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The national parks are ‘America’s best idea.’ Here’s a quick look at each one

The United States’ national parks are America’s big backyards. No cross-country road trip would be complete without a visit to at least one of these remarkable natural treasures, rich in unspoiled wilderness, rare wildlife and history.

Yosemite National Park; National Parks Overview
Yosemite National Park © Andy Kennelly / Getty Images

The National Park Service (NPS) is responsible for the country’s 61 glorious national parks representing American ideals at their best. That we are able to enjoy these special places today may seem like a matter of course, but the establishment of the national park system was no sure thing. Challenges have been present every step of the way, and many threatened to derail the entire experiment. But, until now, our best instincts have prevailed.

It is a testament to the NPS’s diligent protective measures that the landscapes of many parks look much the same as they did centuries ago. You’ll never cease to be amazed by the USA’s natural bounty. Here’s a quick look at each one, and check out these links for more of our extensive coverage:

Acadia National Park

State: Maine
Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30
Description: The only national park in New England encompasses an unspoiled wilderness of undulating coastal mountains, towering sea cliffs, surf-pounding beaches and quiet ponds.
Great for: Beaches, Cycling, Walking

Arches National Park

State: Utah
Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30
Description: Giant sweeping arcs of sandstone frame snowy peaks and desert landscapes; explore the park’s namesake formations in a red-rock wonderland.
Great for: Family Travel, Photo Op, Walking

Badlands National Park

State: South Dakota
Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20
Description: This otherworldly landscape, softened by its rainbow hues, is a spectacle of sheer walls and spikes stabbing the dry air.
Great for: Scenery, Wildlife, Cycling

Big Bend National Park

State: Texas
Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25
Description: Traversing Big Bend’s 1252 sq miles, you come to appreciate what ‘big’ really means. This is a land of incredible diversity, and vast enough to allow a lifetime of discovery.
Great for: Wildlife, Walking, Scenery

Biscayne National Park

State: Florida
Entrance Fee: Free
Description: A portion of the world’s third-largest reef sits here off the coast of Florida, along with mangrove forests and the Florida Keys.
Great for: Family Travel, Wildlife, Scenery

Introducing the USA's National Parks

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

State: Colorado
Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20
Description: No other canyon in America combines the narrow openings, sheer walls and dizzying depths of the Black Canyon.
Great for: Family Travel, Scenery, Walking

Bryce Canyon National Park

State: Utah
Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35
Description: Bryce Canyon’s sights are nothing short of otherworldly: repeated freezes and thaws have eroded soft sandstone and limestone into a landscape that’s utterly unique.
Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Scenery

Canyonlands National Park

State: Utah
Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30
Description: A forbidding and beautiful maze of red-rock fins, bridges, needles, spires, craters, mesas and buttes, Canyonlands is a crumbling, decaying beauty – a vision of ancient earth.
Great for: Cycling, Scenery, Walking

Capitol Reef National Park

State: Utah
Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $15
Description: Giant slabs of chocolate-red rock and sweeping yellow sandstone domes dominate the landscape of Capitol Reef, which Freemont Indians called the ‘Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.’
Great for: Walking, Photo Op, Scenery

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

State: New Mexico
Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per adult/child, $12/free
Description: Scores of wondrous caves hide under the hills at this unique national park. The cavern formations are an ethereal wonderland of stalactites and fantastical geological features.
Great for: Family Travel, Photo Op, Scenery 

Sequoia National Park; National Parks Overview
Sequoia National Park © Peter Amend / Getty Images

Channel Islands National Park

State: California
Entrance Fee: Free
Description: Tossed like lost pearls off the coast, the Channel Islands are California’s last outpost of civilization; the islands have earned themselves the nickname ‘California’s Galápagos’.
Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Beaches 

Congaree National Park

State: South Carolina
Entrance Fee: Free
Description: The lush trees growing here are some of the tallest in the eastern USA, forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies left in the world.
Great for: Wildlife, Family Travel, Walking 

Crater Lake National Park

State: Oregon
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25
Description: The gloriously blue waters of Crater Lake reflect surrounding mountain peaks like a giant dark-blue mirror, making for spectacular photographs and breathtaking panoramas.
Great for: Family Travel, Photo Op, Scenery 

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

State: Ohio
Entrance fee: Free
Description: Along the winding Cuyahoga River, between Cleveland and Akron, this park is one of Ohio’s nicest surprises.
Great for: Cycling, Family Travel, Walking 

Death Valley National Park

State: California
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35
Description: The name itself evokes all that is harsh and hellish, yet closer inspection reveals water-sculpted canyons, windswept sand dunes, palm-shaded oases, jagged mountains and wildlife aplenty.
Great for: Scenery, Walking, Wildlife 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park; National Parks Overview
Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Dennis Govoni / Getty Images

Denali National Park

State: Alaska
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per adult/child; $10/free
Description: The park is probably your best chance in the Interior (if not in the entire state) of seeing a grizzly bear, moose or caribou.
Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Walking 

Dry Tortugas National Park

State: Florida
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per person $15
Description: Your efforts to get here (by boat or plane only) will be rewarded with amazing snorkeling, diving, bird-watching and stargazing.
Great for: History, Photo Op, Scenery 

Everglades National Park

State: Florida
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25
Description: This is not just a wetland, or a swamp, or a lake, or a river, or a prairie, or a grassland – it is all of the above.
Great for: Family Travel, Wildlife, Winter Travel 

Gates of the Arctic & Kobuk Valley National Parks

State: Alaska
Entrance fee: Free
Description: These parks are part of a contiguous wilderness harboring no roads and a population of precisely zero.
Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Scenery 

Gateway Arch National Park

State: Missouri
Entrance fee: Free
Description: The USA’s newest national park is also one of its smallest, but its main attraction, the Gateway Arch, is the largest manmade monument in the US.
Great for: History, Family Travel, Photo Op 

Everglades National Park; National Parks Overview
Everglades National Park © Stefanie Grewel / Getty Images

Glacier Bay National Park

State: Alaska
Entrance fee: Free
Description: Seven tidewater glaciers spill out of the mountains and fill the sea with icebergs of all shapes, sizes and shades of blue.
Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Scenery 

Glacier National Park

State: Montana
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35
Description: Glacier is the only place in the lower 48 states where grizzly bears still roam in abundance, and smart park management has kept the place accessible yet at the same time authentically wild.
Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Walking 

Grand Canyon National Park

State: Arizona
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35
Description: The Grand Canyon embodies the scale and splendor of the American West, captured in its dramatic vistas and inner canyons.
Great for: Scenery, Family Travel, Walking 

Grand Teton National Park

State: Wyoming
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35
Description: Simply put, this is sublime and crazy terrain, crowned by the dagger-edged Grand (13,770ft)
Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Winter Travel 

Great Basin National Park

State: Nevada
Entrance fee: Free
Description: Rising abruptly from the desert, and dominating Great Basin National Park, 13,063ft Wheeler Peak creates an awesome range of life zones and landscapes within a very compact area.
Great for: Photo Op, Scenery, Walking 

Grand Canyon National Park; National Parks Overview
Grand Canyon National Park © Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

Great Sand Dunes National Park

State: Colorado
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20
Description: Landscapes collide in a shifting sea of sand at Great Sand Dunes National Park, making you wonder whether a spaceship has whisked you to another planet.
Great for: Cycling, Family Travel, Walking 

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

State: North Carolina & Tennessee
Entrance fee: Free
Description: The iconic Great Smoky Mountains National Park offers visitors a chance to experience deep, mysterious old-growth forests.
Great for: History, Wildlife, Walking 

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

State: Texas
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per adult/child, $5/free
Description: Guadalupe Mountains National Park is a Texas high spot, both literally and figuratively. At 8749ft, Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in the Lone Star State.
Great for: Scenery, Walking, History 

Haleakalā National Park

State: Hawaii
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25
Description: It’s impossible not to be awed by the raw beauty of this ancient place, a haven for wildlife and surefooted hikers.
Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Walking 

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

State: Hawaii
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25
Description: This fantastic park dramatically reminds you that nature is very much alive and in perpetual motion.
Great for: Family Travel, Photo Op, Scenery 

Gateway Arch National Park; National Parks Overview
Gateway Arch National Park © Mike Kline / Getty Images

Hot Springs National Park

State: Arkansas
Entrance fee: Free
Description: Hot Springs borders a city that has made an industry out of the parks’ major resource: mineral-rich waters.
Great for: Family Travel, History, Scenery 

Indiana Dunes National Park

State: Indiana
Entrance fee: West Beach $6.00 per vehicle per day; Dunewood Campground $25 per night
Description: The newest of the US national parks (February 2019), Indiana Dunes features 25 miles of sandy beach dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan and is home to more than 2,000 species.
Great for: Beaches, Wildlife, Scenery 

Isle Royale National Park

State: Michigan
Entrance fee: 1-day pass per person $7
Description: This is certainly the place to go for peace and quiet: the 1200 moose creeping through the forest are all yours.
Great for: Scenery, Wildlife, Walking

Joshua Tree National Park

State: California
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30
Description: Like figments from a Dr Seuss book, Joshua trees welcome visitors to this park where the Sonora and Mojave Deserts converge.
Great for: Cycling, Scenery, Wildlife 

Katmai National Park

State: Alaska
Entrance fee: Free
Description: Stand spine-tinglingly close to 1000lb brown bears, who use their formidable power to paw giant salmon out of the river.
Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Scenery 

Yellowstone National Park; National Parks Overview
Yellowstone National Park © Joe Ybarra / EyeEm / Getty Images

Kenai Fjords National Park

State: Alaska
Entrance fee: Free
Description: Crowning this park is the massive Harding Ice Field; from it, tidewater glaciers pour down, carving the coast into fjords.
Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Scenery 

Kings Canyon National Park

State: California
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35
Description: Kings Canyon is one of North America’s deepest canyons, plunging over 8000ft.
Great for: Family Travel, Wildlife, Walking 

Lake Clark National Park

State: Alaska
Entrance fee: Free
Description: An awesome array of tundra-covered hills, mountains, glaciers, coastline, the largest lakes in the state and two active volcanoes.
Great for: Wildlife, Walking, Scenery 

Lassen Volcanic National Park

State: California
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25 ($10 in winter)
Description: Anchoring the southernmost link in the Cascades’ chain of volcanoes, this alien landscape bubbles over with roiling mud pots, noxious sulfur vents, steamy fumaroles, colorful cinder cones and crater lakes.
Great for: Photo Op, Scenery, Walking 

Mammoth Cave National Park

State: Kentucky
Entrance fee: Free; cave tours $6-60
Description: With hidden underground rivers and more than 400 miles of explored terrain, the world’s longest cave system shows off sci-fi-looking stalactites and stalagmites up close.
Great for: Walking, Family Travel, Scenery 

Bryce Canyon National Park; National Parks Overview
Bryce Canyon National Park © Brent Clark Photography / Getty Images

Mesa Verde National Park

State: Colorado
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $15-20
Description: Shrouded in mystery, Mesa Verde is a fascinating, if slightly eerie place, with a complex of cliff dwellings, some accessed by sheer climbs.
Great for: History, Winter Travel, Scenery 

Mount Rainier National Park

State: Washington
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30
Description: Mt Rainier (elevation 14,411ft) is the USA’s fourth-highest peak (outside Alaska) and arguably its most awe-inspiring.
Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Walking 

North Cascades National Park

State: Washington
Entrance fee: Free
Description: The lightly trodden North Cascades National Park has no settlements, no overnight accommodations and one unpaved road.
Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Walking 

Olympic National Park

State: Washington
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30
Description: Home to one of the world’s only temperate rainforests, this notoriously wet national park is as ‘wild’ and ‘west’ as it gets.
Great for: Family Travel, Wildlife, Scenery 

Petrified Forest National Park

State: Arizona
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20
Description: Home to an extraordinary array of fossilized ancient logs and the multicolored sandscape of the Painted Desert.
Great for: Walking, Wildlife, Scenery 

Zion National Park; National Parks Overview
Zion National Park © Makena Stock Media / Getty Images

Pinnacles National Park

State: California
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30
Description: Pinnacles National Park is a study in geologic drama, with craggy monoliths, sheer-walled canyons and ancient volcanic remnants.
Great for: Wildlife, Photo Op, Walking 

Redwood National Park

State: California
Entrance fee: Free
Description: The world’s tallest living trees have been standing here from time immemorial; prepare to be impressed.
Great for: Family Travel, Walking, Wildlife 

Rocky Mountain National Park

State: Colorado
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35
Description: Rocky Mountain National Park  showcases classic alpine scenery, with wildflower meadows and serene mountain lakes set under snowcapped peaks.
Great for: Wildlife, Walking, Winter Travel

Saguaro National Park

State: Arizona
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $15
Description: An entire army of the majestic saguaro plant is protected in this two-part desert playground.
Great for: Cycling, Wildlife, Walking

Dry Tortugas National Park; National Parks Overview
Dry Tortugas National Park © Posnov / Getty Images

Sequoia National Park

State: California
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35
Description: With trees as high as 20-story buildings, this is an extraordinary park with soul-sustaining forests and vibrant wildflower meadows.
Great for: Family Travel, Scenery, Walking 

Shenandoah National Park

State: Virginia
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30
Description: In spring and summer the wildflowers explode; in fall the leaves burn bright; and in winter a beautiful hibernation period sets in.
Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, Walking 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

State: North Dakota
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30
Description: Wildlife abounds in these surreal mounds of striated earth; sunset is particularly evocative as shadows dance across the lonely buttes.
Great for: Walking, Wildlife, Scenery 

Voyageurs National Park

State: Minnesota
Entrance fee: Free
Description: Voyageurs National Park is an outstanding mix of land and waterways formed form earthquakes, volcanoes and glaciers.
Great for: Scenery, Walking, Winter Travel 

Wind Cave National Park

State: South Dakota
Entrance fee: Free
Description: Beneath the mixed-grass prairie and pine forest lies one of the world’s longest, most complex cave systems.
Great for: Scenery, Walking, Wildlife 

Olympia National Park; National Parks Overview
Olympia National Park © Naphat Photography / Getty Images

Wrangell-St Elias National Park

State: Alaska
Entrance fee: Free
Description: Comprising more than 20,000 sq miles of brawny ice-encrusted mountains, this is the second-largest national park in the world.
Great for: Wildlife, Scenery, History 

Yellowstone National Park

State: Wyoming
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35
Description: The real showstoppers here are the geysers and hot springs, but at every turn this land of fire and brimstone breathes, belches and bubbles like a giant kettle on the boil.
Great for: Family Travel, Wildlife, Photo Op 

Yosemite National Park

State: California
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35
Description: It’s hard to believe so much natural beauty can exist in the one place. The jaw-dropping head-turner of USA national parks, Yosemite garners the devotion of all who enter.
Great for: Family Travel, Scenery, Walking

Zion National Park

State: Utah
Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35
Description: From secret oases of trickling water to the hot-pink blooms of a prickly pear cactus, Zion’s treasures turn up in the most unexpected places.
Great for: Scenery, Walking, Family Travel

Reprinted from Lonely Planet’s USA’s National Parks guidebook.

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