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Top US National Parks to Visit - Part 2

Whether hitting the road or renting an RV with your boo, we've got some national parks for you.

You can safely social distance in these wide-open spaces, flex your sense of adventure, and fill your Insta feed for months. The best part is that there is no passport necessary, nor any TSA standing in your way. So, start packing!

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Say WAT – Cuyahoga Valley National Park was first established as a national recreation area in 1974 and re-designated as a national park in 2000. The park is rich in history. The park sits between Akron and Cleveland in Ohio, includes 87 miles of the Ohio and Erie Canal, and has had over 12,000 years of human occupation.

Park Points

Size and Vibe: Covering only 50.89 square miles, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park offers rivers, grasslands, forests, wetlands, and agricultural lands within its borders—elevations in the park range from 590 feet to 1,164 feet above sea level.

The river, known as the “river that burned,” runs 100 miles in the park. The notorious Cuyahoga River has been a massive influence in shaping and changing the valley.

Cuyahoga also provides a home to animals in northeast Ohio, covered by urban areas. Raccoons, muskrats, red foxes, beavers, bald eagles, and great blue herons are but a few species living in the park.

Best time of year to go - One of the most colorful national parks during the fall, Cuyahoga Valley, is a must-see in autumn. Trees and water mostly cover it, so all you can see is yellow, orange, and red.

How many people per year - 2.42 million (2016)

Game On! - There are a lot of activities rooted in demonstrating the history of Cuyahoga Valley. Visitors can take a train ride on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, visit the Canal Exploration Center, or bike down the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. On the Cuyahoga River, visitors enjoy canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. On land, visitors go hiking, picnicking, and questing.

Picture Perfect - Brandywine Falls is one of the most popular attractions in the national park. The falls are 65 feet tall, have a bridal veil effect, and offer different viewpoints from upper and lower boardwalks. The next photo spot is Beaver Marsh, a successful restoration story, as it was once a junkyard.

Another popular area and great photo opportunity is the Ledges Trail and Overlook, taking visitors to the edges of sandstone structures and next to towering rocks. Finally, Everett Road Covered Bridge is a perfect backdrop for your Instagram post!

Closest Small City - Cuyahoga Falls, OH Closest Big City - Akron, OH

Closest Airport - Akron Fulton International Airport

Arches National Park

Say WAT – Arches is in Moab, Utah, and is a part of the Moab experience, a gateway town to two national parks: Arches and Canyonlands. Established as a national park in 1971, Arches National Park bears over 10,000 years of human history on its shoulders.

Park Points –

Size and Vibe: This national park covers 119.8 square miles of pure desert. The park is in the Colorado Plateau Desert in eastern Utah, also known as Canyon Country—elevations range from 4,085 feet to 5,653 feet above sea level. You’ll find pinnacles, balanced rocks, gigantic fins, and arches in the park.

As the name implies, Arches National Park features many unique arches. More than 2,000 natural sandstone arches are precise, and the national park holds the world's largest concentration of natural stone arches. This desert landscape is dense with wildlife. The park is home to many species, including desert bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, lizards, desert cottontails, jackrabbits, and coyotes.

Best time of year to go – The best time to visit is fall or spring. Temperatures are cooler compared to the summer when temperatures surpass 100 degrees. Plus, ranger programs are open, and the area hosts a Red Rock Arts Festival during the fall.

How many people per year – 1.66 million (2019)

Game On! –

Rock formations and arches in the national park make for some great adventures. Conquer the rocks and arches with canyoneering, hiking, and rock climbing! Or, if you’re more interested in seeing the park for its beauty, take a scenic drive, participate in a ranger program, or go on a commercial tour. Many visitors also like camping, backpacking, biking, and riding in the park.

Picture Perfect –

Besides the thousands of natural arches, there are countless spots where you can get a great photo. Park Avenue is a popular viewpoint and hiking trail because it resembles New York City’s Park Avenue with towering skyscrapers.

The next viewpoint, La Sal Mountains Viewpoint, provides a 360-degree view of arches inside and outside the park. Balanced Rock is one of the most iconic spots in the park. Standing 128 feet tall, the upper portion of the rock is as large as three school buses. Finally, you have to grab that snap of the recognizable Delicate Arch.

Closest Small City – Moab, UT Closest Big City – Provo, UT

Closest Airport – Grand Junction Regional Airport. Closest International Airport – Salt Lake City International Airport

Bryce Canyon National Park

Say WAT – Known for its natural amphitheaters and hoodoos, Bryce Canyon National Park is another of Utah’s national parks. It was first established in 1923 as a national monument but was quickly given national park status a year later in 1924.

Park Points –

Size and Vibe

Bryce Canyon is 55.98 square miles of colorful rocks, forests, meadows, and rock formation covers in the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southwestern Utah.

Bryce features the most extensive collection of tall hoodoos and thin spires of rock. Pronghorn, prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, and short-horned lizards are a few of the unique animals in the park.

Best time of year to go

The best time to visit Bryce Canyon is in the summer, specifically May through September because temperatures are mild and pleasant. Comparably, the rest of the year can be quite cold, with temperatures no higher than an average high of 58.

How many people per year – 2.59 million (2019)

Game On! –

This canyon takes a lot of physical effort to explore, especially on foot. The park has plenty of moderate and strenuous trails to hike. Visitors can partake in ranger programs or visit the park’s museum for a bit of education and adventure. Camping, horseback riding, ATV rides, and scenic drives are popular activities.

Picture Perfect –

There are no bad spots to take a picture in the park. The Natural Bridge is a massive 85–foot arch carved in red rock. Thor’s Hammer is the best-known hoodoo in the park. Along the Navajo Loop trail, you can take many mesmerizing pictures of the canyon’s rippling walls. Finally, to capture the bigger picture, Bryce Point a spot that highlights Bryce Canyon Amphitheater from a bird’s eye view.

Closest Small City – Tropic, UT Closest Big City – Cedar City, UT

Closest Airport – Cedar City Regional Airport. Closest International Airport – McCarran International Airport

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Say WAT – These two parks in the southern Sierra Nevada of California came to be in two different centuries, but their borders overlapped. Sequoia National Park became America’s second national park in 1890, and Kings Canyon National Park was created in 1940. Because of their proximity, the National Parks Service began administering them jointly in 1943.

Park Points –

Size and Vibe: These two parks encompass roughly 1,353 square miles, with 97% wilderness: the parks house canyons, rivers, glaciers, and underground caverns. Sequoia is a heavily forested area that hosts the world's most massive trees, the Giant Sequoias. They grow about 30 feet in diameter and over 250 feet tall. Kings Canyon also offers outstanding heights, hosting the United States' deepest canyon over a mile and a half deep.

Sequoia originally came to be to protect the Giant Sequoia Trees, making it the first national park formed to preserve a living thing. Besides the giant trees, these parks are home to black bears, badgers, sheep, muskrats, and opossums crawling through the parks.

Best time of year to go – The best time to visit Sequoia & Kings is early summer in May and June, as there is a beautiful display of wildflowers, and the melted snow from winter makes the park's waterfalls and streams flow heavily. Caves and attractions are also open during this time.

How many people per year – 1.25 million (2019)

Game On! –

Being 97% wilderness, most of Sequoia and Kings Canyon are only reachable by foot or horseback riding. It takes a physical toll, but the adventures are worth the effort. Hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding are many ways visitors walk around the park. Other activities include the Dark Sky Festival, cave tours, skiing, and snowshoeing.

Picture Perfect –

Paradise Valley in Kings Canyon offers a stunning view with a landscape similar to Yosemite's National Park. Another top spot lies at one of the parks' granite domes, Moro Rock. Climb a quarter-mile staircase to an overlook above the valleys and mountains below. The third stop is an 80-foot waterfall named Grizzly Falls, a favored place for picnics as well.

When visiting the Giant Forest of Sequoias, grab a photo of yourself with the world's largest tree by volume, the General Sherman Tree.

Closest City – Porterville, CA Closest Big City – Visalia, CA

Closest Airport – Meadows Field Airport. Closest International Airport – Fresno Yosemite International Airport

Shenandoah National Park

Say WAT – Shenandoah National Park's history harkens long before its establishment in 1935. People have lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Northern Virginia, the mountain range in Shenandoah, for over 9,000 years.

Park Points –

Size and Vibe: The park is mostly forested, covering 311.2 square miles of wetlands, waterfalls, rocky peaks, and 70 overlooks. It is also best known for its Skyline Drive along 105 miles of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Since the early 1700s, an abundance of wildlife has been reported living in the park. Human settlers made a dent in the wealth, eliminating the American bison and elk. However, the park is still home to about 300 species of birds, reptiles, fish, and mammals. White-tailed deer, the big brown bat, skunks, Carolina chickadees, and wild turkeys are other notable species within the park's borders.

Best time of year to go – Shenandoah is another national park famous for its autumn foliage. So, embrace the mild weather and head out between September and November.

How many people per year – 1.26 million (2018)

Game On! –

Coasting along Blue Ridge Mountain's Skyline Drive is one of the top attractions and activities in the park. Dive deeper in with a hike or a bike or settle in with backcountry camping, fishing, and wildlife viewing.

Picture Perfect –

With its 70 overlooks, the Skyline Drive is as pitch-perfect for pictures. The first notable outlook is Hazel Mountain Overlook at mile 33. You can stand on rocks and boulders with a view of the mountains in the distance. At mile 55.5, you can hit the Point Overlook. Finally, the Dark Hollow Falls is a series of waterfalls and cascades in the park. It's also a popular hike with a 1.5-mile round trip.

Closest Small City – Front Royal, VA Closest Big City – Harrisonburg, VA

Closest Airport – Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport. Closest International Airport – Washington Dulles International Airport

Badlands National Park

Say WAT – Located in South Dakota, The Badlands, nicknamed the Land of Stone and Light, was first established in 1939 and later given national park status in 1978.

Park Points –

Size and Vibe: The park covers 379 square miles of geologic formations, prairies, deep canyons, and grasslands. While the tall spires and rugged peaks are the highlights of the park's landscape, the grasslands make up about 50 percent of the park.

Badlands preserves the world's most significant fossil beds from the Age of Mammals. Rhinos, wild horses, and saber-toothed cats used to roam the Badlands. Today, you will likely see bison, prairie dogs, and bighorn sheep in the park. The park is also home to some of the most endangered species in North America, including the black-footed ferret.

Best time of year to go – Near the end of the summer, the park reaches above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Visit in the fall for fewer crowds and cooler temperatures. Spring can be good, or a visit can come with heavy rainstorms and hail.

How many people per year – 970.1 thousand (2019)

Game On! –

Camping, hiking, and wildlife viewing are everyday activities in the park. Like many other national parks, Badlands has an iconic scenic drive and has many scenic outlooks, called the Loop Road.

Picture Perfect –

The first iconic view entering the park is the Big Badlands Overlook. You can enjoy expansive views of the park's geologic formations. Panorama Point is another hot spot that gives you 360-degree views of the park. Yellow Mound's overlook offers an explosion of color with bands of yellow, orange, and beige rock. Finally, Cedar Pass brings you to the campgrounds and the Cedar Pass Lodge, and the bottom of the park's formations and a completely different view.

Closest City – Rapid City, SD

Closest Airport – Rapid City Regional Airport. Closest International Airport – Casper/Natrona County International Airport

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Say WAT – Great Sand Dunes National Park lies on the eastern edge of the San Luis Valley in central Colorado. It was established in 1932 as a national monument and was given national park status in 2004.

Park Points –

Size and Vibe: The park spans over 232 square miles with elevations ranging from 7,520 feet to 13,604 feet above the sea and is mostly covered by dunes, aspen forests, and grasslands.

A definitive nod to its name, the park is known for its huge dunes, some of the tallest in North America. Star Dune, its highest tallest dune, is 750 feet from its base to its summit and is the tallest dune in North America.

Best time of year to go – The Park's greatest attraction is Medano Creek, at peak flow during the early summer months of May and June when the temps are moderate. Head out then and midweek when crowds are thinner.

How many people per year – 527.5 thousand (2019)

Game On! –

Adventure enthusiasts go sandboarding, sand sledding, hiking, and horseback riding in the dunes. For something wet and wild, head to Medano Creek for inner-tubing or guests kick it with fishing or backpacking.

Picture Perfect –

Medano Creek is dry the majority of the year. So grab a snap to capture the condition. Pose on Star Dune or capture Mount Heard above the dunes for an unforgettable view.

Closest Small City – Alamosa, CO Closest Big City – Pueblo, CO

Closest Airport – San Luis Valley Regional Airport. Closest International Airport – Denver International Airport

Mammoth Cave National Park

Say WAT – Located in central Kentucky, Mammoth Cave was established as a national park in 1941. The park estimates there is potential for 600 more miles in the cave system, making it the world's most extended known cave system, with new caves continuing to be discovered.

Park Points –

Size and Vibe: The park's surface area only covers about 80 square miles, with the underground area being more extensive. The lowest elevation of the cave is 421 feet below sea level. Above ground, the park consists of forests, rivers, streams, and springs.

Mammoth Cave National Park is home to many animals. Above ground, you'll find many familiar woodland creatures like deer, raccoons, rabbits, and red foxes. Below ground is a different story. Mammoth Cave has several rare and unusual animals in its dark corners, including eyeless fish, ghostly white spiders, and blind beetles. The cave protects endangered species such as the Kentucky Cave Shrimp and the Indiana Brown Bat.

Best time of year to go – The cave is open for operation during the winter and summer, with winter being it's best season as it's less.

How many people per year – 2 million with 500,000 touring the cave

Game On! –

While the park's main attraction and activity involve exploring the cave, surface activities also exist. Visitors head to Green and Nolin River for fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. The park also has horseback riding, biking, camping, and cave tours.

Picture Perfect –

A top spot for pix is at the entrance of Mammoth Cave next to its soft, mossy rock exterior and waterfall. Inside the cave, you'll want to stop at the Rotunda, one of the cave's largest rooms. Once inside the cave, capture the Ruins of Karnak, wall formations sculpted by water trickling down cave walls. Finally, hike along the Echo River Trail to the end to get a picture of Mammoth Cave above ground at the Echo River Spring.

Closest Small City – Glasgow, KY Closest Big City – Louisville, KY

Closest Airport – Bowling Green Regional Airport. Closest International Airport – Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport

Death Valley National Park

Say WAT – Straddling eastern California and Nevada, Death Valley National Park was established in 1934 and is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the United States.

Park Points –

Size and Vibe: In the northern Mojave Desert, Death Valley's temperatures reach as high as those of deserts in the Middle East and the Sahara. It wins as the hottest U.S. national park. It is also the lowest at 282 feet below sea level and the 8th lowest elevation on Earth. This otherworldly oasis is spread over 5,720 square miles and includes valleys, canyons, mountains, dunes, and more.

Death Valley is a haven for the Amargosa toad, the desert tortoise, and the southwestern willow flycatcher. Common species include bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, and jackrabbits.

Best time of year to go – Death Valley, known for its blistering temperatures, makes summer your stay-away season in most busy national parks and the best time to visit. Spring is the most popular time because of the mild temps and the possibility of spring wildflowers.

How many people per year – 1.74 million (2019)

Game On! –

There are plenty of places and ways to play in the You can take a Star Wars auto tour to the places where Star Wars episodes, a New Hope and Return of the Jedi, were filmed. Also, hiking, biking, camping, backpacking, and wildlife viewing keep the crowds coming.

Picture Perfect –

Death Valley's unique landscape makes for great pictures. Your first stop is at the lowest point of the park and North America, the Badwater Basin. The surface of the basin is topped with a salt crust.

Dante's View is Overlooking this Basin, the park's first overlook. It has panoramic views of the basin and mountains across from it.

The Racetrack Playa, a dry, mysterious lakebed, is the next go-to for you. It is named because of the strange movements of fallen rocks across the dry lake. Your final capture is the Artist's Palette, an area called for its vibrant soil colored by abundant metals.

Closest Small City – Pahrump, NV Closest Big City – Las Vegas, NV

Closest Airport – McCarran International Airport

Everglades National Park

Say WAT – Located at the southernmost tip of Florida and established in 1947, this national park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S.

Park Points –

Size and Vibe: Named the "mother swamp,," the Everglades covers 2,357 square miles of subtropical wilderness in the U.S. This shallowly flooded area full of pinelands, mangroves, wetlands, marshes, and prairies was formed during the past 5,000 years as sea levels rose from the last Ice Age.

There is so much to say about the wildlife in the Everglades. The American alligator is an essential part of the ecosystem and one of the park's more prominent species. There are over 200,000 in the park. The park is also home to coral snakes, peacocks, the Florida panther, and egrets.

Best time of year to go – Winter is the ideal time to visit the Everglades National Park for several reasons. You can enjoy lower temperatures, fewer mosquitos, and birds from all over the country that fly south for the winter. Other wildlife is more accessible to view as well due to lower water levels. So, pack those binoculars!

How many people per year – 1 million

Game On! –

Wildlife viewing and bird watching are popular in the Everglades. Hop in a canoe or kayak trip and paddle amongst the alligators. You can hike, bike, camp, or fish for fun when not in the water.

Picture Perfect –

For wildlife photography, hike down one of the most popular trails in the park, the Anhinga Trail, to see alligators, turtles, herons, and egrets. Then, head to Long Pine Key early for an epic sunrise shot along the water.

Sisal Pond is another top spot for reflections along the water. It's an effort to hike there, but worth it. Finally, the Z tree is quite a capture. Legend has it that Indians would bend trees to know their location. There are only three trees like this in the Everglades.

Closest Small City – Florida City, FL Closest Big City – Miami, FL

Closest Airport – Miami International Airport

Canyonlands National Park

Say WAT – Established in 1964, Canyonlands National Park is another of Utah's iconic national parks. Located in southeastern Utah in Moab, this park partners with Arches National Park in the Moab experience. The two parks are a mere 26 miles apart.

Park Points –

Size and Vibe: Canyonlands is uniquely divided into four regions: Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers. Like the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River also uniquely carved the Canyonlands' landscape. Besides the geologic formations, other unique features exist in the different regions, including the ephemeral pools.

The quiet desert landscape is misleading as there is an abundance of wildlife running wild within the park. Mule deer, coyotes, porcupines, songbirds, lizards, and hawks can be within the park.

Best time of year to go – Spring is the best time to visit, especially for hikers. Temperatures with cooler nights are milder, ranging from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Late summer and fall bring on the afternoon thunderstorms.

How many people per year – 739.4 thousand (2018)

Game On! –

There are several ways to spend your time in the park. Auto Touring, biking, and hiking are quite common, while rock climbing is allowed in certain areas. Boating, camping, backpacking, and horseback riding are also common in the canyon.

Picture Perfect –

the photo ops are endless. The Shafer Canyon Overlook gives Shafer Canyon a surreal view, with Shafer Trail Road disappearing in the distance. The next overlook, Green River Overlook, sits above the Green River, flowing throughout the canyon.

Before finishing at Mesa Arch, next head to Upheaval dome was a popular destination in the Island in the Sky portion of the park. If you're not one to chase a shot, you can kick back and relax as the sun illuminates the canyon walls at sunset. That's your money shot.

Closest Small City – Moab, UT Closest Big City – Grand Junction, CO

Closest Airport – Grand Junction Regional Airport. Closest International Airport – Salt Lake City International Airport

Hot Springs National Park

Say WAT – Although Arkansas has seven National Park Service sites, it only has one national park: Hot Springs National Park. It was initially created in 1832 by an act of Congress but was not given national park status until 1921.

Park Points –

Size and Vibe: At 8.49 square miles, Hot Springs National Park is the smallest national park in the U.S. This little gem has a lot on offer, including rocky mountain slopes, creek valleys, a forest, wildflowers, and 47 hot springs.

Approximately a million gallons of geothermally heated water flow from the springs at the base of Hot Springs Mountain. Its thermal pools maintain an average temperature of 143 degrees Fahrenheit. As for wildlife, many animals within the park are typical species of the Ouachita Mountains region. The Great Blue heron, woodpeckers, cottontail rabbits, and gray foxes all have a place in the park.

Best time of year to go – Given that the park's main attractions revolve around water, it is best to visit during early fall from late August to October. Temperatures are warm but not scalding then.

How many people per year – 1.47 million (2019)

Game On! –

The most popular activity in the park is soaking in the springs at Bathhouse Row. The Buckstaff Bathhouse and Quapaw Bathhouse offer modern-day spa services with a vintage spin. You can drink the local spring water while picnicking, camping, and hiking in the park.

Picture Perfect –

First, head to the Stonebridge area to stop at Lake Dam Fall and the Stonebridge over Ricks Pond. An observation tower is at Hot Springs Mountain's summit, providing a panoramic view of Hot Springs and the park itself. Last, picture your plunge into the Buckstaff Bathhouse, which is a nod to another era.

Closest City – Hot Springs, AR. Closest Big City – Little Rock, AR

Closest Airport – Hot Springs Memorial Field. Closest International Airport – Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport

Written by Samantha Miller and Karen Loftus


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