By Rae and Jason Miller
One of the best things about America’s national parks is how unbelievably different they can be from one another. You can explore the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park or the swamps of the Everglades. Or what about baking in the desert sun of Big Bend or getting iced down at Glacier National Park?
No matter what environments or activities you prefer, there are a few crown jewels of the national park system you simply can’t miss—10 incredible places offering some of the best landscapes, activities, and history that America offers.
Glacier National Park.
Known as the “crown of the continent,” Glacier is in northwestern Montana near the Canadian border. The million-acre park includes over 700 miles of trails crisscrossing ecosystems from prairie to lakes to tundra and, of course, the park’s namesake glaciers. It’s also home to one of the national park system’s most famous scenic drives, Going-to-the-Sun Road. There are very few other places on earth where you can see dramatic landscapes of lakes and mountains sculpted by massive ice sheets. The park is also well-known for its various ranger-led programs.
Acadia National Park.
This breathtaking area along coastal Maine preserves mountains, lakes, beaches, and other diverse ecosystems. It’s all interwoven with signs of man’s impact, including small towns, scenic drives, and quaint lodges and cabins. We’d argue that nowhere else can compete with the preserved beauty of Acadia’s quality. Drive or hike to the top of Cadillac Mountain to see the first rays of sun hitting the continental United States for part of the year. Or take a dip in the chilly northern Atlantic Ocean waters at Sand Beach.
Olympic National Park.
Olympic is home to three distinctive landscapes that make the Pacific Northwest famous: Ocean coast, mountains, and old-growth rainforests. A short drive from western Washington, it offers fantastic outdoor recreation opportunities for millions. Still, with over a million acres of land, you’ll have plenty of wilderness all to yourself if you so desire.
Yosemite National Park
One of America’s oldest national parks, Yosemite is a nearly 1,200 square-mile area of dramatic valleys, forests, lakes, and other habitats of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Among the most famous are the massive granite cliffs, including the well-known El Capitan and Half Dome. One look at the one-of-a-kind waterfalls and unbelievable rock formations, and you’ll understand the allure of this remarkable place.
Grand Canyon National Park.
Stretching through dozens of miles of northern Arizona, the Grand Canyon offers some of the southwest’s best hiking, striking scenic drives, and rafting for all skill levels on the Colorado River. It’s all well and good to see photos, but it’s hard to truly appreciate the scope of this gargantuan space without seeing it in person. Visitors can easily experience miles of canyon views along the mostly paved Rim Trail.
Bryce Canyon National Park.
Head to southern Utah for some of the national park system’s most otherworldly landscapes. Bryce is primarily known for its hoodoos, which are thousands of distinctive spire-like rock formations. Bryce is doable in a single day or even a half-day, making it a worthwhile stop.
Zion National Park.
Located around the breathtaking Zion Canyon, the park in southwestern Utah protects thousands of years of rich history, from ancient Native Americans to modern Mormon settlers who gave the park its current name.
Grand Teton National Park.
Located in western Wyoming near ski town Jackson (nicknamed Jackson Hole), it protects the most prominent peaks of the Teton Range. South of the more famous Yellowstone, the park is especially memorable for its wildlife-watching, mountain climbing, and hiking opportunities, especially along its many backcountry trails. Animals lovers will enjoy the moose, bison, elk, pronghorn, wolves, and bears.
Crater Lake National Park
In south-central Oregon, the park’s namesake is the deepest lake in the U.S. Crystal blue water fills the massive hole created by a collapsed volcano. The park offers amazing activities in all seasons, from hiking and scenic drives to snowshoeing or sledding.
Yellowstone National Park.
America’s first national park straddles three states and protects a massive expanse of forests, valleys, lakes, and most prominently, geothermal features like geysers.
Rae and Jason Miller wrote this article for their website, getawaycouple.com. They’ve been RVing across the U.S. since leaving their jobs and California home five years ago.