What Are the 5 Must-See National Parks in the USA?

Of all the incredible National Parks in the USA, these 5 are among the most celebrated, making for a spectacular viewing experience.

Oct 26, 2022By Rosie Lesso, MA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine Art

must see national parks in usa


The United States National Park Service has played a vital role in preserving great stretches of land, allowing wildlife of all kinds to flourish untouched by industrialization. Their goal, for more than 100 years, has been to provide “enjoyment, education, and inspiration for this and future generations.” There are 63 different National Parks across the United States. This makes any shortlist hugely subjective, and therefore difficult, or almost impossible to define. But with a little digging, we’ve come up with a list of the top 5 contenders that appear again and again in books, magazine articles, art and television programs, and which continue to attract tourists all year round. Read on to find out more. 


1. Yosemite National Park

A picturesque view of Yosemite National Park, via The History Channel.


Yosemite National Park in California is one of the most impressive and sublime areas of wilderness in the entire US. Covering a stretch of nearly 1,200 square meters, this stunningly picturesque site features several waterfalls, steep mountains, granite monoliths and jagged cliff faces. The most popular area of the park is Yosemite Valley. More than 4 million tourists trek here every year to experience the impressive natural scenery. The area has a series of accessible hiking trails, as well as lodges and campsites for visitors to stay.


2. Yellowstone

yellowstone national park
A view across the multicolored landscape of Yellowstone National Park, via The Insider


Yellowstone is the world’s first national park, giving it a special place in the history books. But it isn’t just this fact that makes Yellowstone so awe-inspiring. This vast 2.2-million-acre park features a wide array of diverse natural wonders, and expands over the three states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The area is filled with dense forests, craggy mountains, valleys, lakes and even naturally occurring hot springs and spouting geysers. Wildlife of all kinds live here, so visitors have to be prepared to share the space with local buffalo, elk, and even grizzly bears. There’s probably too much here to take it all in in a single visit, which is why so many visitors come back again year after year. 


3. The Grand Canyon

the grand canyon arizona
The striking scenery of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, via Fodor’s Travel

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The Grand Canyon is a great chasm in the ground, which expands across a National Park area in northern Arizona that is 277 miles long and 18 miles wide. Its distinctive red earth opens out to some of the most breath-taking valley views in the entire US. For this reason, the area attracts around 6 million visitors every year, meaning it can get pretty crowded for an area of barren desert land. Hikers and wild campers particularly enjoy exploring the North Rim. For visitors who prefer to see the canyon from above, riding in a helicopter is the best option. 


4. Rocky Mountain National Park

the rocky mountains usa
The Rocky Mountains National Park, via Resource Travel


Rocky Mountain National Park, or ‘the Rockies’, is 70 miles northwest of Denver, making it a popular destination for day-trippers. The park is around 265,000 acres, making it one of the smaller National Parks in the US. Nonetheless it still attracts around 4 million visitors every year. Hikers are the main travelers who come here, trekking along the 350 miles of trail that wind through picturesque forestlands, passing fields of wildflower and glistening alpine lakes along the way. The elevation of around 7,500 feet at its highest points, leaves many visitors feeling light-headed. But back on the ground, the village of Estes Park has enough tourist trappings to make them feel at home.


5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

smoky mountains national park
A view across the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, via Trip Savvy


The Great Smoky Mountains National Park stretches 500,000 or more acres across North Carolina and Tennessee. This vast stretch of mountainous land is rich with the history of early human settlers, whose paths you can cross while trekking along the park’s many nature trails and hikes. Abrams Falls is one of the park’s star attractions, a gushing waterfall 20 feet high that creates a deep pool at its base. The area is also home to an abundant array of wildlife, along with more than 1,500 types of plants and flowers, making it a nature lover’s paradise.

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By Rosie LessoMA Contemporary Art Theory, BA Fine ArtRosie is a contributing writer and artist based in Scotland. She has produced writing for a wide range of arts organizations including Tate Modern, The National Galleries of Scotland, Art Monthly, and Scottish Art News, with a focus on modern and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from the University of Edinburgh and a BA in Fine Art from Edinburgh College of Art. Previously she has worked in both curatorial and educational roles, discovering how stories and history can really enrich our experience of art.