Best U.S. National Park Sites in Every State

Once called “America’s Best Idea,” national parks have given us magnificent scenery, unparalleled access to nature, and meaningful historic landmarks. There are currently 423 units under the management of the U.S. National Park Service, stretching across 85 million acres throughout all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories.

Not every piece of land managed by the NPS is classified as a park (akin to the mighty Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, the original national park). There are 63 official national parks — some states have multiple parks (California boasts nine and Alaska has eight), while others have none at all (including Georgia, Illinois, and New York).

Nineteen other designations make up the rest of the list under the agency’s purview, including national historic sites, battlefields, lakeshores, monuments, preserves, and trails. Each state does have a slice of NPS protected land that celebrates and preserves areas of ecological diversity and important history. So, in honor of National Park Week (April 17-25, 2021), we’ve compiled the ultimate list of the best national park area in each state.


Alabama: Russell Cave National Monument

A walking pathway in Russell Cave National Monument in Alabama.
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Located near the northeastern Alabama city of Bridgeport, this small cave is an unassuming site of fascinating archaeological significance. Artifacts dating back 12,000 years have been uncovered here, making it one of the earliest-known places of human settlement in the southeastern U.S. The humble shelter was used by Native Americans in the prehistoric era, and continued to serve populations all the way through to the period of European settlement and beyond. Today, the Russell Cave National Monument grounds offer scenic walking trails that are popular among birders.


Alaska: Denali National Park and Preserve

Reflections in the blue waters of Horseshoe Lake at Denali National Park in Alaska.
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Alaska offers some of the most unforgettable natural beauty in the country, and there may be no better place to see it than at Denali National Park and Preserve. That’s no small feat, considering the Land of the Midnight Sun has a total of 19 sites (including eight national parks, as previously noted) managed by the NPS. However, Denali towers above them with a staggering six million acres of wild forests, soaring alpine vistas, and incredible  native wildlife. The park’s star attraction is its namesake — and the tallest peak in North America — the mighty Denali.


Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park

A view of Grand Canyon National Park from an airplane view.
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The Grand Canyon is consistently one of the most popular National Parks in the country, with almost six million visitors arriving to take in its one-of-a-kind landscape every year. The colorful layered rocks that make up the park’s famous vast vistas were formed over six million years of erosion from the Colorado River that runs through it. However or from wherever you choose to experience the park, almost every rim or ridge offers views that will leave you speechless — and remind you why it’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.


Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park

A hot water cascade in Hot Springs National Park.
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Hot Springs National Park is a rare example of a NPS site situated smack dab in the middle of a city. Located in the resort town of Hot Springs, Alabama, this park has a name that may evoke images of steaming natural pools surrounded by lush greenery, but it was actually named for the area’s underground thermal mineral water springs. Between the late 1800s and the early 1920s, bathhouses were built atop the springs to harness their healing elements. Many remain operational spas today; the park also has forested hikes behind the bathhouses, including two spots where the springs can be viewed in their natural outdoor surroundings.


California: Yosemite National Park

View of the Yosemite waterfall with people walking along the path infront of it.
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With a list that includes Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Golden Gate, and Alcatraz, the Golden State has an impressive list of national park areas to check out. But one Californian gem stands above the rest: Yosemite National Park, which, within its 1,200 square miles, is both a scenic masterpiece and an outdoor recreation hub. Get lost among the ancient giant Sequoia tree groves, seek out one of the many cascading waterfalls, or gaze at the mighty peaks of the park’s impressive peaks — including El Capitan and Half Dome.


Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park

Cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park.
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If you prefer a slice of visual history with your National Park experience, Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park is a must-visit. The site is the largest archeological preserve in the U.S., housing 5,000 significant sites — including 600 of the famous cliff dwellings of the Ancestral Pueblo people, who lived on site for over 700 years (from 600 to 1300 A.D.). The homes once housed plaster murals and still feature remarkable rock carvings and art — take it all in with a tour of the cliff dwellings or enjoy the various views from other scenic hikes and drives in the park.


Connecticut: Weir Farm National Historic Park

Autumn scene at Weir Farm, a National Historic Site in Wilton, Connecticut.
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The work and studio of celebrated American Impressionist painter J. Alden Weir is on display at the Weir Farm National Historic Park — and so are the 60 acres of serene fields, forest, and ponds that inspired much of his work. Weir described his picturesque Wilton, Connecticut, home as the "Great Good Place." It would go on to host two other generations of artists, including sculptor Mahonri Young and painter Sperry Andrews, who devoted his time on the property to helping preserve this slice of American art history.


Delaware: First State National Historic Park

Trail through the woods next to the Brandywine creek.
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The second-smallest state may not offer the same degree of outdoor adventure as others on this list, but as Delaware was the first state to ratify the constitution in 1787, it’s a place of particular historical significance. First State National Historical Park consists of seven sites that are spread throughout the state. Visitors can check out the Green in Dover, where Delaware was officially made a state; the wooded trails of Brandywine Valley, where the paper for both the Declaration of Independence and the country’s first currency was milled; or Fort Christina, where Swedish settlers originally landed and established their colony — to name a few highlights.


Florida: Biscayne National Park

Aerial view of Biscayne National Park and the beach.
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Everglades National Park may steal the spotlight, but Biscayne National Park, located just south of downtown Miami on the Atlantic coast, is a glimmering under-the-radar gem filled with coral reefs, a diverse array of wildlife, coastal mangrove tree forests, and swoon-worthy islands ready to explore. Make sure to do some snorkeling on the underwater Maritime Heritage Trail, where six of the park’s historical shipwrecks await.


Georgia: Cumberland Island National Seashore

A shot of the beach shore and sand dunes at Cumberland Island National Seashore.
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This undeveloped barrier coastline in the southeastern corner of Georgia is accessible only by ferry, which limits the number of tourists arriving each day — and its pristine beaches and natural sand dunes are better off for it. You can take in most of what Cumberland Island has to offer by walking the 4.3-mile loop trail, but the island is also popular among overnight campers who just might see some of the seashore’s famed wild horses and other wildlife roaming throughout the more than 9,800 acres of designated wilderness.


Hawaii: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

Waves crashing along the black lava rock cliffs in the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park.
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Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, located on the southeastern shore of the Big Island, is indeed an active volcano area. Here, you can witness hot molten lava as it snakes its way, bubbling and glowing, across a rugged landscape. In some areas, the lava meets the ocean over steep cliffs, creating an evocative, steaming scene that you’re unlikely to see anywhere else. The park was created around one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kīlauea, which has been in continuous eruption since 1983, and Mauna Loa, which last erupted in 1984.


Idaho: Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Up close look at the rocks at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.
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If a trip to space isn’t in your travel plans anytime soon, Idaho’s Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve might be a convincing stand-in. Spanning from 15,000 to 2,000 years ago, lava from several volatile volcanic periods formed the lasting craters we see today. Volcanic and tectonic activity under the surface still subtly shifts the landscape on an ongoing basis. Make sure to tour some of the astounding 500 caves that dot the alien landscape, or simply take a hike or drive on one of the many scenic trails.


Illinois: Lincoln Home National Historic Site

The historic road at Lincoln Home National Historic Site.
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The Springfield home of President Abraham Lincoln is one of the must-see attractions in Illinois — after all, the state nicknamed the Land of Lincoln after the American icon. The Lincoln Home National Historic Site — on which the Lincoln family home has been preserved and restored to appear the same today as it did in 1860 — is just one aspect of the archival area that makes up the site. Watch an historical reenactment, visit Lincoln’s Tomb, and learn more about the Underground Railroad at the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site — all within a walkable few blocks of each other.


Indiana: Indiana Dunes National Park

Sand dunes next to the shore at India Dunes National Park.
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The 15-mile stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline that makes up the Indiana Dunes National Park just might be the most picturesque spot in the state. The dunes themselves help foster some of the area’s wildlife and ecosystems, giving the sandy shores a rugged, windswept atmosphere. Take the long and winding staircases up the dunes for jaw-dropping views, or follow them offshore to enjoy more of the park’s 50 miles of trails and shaded, peaceful green woodlands.


Iowa: Effigy Mounds National Monument

Part of the trail at Effigy Mounds National Monument.`
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Native Americans often built earthen mounds for burial or ceremonial purposes, but the curious animal shapes found in Iowa’s Effigy Mounds National Monument are specific only to this area. The park, located near the Mississippi River, features more than 200 of the prehistoric mounds, many of which are shaped like bears and birds. The effigies were built in the Late Woodland period, which began around 300 A.D. Due to the sacred nature of the site as a Native American burial and ceremonial space, the park is only accessible by foot.


Kansas: Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve

A view through the grass at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas.
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Tallgrass prairie is a grassland characterized by (you guessed it) tall grasses and deep, rich soil. Though the ecosystem once covered 170 million acres of the U.S., it’s now relatively rare — and the largest remaining expanse is under NPS conservation at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Flint Hills, Kansas. The plains stretch out in relative uniformity, but the site is actually a deceivingly diverse ecosystem. Tallgrass prairie is home to more than 500 plant and animal species, including a few remaining bison. The park’s rustic ranch home tours and rugged hiking trails will give you a new appreciation for early prairie life.


Kentucky: Mammoth Cave National Park

Frozen Niagara in Mammoth Cave National Park.
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The name is no coincidence: Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world with more than 400 miles of surveyed passageway — and more are being added all the time. It’s not only a national park, but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Artifacts dating back 5,000 years (including torches, gourd bowls, and petroglyphs) have been uncovered within the sturdy limestone structure, which is also home to a number of endangered plant and animal species. For the adventurous, three-hour lantern-lit tours are available at the spectacular subterranean site.


Louisiana: Poverty Point National Monument

A stairs walk up at Poverty Point National Monument in Louisiana.
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Located in the lower Mississippi Valley, Poverty Point National Monument is a feat of human engineering that largely remains a mystery. The 72-foot-tall, C-shaped earthen mound consists of multiple ridges and raised mounds that surround a central plaza. It’s unknown precisely when the hand-built earthwork was completed, but estimates date construction as early as 1800 B.C. and continuing until as late as 1200 B.C. The monument’s original purpose also remains unknown to researchers — the best hypothesis to date is that it once served as a trade hub and ceremonial ground for Native Americans who built it.


Maine: Acadia National Park

Aerial view of the beach at Acadia National Park.
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The picturesque ocean-meets-mountains beauty of Acadia National Park is reason enough to plan a trip to Maine. Adjacent to the idyllic seaside town of Bar Harbor, the state’s only national park draws 3.5 million visitors every year. There’s more than enough to satisfy the adventurous explorer — the rocky coastal haven has ample climbing and advanced hiking options — but it’s also a welcome respite for those just looking to soak in the views. Check out the vistas from Cadillac Mountain (the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast) or along the shore of Jordan Pond, where the crystal-clear waters reflect the surrounding mountain ranges.


Maryland: Assateague Island National Seashore

A small group of Assateague Ponies graze on marsh grasses while one of them naps in the back.
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This remote Atlantic shore barrier island is made up of sandy beaches, marshes, coastal forests, and beautiful bays that stretch across Maryland and Virginia. It is the largest natural barrier island ecosystem in the Middle Atlantic. Fortunately, the Assateague Island National Seashore has remained largely free of human intervention, which is why, if you visit, you’re likely to be surrounded by herds of wild horses who call the sandy shores home.


Massachusetts: Cape Cod National Seashore

The coastline shore by Cape Code in Massachusetts.
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The Cape Cod National Seashore is brimming with natural New England charm, from sandy beaches to lush wetlands and the familiar lighthouses that dot the northeastern region’s coast. Along with the 12 all-season hiking trails, nautical adventures abound on the Cape, from boating to fishing and swimming. Just make sure to keep your eyes peeled for sharks — great whites have been spotted hunting for seals near the shore.


Michigan: Isle Royale National Park

A hiking trail at Isle Royale National Park showing the  rocky terrain with cairns to mark the route.
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Isle Royale National Park is a getaway in the truest sense of the word. Located on an isolated island in Lake Superior, the park can only be accessed by boat, but it’s worth an extended stay just to walk the entire 40-mile Greenstone Ridge Trail from one end of the island to the other. Campers love the island for its remote and rugged backwoods camping, complete with ungroomed trails and first-come-first-serve campsites — not to mention the wolves and moose you’re bound to see around the island.


Minnesota: Voyageurs National Park

A waterfall running through a dense forest at Voyageurs National Park in Minnesota.
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Minnesota’s only official National Park, nestled on the Canadian border, was named for some of the first known explorers in the region, the French Canadian fur traders called voyageurs (travelers). Today, water sports — including fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding, and canoeing — are the primary reason adventurers make the trek to Voyageurs. A few lucky visitors will also get a glimpse of the breathtaking northern lights. Also known as the Aurora Borealis, the astronomical phenomenon occasionally appears over this region, with a higher likelihood during the winter months due to fewer daylight hours.


Mississippi: Gulf Islands National Seashore

Ocean sunset from Horn Island of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi.
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Stretching along the Gulf of Mexico, from Mississippi into Florida, this region of the Gulf Islands National Seashore is a postcard come to life. Visitors can take in white, sandy beaches and a view of the emerald green-and-blue Gulf waters from a recreational boat ride, fishing trip, or camping excursion on this historic barrier island. The park also features the Davis Bayou Trail, which winds for approximately two miles through a lavish coastal forest and across two bayous. To help protect the delicate land and wildlife, the island is primarily only accessible by foot or boat — all the more reason to unplug and enjoy.


Missouri: Gateway Arch National Park

The Gateway Arch National Park at the base, with the city of St. Louis behind.
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Missouri’s most recognizable monument stands against the busy St. Louis skyline, but it’s also surrounded by 90 acres of parkland. This is one of the country’s few urban national parks and includes green forestland, riverfront access, and five miles of recreational trails that are home to diverse native plant species. The Gateway Arch itself is the tallest man-made monument in the U.S. and offers a unique tram ride to the top — an experience you won’t find in many national parks.


Montana: Glacier National Park

A garden with flowers at the forefront and glaciers as the backdrop in Montana.
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Glacier National Park is a nature lover’s dream. From massive mountain ranges to untouched lakes, abundant greenery, and a few of the remaining namesake glaciers that helped shape the park’s landscape, there’s not a bad view in sight. The park has more than 700 miles of trails that cater to every preference and experience level. The same goes for campsites — rugged backcountry camping is one of the most rewarding ways to take in the park’s unbelievable beauty (yes, even in the winter). For a more direct journey through the park, drive across the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, a 50-mile route across the entirety of the park from east to west.


Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

Covered wagons in front of the rocky bluff at Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska.
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The namesake rock formation of Nebraska’s Scotts Bluff National Monument stands in stark contrast to the state’s expanses of flat farmland. Towering 800 feet over the North Platte River, the bluff was an important landmark for travelers along the Oregon, Mormon, California, and Pony Express trails. The park’s geological and paleontological history — as well as the regional plant and animal life — are also on display across the nearly 3,000 acres of parkland. Both driving and walking trails are available — the walking trails to the top of the bluff are less intimidating than they sound, and are well worth the reward of endless views.


Nevada: Great Basin National Park

Alpine Loop trail in the Great Basin National Park in Nevada.
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Beyond the glitz of Las Vegas, Nevada has some of the country’s most fascinating natural beauty to explore. The ecologically disparate Great Basin National Park is perhaps the best example of this — it features sprawling sage-covered hills, majestic bristlecone pine tree forests, and even mystical underground caves begging to be explored. From the desert basin to the 13,000-foot-high summit of Wheeler Peak mountain, it’s a must-visit for outdoor adventurers of every stripe.


New Hampshire: Appalachian National Scenic Trail

The Appalachian Trail on a sunny day in New Hampshire.
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The Appalachian Trail is a National Park Service site that traverses almost 2,200 miles through 14 states, starting in Maine and ending in Georgia. Some of the best spots along the footpath are found in the 160-mile stretch through New Hampshire, where you can hike the ridgeline of the famous White Mountains and take in more above-treeline views than in any other state along the trail.


New Jersey: Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park

The waterfall at Paterson Great Falls National Historic Park.
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The Paterson Great Falls park may be smaller than many sites on this list, but its central feature, a spectacular cascading waterfall, is one of the largest in the country — 77 feet high and 260 feet wide. The falls also happen to symbolize more than just New Jersey’s underrated natural beauty — they also represent important developments in the history of the Industrial Revolution in America. Thanks to Alexander Hamilton, who commissioned the first watermills (powered by the falls) that would establish the local milling industry, Paterson became the country’s first planned industrial city in 1792.


New Mexico: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Subterranean columns in a spring-fed pool at Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
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Tucked into the Guadalupe Mountains — in a remote part of southern New Mexico’s Chihuahuan Desert — is an underground world unlike any you’ve ever seen. The Carlsbad Caverns (of which there are more than 100) are an otherworldly landscape of stalagmite and stalactite rock formations that grow and hang in dramatic fashion from just about every surface. At dusk, the more than 17 species of bats that fill the caves put on a show as they flutter out for the night. Aside from the caves, there are several ground-level hiking trails that are a great way to see the variety of plants and animals in the area, as well as the 100-mile Guadalupe Ridge Trail that winds through the harsh desert landscape and across the Texas border.


New York: Fire Island National Seashore

The white sandy beach on Fire Island in New York, with rows of fences by the seashore.
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New York is home to several historically significant National Park sites — the Statue of Liberty, Harriet Tubman National Historical Park, and the Stonewall National Monument (to name a few). But when it comes to natural beauty, one of the state’s most underrated sites is the barrier island of Fire Island National Seashore on Long Island. The wide array of marine life (including adorable seals), ancient maritime forests, and sandy beach dunes offer a rejuvenating respite from the urban rush of New York City (only 60 miles to the west). Take your time on this island oasis with a couple of nights of wilderness camping in the dunes, or make a day trip for some relaxing seaside fishing.


North Carolina: Blue Ridge Parkway

Morning light spills out on the Lynn Cove viaduct along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.
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Nicknamed “America’s Favorite Drive,” the Blue Ridge Parkway spans 469 scenic miles through Virginia and North Carolina. Some of the most beautiful stops along the way belong to the Highlands and Pisgah regions in North Carolina. Craggy Gardens and its rolling mounds of bright pink and purple wildflowers is a standout, as is the aptly named Rough Ridge hike. At its summit, you'll want to stop for a photo op perched atop the pointy outcrop known as the “Lion King Rock.”


North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

View of the Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
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President Theodore Roosevelt’s nature conservation initiatives are frequently honored within the National Park system, including with this North Dakota park named after him. The park’s wide-open expanse, dotted with herds of wild horses and bison, make the visit worthwhile on its own. But there are also a number of hiking trails that will take you through river crossings, unique plant and wildlife habitats, and ancient petrified forests. One of the most unforgettable outlooks is on the Boicourt Overlook Trail, where the payoff is an unmatched view of the state’s badlands for miles in every direction. (Bonus points if you make it in time for sunset.)


Ohio: Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Brandywine Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
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It’s hard to believe that the peaceful meadows and farmland of Ohio’s Cuyahoga Valley National Park is just a 30-minute drive from Cleveland’s city center. The park was originally inhabited some 12,000 years ago, and over the years served as important farmland for the surrounding area. Today, the NPS works to restore historic farmsteads and lease the property to farmers who focus on sustainable practices. There are dozens of hiking trails, waterfalls, and wildlife to explore on foot, but if you’re looking for a more comprehensive (and relaxing) view of the park, head to Cleveland to board a scenic, 2.5-hour train ride through this rural escape.


Oklahoma: Chickasaw National Recreation Area

A photo of the Trail to Antelope Springs in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, Oklahoma.
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Water is the main attraction at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area — in fact, one-quarter of the park’s nearly 10,000 acres is covered in lakes, streams, and springs. The area has been known as "the peaceful valley of rippling waters" since early Native Americans inhabited the land. Today, the mineral and freshwater springs — which have historically been celebrated for their healing properties — remain popular attractions.


Oregon: Crater Lake National Park

Gorgeous Crater lake on a summer day.
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Almost 8,000 years ago, the volcano of Mount Mazama erupted and left a cavernous crater in south-central Oregon. Over time, it filled with water, and today it is the crown jewel of the aptly named Crater Lake National Park. With a depth of almost 2,000 feet, the lake is not only the deepest in the country, but also the second-deepest in North America and the ninth-deepest in the world. With no inlets or outlets, the cerulean blue body of water is fed only by rain or snow and remains impressively untainted. Unfortunately, the lake is often obscured by clouds, but there are many other ways to spend your visit — take in the rest of the park’s beauty on the famed rim drive or any one of the scenic hikes on offer.


Pennsylvania: Gettysburg National Military Park

A row of cannons at Gettysburg National Military Park.
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The 1863 battle waged at Gettysburg was a watershed moment in the American Civil War. The National Military Park that now stands on the site is a solemn reminder of sacrifices made time and again throughout American history. Visitors can travel back in time with a historical reenactment, visit the on-site Civil War museum, and take a tour of the grounds, which the NPS works diligently to restore. These efforts include replanting important orchards and reintroducing native plants that were consequential in the battle, not only for historical context but also for overall habitat health.


Rhode Island: Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park

Wilkinson and Slater Mills along the Blackstone River in Rhode Island.
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Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park pays tribute to America’s industrial roots. In 1790, the country's first successful cotton mill was opened on this river, which became known as the “Birthplace of the American Revolution.” Today, visitors can tour the historical Blackstone River by canoe or ride alongside it on a newly constructed, tree-lined bike trail.


South Carolina: Congaree National Park

A lookout point of Weston Lake at Congaree National Park in South Carolina.
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South Carolina’s Congaree National Park is home to the largest old-growth forest remaining in the southeastern United States. The swampy grounds help foster the giant hardwoods and towering pines that form one of the tallest canopies in the world. Enjoy the beautiful coverage on a leisurely walk along the 2.4-mile boardwalk, or, for the more adventurous, journey into the untouched wilderness that makes up over half of the park.


South Dakota: Badlands National Park

A look at Badlands National Park rock formations at sunset.
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The Lakota people who once lived on these lands referred to the grounds as mako sica, which translates literally to “bad lands.” The rocky terrain, while difficult to traverse, makes for a beautifully layered, textured landscape — and its rich geology is augmented by the striking color combinations. The park offers hikes through the famous rocks, though they are challenging. Another option is the boardwalks where you can take your time respectfully exploring the delicate ecosystems and the beautiful surrounding prairie land.


Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

A view over the tops of the trees to the Smoky Mountain range in Tennessee.
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Great Smoky Mountains is the most popular national park in the country, welcoming more than 12 million visitors each year. The park stretches across 500,000 acres between Tennessee and North Carolina. And while both sides are indisputably beautiful, the Tennessee region’s lower elevation and relatively flat trails make it the most accessible year-round. For hikers, both the Newfound Gap and Clingmans Dome trails offer unparalleled views of the surrounding Appalachian Mountain region. And make sure to pencil in some time for Abrams Falls, one of the most popular waterfall trails in the park.


Texas: Big Bend National Park

A sunset view of Big Bend National Park in Texas.
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Big Bend National Park is a magical (and massive) park located along the Mexico border. Its 800,000 acres encompass some of the most varied topography in the state, including rivers running through gargantuan limestone canyons, stark deserts, and vibrant plants and wildlife. Hike the Santa Elena Canyon for a wide-open look at the Rio Grande. If you’re the camping type, both the backcountry and car-camping options will treat you to notably dark night skies — it has the least amount of light pollution of any park in the lower 48.


Utah: Arches National Park

A double arch with tourists walking around at Arches National Park.
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Several of Utah’s 13 national parks were established around the incredible, often otherworldly rock formations that blanket the state. The same is true at Arches National Park, where you can explore a preserved collection of 2,000 natural sandstone arches, carved and stacked over millions of years of Mother Nature’s masterful work. It’s likely that the park’s Delicate Arch (depicted on Utah’s license plates) is on your list of things to see while visiting, so aim to make it for sundown — when you can snap a perfectly framed photo through the structure’s soaring 46-foot opening.


Vermont: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

Waterlilies and Fall tree foliage reflected in the Poque Lake Woodstock in Vermont.
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New England’s sugar maple trees are on stunning display at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock. The park is named for George Perkins Marsh, who grew up on the land to become one of America’s first known environmentalists,, and Frederick Billings, an early conservationist who used the Marsh farm land to establish an eco-conscious dairy farm. The landscape is the true star of the show here — hike through mountain pastures and by peaceful ponds on Mount Tom or get an authentic New England experience by walking over one of the charming covered bridges.


Virginia: Shenandoah National Park

View of the Blue Ridge from cliffs on Stony Man Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.
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Located 70 miles from Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park offers a spectacular nature experience that’s also convenient for city-dwellers. Drive the spectacular 105-mile-long Skyline Drive, stopping for countless photo ops of the Blue Ridge Mountains along the way, or if you’re looking to hike, there are more than 500 miles of trails to choose from.


Washington: Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier & wildflowers seen from the Naches Peak Loop trail in Mount Rainier National Park.
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Mount Rainier is not only Washington state’s most famous peak, but it also happens to be a stratovolcano — meaning it's an active volcano still known to erupt on very rare occasions. Like many of the country’s national parks, Mount Rainier is stunning enough to be appreciated from pretty much any vantage point — especially with its seemingly endless fields of world-famous wildflowers. One of the best spots to take in the scenery is at Tipsoo Lake, which, when the park’s namesake mountain peak is reflected in the surface, is a truly surreal slice of beauty.


West Virginia: New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

Foggy morning overlook of the New River at New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
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The New River may be one of the oldest rivers in North America, but the river gorge it created in West Virginia (and the area around it) is home to America’s newest national park. The New River Gorge is the deepest and longest river gorge in the Appalachian Mountains. The park’s 70,000 acres also contain the most diverse plant life of any other river canyon in the south and central Appalachian Mountains. When you’re done learning about the park’s impressive trivia, summon your courage to take on some epic whitewater rafting (one of the most popular activities in the park), and make sure you complete the Long Point Trail hike to glimpse the famous New River Gorge Bridge.


Wisconsin: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

View of the Lake Superior sea caves.
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The sandstone sea caves on the banks of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore will transport you somewhere else entirely. Its cliffs and rock structures have been intricately carved over thousands of years by the mighty Lake Superior, making the area a true standout. Perhaps unsurprisingly, water activities such as glass-bottom boat tours, fishing, and kayaking are especially popular among the shoreline, as well as hiking and camping on land. If you’re feeling bold, visit in the winter when the mainland caves turn into richly textured works of icicle art.


Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park

Famous trail of Grand Prismatic Springs in Yellowstone National Park from a high angle view.
Credit: Wisanu Boonrawd/ Shutterstock

Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S., and the Wyoming landmark remains one of the most popular to this day. Established in 1872, the park is famous for its dynamic hydrothermal sites, such as the seemingly glowing Grand Prismatic, and, of course, Old Faithful, an active geyser that still erupts regularly. Make sure you take time to look in awe at the Mammoth Hot Springs, a confounding limestone structure, as well as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a geologic wonder that puts the gargantuan scale of the park in perspective.


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