Top 10 USA National Parks

DSC_0412Gin is currently writing a lot of entries about our wonderful road trip that took place during summer 2013, and she asked me to share with you my favourite National Parks we’ve visited as an introduction to the series. Here is my contribution, I hope you will enjoy it. If you want to see more of these pictures, I invite you on my blog, Seeingthrough35mm.

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#10 Pictured Rock National Lakeshore, Michigan.

It is situated in Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It sits along the shore of the great Lake Superior. Pictured Rock had gotten the name from its colourful cliffs. My understanding of how the colours have come to be is rather simplified: water leaches out the minerals within the rocks, these include limonite, manganese, copper and iron among others. When the water evaporates, and the minerals became oxidised, streaks of colour are left behind.

The lakeshore also boasts lush vegetation and an impressive stretch of sand dunes, the information centre explained that loggers had to drag timber up the steep side of the dunes and drop them down the other side onto boats to be shipped away. There are beautiful pebbles on the lakeshore, as well as innumerable fossils to be found.

 #9 Grand Teton, Wyoming.

The lesser known neighbour of the Yellowstone National Park. It has the iconic jagged peaks, and beautiful lakes and rivers. If you are visiting in the summer, be sure to bring plenty of mosquito repellent and antihistamine tablets, as the mozzies here are ferocious, and some happen to carry the rather unpleasant West Nile virus.

#8 Grand Canyon, Arizona.

It is one of the world’s most famous tourist destinations, a true American icon. The canyon itself is indeed Grand, as canyons go, it is the biggest we’ve come across. I have seen it described somewhere as “a geologist’s wet dream”.

It is certainly one of the most photographed parks, with iconic view points all over the rim trail. However, due to its popularity, it is almost impossible to find affordable lodging near it, even 6 month in advance. We over heard a lady saying that she had booked her room in the hotel in Grand Canyon 17 MONTHS in advance!!

#7 Antelope Canyons, Arizona.

These are not part of the National Park Service. However, they are so incredibly beautiful, it is difficult not to mention them. These canyons are part of the Navajo Parks, gotten its name from the herds of pronghorn antelopes that used to roam in this region. The gargantuan Navajo sandstones, carved out by water over millennia, resulted in these enchanting curves. During certain times of the day, the sunlight hits the crack on top of the canyon at just the right angle, beams of light are cast into the canyon, giving it the extra ethereal quality. It is a very popular destination for photographers.

#6 Zion, Utah.

This National Park offers many unique hiking experiences, they range in lengths and difficulties. However, even the most inexperienced hikers can find trails that suit their ability. The pleasant hike along the bottom of the Zion Valley offers incredible sights. We soon discovered that the view changed dramatically with each twist and turn. The colours of the rock after some rain contrast dramatically with the green cottonwood trees and blue sky. Not to be missed.

#5 Arches, Utah.

No prizes for guessing what this park is famous for!

This is one of the smaller National Parks, but still packs plenty of staggering features. There are petroglyphs on rock faces, as well as some incredible trails such as the Devil’s Garden. Thousands of unique rock formations stand in this Park, including the State Symbol of Utah, the Delicate Arch.

#4 Canyonlands, Utah.

This incredible National Park is made up of several distinct districts: Island in the Sky, the Needles District, The Maze and Horseshoe Canyon Unit.

Island in the Sky is accessible by car, and has several short and pleasant hikes, you can see some truly spectacular views along the trails. The other districts offer geologically distinct landscapes, more challenging hikes, rafting on Colorado River and its tributaries and much, much more!

#3 Yosemite, California.

This was the first National Park we had visited in the US, and its top placing was not shaken until our final few parks, yet it still occupies the top three position!

As soon as we entered the park, we were greeted by El Capitan’s imposing granite rock face. The sheer rock was surrounded by alpine vegetation and beautiful flowering meadows. The park has countless waterfalls, crystal clear pools, breath-taking hikes (literally), and abundance of wildlife.

Yosemite spans over 3000 square kilometres, is one of the biggest National parks. Each region of the park offers distinct features. One can view the entire Yosemite Valley and Half Dome at Glacier Point, see giant sequoia at Mariposa Grove, hike on Tuolomne Meadows, and visit the beautiful Mono Lake just outside of its East entrance.

#2 Bryce Canyon, Utah.

By now you might have noticed a pattern—Utah is really good with rocks!

Out all the phenomenal rock formations, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon take the crown.

I hear you ask: What on Earth is a ‘hoodoo’?

A hoodoo is a rock spire or pillar, formed by erosion. It usually has a hard rock as the top layer, covering softer rock beneath it. The erosion is able to occur around the rocks but not from top down, so that the rocks form tall spires. In the case of Bryce Canyon, they took the idea of a single hoodoo, and multiplied it by a million, thereby increasing the amazingness exponentially!

There is a trail that leads you through the bottom of the hoodoo basin, named the Queen’s Garden, and the park claims it to be the best 1 mile hike, in the world!

#1 Yellowstone, Wyoming.

It is America’s first ever National Park, and it is not difficult to understand why. The Park has over a third of the world’s hydrothermal features, including geysers, hot-springs, mud-pools, fumidors, and not to mention, the park sits on top of the Yellowstone Caldera, which is part of the Yellowstone supervolcano. The name alone is pretty awe-inspiring!

If you, like us, are suckers for a good hydrothermal feature or two, you would absolutely fall in love with this place.

The park is a conglomerate of intense colours year round. The mineral deposits at the Mammoth hot spring, the rainbow colours of Grand Prismatic Spring, the intense green of alpine vegetation contrasting with the azure sky are just some examples. Herds of wild bison roam the park freely, as well as elks and moose. Grizzly bears and black bears casually stroll across the plains in search for berries. Yellowstone truly is the quintessential National Park, and proof, that the National Parks truly are the best idea America has ever had!

 What about you ? Do you have a favourite ?

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148 responses to “Top 10 USA National Parks

  1. You have been to so many wonderful parks in US. I have seen a few from this list too and undoubtedly agree that Yellowstone is the best park among all. Glad to find lots of information on your blog.

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  2. Really nice article and we have visited several of the parks you mentioned. We live only 3 1/2 hours from Glacier National Park and really enjoy the park. A vast majority of the visitors go to Lake McDonald and over the Going to the Sun road but there is much more than that. The west side of the park has some very beautiful lakes and very few people. The right side of the park borders the plains and the north end goes into a Canadian Park. So the two parks combined are called Waterton Glacier International Peace Park. Some people have referred to Glacier as the Alps of North America. So maybe there is somewhere else to put in your bucket list of places to visit. Keep taking photos and enjoy life. Jim

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  3. I would add Glacier in Montana, the Badlands and Black Hills in South Dakota and the Canadian Rockies, especially Lakes Louise and Banff. We are going to Denali this summer for the first time and can’t wait.

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  4. I’m hoping you were able to visit Kings Canyon/Sequoia National Park. It’s actually two parks attached and are beautiful. It was our favorite to go place when we were raising our children.

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  5. What a great list! I’ve never been to the US but all of these national parks seem fantastic, especially Yellowstone, Antelope Canyon and of course the Grand Canyon. Wonderful pictures! :)

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      • It’s funny. Americans tend to forget the beauty we have in our own country. So easy to want to visit Europe since there’s so much history and a variety of cultures to experience. I try to balance and do both. Enjoy/discover here but check out abroad. Sounds like you and Gin do plenty of the same. :)

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        • That’s the way to go. We were very impressed with America, although there were a couple of things that took some getting used to: the tipping culture, and the variation in tax between states, on literally everything! Once we made peace, it was a very pleasant trip indeed :P

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          • Sooo true! Tipping culture is always such a problem for me because I never want to appear to be an elitist American when I travel abroad. But it’s so normal and expected here, that it’s hard to break out of feeling like a cheapo. And the difference in states… Taxes, rules, even regional dialects and differences… It can be quite confusing for visitors, I can imagine.
            I love hearing this stuff since it’s fun to hear another perspective :)
            So glad you enjoyed it here! Now you guys have to make it to Florida and tour all the beaches! :)

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        • The US are so big, it’s difficult to visit everything. It’s a bit like assuming Europeans have been to every European countries :D We are always attracted by foreign destinations, but sometimes, there is a lot to enjoy not so far away :-)

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  6. I haven’t been to many national parks in the US, but of the few I’ve visited my favorite is Denali in Alaska. I’m bookmarking this blog post, definitely want to visit some of the ones you mentioned. :)

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  7. Excuse me?!?!?!? Where’s Acadia on that list?!?? You’ll just have to come back and visit…and while in the US, drop into see us in Connecticut. :-)

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  8. We are visiting Yosemite in December. I hope it won’t be way too cold to do some hikes. Thanks for this post. I’d love to visit a few or all of them if possible!

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  9. I have been to 6 of those. The North Cascades and Olympic NP are also worthy. I haven’t been to the various Rocky Mountain parks but Glacier would rank high on my list along with the Tetons and Yellowstone.

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  10. As you know from following my blog, I’ve traveled the world a bit, but a few years ago, I started taking at least one trip a year to a national park in my own United States. They are truly magnificent and I really should feature some of those in my blog as well as the more far-flung destinations! Thanks for reminding me of my own country’s allure! (Our favorites have been Glacier, Zion and Bryce, Acadia, and … too many, I guess!)

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  11. Wonderful selections. There is so much to see here. But, you know, the two states with the most amazing natural beauty (and some pretty interesting people) are Alaska and Hawaii. I believe that Icelandair and Condor both have summer flights over the pole to Alaska from Europe now–saves a lot of flying time!

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      • I have to be honest, the only thing that trouble me to visit US is its visa application. I am not worry about my profile as I am sure I am qualified to get the visa, but the administrative work to prepare the application is annoying – not an easy process. Antelope Canyons and Yosemite were on my bucket list. But after reading your post, maybe I should add more places to visit in USA :)

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        • Ah yes the dreaded visa. To be honest the US customs isn’t very pleasant either, been through it a few times, wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But once you’ve gone through, it’s a world of good stuff!

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  12. Great Post, and I agree with most of the selections having been to all but one (Antelope Canyon). I would also suggest Olympic National Park in Washington and Denali National Park in Alaska as worthy candidates.

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    • You didn’t like Antelope Canyon ? I was quite amazed by the shape and the light displays inside of the canyon. As for Olympic NP, when we were in Seattle, we decided to visit Mount Rainier instead (we had to make a choice).

      Like he said, Alaska is our dream destination !!!! Denali looks pretty amazing. I’ve followed a lot of people living in Alaska, and the more I see, the more I want to be there.

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  13. I can’t think of Yellowstone without thinking about Yogi Bear. You didn’t help when talking about the Bears strolling through in search of berries lol ( or maybe a picnic basket). Beautiful photos, absolutely beautiful.

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  14. One of my goals is to make it to them all someday. I have to agree that Yellowstone takes the cake with its natural beauty and landscapes combined with crazy geothermal features. I really enjoyed the badlands too, it’s really something at sunset!

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  15. I have visited the Parks in the Western US & your choices are superb. It is ok for everyone to have their personal favorite! Here’s a tip – we visited the Utah parks in May (I don’t do very hot weather) and found the weather beautiful, and fewer crowds and fewer bugs!
    I thought the hoo-doos in Bryce were spectacular, also.

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  16. Wow! What an interesting introduction to National Parks! The world is a truly beautiful place with so many natural treasures still unexplored. Thanks very much for sharing a tiny part of it with us!

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  17. i have only been to 6 of the 10 but plan to visit yosemite in 2015. antelope canyon (as you say not strictly a national park) is right up there for me. we took a photographic guided tour which i would recommend.
    you are right about grand canyon accommodation but i have been lucky twice just turning up around 4pm (in good time for sunset shots ) and getting cancellations at el tovar.
    anne

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