10 Best National Parks and National Monuments in the US and Beyond
No matter the season, visiting a national park is as American as, well, eating apple pie and celebrating the 4thof July! Did you know that the United States has a whopping total of 59 national parks and 117 national monuments?
With so many to choose from, figuring out which one to add to your travel bucket list might be a daunting task. To help you out, I asked ten travel and lifestyle bloggers to help contribute to this article.
Below, you’ll find the best suggestions on which national park or national monument to visit without having to frantically hit up Google to figure out where to start your adventure planning. Keep reading for a comprehensive list of the eight best national parks and national monuments in the US, and two others outside of the US if you are traveling internationally.
Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is small but has so much to offer. There are rugged mountains, pristine lakes, lush forests, diverse wildlife, and rocky glacier-carved coastline. My family has enjoyed this park for years. The park consists of 4 different parts, Mount Desert Island, the main part of the park has two ‘fingers’, the Northeast Harbor where you will find Bar Harbor and the Southwest Harbor where you have Bass Harbor. The other two area’s that make up the park are 6 miles of shoreline along the tip of the Schoodic Peninsula and the Isle au Haut.
When visiting this park my family is always amazed by the amount of wildlife we see. In summer the Rangers will generally have telescopes out around the park for you to see nesting peregrine falcons and hawks. It’s fascinating to watch these birds feed their young on the rugged cliffs on the Maine coast. A reminder to always check your hiking route before setting off. They frequently close trails to protect these birds.
Hiking is another favorite activity in this park. Every mountain we have climbed has given us a different amazing view. We have never been disappointed, especially going to the top of Cadillac Mount, the highest point along the eastern seashore.
Sandy Beach is a great soft sand beach that kids love to run in and out of the water. The water is always cold but refreshing on a hot day. We have also enjoyed swimming in Echo Lake which is on the southwest harbor, the quieter side of Acadia. At low tide along the coastline of this harbor, in particular, we have found some fun sea creatures. We’ve found sea anemones, crabs, periwinkle snails, and barnacles. It’s fun to see how many periwinkle snails we can find.
The Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse in at the tip of the southwest harbor and worth a stop. It sits atop a rugged piece of coastline and you will have a beautiful view of the ocean. Acadia has so much to offer I think you will agree it is worth a visit.
From the Author: Welcome to In The Olive Groves, we’re so glad you stopped by. We started this blog as a way to instill in our children the will to travel and explore the world around them. To understand and embrace different cultures and traditions and to see this beautiful planet of ours. Get to know us better: We are the Millers. A family of 4; mom, dad, 2 girls, 2 cats, and a rabbit. We live about an hour north of Boston, MA and love to travel, try new things and eat well.
Arches National Park
Robin O’Neal Smith and her family’s favorite national park is Arches National Park, known as a red-rock wonderland. The number one reason they like it so much is because it’s simply beautiful. Seeing the natural formed arches is breathtaking. If you are a photographer or just enjoy seeing beautiful landscapes of contrasting colors, land forms and textures unlike any other in the world, Arches National Park is for you.
Arches is 75K acres in size with paved roads through most of it. It is a scenic drive and you can enjoy the park even if you never leave your car. It takes approximately 2.5 hours to drive through the entire park. Add additional time for stops, and you will want to stop to take in the many beautiful formations. There are 2000 sandstone arches in the park created by erosion and forces of nature.
It is easy to get to most areas of the park. You can see arches, towers, pinnacles, and balanced rocks from the paved park roads. The most scenic arches have pull-off areas to park and take pictures and nearby short hiking trails to get closer pictures.
There is great hiking for all levels of ability from very easy level ground to difficult hiking up steep, rock formations. Signs clearly mark hike difficulty and time to complete. The famous Delicate Arch hike is 3 miles round trip and mostly an uphill climb.
Arches is a photographer’s paradise and the best shots are early in AM or later in the evening. These are also the best times for hiking due to intense heat midday. Late spring and fall are the best times to visit. It is less crowded then and less heat. Expect crowds at the most popular arches during the summer months and by crowds, I mean hundreds of people at each arch.
Be sure to come prepared with lots of sunscreen and a water bottle. There are only two places to refill your bottle. One is at the visitor center as you enter the park and the other is at Devils Garden trailhead and campground. There is no public Wi-Fi in the park and cellular coverage at Arches is spotty.
My family loves the nearby town of Moab. In Moab you are close to not only Arches National Park, but Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse State Park. The area is full of scenic sights, fun destinations and lots of outdoor activities to enjoy.
Author Bio: Robin O’Neal Smith is a freelance writer at RobinONealSmith.com.
A young baby boomer, Robin and her husband have traveled throughout the North America, many of the Caribbean Islands and Europe. When not at home in her small town of Saxton in rural central PA, she spends time adventuring the world. Her favorites are a warm beach, a cruise ship or a scenic destination. Robin loves sharing tips and experiences to inspire others to live their dreams of a touch of luxury without spending all of their retirement savings. In additional to her blog, you can find Robin on Instagram and Facebook.
Waco Mammoth National Monument
Waco Mammoth National Monument is loved by Karla and her family! Check out Karla’s blog at The Happy Mustard Seed to see all the good things that she’s writing about.
Waco Mammoth Cave is one of the richest Ice Age fossil beds in the world. In July 2015 President Obama created the Waco Mammoth National Monument making it a part of the national park services.
One of the things that Karla and her family loves is that the national parks have a junior ranger program. Her daughter was sworn in as a Junior Ranger by one of her fellow Girl Scout members.
What’s a Junior Ranger?
- Help preserve National Parks
- Represent to their friends, family and schoolmates
- Learn about Waco Mammoth National Monument
- Spread their knowledge about parks
- Use good environmental practice
For more information about the junior ranger program: Junior Ranger Program
Karla says that one of the coolest things about Waco Mammoth NM is that it contains over 25 Columbian mammoths and was discovered in 1978 by Paul Barron and Eddie Bufkin. The site was originally closed to the public from 1979 through the end of 2009, and then a shelter was built to protect the bones and allow visitors and general public to view.
It’s believed that the mammoths drowned in three different series of flash floods about 67,000 years ago. The fossils are set in the original place that they were found.
The age of the fossils were determined using luminescence dating, which uses light to excite electrons and cause emissions which can then be examined to show the last time a bone was exposed to the sun.
Author Bio: Hi! I’m Karla! I’m a mom of two super great kids, married to my college sweetheart and an advocate for simple, functional, purposeful family life. I would love to share my tips and advice so you can love the life you live in and build a strong family. And even if it’s not perfect, how to manage your day to day a little less effortlessly. My blog is for moms who are working on or struggling with building foundations in their life, home and family. I’m here to help you achieve that happy mom life, happy marriage, happy and functional home.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Katie Cook’s favorite park is Lassen Volcanic National Park located in northern California. Lassen Volcanic National Park is a hub of geothermal activity. Most park visitors stick to the main road and take short jaunts along manicured boardwalks to see the bubbling mud pots, hissing geysers, and steaming fumaroles. All the while, they have no idea that an active volcano looms high above them.
To get the best view of the park, grab your sense of adventure, strap on your hiking boots and follow the 2.5-mile trail to the top of Mount Lassen, a dormant, yet active volcanic peak. Mount Lassen hasn’t erupted since 1921, but the faint smell of rotten eggs wafting from the top of the mountain is a constant reminder that there’s still volcanic activity bubbling beneath the surface.
This hike may be short (only 5-miles total), but it isn’t for the faint of heart. The trail climbs over 2,000 feet of elevation in two short miles and the top of the peak is 10,457 feet high. As you wind back and forth along the switchbacks you’ll get great views of Lake Helen and the valley below. As you near the top of the mountain the large scree fields and dramatic rock formations makes it look like you’re on a different planet. Even in the height of summer there is often snow at the top of the mountain. Bundle up in your layers and walk across the snowfield to get to the true peak and the best views in all of Northern California.
Author Info: Katie Cook is a hiker, backpacker, and outdoor blogger at Trees and Tents. Use her Lassen Volcanic National Park hiking guide: Two Days in Lassen National Park to plan your next big adventure.
Death Valley National Park
Next up is Karen from KMF is Writing blog. She says that one of her favorite national parks is Death Valley in California. At 3.4 million acres, it is the largest U.S. National Park in the lower 48 states.
Described as a place of extremes, Death Valley is known as the hottest and driest place on earth. It features low valley floors (which can become flooded during a rare rainstorm). And the mountains climb as high as 11,000 feet. The area also features canyons, sand dunes, and wildflowers.
If Zabriskie Point in Death Valley looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same location as U2’s Joshua Tree album cover.
Dante’s View (5,475 feet) overlooking the Badwater Basin and salt flats.
Badwater Basin and Salt Flats
At 282 feet below sea level, the Badwater Basin is the lowest elevation in the continental U.S. For perspective, the red arrow in the image indicates sea level.
The white path in this image is what’s known as salt flats. Salt crusts are fragile so the U.S. National Park Service advises to tread lightly.
Devil’s Golf Course
Devil’s Golf Course in Death Valley is a rough surface formed by halite salt crystals. Take caution as hiking is not advised; it’s difficult to walk on and a little painful if you fall.
Plan your visit
You can find many more spectacular vistas in the largest national park. Consult the U.S. National Park Services website to plan your visit. Also stop in at the Furnace Visitor Center when you arrive in Death Valley.
Author Info: Karen, a former hockey mom midway through her third year as an emptynester, recently resigned from corporate life after 25+ years as a journalist, corporate communications manager, writer, and editor. She’s excited to focus her energy on two passions: writing and traveling – emptynester, family, solo and girlfriend getaways. Be sure to visit the kmf is writing blog to see what else she’s up to.
Shenandoah National Park
Cameron from This Custom Life says her favorite national park is Shenandoah, located in the rolling hills of Virginia.
Just a couple of hours outside of Washington, DC, Shenandoah National Park is nothing short of a national treasure. While lacking the dramatic panoramas of parks like Zion or Yellowstone, its wide expanses quickly erase the hustle and bustle of the city and bring a calm stillness to your core.
To traverse the park, you’ll want to drive along at least part of the 105-mile-long Skyline Drive. The road runs across the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains and makes for breathtaking vistas at every one of its 75 overlook stops. Especially on a crisp fall day.
The southern end of Skyline Drive links up with the Blue Ridge Parkway, which connects Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Talk about an epic road trip!
But my favorite way to experience Shenandoah National Park is by hiking and camping. 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail are located within the park with over 500 miles of trails. Many with simply outstanding views.
You can choose between trails featuring meadows, forests, rock climbing, summits, or waterfalls. You could visit the Shenandoah every single weekend for a year and never do the same hike twice.
If you’re an experienced hiker, Old Rag is the most well-known and the most challenging trail in the park. The route can take between five and eight hours to complete. The amazing views are worth it, but be sure you’re in shape to tackle it.
My favorite time of year in the park is fall. The weather is cool, but the trees are on fire with orange, red, and yellow. Skyline Drive in the fall is simply stunning, as is just about any hike you choose. Especially at sunrise and sunset when the colors really scream.
The Park is easily accessible from a number of points, and the Shenandoah Valley is also home to a good number of wineries in case you want to quench your thirst after a good hike!
Author Info: This Custom Life is a place to help you build your best family, home, and work life. Cameron is a corporate politico in the Washington, DC area who writes on the side. She’s spent close to 20 years advancing her career while trying to create a beautiful home and a full life, and one of her passions has always been to help others do the same. That’s where the idea for This Custom Life came from!
Yosemite National Park
Another favorite park loved by Kris and her family is Yosemite National Park. Yosemite, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, is one of the United States’ most iconic National Parks and draws visitors from around the world to enjoy its incredible scenery.
The Yosemite Valley is absolutely packed with spectacular waterfalls, granite cliffs, and wildlife. You’ll find Yosemite Falls – the tallest waterfall in North America, El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall, and more in the valley itself. Visitors can also take a scenic drive along the Glacier Point Road during warmer months to get a panoramic view from above.
Other areas of the park feature giant sequoias – the largest type of tree in the world by volume, alpine lakes, and many smaller waterfalls. Hikers will love the many trails leading to scenic overlooks and rewarding climbs. Whether you’re looking for easy or difficult trails, Yosemite has something for everyone.
You can find out more about the best hikes in Yosemite here. The most adventurous – and skilled – visitors can tackle one of Yosemite’s famous rock climbing routes. Even if you prefer to remain on the ground, be sure to take a look up El Capitan to see if you can spot climbers high above the valley floor.
There are a variety of places to stay right in the park itself, plus numerous more affordable accommodations in the towns nearby. For first time visitors, I’d highly recommend staying in Yosemite Valley because waking up to views like that is incredible and you’ll save a lot of time driving back and forth. You can find everything from a luxury hotel to campgrounds there, and food service and groceries are also available.
From the Author: Kris can be found over at the Nomad by Trade blog where she says her suitcase never rests. Follow her adventures around the United States, abroad, and to her beloved Disney parks. Traveling the world, camera in hand, and sharing all of her best adventures is her ultimate dream. You can also find Kris on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Zion National Park
Pawnee Simons from Finding Pawnee blog says it’s easy to get lost in Zion. As you enter the canyon it is like everything from the world drops away. Sound and even time seem to shift as massive rock formations rise up on every side blocking your view of the world outside. You can’t see out but you realize you don’t want to.
All the sudden all those shows about hidden magical kingdom seem a little more plausible. I mean driving in it is less than impressive. I admit to being slightly underwhelmed the first time I drove in. Then there is a moment, after the road narrows and you round that one bend and BAM!! There it is big and bold and beautiful. And the further you go the better it gets.
I fell in love with this Zion National Park while in college. I found a job working on at a nearby resort and spent two summers exploring its wonders. It did not matter how many time I went into the park there was always something new to discover. A garden growing right out of a wall, the perfect swimming hole and waterfall/rock slide completely unmarked and only lightly visited, that little canyon with my name that if you are not paying attention you will walk right on by. And the little peach tree growing almost right out of the rock as you round a blind corner.
Nothing is ever what it seems. You look at the trailhead and down at your information and you are sure there is no way there are three miles to that trail but then a half hour later you are on a trail hanging off the side of a cliff. Twenty minutes after that you are in a steep canyon that came out of nowhere.
One of the biggest things to remember though, don’t forget to look up! This was advice I received my first summer in Zion and well if you take nothing else from me, don’t forget to look up. Sure it’s easy when you are on the shuttle and there is really nothing else to do. But when you have been hiking for hours it is easy to just focus on your breathing and your feet. Take a moment every so often, stop and look up. There are so many beautiful things to see but you will miss some of the best views if you don’t stop and look up.
Author Info: Pawnee says her website is her journey to finding herself and being happy. She will be sharing lessons learned about herself through life and travel. Hopefully, you can join her on this fantastic adventure. Reach her on her site at Finding Pawnee.
Hoge Veluwe, The Netherlands
When thinking of national parks in the world, one from the Netherlands may not be your first choice. However for me the first one that came to mind was the Hoge Veluwe National Park. The Netherlands has 21 national parks with the Hoge Veluwe being the largest continuous nature reserve of them all, as well as the most popular based on the location.
What I personally love about the Hoge Veluwe is the beautiful landscape and wildlife that can be spotted, such as wolves, hogs and deer. In every season you can find peace and tranquility in the forest and marshlands. I once did a 20km route and saw only 2 people along the way! It’s the perfect national park for dusting off your hiking boots to wear again. Else you can use their free bicycles at the entrances to explore the park.
Highly recommended to visit when you find yourself in the Netherlands. Just keep in mind of the Dutch weather (can be anything!) and take snacks and a drink with you. However their local restaurant had some delicious options for lunch too! I personally recommend that you stay for a weekend in one of the many locations around the entrances, but a day trip is also possible if your pretty active.
Author Info: Zoe from Together in Transit, started writing as a way to share her and her partner’s passion for traveling and discovery. They dream of exploring often, and so travel as soon as they have time from their busy schedules and the savings to pursue those destinations. You can find Zoe on Facebook too.
Peak District, Central England
Amy, from The Travel Fairies blog. says that her favorite national park in the world has to be the Peak District in Central England. While the name may conjure up the image of huge jagged mountains, it is actually most characterised by green, sweeping hills. It isn’t even home to the highest point in England! However, despite the name giving off a few mixed signals it is an amazing place to go explore.
The Peak District is the first place in the United Kingdom to be declared a national park and with its proximity to big cities such as Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent, Derby and Sheffield, tourism has always played an important role to the area. No matter what you’re into, there’s something for everyone.
For the luxury travelers visit one of the numerous spas in the area, for the history buffs marvel at the county estates like Chatsworth (which you may recognise as Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice), for the dark tourists take a trip to Eyam, the Plague Village, and if you’re an adventure-lover then the world is your oyster. There is rock climbing, water sports, cycling, caving or one of the many hiking trails throughout the national park.
For a first-timer visiting the Peak District, I recommend visiting Castleton and taking a hike up to Mam Tor. It is a great introduction to the Peak District and the perfect example of the English countryside. You can even check out one of the quintessentially British pubs or tea rooms that can be found in the village.
Author Info: Amy is part of a sister trio of writers working on The Travel Fairies Blog: Lucy, Amy and Jess. Whilst we are sisters, each of us are very different people and travel in different ways. We have each written a bucket list and introduction which you can find by clicking the link here.
Whew! That’s a lot of adventure destinations that hopefully inspire you and your family to travel more and travel well. I want to thank each and every one of the travel and lifestyle bloggers who contributed to this article….you all are the best of the best and I’m glad to host your contribution on Travels with Bibi!
If any readers know of others places that should be on the list of best national parks and national monuments, please let us know in a comment below.
If you found a new national park or monument to add to your bucket list, or you simply liked this article, please share it and spread the word about these fantastic adventure destinations.Follow me on Social Media