When you think of the US there’s a lot that comes to mind. The metropolis that is New York, burgers and ribs as big as the table, that awesome southern accent, Route 66 and the amazing national parks dotted throughout. I think it’s fair to say that a big road trip in the US is something on many of our bucket lists and visiting some of its national parks is one of the top things to do.
Now, you might be wondering how I’m writing about the US when I’m based in Australia right? Well, I’ve reached out to some brilliant travel bloggers who have had the privilege of spending time in 13 of the most amazing US National Parks. Be prepared to extend your bucket list drastically and get planning one hell of a trip!
Zion National Park
Location: Southwest Utah
One of my favourite parks is Zion National Park. I went there with every intention of hiking The Narrows but they were closed when I arrived due to flooding, so I embarked on the Angel’s Landing trail instead. I wasn’t prepared for the hike, especially the last half-mile which required climbing up metal chains and dangling dangerously close to the edge of a cliff.
The view at the top and feeling of conquest when I made it to the top, however, made it all worthwhile. I’ll never forget what it felt like to pose at the top—with my legs feeling like jelly and spirit soaring sky high.
By Jen from Jen on a Jetplane
Big Bend National Park
Location: Southwest Texas
Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited national parks in the United States. I can understand why. It’s very remote and difficult to get to. The closest airports are in El Paso and Midland, and it’s still nearly a 5-hour drive from there! But if you travel to Big Bend, you’ll be well rewarded for your effort. The park is named for the big bend the Rio Grande takes at this stretch of the border between Texas and Mexico. But if you’re expecting just a wide expanse of desert, you’d be mistaken. The park is the only national park that houses an entire mountain range within its borders.
The mountains, along with the desert and the land surrounding the river make up three distinct areas of the park to explore. There are over 150 miles of hiking trails in the park, from short hikes along the river to overnight trails where you can camp in the mountains. If camping isn’t your thing (it’s definitely not mine), you can stay at the Chisos Mountains Lodge and have easy access to the hiking trails right outside your door. However, we stayed just outside the gates of the park in Terlingua, a ghost town worth visiting all on its own! It’s hard to really put into words why Big Bend is such a special place.
While it’s one of the least visited national parks, those that visit tend to repeat, escaping to the desert mountains at every opportunity. It’s peaceful, pure and the people are kind. Sitting with a beer stargazing under the milky way with no one around you for miles doesn’t hurt either.
By Erin from Sol Salute
Grand Teton National Park
Location: Northwest Wyoming
There are a lot of beautiful national parks in the USA, but Grand Teton National Park has something special. It’s undeniably photogenic, with mountains, deep forest, and tons of wildlife. Grand Teton is out west in the state of Wyoming, just south of Yellowstone National Park. They are so close together, in fact, that there’s just a small strip of no-mans land between the two parks.
Grand Teton’s most iconic feature is its namesake mountain range. The Tetons are rough and jagged—you can’t mistake them in a photograph. The park is small enough to do a car tour in just one day, but the beauty of the park is best seen up close. Grand Teton is a dream for adventurers, with tons of opportunity for day hiking, overnight backpacking trips, and climbing. Anyone who visits should add a hike to the itinerary, even if it’s only a short one. This way you can see the mountains up close, go deep into the woods, and really get a feel for the serenity of nature.
There are also a few big lakes throughout the park, like Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake. You can kayak or go boating, and in some spots, you can even get in for a swim. One of my favourite things about Grand Teton National Park is how easy it is to spot wildlife. While one side of the park is lakes and mountains, the other side is flat grassland. Here you can easily find herds of American Bison (buffalo) and antelope. In the marshier areas, you can see moose near sunset. Grand Teton really has the best combination of scenery, activities, and wildlife, with plenty of peace and quiet for relaxation.
By Courtney from Travel Daze
Glacier National Park
Location: Rocky Mountains, Montana
Water and mountains are my favourite combination because I love hiking as well as swimming. When we went to Glacier National Park, I felt like I was in heaven. Picturesque snowcapped mountains and crystal-clear glacier lakes – what else do you need for your vacation?! This place is one of the most beautiful national parks in the world.
There are so many things to do and to explore. At night, you can enjoy the clearest view of the majestic Milky Way, and at daytime, you can get active with kayaking, hiking, trekking, and more. Glacier National Park definitely should be on everyone’s USA bucket list!
By Nate from Unbridled
Muir Woods National Park
Location: North San Francisco, California
The Muir Woods National Monument was established in 1908 and is a part of the Golden Gate National Park. Being just a 20-minute drive out of San Francisco, this is a very popular National Park for weekend hikes and generally spending time outdoors. I think, till I actually got here, I didn’t realise the full scale of the giant redwood trees that I had only read about so far. The redwoods here grow up to a height of 250 m. and they can range in age from anywhere between 400 and 800 years. Reading these facts in the park information booklet really made me feel the insignificance of my own being!
There are a number of well-marked trails through the park, with their difficulty levels also clearly indicated. Many of them are paved or boardwalk-style so as to make them wheelchair-friendly. Trails run along two sides of the Redwood Creek, which you can cross over using bridges at points along the way. The height of the trees tends to block most of the sunlight from reaching the ground, making you feel like you’re walking somewhere in a rain-forest rather than a few miles outside San Francisco! Standing under a towering redwood, straining my neck to look up at the top, was quite an experience. There is also a pretty good Visitors Centre, where you can learn about the history of the Park etc. The shop on the premises also sells souvenirs including articles made from local deadwood, which can be a great keepsake.
This National Park has recently implemented a requirement of pre-booking your parking slot online if you wish to bring your own car. If you want to avoid the hassle of parking, you can always opt for a bus tour run by one of the many San Francisco based tour operators. Since the Park tends to get a lot of visitors, especially during summers and on weekends, try to reach early. I would highly recommend Muir Woods to anybody visiting San Francisco, it’s such an awesome experience and will stay with you for a long time!
By Neha from Nomadic Dreamz
Great Basin National Park
Location: East Nevada
Death Valley National Park
Location: Eastern California and Nevada
Standing as one of the largest and most diverse National Parks in the United States, Death Valley should be a must visit on your list of places to travel to. There is a little bit of everything here for every kind of explorer. You can spend your time driving along the established park roads making stops at some of the popular sites such as the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes or making a visit to the lowest elevation point in the United States at Badwater Basin.
You could also plan a bigger adventure out into the thick of it all and explore some of Death Valley’s four-wheel drive roads or hike on one of the many established hiking trails in the park. For an extra-special view, hike Death Valley’s tallest peak, Telescope Peak, and look out West to view the valley floor and California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range.
From sand dunes to mountaintops, there is so much to do and see in this park. Plan your visit during the winter and spring months for the best temperatures, and better yet, schedule your trip during Death Valley’s beautiful wildflower season. No matter how you decide to spend your time here, you won’t be disappointed you visited this unique National Park.
By Allison from She Dreams of Alpine
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Location: Big Island, Hawaii
W.J Hayes State Park
Lake borders the park. This is my favourite place to spend a hot summer day with my family. This state park
offers something for everyone!
many beautiful walking trails through the woods where you can enjoy the birds and great shade. I do not think there is anything that this state park does not offer its guests. Using the boat launch we are able to take out the boat for fishing, swimming or tubing.
Joshua Tree National Park
Location: Southern California
Joshua Tree National Park, located in Southern California, is one of our favourite National Parks to visit. The park is stunning with the huge rock formations and the desert landscapes of Mojave and the Colorado Desert. You’ll recognize Joshua trees scattered throughout the park from the tall, slender tree trunks and green balls of spiky leaves on top of the branches.
Our favourite part about Joshua Tree National Park was the hiking opportunities. There are over 2 dozen trails ranging from easy/short trails (less than 1 mile) to challenging trails (over 6 miles) to choose from. Any of the trails will be great to explore the landscape. Some of the recommended trails are the Cholla Cactus Garden, 49 Palms Oasis, Hidden Valley, and Ryan Mountain. The Cholla Cactus Garden is more of a walk but is a must-see for the cute and round cholla cacti. The sunsets are gorgeous from various hiking spots too.
If you’re not into hiking, visitors can go camping, horseback riding, mountain biking, and rock climbing. Stargazing is also awesome in the park. Due to the secluded location, the evening skies are dark, clear, and without any “light pollution.” Add Joshua Tree National Park on your next park visit!
By Jackie and Justin from Life of Doing
National Mall and Memorial Parks
Technically, my favourite, the National Mall and Memorial Parks in Washington, DC, is part of the “National Capital Parks” and not included on the official list of National Parks. The “National Park” status is the subject of much-impassioned debate – who knew?! However, I hope you will indulge me because this area offers so much. It has been wonderful to raise my kids within easy commuting distance!
The National Mall roughly covers the area from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capital building and is bordered by the White House grounds, the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial, and a number of Smithsonian museums and other points of interest. Including the Memorial Parks part of the “National Mall and Memorial Parks” a truly overwhelming number of sites are covered. There’s something for everyone.
In our family, the kids always loved picnics on the long lawn of the mall, while watching kite-flyers and visitors from the four corners of the earth. They were (and are) big fans of the Natural History Museum, asking if they could go see the dinosaurs, hold the tarantula, or the Madagascar Hissing cockroaches (ew!), and visit the butterfly room. My husband is a sci-fi and outer space geek which the kids have inherited over the years, so the Air & Space Museum and planetarium within are always popular. For me, I love history and art – so there are the countless monuments, museums, and spots where the history happened, like where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech and Ford’s theatre where Abraham Lincoln was shot.
Some of my most memorable times on the National Mall, though, have been for special events, and there are a ton to choose from. My daughter’s French class received French Culture credit for visiting the D.C. Francophonie Festival, and we attended the African Cultures Festival with friends who had lived in Africa for years, sampling foods, seeing how handicrafts were made, and learning bits and pieces of language. The annual Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the stunning flowering trees gifted to the U.S. by Japan and features Japanese performances, gorgeous floats and bands from across the country. But maybe the most iconic thing to do on the National Mall is to attend on July 4th, bring a picnic, fly a kite, and watch the world-class fireworks accompanied by the Air Force Band!
By Megan from Wandertoes
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
The Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve is located in the backyard of Jacksonville, Florida and is famous for its unique mission of protecting not only the salt marshes and unique ecology of coastal Florida but also preserving the local historical and cultural sites.
On your trip to explore this National Park, make the visitor centre and museum at Fort Caroline the first spot to learn more about the rich history of the Timucuan Tribe and the short stay of the French at Fort Caroline. To reach Fort Caroline itself, follow a short trail next to the museum to explore the ruins of the French fort. Across the street, you will find the hiking trails of the Theodore Roosevelt Area. The Roosevelt Area was donated by Willie Brown to help protect this rich ecological site from the development of nearby Jacksonville. The trails, which are 2.5 to 5 miles in length, offer a variety of difficulty levels to satisfy the seasoned hiker and new explorer alike.
Nestled between stunning oaks and waterways lie the sad remains of the slave cabins which rest in the shadow of the Kingsley Plantation. Visit the different museums on the site to learn more about what the people who lived and died here during the 18th and 19th century. American Beach was originally established as a resort for African Americans that were not allowed on beaches reserved for whites. Recently, the park service established an educational centre for visitors to learn more about American Beach and its long history.
If you like history or nature and especially both, the Timucuan Ecological and Cultural Preserve is a National Park worth exploring. Be sure to make ample time to get the most of your stay and schedule your trip to experience one of the many activities and festivals.
By Chris from Chrisismink