Here’s an idea we’ll never contend with: Our national parks were America’s “best thought.” Well, that thought was acknowledged in 1892 with the production of Yellowstone. Handfuls more have pursued since. So here are the must-visit national parks to visit so as to top off your heart and Insta-feed with photographs of mountains, rivers, meadows, and red rocks.
Saguaro National Park — Arizona
Best for Seeing Cacti
Saguaro National Park, in southern Arizona’s Sonoran desert, is named for the saguaro, the largest cactus in the U.S.
While hiking beside these beauties, which can reach up to 40 feet high, keep an eye out for wildlife like roadrunners, Gila monsters, and horned lizards. You can also see ancient petroglyphs by following the Signal Hill Trail.
Haleakala National Park — Hawaii
Best for Sunrise
Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano, is definitely a highlight of any visit to the Hawaiian island of Maui — especially experiencing the sunrise on the summit.
Can’t wake up that early? Haleakala National Park is also known for its stellar stargazing. Hiking, biking, horseback riding, zip-lining, and paragliding are also available
Shenandoah National Park — Virginia
Best for a Scenic Drive
Shenandoah’s famed 105-mile Skyline Drive is one of the prettiest drives in the Northeast. This National Scenic Byway runs along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it features sweeping panoramas of rocky peaks and the fertile Shenandoah Valley. (Springtime, when the wildflowers are in bloom, is one of the best seasons to visit.)
Dry Tortugas National Park — Florida
Best for Beaches
Off the coast of Key West is Dry Tortugas National Park, an uninhabited island that’s home to 19th-century Fort Jefferson, plus miles of unspoiled beaches (it’s only accessible by boat or water plane). Wear your bathing suit, because this park has thousands of acres of coral reef, making it a prime snorkeling spot — keep an eye out for parrotfish, butterflyfish, moray eels, and nurse sharks.
Mount Rainier National Park — Washington
Best for Mountain Viewing
Mount Rainier National Park, 2 hours south of Seattle (named one of the top cities to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet), is home to 14,410-foot Mount Rainier (on super clear days you can see the peak from atop the Space Needle!).
The park offers year-round adventures, from snowshoeing in winter to hiking amid wildflower-studded fields in summer — and you’re never too far from stunning panoramas of Mount Rainier, which is still an active volcano.
Glacier National Park — Montana
Best for Wildlife
The top sights of this northern Montana park (which extends into Canada) are Cracker Lake, with its ice-pop blue waters, and the rectangular-shaped Chief Mountain, but Glacier is also known for its abundance of wildlife. There’s a sizable grizzly bear population, and elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats have also been spotted.
Joshua Tree National Park — California
Best for One-of-a-Kind Desert Scenery
Joshua Tree in Twentynine Palms (3 hours east of LA) isn’t just the title of a U2 record; it’s a national park with some pretty spectacular natural scenery. It’s setting, at the intersection of the Colorado and Mojave deserts, has resulted in unique flora.
The Colorado side is rife with creosote bush, while the Mojave side is a habitat for the rare Joshua tree — the only place in America where it grows.