The western half of the United States is full of beautiful parks and landscapes to explore. From the breathtaking Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park to the spectacularly large trees of the Redwoods, the national parks on the west coast are sure to take your breath away.
Featuring stunning hikes and vistas, an array of wildlife, unique geologic wonders, and adventures for any explorer, this list of the best parks on the west coast is bound for your bucket list.
This list comprises not only national parks on the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California but also other must-see parks in the United States’ West. Many of these are direct flights from major airports on the coast or just a day or two’s drive.
These parks will inspire you and their views, wildlife, and overall outdoor wonder will leave a lasting impact for years after your first visit.
- National Park Pass
- Best West Coast National Parks
- 1. Olympic National Park, WA
- 2. Yosemite National Park, CA
- 4. Yellowstone National Park, WY
- 5. Grand Teton National Park, WY
- 6. Denali National Park, AK
- 7. Channel Islands National Park, CA
- 8. Mt.Rainier National Park, WA
- 9. North Cascades National Park, WA
- 10. Crater Lake National Park, OR
- 11. Glacier National Park, MT
- 12. Katmai National Park, AK
- 13. Joshua Tree National Park, CA
- 14. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, CA
- 15. Death Valley National Park, CA
- 16. Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA
- 17. Redwood National Park, CA
- 18. Pinnacles National Park, CA
- 19. Kenai Fjords National Park, AK
- 20. Volcano National Park, HI
- BONUS: Craters of the Moon National Monument
- Let’s Hit The Road
National Park Pass
The best way to travel the United States National Parks is to purchase a National Parks America the Beautiful pass. This pass gets you into every national park in the United States as well as countless national monuments. In addition, holders of the America the Beautiful pass can enjoy discounts on camping sites within national forests or other campgrounds. The pass stays active for an entire year.
The America the Beautiful pass costs $80 and can be purchased at any national park entrance or REI. With the cost of one park’s entry averaging about $30 per vehicle, the American the Beautiful pass pays for itself within three national park visits. Especially when visiting larger, more popular parks that have higher day pass costs, the national park pass will actually save visitors money and allow unlimited access throughout the year.
While you can get this directly from the National Park websites, getting it from REI saves you extra $$ for shipping as REI offers free shipping for items above $50.
Best West Coast National Parks
1. Olympic National Park, WA
Best known for: Hiking, Camping, Hoh Rainforest, Lake Crescent, Ocean Views
The Washington peninsula is by far one of the most beautiful landscapes in Washington state (I may be biased, though! I grew up there!). With smaller towns, wide open fields, easy access to the ocean, and Olympic National Park, this entire region is filled with vistas and views.
Olympic National Park, however, does exhibit the most! Home to the Olympic Mountain Range, Hoh Rainforest, countless mountain lakes, and even the Pacific Ocean, the Olympic National Park is a feast for any outdoor-loving person.
The Hoh River Trail allows hikers to experience one of the few temperate rainforests in the continental United States. This trail is 17.4 miles long, but has multiple access points so hikers can either backpack or use it for day hiking.
Ocean lovers can take a short walk from the beach access to Rialto Beach. With driftwood stacked along the beach and haystacks rising out of the Pacific Ocean’s waves, Rialto Beach is the perfect place to spend an afternoon exploring the Washington Coast. Many other trails are nearby or can be accessed along the beachfront.
Olympic National Park can also entertain those with mountains on their minds. Hurricane Ridge offers incredible hiking opportunities for people of all abilities. Hurricane Hill is an easy 1.6 mile trail that offers stunning overlooks of the Olympics and Puget Sound area.
2. Yosemite National Park, CA
Best known for: Waterfalls, El Capitan, Rock Climbing, Half Dome
Yosemite is one of the United States’ most visited national parks and for good reasons! With the beautiful landscapes of Yosemite Valley, incredible waterfalls such as Yosemite Falls, world class rock climbing at El Capitan, and unique hiking such as Half Dome, Yosemite truly has it all.
Located in California, Yosemite offers visitors a taste of the wild while remaining accessible to adventurers of all abilities. For those who aren’t interested in hiking, the park offers scenic drives through Yosemite Valley and viewpoints of famous landmarks such as Half Dome or Yosemite Falls.
However, true adrenaline junkies can also find their passion in this park. El Capitan features some of the best climbing in the world and was featured in Alex Holland’s Free Solo. Though you should probably still use ropes (unless attempting some of Yosemite’s bouldering problems), the climbing is still a once-in-a-lifetime treat.
And for those who want vistas, but not ropes and harnesses — Yosemite has some of the nation’s best hiking. Cloud’s Rest and Four Mile Trail both provide stunning views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and El Capitan. The most famous hike, however, is the Half Dome cables. In order to hike Half Dome, you must ascend the last bit of elevation using a ladder-like cable system. This is a permit only hike, so make sure to apply ahead of time!
4. Yellowstone National Park, WY
Best known for: Wildlife Tours, Old Faithful and other geysers, hot springs
Of course the United State’s first and most famous park is on our list. Yellowstone National Park first opened to the public in 1872 and has been a tourist attraction since. People come from all over the world to see the geysers, colorful hot springs, and abundance of wildlife.
With popular hikes such as Lonestar Geyser, Fairy Falls, and Mt. Washburn, Yellowstone National Park has some of the country’s most geologically unique trails. After all, the park is situated over a supervolcano and exists entirely in her massive caldera.
Old Faithful Geyser, the Upper Geyser Basin, Grand Prismatic Spring, Norris Geyser Basin, and Mammoth Hot Springs are all accessible without hiking via a boardwalk system maintained by the National Park Service.
The system of boardwalks and short hikes allow everyone to experience Yellowstone’s beauty. However, please remember when visiting this geologic paradise to follow the signs, don’t step on the hot spring beds, and listen to all guidelines regarding wildlife.
To keep Yellowstone wild, beautiful, and geologically incredible, we must follow her rules. With grizzly bears, bison, elk, wolves, and more roaming freely in the park, visitors are encouraged to keep their distance and take nothing but pictures.
5. Grand Teton National Park, WY
Best known for: Wildlife tours, day hikes, backpacking trips, and mountaineering
Located just south of Yellowstone National Park (they are actually touching and could be rolled into one trip!). Grand Teton National Park is a spectacular display of the West’s mountainous beauty. The three Tetons craggy silhouettes stand out against Wyoming’s spectacular sky.
For hikers, Grand Teton offers some of the best backpacking in the country. With canyons and meadows in the Tetons shadows, a backpacker can expect to be stunned by their surroundings. Some trails for day hikers and backpackers alike include, Inspiration Point, Cascade Canyon, String Lake, and Jenny Lake.
For visitors who like vistas, but not trails, Grand Teton offers an array of wildlife and photography opportunities. With moose, grizzly and black bears, and elk, the binoculars and a long scope camera are a must. Wildlife tour guides will take you to the best places to see these animals. If you are lucky you might even get the opportunity to see Bear 399, Grand Tetons’ famous grizzly matriarch.
6. Denali National Park, AK
Best Known for: Denali Mountain, Bus Tours, Wildlife Viewing, Dog Sledding
Unlike some of our other remote national parks, Denali National Park might be the most accessible park for experiencing remote and wild tundra. Located about 200 miles from Anchorage, AK, Denali National Park is home to North America’s tallest mountain, incredible wildlife, and empty tundras of arctic beauty.
Denali National Park only has one road running through the region. The road is mostly dirt and only accessible to private vehicles for the first fifteen miles. However, the National Park Service does provide shuttles with both narrated or unnarrated tours through the tundra. These tours offer options suited to visitor interests and time constraints. The bus trips range from 4 to 12 hours and offer lots of opportunities for viewing the “Big 5” of Denali’s wildlife: reindeer/caribou, dall sheep, grizzly bears, moose, and wolves. Visitors can also stop at the Canine Rangers’ Dog Kennels to see dog sledding demonstrations and meet the canine park rangers.
For those interested in camping or backcountry multi-day trips, there are other buses that take visitors to specific trailheads and campgrounds. These buses do not run on a regular schedule and need to be prearranged.
Please take note, the backcountry of Denali is no joke. With multitudes of wildlife, consistent grizzly sightings, and unmaintained trails, backpackers should be well versed in wilderness training before venturing out to Denali’s backcountry. In addition, all backcountry campers must participate in an orientation at one of the park’s visitor centers before being allowed a permit to camp. There are guided backcountry tours available for those who want to camp, but don’t yet feel comfortable going at it alone.
7. Channel Islands National Park, CA
Best known for: Wildlife Watching and Hiking
One of California’s most remote national parks, Channel Islands National Park can only be reached by boat or plane. Located off the coast near Santa Barbara, lots of tour companies offer sightseeing trips and ferries to the islands.
The largest island, Santa Cruz, offers one of the park’s most popular trails, Pelican Bay Trail. This hike is four miles and rated moderate on AllTrails. Featuring ocean views, treks through an old oak forest, and golden plains.
However, the Channel Islands’ unique wildlife might be the biggest attraction. Called the “Galapagos of the North”, the islands have unique breeds of birds and even a species of tiny foxes that can only be found on the islands. Due to the Channel Islands National Park’s location and lack of connection to the mainland, these unique bird and fox species have flourished and evolved into their own unique varieties.
Kayaking and whale watching are also popular activities in Channel Islands National Park. As a paradise of wildlife and sea-exploring, this park is a must-see!
8. Mt.Rainier National Park, WA
Best known for: Hiking and wildflowers
Located in Washington State, Mt. Rainier stands over 14,000 feet and is one of the country’s most glaciated peaks. Mt. Rainier National Park allows visitors to get up close and personal with this dominating feature of the Seattle skyline.
The entrance to the park lies around four to five hours east of the city of Seattle. However, the vistas and hiking make up for the time spent in the car. Paradise Visitor Center serves as the homebase for Mt. Rainier National Park’s recreation. Here, visitors can see incredible mountain views and the famous fields of alpine wildflowers.
For avid hikers and backpackers, Mt. Rainier National Park is home to Wonderland Trail. This trail circles the base of Mt. Rainier and is one of the most popular trails in the park. Due to easy access to smaller portions of the trail, hikers both big and small can experience the wonder of the Wonderland.
Mt. Fremont Lookout Trail is another beautiful hike near the Sunrise Visitor Center. With spectacular 360 degree views of the surrounding areas, and one of the best overlooks of Mt. Rainier’s peak, this 6 mile hike is one of the most popular in the area. Though steep, the rewards are worth every step.
Editor’s Tip: Want to explore the East Coast? Check out some of our top East Coast National Park recommendations
9. North Cascades National Park, WA
Best known for: Hiking, backpacking, alpine lakes
Despite being one of the least visited national parks, North Cascades National Park offers craggy, but beautiful mountain views, incredible hiking, and the most glaciers in a park in the lower 48.
Though only three hours north of Seattle, North Cascades only sees an average of 30,000 visitors a year. This means that visitors will most likely have the trails and views to themselves. This is for the best though as the rugged North Cascades offer their best vistas to hikers willing to explore the remote meadows on one of the park’s many backpacking trails. Hikers can even hike the 18 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail that passes through the park.
For those less inclined to hike, Highway 20 (the only paved road in the park!) offers incredible views and overlooks. In addition, shorter walks will take visitors to the Diablo Lake Vista Overlook, Sterling Munro OVerlook, and the Gorge Lake Overlook. These stops offer incredible views of turquoise waters (due to the glacial runoff) and craggy mountaintops.
Sometimes called the “American Alps” this park is a bucket list destination for anyone exploring the west coast or looking for solace in the mountain peaks.
10. Crater Lake National Park, OR
Best known for: Hiking, vistas, biking
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and also one of the purest. Created 7,700 years ago — the lake, not the park — after an eruption triggered the collapse of a peak, this lake sits within the caldera of the former volcano. In fact, Wizard Island is the volcano’s new peak!
One of the hikes in Crater Lake National Park takes visitors to the top of Wizard Island summit. Just 2.2 miles, the hike descends into the crater and then up the “wizard’s hat” for sweeping views of the lake’s stellar blue waters.
Biking enthusiasts also flock to the park for their yearly vehicle-free days on East Rim Drive. The “Ride the Rim” event happens nearly every September — there were postponements and cancellations due to COVID — and allows bikers to ride around the rim of Crater Lake’s caldera.
If you aren’t keen on hiking or biking, this drive is just as beautiful via car. In addition, Crater Lake also has its very own subspecies of newt. Only found in Crater Lake, the Mazama Newt is an exciting find for any wildlife enthusiast.
11. Glacier National Park, MT
Best known for: Hiking, Wildlife, Glacier Views, and Going-to-the-Sun Road
Known for its picturesque valleys, turquoise alpine lakes, and sweeping views of glaciers nestled in the extraordinary mountains, Glacier National Park lives up to all of its hype. Located in northern Montana, this park offers the best of Big Sky country.
Grizzly bears and moose roam the many hiking trails – and, oh the hiking you can do! The Highline and Hidden Lake trail are some of the park’s most popular. Originating at Logan’s Pass, at the top of the Going-to-the-Sun Road, these trails offer incredible views of Reynolds and Bearhat Mountain. If you are lucky, you might even run into a marmot or mountain goat during your hike!
Many Glacier, on the northwest side of the national park, offers even more hiking and wildlife opportunities. Grinnell Glacier Overlook and Iceberg Lake are the most popular trails on this side of the park. Though steep and rated difficult, the views are worth every step. A dip in Iceberg Lake will also cool you off after the long miles! However, don’t forget your bear spray. Grizzlies are frequently sighted in Many Glacier especially by hikers and along the trails.
For those less inclined to hiking, Glacier is still a bucket list national park. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is one of America’s most picturesque drives. Winding through the national park, the road begins at the famous Lake MacDonald and ends at the northwest park entrance. Along the way, vistas, mountain goats, and sometimes bears greet visitors.
Please note that due to COVID the Going-to-the-Sun road required reservations to drive and all hikes required permits. There is no news whether the ticketing and permit system will continue into the 2022 season.
12. Katmai National Park, AK
Best known for: Bear watching expeditions
Though difficult to get to, Katmai National Park has some of the best wildlife viewing in the country. Home to Fat Bear Week, Katmai is crawling with Brook’s Rivers brown bears. These bears fish in Brooks River and every year the national park hosts a competition for which bear will be the fattest. For 2021, Otis won, weighing in at over 1,000 pounds! These bears are the park’s most popular attraction, but getting to Katmai isn’t easy.
Katmai National Park is incredibly remote. Located in southern Alaska at the beginning of the Aleutian Islands, a trip to Katmai National Park requires a private bush plane or boat. There are no roads connecting the park to the mainland. This also means that lodging and supplies are scarce once in the national park. Visitors must be prepared for the elements and wild. However, supplies, bush planes, and boats are easy to book for services to Katmai National Park, as long as you have the cash. Most tours of Katmai National Park cost an average of $400 per night.
In addition to their brown bears, Katmai National Park is also the site of extensive volcanic research within the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. With its wild and vast tundra, incredible wildlife, and fascinating geologic history, Katmai National Park is a must for anybody who has the resources to make the trek!
13. Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Best known for: Joshua Trees, Rock Climbing, Unique Geologic Rock Formations
Located in California’s Mojave desert, Joshua Tree National Park offers visitors a stunning experience in a unique and almost lunar landscape. Covered in the famous Joshua Trees, a prickly type of Agave tree, this region has some of the most uniquely beautiful landscapes in the United States.
For hikers, Joshua Tree has dozens of day use areas and day hikes to explore and experience the desert tranquility. The Hidden Valley area is often frequented by local day hikers and visitors looking for some shorter walks through the trees and rocks. There is also the Hidden Valley Campground, a first-come, first-serve campground that allows visitors the luxury of sleeping in the shadows of Joshua Tree’s unique geology. Jumbo Rocks is another campsite, however, it requires reservations in advance.
For those looking for a bit more adrenaline, Joshua Tree is also home to some incredible bouldering and rock climbing. With the Great Burrito – a giant granite monolith – and other climbing spots, the park has become a bucket list attraction for anyone with climbing shoes. Climbing is also centered in the Hidden Valley area.
14. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, CA
Best known for: Sequoia trees, Camping, and Hiking
Rolled together due to their touching borders, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks offer equally incredible experiences.
Like it’s sister park, Redwood National Park, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks also feature giant trees, except these ones are as wide as they are tall. Sequoias have an average diameter of 20 to 26 feet. In fact, the world’s largest tree, General Sherman Tree, lives in Sequoia National Park.
The General Sherman Tree is the world’s largest tree by volume. It is 36 feet in diameter and 250 feet tall. This tree is both magnificent and humbling. One of the park’s most popular attractions, the tree does get lots of visitors. Be sure to arrive early to beat the crowds!
Kings Canyon National Park is home to one of the deepest canyons in North America. Visitors can travel through this canyon via the Kings Canyon Scenic Byway. This 50 mile highway winds through the canyon and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
For hikers and campers both Kings Canyon National Park and Sequoia National Park have hundreds of trails of varying difficulties. Whether a hiker, backpacker, or avid survivalist, these parks will have a trail for you. Plus, how can you beat hiking in the shade of such magnificent giants?
15. Death Valley National Park, CA
Best known for: Extremes, sand dunes, colorful rocks, rich history
Death Valley National Park is located on the California-Nevada border in the Mojave Desert. The technicolor rocks, sand dunes, and towering peaks make visitors to Death Valley feel as though they have stepped onto another planet.
However, they have not. They have simply stepped into the largest national park in the United State’s lowest 48. In addition to being the largest national park, Death Valley is also the lowest, driest, and hottest park in the United States. These statistics plus the park’s daunting name may make Death Valley seem like a strange place to vacation, but don’t be fooled.
With stunning hiking in Mosaic Canyon, Salt Creek, and more, Death Valley hosts a variety of life including wildflowers, desert plants and animals, and colorful geologic formations. Bighorn sheep, mountain lions, and loads of butterfly species also live in the park and roam freely through the desert.
In addition to the abundant wildlife, Death Valley also offers a rich history of both the indigenous people who lived in the area and the miners who eventually moved in looking for gold. Artifacts, ranches, and petroglyphs can be found all over the park. The valley itself is alive with their history.
16. Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA
Best known for: Hydrothermal Features and Hiking
Almost like a little Yellowstone, Lassen Volcanic National Park offers some of the same hydrothermal features that makes our first national park so beloved. A hike the three mile loop of Bumpass Hell Trail to see boiling pools, fumaroles, and mud pots. Sulphur Works Sidewalk Trail has more mud pots and hissing hydrothermal vents. Basically, Lassen Volcanic National Park is the perfect place for anyone who loves Yellowstone and it’s geothermal attractions, but hates the crowds.
Also home to Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic National Park has hikes to overlooks and lakes reflecting the snow-capped peak. If you desire heights, a five mile hike will take you to the top of Lassen Peak. However, if you are more keen on a day at the lake, Manzanita Lake is one of those reflecting lakes and is popular with kayakers. Otters also frequent the lake and make wonderful wildlife viewing.
Finally, Cinder Cone Trail takes you on a four mile hike through the painted sand dunes and allows you to get up close and personal with the park’s volcanic history. Overall, whether you are obsessed with geology or just slightly interested, Lassen Volcanic National Park will inspire you to learn more and more about volcanology and the effects of hydrothermal features in this region.
17. Redwood National Park, CA
Best known for: Redwood Trees, Coastline, Hiking
Home to some of the tallest trees on Earth, Redwood National Park is a treat for any avid nature lover. These trees tower over 360ft tall – that’s taller than London’s Big Ben! Stout Grove is one of the park’s many hikes that take visitors into the old growth forest and wows them with the height and width of the Redwood trees.
Redwood National Park’s Fern Canyon is another popular trail and is also very familiar to fans of Jurassic Park. The canyon’s fern covered walls are spectacular and the hike itself is short, only 1.1 miles. There is also camping near the Fern Canyon trailhead and loop for visitors who don’t think a day trip will be enough.
For visitors who long for the sea, Redwood National Park offers incredible ocean views. California’s famous Highway 101 runs through the park along it’s coastal perimeter. Crescent Beach Outlook is one such roadside stop and offers sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean and the haystacks along the cliffs.
If an overlook doesn’t provide enough ocean-time, Golden Bluff Campground will. Named for the golden bluffs overlooking the ocean, this campground is the only coastal camping site in Redwoods National Park.
18. Pinnacles National Park, CA
Best known for: Geologic Formations and Bird Watching
Located in central California is the unique landscape of Pinnacles National Park. Created 23 million years ago after the eruptions of multiple volcanoes, the park region was formed by the molten lava solidifying. After many more million years of erosion, Pinnacles National Park became what it is today.
One of the many perks of visiting Pinnacles National Park is the incredible hiking and lack of hikers. In 2018 only 200,000 visitors came to Pinnacles National Park. This is a shock considering the park’s location: three hours from Sacramento and two hours from the Bay Area.
High Peaks Trail is rated difficult on all trails, but offers incredible views and the possibility of seeing condors – one of California’s rarest birds. With parts of the trail weaving through wild talus’ and narrow slots, the High Peaks Trail is not for the faint of heart. It is, however, a great way to experience the splendor of Pinnacles National Park.
ies of getting up close with such spectacular geology will last a lifetime.
19. Kenai Fjords National Park, AK
Best known for: Glaciers, Harding Icefield, Wildlife
Though definitely considered remote and wild, Kenai Fjords National Park is considered relatively accessible for Alaskan wilderness. Located 2.5 hours south of Anchorage, just outside of Seward, Kenai Fjords doesn’t require the variety of transportation that other Alaskan national parks require. Boat tours are available to take visitors through the fjords and there is also abundant hiking to overlooks and more within the park.
Kenai Fjords also hosts a variety of wildlife watching. Seals, bears, whales, oh my! For those who love wildlife, Kenai Fjords is not a disappointment. Many boat tours double as whale watching tours as the fjords are swimming with orcas and more.
The icefields and glaciers, however, are what make Kenai Fjords famous. With glaciers descending the mountains and ending in the sea, boat tours allow visitors to get up close and personal with the majestic ice forms. Harding Icefield is the most famous ice form in the park. After a steep hike, visitors can overlook this massive ice field and see the blue hues spreading across the landscape. For those not interested in hiking, scenic flights are also available to fly over the park’s glaciers and winding turquoise fjords.
20. Volcano National Park, HI
Best known for: Active volcanoes, hiking, and scenic drives
Though not quite the West coast, Volcano National Park is the United States’ western-most national park. Located on Hawaii’s Big Island, Volcano National Park is home to two of the country’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa.
Kilauea Crater is one of the park’s most popular attractions. The steamy crater used to be the site of a lava lake, where visitors could overlook the glowing molten rock. However, since the 2018 eruption of Kilauea, the lake has drained and there is no visible lava. Eventually, the crater could refill, but as of now, it has not.
The Thurston Lava Tube is another popular attraction in Volcano National Park. This lava tube is illuminated between 8am to 8pm so visitors can see the interior in all of its geologic glory. This is also a highly accessible attraction so most visitors no matter their physical ability can experience the wonder of Volcano National Park.
If hiking isn’t really your thing, the Chain of Craters Road is one of the most popular scenic drives on the Big Island. Going from the park entrance to the ocean, this road passes by multiple craters and scenic landscapes within the park.
BONUS: Craters of the Moon National Monument
Best known for: Geology
Though not a national park, this national monument should be on every parks’ lovers list. With dozens of unique volcanic formations, this small park is located in rural Idaho and features some of the country’s best geologic tourism.
One Yelp review stated that “this park is only interesting if you love rocks,”. However, I would argue that this park will make you love rocks. With more geologic formations than a heart can handle, this spark allows visitors to get up close and personal with lava flows, lava tubes, and mountains of volcanic remnants.
Hiking trails here are short and offer trips into otherworldly landscapes. Some even allow visitors to explore the caves and park’s lava tubes depending on the season. Visitors can explore the whole park in a single day, but the memor
Let’s Hit The Road
Whether this is your first time exploring national parks or your thousandth, this list is sure to have a place that will pique your interest and inspire your love of the great outdoors. With plenty of adventures to choose from, this list should help you start planning the perfect west coast trip.
Let’s get on the road and start exploring the United States’ incredible public lands!
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