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Bucket List: 5 US National Parks You Should Visit

Updated on May 19, 2015

The United States National Park Service operates 59 national parks, an agency of the Department of the Interior.

A National Park can only be established by an act of Congress. Yellowstone became the first National Park in 1972 under President Ulysses S. Grant.

I have traveled around the world and have seen many great natural sites. I can honestly say that the American National Parks are some of the most amazing and beautiful places that I've ever seen.

I have visited 19 of these parks in my lifetime and have enjoyed them all. This Hub is dedicated to the 5 American National Parks that I think you should add to your Bucket List of places to see.

5. King's Canyon/ Sequoia National Parks, California

These two parks are adjacent to each other and are administered as a unit. In the fame department, they may be overshadowed by nearby Yosemite, but they are every bit as breathtaking in their own ways. My friends and I had lots of fun swimming, hiking, and taking in the great views in these twin parks.

Established in 1890, Sequoia NP is named after the giant sequoia trees found in the area. These mind boggling trees can grow for thousands of years and can reach heights of over 200 feet tall.

King's Canyon NP was established in 1940. King's Canyon is actually deeper than the Grand Canyon at its deepest point - more than 1.5 miles (8,000 feet) in some places. The canyon floor is much more easily accessible than that of the Grand Canyon and can be explored on foot.

Me jumping into a stream in Sequoia NP.
Me jumping into a stream in Sequoia NP. | Source

4. Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington

At 14,417 ft, Mount Rainier is the highest point in the Cascades Range and the 17th highest in the US.The 5th National Park was established by the US Government in 1899 and can be fairly easily hiked.

My friends and I did an overnight hike along the Wonderland Trail. On it we hiked high up into alpine meadows, near snowfields, and across glaciers.

Getting the chance to hike across the glaciers and snowfields in mid-August is one of favorite experiences ever.

MY buddy Neil (L) and myself (R) breaking for lunch on the Wonderland Trail.  Others from our group are in the background.
MY buddy Neil (L) and myself (R) breaking for lunch on the Wonderland Trail. Others from our group are in the background. | Source

3. Arches National Park, Utah

Being in Southern Utah is like being on Mars. The landscape is so unearthly, in some cases more so than the rest of the Four Corners area.

Arches National Park is named after the eroded sandstone arches like Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch which are concentrated within a few square miles. This unique desert environment is like nothing I've ever seen before. It was set up as a National Monument in 1929 and was later made a National Park in 1971.

Arches NP is a smaller park than some others and the sites are much more accessible. You can walk right up to most of the arches and even sit in them. The more intimate scale of this park makes it one of my favorites.

My buddy Scott sitting in an arch.
My buddy Scott sitting in an arch. | Source

2. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Established as a National Park in 1919, Grand Canyon NP is the nation's 2nd most visited park (behind the Great Smoky Mountains NP). The sheer immensity of the Grand Canyon is its main draw. I still remember the first time I saw it. All I could say was, 'Holy Crap!! This thing is so big!!' I said that over and over for 3 or 4 days.

The Grand Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the world. It is 277 miles long, over a mile deep (6000 feet) at the deepest point, and 18 miles wide at its widest point. It is a fascinating geological treasure and a testament to the power of water and time.

I've been there a few times now and every single time I see it, I am in awe or its width, depth, and length. This summer I get to take my kids there for the first time and I can't wait to see how they react.

Scott looking over the Grand Canyon.
Scott looking over the Grand Canyon. | Source

President Theodore Roosevelt on the Grand Canyon

"The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled through-out the wide world... Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children's children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see."

1. Glacier National Park, Montana

Glacier has some of the most beautiful hikes in the USA and probably the most beautiful drive in the entire country.

I put it at #1 on my list for 2 reasons: The first time I visited Glacier, my friends and I did a 3 day, 20+ mile back-country hike which is the greatest hike I've ever done.

And Glacier's Going-to-the-Sun road is a 53 mile engineering feat which allows visitors to completely traverse the width of the park by automobile (or by bike if you're really ambitious).

This park gets less traffic than the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or Yellowstone even in summer. You can experience all the beauty and splendor without all the crowds. This will always be my favorite American National Park.

The view from our first back country camp site on Gunsight Lake in Glacier NP.
The view from our first back country camp site on Gunsight Lake in Glacier NP. | Source

Which of these US National Parks do you love most?

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Honorable Mentions

  • Yellowstone National Park - If this list had 6 spots, Yellowstone would have been #6. There are few places in the world where a person can see such a variety of geologic features in such a relatively small area - geysers, geothermal pools, waterfalls - along with bison, elk, and lots of other wildlife.
  • Zion National Park - Like Arches National Park, Zion is a smaller park and the sites are concentrated in a smaller area than some larger parks. It is an oasis in the very harsh deserts of southern Utah.
  • Grand Tetons National Park - These rugged peaks are very imposing and cut a jagged line across the Wyoming skyline. Lots of great options for hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park - While this park may lack some of the sheer grandeur of the rest of the parks on this list, the most visited National Park in the nation is still gorgeous. And unlike some of the other parks, GSMNP is very accessible to everyone.


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