My first ever out of the country trip was a two-month holiday to the United States which my parents planned. My dad had this grand idea of driving around the US, visiting family and friends while hitting up all the tourist hotspots and US National Parks.
As early as then, I knew that traveling and being around nature was something that I loved doing. With that in mind, every other trip that I made to the US always involved traveling around National Parks.
Here’s a list of a few of my favorite ones and the highlights in each place that you can’t miss out on! I have also indicated rough estimates on the park price but for more accurate information, always double check the National Park website.
USA Travel Resources
First things first, in case you live under a rock (kidding!) here are some basic facts about traveling around the US, applicable for those who are coming from abroad:
Visa: Citizens from the UK, Europe, Canada, and Australia (and a few other nationalities that are eligible for a visa waiver) are allowed to enter the US for 90 days without a visa. They would, however, need to get an ESTA Travel Authorization letter which you can apply for online. As soon as you have submitted the forms, you can check your ESTA validity here.
Currency: United States Dollar (USD)
Best USA National Parks
Glacier National Park
Located in Montana along the Canadian/United States border, this 1 million acre park is one of the best national parks in the US and is home to over 130 lakes, 1000 species of plants and animals. Home to the rocky mountains, you can easily spend a few days exploring this area without tiring of it. Due to its size and land diversity, expect to see lots of animals from wild grizzly bears, moose, mountain goats, and even Canadian lynxes.
As with most national parks, a few of the popular activities include guided tours, long treks, backcountry camping, and cycling. This park is also open all year round
Cost: Non-commercial car, pickup truck, RV, or van: $30.00 (valid for seven days)
Winter Rate (Nov 1-April 30): $20 / Daily Rate: $15
Looking for some inspiration? Check out our top 50 pics for the Coolest Airbnbs in the US
Olympic National Park
While there are far more popular National Parks, Olympic National Park tops my list due to the incredibly diverse landscape that it offers. Home to nearly a million acres, this park has multiple eco-systems, icy capped mountains, incredible rainforests and wild coastal lines.
The coastal eco-system is very much alive here, encouraging visitors to take part in activities such as boating, fishing, coastal cleanups, as well as the usual camping and trail walking.
I’m a sucker for the ocean so anytime I can have the wilderness and the sea rolled into one, I’ll take it! The photo below is taken at the Hoh Rainforest, a lush green canopy area which is one of the most frequented parts of the park.
Cost: $25 valid for 7 consecutive days. There are also various wilderness camping fees as well as fees for designated campsites.
Yosemite National Park
Being one of the most frequented National Parks in the United States, Yosemite National Park deserves to be on the top of the list. Home to California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite is best known for its waterfalls, meadows, gigantic sequoia trees, and scenic views.
There are heaps to do within this 1,200 square miles area. From camping, biking, to walking around some of its many beautiful trails, Yosemite National Park is frequented all year. I went here a few years ago during Autumn and although the waterfalls were dried up, the scenery, especially the various shades of orange and gold in the trees were absolutely stunning. It’s also one of the best national parks to visit in winter to see frosty trees and snowcapped mountains.
Cost: Non-commercial car, pickup truck, RV, or van: $30.00 (valid for seven days)
Location: Border of California and Nevada
In comparison to the other lush tree filled national parks, Death Valley National Park is a stark contrast. During the summer months, a string of droughts makes this place insanely hot and humid. Outside Alaska, Death Valley is the largest National Park with over 3.3 million acres.
Here you can find sand dunes, salt flats, rocks, and sandstone canyons. This place has extreme temperatures and is well known for its scenic drives. Zabriskie Point, Dante’s View, and the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are just a few of the most popular attractions within the park.
Cost: $25 for 7 Days
Acadia National Park
While I usually shy away from busy parks, the landscape and scenery in Acadia National Park on the coast of main still makes it to my list due to its popularity. They have now reached a point wherein during the peak visitation hours and seasons, certain parts of the scenic drives become so congested with traffic so if you are going, make sure to get some information online for the best times to go and entrances to avoid.
The Park Loop Road is a pretty popular area as it shows off a 43km drive along the ocean shoreline and coastal forest.
Cost: $25 valid for 7 days (you can also buy your passes online to avoid the long park lines)
Editor’s Note: Check out our article on the most amazing places in the Unites States
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Because I am a fan of everything unusual and unique, naturally, this National Park in Hawaii makes my list. It also makes the list as a I am obsessed with Hawaiian food. Announced as a National Park on August 1, 1916, this place encompasses two active volcanoes: Kīlauea, which is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s largest shield volcano.
Apart from observing the volcanoes, you can also take part in other activities such as crater rim tours, camping (only on designated camp spots) as well as hiking and biking. If you don’t have a long time in the park, the best thing to do would be to explore the summit of Kīlauea volcano via Crater Rim Drive.
This 11-mile road encircles the summit caldera and takes you through desert and tropical rain forest. Before you plan a trip here, it is best to check the volcanos activity as they are two very active volcanos that produce a lot of seismic activity.
Cost: $25.00 for 7 days
Joshua Tree National Park
Rugged is one word that I would always use to describe Joshua Tree National Park. Representing two desert ecosystems, this park is home to strong winds, bouts of torrential rain, and an extremely rich cultural history. The two ecosystem are made up of the higher Mojave Desert and lower Colorado Desert.
Through it, the Little San Bernardino Mountains run through the southwest edge of the park. There is an abundance of desert wildlife here from reptiles to various bird species so keep an eye out for them when on the trails. The park is open all year round and it is said that during the fall and spring, more visitors come while the summer months tend to be too hot for most.
Cost: $25 for 7 days
Rocky Mountain National Park
Featuring over 415 square miles of lush mountains, this popular National Park in Colorado is home to heaps of hiking trails, wildflower paths and meadows, and glacier laden mountains. If you enjoy driving, head out to their two main driving roads, the Old Fall River Road and the Trail Ridge Road which is one of ten America’s Byways in Colorado.
Home to over 355 hiking trails, a visit here is absolutely incredible, especially if you enjoy being alone in nature. Wilderness camping is also available in the park and is only advisable for experienced trekkers and campers.
Cost: $20 1 day pass or $30 7 day pass.
Read More: 10 Best Parks for a National Parks Road Trip
Hopefully, this article has inspired you to venture out to the great unknown and start exploring the many National Parks that the US has. I promise, the variety of landscape, the incredible trekking trains, and the scenic routes will leave you wanting more.
For more information on what to do and how to plan your national park visits, check out the National Park Service website. What about you? What are your favorite National Parks?
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