservations

    The US National Parks were a travel hotspot, even before 2020. Visitation in the US National Park system peaked in 2016, with 331 million visitors. This number was just a few thousand less in 2017 and visitation hasn't hit 331 million number again, even during or after COVID (2022 was another big year for the parks, with visitation reaching ...