5 of the Best National Parks in the USA

5 of the Best National Parks in the USA

Visiting iconic national parks like the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Arches, and Mount Rushmore offers a peek into America's natural beauty and magnificence. Each park has a unique story, showcasing the diversity of the American landscape - from forests to deserts and impressive carvings.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park attracts millions of visitors each year. The park is located on the border of North Carolina and Tennessee and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The ancient mountains and diverse plants and animals make it a great destination for hikers, wildlife enthusiasts, and anyone looking for a break in the Appalachian Mountains.

The park has a range of camping options, including backcountry and developed campgrounds. However, specific rules are in place to protect the park's natural beauty.

Its unique biosphere, with over 17,000 species of documented plants and animals, offers a stunning diversity of life. The park does not charge an entrance fee, making it accessible to all. 

Popular trails include the Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte and the scenic Cades Cove Loop

Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte

The Alum Cave Trail to Mount LeConte stands out as one of the park's most sought-after hiking experiences, leading to the third-highest peak in the park, Mount LeConte, at an elevation of 6,593 feet. 

The trail is approximately 5 miles one way and is famous for its diverse natural features and stunning vistas. Key attractions along the trail include Arch Rock, a natural arch formed by erosion, and Inspiration Point, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. 

The Alum Cave Bluffs is a striking geological feature and a good resting point for hikers roughly halfway up the trail. This trail's popularity is partly due to its varied terrain and ecosystems, providing hikers with a broad experience of the park's natural beauty. 

The summit rewards you with stunning views and a sense of achievement. You can stay overnight at the LeConte Lodge, the only lodging in the park accessible by trail (reservations required).

Cades Cove Loop

Cades Cove offers a different but equally enriching experience. This broad, green valley is surrounded by mountains. It is one of the park's most visited areas, accessible via an 11-mile one-way loop road. 

Cades Cove is famous for its well-preserved homesteads, churches, and barns dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, offering a peek into the early settler life in the region! 

The loop can be driven, biked, or walked, and several trails branch off to explore more of the surrounding wilderness. The accessibility, stunning views, and rich history make Cades Cove a must-visit for anyone visiting the park.

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is a stunning natural wonder rich in geological history. The park spans over 1.2 million acres of untouched wilderness (amazing, isn’t it?). 

It boasts awe-inspiring panoramic views, towering cliffs, and deep, winding canyons carved by the Colorado River over many years. Its immense size and unique combination of geological colors and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles (446km) long, up to 18 miles (29km) wide, and a mile (1.6km) deep.

The park offers access to the North and South Rims for a vehicle entrance fee of $35. Hikers can take on famous trails such as the Bright Angel and North Kaibab routes. 

While the South Rim is more developed and accessible throughout the year, the North Rim offers a more secluded and quiet experience but is closed during winter. 

Camping is allowed at Mather Campground on the South Rim and North Rim Campground, but permits are required for backcountry camping.

Grand Canyon South Rim

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is a popular spot for visitors because it's easily accessible year-round and has plenty of services, such as lodges, campgrounds, and viewpoints. 

The Grand Canyon Village is located here, where visitors can explore historic buildings, museums, and the famous Grand Canyon Railway. 

The South Rim is higher, providing a great view of the canyon's largeness and maze of canyons, spires, and buttes. Mather Point, Yavapai Observation Station, and Hopi Point are popular viewpoints that offer unique perspectives of the canyon, especially during sunrise and sunset when the light hits the rock layers, revealing a breathtaking palette of colors.

Grand Canyon North Rim

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is only open from mid-May to mid-October due to heavy snow in the winter. It offers a different view of the Grand Canyon with thicker forests and cooler weather. The North Rim has must-see viewpoints like Bright Angel Point, Point Imperial, and Cape Royal, each providing unique views.

Hiking and Backcountry Exploration

If you're looking to explore the Grand Canyon, you have a range of trails to choose from.

The park offers manageable day hikes and challenging backcountry adventures. 

The most popular paths are Bright Angel and South Kaibab on the South Rim and North Kaibab on the North Rim. 

These trails offer an opportunity to see the canyon's geological wonders up close and experience the power of the Colorado River. However, hiking in the Grand Canyon requires preparation for the park's challenging conditions, including steep terrain, elevation changes, and extreme temperatures.

Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone is America's first national park, spreading across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. 

The park is famous for its geothermal wonders, including the Old Faithful geyser(!) 

Entrance fees cost $35 per vehicle. Yellowstone offers several trails, like Uncle Tom's Trail and Lamar Valley Trail, that give visitors an experience of its diverse ecosystems. 

The park has several campgrounds, ranging from large, RV-friendly sites to remote backcountry spots. Due to high demand, most developed sites require advance reservations.

Geothermal Features

Yellowstone is famous for its geothermal activity, where over 10,000 hot springs, geysers, mudpots, and fumaroles are found. Old Faithful is the most well-known geyser, famous for its predictable eruptions every 90 minutes.
The Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world, with striking colors that span a rainbow.

Wildlife and Natural Beauty

Yellowstone is an excellent place in the U.S. to observe wildlife, such as bison, elk, wolves, and grizzly bears (nice.) You can watch them in the Lamar and Hayden Valleys. Besides, the park is known for its beautiful scenery, including the impressive Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River and Yellowstone Lake.


Trails and Outdoor Activities

Yellowstone has over 900 miles of trails for hikers of all abilities, with options ranging from gentle strolls around the geysers to rugged backcountry adventures. Visitors can also enjoy popular activities like fishing, canoeing, and camping. Several campgrounds and backcountry sites are available.


Visit Considerations

If you're planning a trip to Yellowstone, plan ahead. The park is huge, and the weather can be unpredictable. The best time to visit is in the Summer when it's warm, and you'll have access to most of the park. Winter is also beautiful, but access is limited. Regardless of when you visit, Yellowstone offers an incredible experience.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a popular tourist attraction in South Dakota. It features the carved faces of four U.S. presidents: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

You can visit the park for free–and you only need to pay $10 for parking. Unlike other parks, it does not have traditional hiking trails or campgrounds. However, you can walk the Presidential Trail and look closer at the sculpture.

The Black Hills region surrounding Mount Rushmore offers many outdoor activities for visitors.

Artistic and Historical Significance

Mount Rushmore is a masterpiece of art and engineering completed in 1941. It symbolizes American ideals and serves as a reminder of the country's history and heritage. 

Visiting Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore offers several viewpoints and trails for visitors to explore. The Grand View Terrace and Presidential Trail provide the closest views of the monument. The Avenue of Flags displays flags from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, celebrating the unity and diversity of the nation.

Visitors can explore the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and the Sculptor's Studio to learn about the creation of Mount Rushmore, the lives of the four presidents, and Gutzon Borglum's artistic process.

The Evening Lighting Ceremony, held from late May through September, is a moving experience, as the faces of the presidents are illuminated against the night sky.

Natural Beauty and Outdoor Activities

The Black Hills region has a lot to offer beyond the monument. Visitors can enjoy the natural beauty and outdoor activities the area offers. The surrounding national forest is home to wild rock formations, dense forests, and wildlife, including bison, elk, and pronghorns. The area has numerous hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. Additionally, visitors can go fishing and boating in the region's lakes and streams.

Arches National Park

Arches National Park in Utah features more than 2,000 natural stone arches and an awe-inspiring landscape. The park is entered by paying a fee of $30 per vehicle. You can explore the park's most famous formations by following the Delicate Arch and Devil's Garden trails. 

Camping inside the park is only allowed at the Devils Garden Campground.

Still, there are several camping options nearby in Moab. Following Leave No Trace principles is important to protect  the park's natural beauty and fragile desert ecosystem.

Unique Geological Features

Arches National Park is home to some of the world's most famous geological features, such as the Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, Double Arch, and Balanced Rock. Each one is worth seeing and offers unique views. Delicate Arch is particularly stunning at sunset when it glows a fiery red against the La Sal Mountains.

Exploring the Park

Arches National Park has trails for all levels of hikers, from easy walks to challenging hikes. The scenic drive provides access to many viewpoints and trailheads. Popular trails include Delicate Arch, Devils Garden Trail, and the Windows Section.

Camping and Night Skies

Consider camping at Devils Garden Campground for an extended stay at Arches National Park. The park is a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, perfect for stargazing with some of the darkest skies in the U.S. Remember to make reservations in advance. 

Many Adventures Await

National parks offer endless opportunities to learn about geological formations, biodiversity, American history, and culture. They also provide a space for personal reflection, recreation, and a peaceful escape from daily life.

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