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Road Tripping the Best National Parks for Hiking in the USA

Nothing says summer like hitting the open road with a map and a plan and a bucket list of national parks to visit.
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Ah summer, a time for bbqs, swim trunks and that classic family road trip in the trusty Plymouth Grand Voyager with pops blasting Beach Boys—from coast to coast and back again. That might date us a bit, so let’s focus on the timeless instead: the splendor of seeing a national park for the first time. Even better? Taking a grand tour of the best the U.S. has to offer, and hiking them too.

Whether you’re planning your first trip for yourself or your kids, or looking for a new itinerary this vacation season, we’ve organized two routes curated to see some of the most resplendent national parks for hiking. From high mountains to low desert, temperate rainforest to salt spray by the sea, there’s a park and a trail for everyone on this list.

RV in front of high desert red rocks.
From RV to your trusty jalopy, the open road is calling you this summer.

America’s National Parks Are Some of the Best Places for Hiking in the Country

Since 1916, the National Park Service (NPS) has helped preserve some of America’s most special lands. In total, they manage 63 national parks across the country, as well as many other protected zones, including national monuments, historic sites, and recreation areas. Each of these preserves spaces of outstanding natural phenomena, cultural features, or historical significance, for the enjoyment of present and future generations.

What makes the national parks great for hiking?

America’s national parks offer some of the best hiking in the U.S. thanks to a wide range of natural landscapes, from high mountains to expansive deserts, temperate rainforests to pristine coastlines and everything in between. Hiking allows visitors to immerse themselves in these environments and witness the beauty of nature up close.

Because national parks are designed, in part, to make natural spaces accessible, many of them have well-maintained trails. Here you will find everything from short treks that are good for young children to half-day and full-day hikes, all the way up to backwoods backpacking adventures. The trails are typically professionally made, marked, and equipped with amenities such as interpretive signs, rest areas, visitor centers, ranger stations, and campgrounds.

Of course, the main draw is the untouched landscape, which offers natural ecosystems for wildlife. Often, these lands protect habitats as they’ve been for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. From bears, deer, and elk to birds, amphibians, and marine life, the parks harbor a rich variety of animal species. By hiking, you can see animals in their natural habitats, observe their behaviors, and gain a deeper understanding of their importance within the ecosystem.

Father and son hiking through Yosemite National Park.
Hiking through America’s national parks is a great way to create memories of a lifetime for your family.

Planning your own hiking trip to national parks

To make the most of your national park road trip, you’ll want to plan ahead. Here are some steps you can take to aid the process:

  1. Determine your destinations: Research and decide which national parks you want to visit. Consider factors such as where they are located, park features, and your interests. Create a list of parks you’d like to include in your road trip itinerary.
  2. Decide on your route: Use a map or online tool such as Google Maps or Roadtrippers to plan your route. Consider the distance between parks, travel time, and any scenic routes you want to take along the way.
  3. Research each park: Visit the official websites of each national park you plan to visit. Familiarize yourself with the operating hours, entry fees, camping or lodging options, trail maps, and any specific regulations or permits required. Note any park closures or restrictions that may affect your visit.
  4. Create a detailed itinerary: Outline your daily activities, including specific trails or landmarks you want to explore, and where you’ll stay each night. Consider biking, wildlife watching, or guided hiking tours to help you explore hidden gems or gain a deeper understanding of the area. You’ll want to book your accommodations in advance, especially if you are traveling during peak season.
  5. Prepare your vehicle: Ensure your vehicle is in good condition for a long road trip. Get a maintenance check, including oil change, tire inspection, and any necessary repairs. Take a spare tire, emergency kit, and necessary supplies for your journey.
  6. Pack essentials: Make a list of essential items such as clothing appropriate for various weather conditions, comfortable shoes for hiking, sunscreen, insect repellent, water bottles, snacks, camping gear, and any specific equipment or gear for activities you plan to do.
  7. Stay Informed: Stay updated on park alerts, weather conditions, and any changes in regulations or closures. Check the official park websites and social media platforms for the latest information before and during your trip. Also consider downloading the new official app for the National Park Service that lets you explore more than 400 parks nationwide.

Lastly, remember to be flexible and embrace the adventure. Leave room for spontaneity and be open to exploring unexpected attractions or detours along the way. Soak in the natural beauty, learn about each park’s history and conservation efforts, and enjoy what are sure to be lasting memories.

A to do list graphic showing steps you can take to plan a trip to National Parks.
Does planning a trip sound like a lot? Luckily, the National Park Service has a guide to help you prepare! Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Consider purchasing a national park pass to save money on entrance fees

If you’re doing a road trip, consider the America the Beautiful Pass—also known as the Interagency Annual Pass—as a way to save money on entrance fees to national parks and more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including national forests, wildlife refuges, and other public lands. This includes entrance fees, standard amenity fees, and day-use fees.

Passes are valid for 12 months from the month of purchase and they cover the fees for the pass holder and accompanying passengers in a single, private, non-commercial vehicle. Children aged 15 and under are generally admitted free of charge.

Note that there are several pass types, including the Senior Pass, Access Pass, Military Pass, and 4th Grade Pass (a free pass valid for the duration of the 4th grader’s school year through the following summer).

There are also several Fee Free Days in 2023:

    • January 16: Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
    • April 22: First day of National Park Week
    • August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
    • September 23: National Public Lands Day
    • November 11: Veterans Day
A graphic showing the different options for yearly passes for the National Parks.
Which Interagency Pass is right for you? Let the National Park Service help you decide. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Road Tripping: Two Routes Explained

The country is home to some of the most beautiful and diverse national parks in the world, each with their own unique ecosystems and areas for exploration. But which national parks are best suited for hiking? Here are our top picks, laid out in two separate road trip itineraries.

In the first, the northern route focuses on parks known for their mountains. You will traverse the country from coast to coast, from the highest point on the Eastern Seaboard at Acadia all the way to Denali, the tallest peak in North America.

List of the Best National Parks for Hiking:

The Northern Route: Hiking Mountains from Coast to Coast

    • Acadia — Top choice for East Coast coastal hiking
    • Rocky Mountain National Park — Top choice for alpine hiking
    • Grand Teton — Top choice for big mountain inspiration
    • Yellowstone — Top choice for wildlife watching
    • Glacier — Top choice for glacial geology
    • Olympic — Top choice for ecological diversity
    • Denali — Top choice for wilderness

The Northern Route: Mountains from Coast to Coast

1. Acadia National Park, Maine

Sea-to-summit hike to the highest point on the eastern seaboard
Fresh lobster, clams, and fish (if that’s your thing)
There are plenty of car-free ways to get around
4 million visitors annually means it can get busy in the summer
While the Whites and Baxter are a few hour’s drive, the next closest national park is in Ohio
Scenic view of the awe inspiring nature's landscape in Acadia National Park.
Acadia contains 64 miles of coastline including that of Mount Desert Island, Schoodic Peninsula, Isle au Haut, and more than a dozen outlying islands.

The fine-grained granitic gem of the East Coast

Hugging US 1 up the Atlantic shoreline, head towards the rugged pink granite that buttresses the ocean at Acadia National Park. Along the way you’ll coast through freshened up former fishing towns while snagging sniffs of sea breeze and belting out summer jams.

Hiking in Acadia National Park

Acadia is a land of firsts: the first national park east of the Mississippi and for half the year, it’s one of the first places in the U.S. to catch the day’s rays. Fitting, because the place shines.

This is especially true for hiking in Acadia National Park. Comprised of a collection of islands harboring coves, ponds, lakes, “mountains”, marshes, and woodlands, you can navigate the undulating terrain by hiking trails, broken-stone carriage roads (open to pedestrians, cyclists, and horse-drawn carriages), and historic motor roads. In all, there are nearly 50,000 acres to explore, but a few hikes stand above the rest for seeing the place.

Beehive Loop: Perhaps the most well known hike in the park, this 1.4 mile loop incorporates iron rungs and ladders to ascend the glacially-ground nubbin that rises 520-ft above sea level. This is a must-do hike.
Cadillac Mountain: There are several ways up to the summit—the highest point on the eastern seaboard—including the north and south ridges. These take you along granite ridgelines with uninterrupted views over the Atlantic. And then you get to the top, where there’s a parking lot. *Sigh*
Ocean Path: An out-and-back coastal trail that takes you to some of the most memorable features of Acadia, including Thunder Hole, a narrow channel that emits thunderous claps when struck by waves.

Westward, ho!

From Mount Desert Island to the mountains of the Rockies, let our road trip commence!

Shining like a pink granite jewel on the North Atlantic Coast, Acadia is something of a ‘hometown hero’ national park in New England.

– 57hours

Acadia National Park, Maine - Good to Know

Number of hiking trails:
    • 158 miles of hiking trails
    • 45 miles of carriage roads
Size of park:

Nearly 50,000 acres


A rocky headland full of exposed granite domes, stony and sandy beaches, glacial features including u-shaped valleys and erratics, wetlands, forests, and of course, coastline (of which there are over 60 miles).


There are several campgrounds within the park, though “backcountry camping” is not allowed. You can find many options in local towns and villages, including Bar Harbor, the popular resort town on Mount Desert Island.

Current conditions:

You can get real time weather data from the Acadia National Park Service.

Link to trail map:

National Park Service maps of Acadia National Park featuring hiking trails and carriage roads.

Best time to go:

June through October are the most popular months, with July and August being the busiest. Come fall, the mosquitoes are gone and you can enjoy the changing colors of the leaves.

How to get there:

Most people fly into Boston Logan International Airport then drive, about 4.5 hours. Alternatively, you can take a flight from Logan to Hancock County Airport, 10 miles from Acadia National Park or fly into Bangor International Airport, about one hour from the park. Car rentals are available at both airports.

Entrance cost:

Pricing is based on the manner with which you enter:

    • Private vehicles (non-commercial, for up to 15 occupants): $35. Valid for 7 days.
    • Motorcycles: $30
    • Per person (bicyclist, hiker, pedestrian): $15
    • Youth 15 and under are admitted free of charge
Permits and regulations:

Not required except for special uses. Note that vehicle reservations are required for the Cadillac Summit Road. Note that pets are allowed, but they must be leashed at all times.

Learn more:

Sea to Trees is a podcast that shares stories of the science happening in and around Acadia.

And if you visit in September, you can participate in one of the premier night sky events on the eastern seaboard, Acadia Night Sky Festival.

Recommended guided tour:

2. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Some of the highest mountains in the continental U.S.
Chance to see wildlife, including elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer and even bears
If you like cooling off, there are 450 miles of rivers and streams and 150 lakes
Thunderstorms and summer go together like peanuts and M&Ms in trail mix
Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain above changing fall colors.
Hallett Peak (12,720 feet) and Flattop Mountain are some of the most recognizable mountains in the range. Photo by U.S. Department of the Interior in the Public Domain

We’re going to need an altitude adjustment

Drive some 2,300 miles into Neal Cassady’s Denver and a backdrop of mountains. Tall. Far as the eye can see. Coming from the peaks and pebbles in the Northeast, it is characteristically undeniable that the mountains out this way are way, way bigger.

Case in point: this slice of the Rocky Mountains range in elevation from 7,860 to Longs Peak at 14,259 feet. There are sixty mountains over 12,000 feet with 20 of them above 13,000 feet. Because of the altitude and five different ecological zones, what you see in the park is similar to the landscape changes you’ll encounter on a drive from Denver to northern Alaska… which will come later.

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

One of the highest NPs in the country, the hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park takes you through a wide variety of terrain, from windswept land above treeline and high alpine lakes to sandy red rock trails and forested valleys. Running through the center of the park is the Continental Divide which, as you can imagine, splits the country, and the flow of its waterways, in two.

Hiking Longs Peak via Keyhole Route: This iconic mountain rises above all other summits in the park (14,349 ft / 4350 m), and to get to the top will be one of the most grueling stairmaster sessions of your life (15 miles, round trip with 5,100 feet in elevation gain). Note that this is more technical than a typical hike, with class II, or even III, scrambling, sheer rock faces and narrow ledges.

Emerald Lake Trail: Enjoy three lakes in under three miles. Starting at the Bear Lake Trailhead you’ll follow a well-maintained and packed path for 3.6 miles round trip, with Hallett Peak (12,713′) watching over you the whole time.

Alberta Falls Hike: Is a good option for children. Take a short and mellow trail to a 30-foot waterfall.

Onwards and upwards

About 8 hours driving northwest brings us to the next destination.

Of all these places that I have lived and explored, Colorado provides some of the most dramatic landscapes with iconic mountain views.

– Amanda Baseler in A Local’s Top 8 Picks for The Best Hiking in Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado - Good to Know

Number of hiking trails:

350 miles

Size of park:

265,461 acres with an additional 253,059 acres of Forest Service wilderness outside the boundaries.


One of the highest national parks in the United States you’ll find a range of terrain from alpine tundra to high mountains with jagged summits, turquoise lakes, forests and meadows.


There are no overnight accommodations within Rocky Mountain National Park, however there are many lodging options in the nearby communities of Estes Park and Grand Lake. There are five established campgrounds.

Link to trail map:
Best time to go:

Spring, summer, and fall, with hiking trails and attractions are mostly accessible from June to September. The exact timing will depend on which trails you want to hike. Snow is still prevalent at higher elevations until mid-June, and Trail Ridge Road is typically closed until mid- to late-May.

How to get there:

Denver International Airport (DEN) is the closest major airport. Note that there is no public transportation from the airport to the park, though commercial shuttle service is available from the airport to Estes Park.

Entrance cost:
    • 1-day private vehicles (non-commercial, for up to 16 occupants): $30. Valid for 1 day
    • 1-day motorcycles: $30
    • 1-day per person (walk-ins, bicyclists, etc.): $15
    • 7-Day Vehicle Pass: $35.00
    • Annual Pass: $70.00
Permits and regulations:

As of 2022, and updated for 2023, there is a Timed Entry Permit System. Between May 26 through October 22, you must make a reservation in order to enter the park during peak hours, and you must enter within specific  two-hour windows.

Recommended guided tour:

3. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Iconic ridgeline that is so alluring you might not want to ever leave
One of the birthplaces of American climbing and big mountain skiing
Plenty of other activities, like floating on Snake River or cycling The Grand Teton Pathway
Not a cheap destination to visit
Long and harsh winters
Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park at dawn.
Schwabacher Landing reflects the central Teton Range framed by spruce and cottonwood trees. It is popular for wildlife viewing.

Inspired by mountains

About 450 miles north of RMNP lies the Grand Tetons. Thinking about their sawtooth ridgeline and vertical relief might make you want to take a roadtrip to the park no matter where you happen to be at the time. It’s a bit like the effect of climbing in the Bugaboos or Patagonia.

As one of our local skier friends says, “ask anyone who’s visited Jackson Hole and chances are they remember the moment they turned the corner on Highway 191 to catch their first glimpse of the striking silhouette… Awestruck by the jagged scenery, it’s a common tale for skiers to decide on the spot to call it home.”

You’ve been warned.

From rangeland to a protected range

There’s only about 6 miles separating Grand Teton NP from Yellowstone, but while the latter was established in 1872, it took another 57 years for the Tetons to be equally protected. One of the concessions, among many, was catered to Idaho ranchers who used the surrounding land for summer pasture. As a result, the park became localized, essentially, to the Teton Range.

In other words, this park is all about the mountains (fitting because the area is one of the most formative for the development of climbing and mountaineering in America—starting around 1898 for Euro-Americans, and most likely much earlier by Indigenous people).

Today, the Tetons are part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest intact ecosystem in the Lower 48. Below the summits lie glacial cirques, forest-covered mountainsides, a sagebrush-dominated valley floor, and wildflower meadows, a vast landscape that is home to the same animals that inhabited the territory long before Lewis and Clarke’s expedition.

Hiking in Grand Teton National Park

Taggart Lake Loop: A great introduction to the area, this 3.3 mile path starts off with stunning views of Grand Teton before passing through forests of spruce and pine, and stretches of aspen groves.

Paintbrush Canyon and Cascade Canyon Loop: This celebrated trail is no walk in the park. In fact, many people choose to backpack this 20-mile route over two, or even three, days. Considering you’ll see a “best of” compilation of the Tetons along the way, you may very well want to take your time.

Table Mountain Trail: The next best thing to climbing the Grand Teton is seeing it from Table Mountain. In fact, you’ll be close enough to watch climbers without binoculars.

Just down the road

For our next stop, we take a quick drive up the street.

There are few spots in the Western mountain lands about which there hangs so much frontier romance… [it must be the] quite exceptional natural beauty of the spot.

– English mountaineer William Baillie-Grohman in 1882

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming - Good to Know

Number of hiking trails:

250+ miles

Size of park:

310,000 acres (1,300 km2)


Rugged peaks of the Teton Range, glacial valleys, lakes, rivers, forests, and meadows.


There are a variety of options from modern hotels to cabins, lodges, cottages, or motel-style rooms. You can also stay at campgrounds, or camp in the backcountry.

Link to trail map:
Best time to go:

The best time to visit Grand Teton National Park is from mid-May to late September when all the visitor centers, hiking trails, and other park activities, including kayaking and fishing, are open

How to get there:

To get to Grand Teton National Park, you’ll fly into Jackson Hole Airport, about 15 minutes away from Jackson, Wyoming, where you’ll meet your group and guide on the first day. From there, you can rent a car, take a shuttle service, or get a taxi.

Entrance cost:
    • Private vehicles (non-commercial). Unlimited entry for seven consecutive days, beginning on the day of purchase): $35
    • Buses/Vans (non-commercial, i.e., church groups, scouts, etc. for 16 or more people, valid for seven days): $20 per person
    • Motorcycles: $30
    • Individual person (walk-ins, bicyclists, skier, etc.): $20
    • Annual Pass: $70
Permits and regulations:

Reservations are not needed to enter the park, however All lodging and campgrounds in Grand Teton National Park are reservable (you can reserve them up to 6 months in advance).

Recommended guided tour:

4. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Experience some of the best wildlife watching in the U.S.
Near untouched landscape has been protected for over 150 years
Unique hydrothermal and geologic features
Have you heard about the bison jam?
Bison on a field in Yellowstone at sunset.
Yellowstone preserves the most important bison herd in the United States.

A short trip north takes us to America’s first national park

Yellowstone is about as wild as you can get in the contiguous U.S., and it still shelters all the native species that existed in its boundaries prior to 1800. However, most visitors only see the park from their car windows. Since the park is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, the typical traveler just isn’t seeing that much.

Ya ya, we know this is a road trip, but it’s not a road-only trip. So if you do want to see Yellowstone’s wildlife in the wild—wolves, bison, trumpeter swans, lynx, bobcat, black and grizzly bears, moose, eagles, pikas and pronghorns (and on and on)—you’ll need to get off the tarmac and onto a dirt path.

Hiking in Yellowstone National Park

There are more than 250 hiking trails stretching 1,000-plus miles in the park. With so much trail, rest assured there’s a path and destination for every hiker and backpacker in Yellowstone.

Say you get giddy for geysers, sitting atop the largest volcanic system in North America, Yellowstone contains over 10,000 hydrothermal features including the bubbling and bulbous Mammoth Hot Springs and the clockwork-like machinations of Old Faithful.

Ready to bust out your binoculars to view bison-speckled plains? The Lamar River Valley is considered America’s Serengeti for its abundance of wildlife. Across the park, there are 300 different species of birds, 67 mammals, 16 fish, 11 reptiles and amphibians, and 1,160 plants (several of which are only found here).

Want to head deep into the backcountry to explore peaks and river valleys? You’ll find plenty of options to explore from cascading waterfalls to breathtaking overlooks, vast grasslands to the Middle Rocky Mountain range, which range from 9,000 to 11,000 feet.

The Lamar Valley Trail: A seven mile long round-trip, this is a great option for wildlife viewing, offering sightings of bison, pronghorns, wolves, bears, and more.

Fairy Falls Trail to Imperial and Spray Geysers: One of the best short hikes in the park, leading you past the best vantage point for viewing the Grand Prismatic from above, and then along a well groomed trail to the 200-foot-tall Fairy Falls.

Grand Loop Road: Not a hike, but the 142-mile main road takes you past all the park’s main features. It’s an epic drive, but expect to be caught up in at least one “bison jam.”

A journey back in time

About 7.5 hours north and nearly to Canada, takes us to our next national park.

Yellowstone doesn’t read like a textbook. Whatever you’ve learned about the park, a visit is sure to surprise.

– Cara McGary in A Local’s Guide: What is the Best Time to Visit Yellowstone?

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming - Good to Know

Number of hiking trails:

More than 1,000 miles

Size of park:

2,219,791 acres (8,983.18 km2)


The landscape is incredibly diverse. As part of the Yellowstone Caldera, it is one of the largest active volcanic systems in the world. You’ll also find mountains, hundred-foot waterfalls, the world’s largest collection of geysers, deep-cut canyons, wildflower meadows in full bloom


With nine lodges (which includes both hotel and cabin accommodations), twelve campgrounds, and hundreds of backcountry campsites there are plenty of sleeping options for Yellowstone National Park.

Current conditions:

Given once in a lifetime weather conditions recently and forest fires, you’ll want to check the conditions of Yellowstone National Park before you visit.

Link to trail map:
Best time to go:

As guide Cara McGrary would say, each season offers a distinct way to enjoy the park, and because the landscape is constantly changing, you can come back year after year and always encounter something new and surprising. In other words, the best time to go depends on what you’re looking for. We’ll let Cara explain more in A Local’s Guide: What is the Best Time to Visit Yellowstone?

How to get there:

To get to Yellowstone National Park, most people fly into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport, which is between 1.5 and 3 hours away. From here, you can rent a car to get to the park.

Entrance cost:
    • Private vehicles (non-commercial, for up to 15 occupants. Unlimited entry for seven consecutive days, beginning on the day of purchase): $35
    • Buses/Vans (non-commercial, i.e., church groups, scouts, etc. for 16 or more people, valid for seven days): $20 per person
    • Motorcycles: $30
    • Individual person (walk-ins, bicyclists, skier, etc.): $20
    • Annual Pass: $70
Permits and regulations:

You are required to pay an entrance fee in order to access Yellowstone National Park, and then a permit is required for recreational activities such as fishing, boating, camping, horseback riding, etc.

Other things to know:
Recommended guided tour:

5. Glacier National Park, Montana

Shorter season than more southern-latitude parks
Part of the "Crown of the Continent Ecosystem", one of the largest intact ecosystems in the U.S.
Gives an idea of what the Rocky Mountain region has looked like for thousands of years
See the namesake glaciers while you can!
Wild Goose Island sits out in the middle of Saint Mary Lake on the eastern side of the park.
For the best views, you’ll want to head off Going-to-the-Sun Road. Photo by Andrew Parlette licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The glacial retreat of Glacier has been anything but

This is perhaps America’s most stark example of the effects of glaciation and their rapid retreat. Yes, it’s in the name, but while many visitors come to the park with hopes of seeing glaciers, it actually isn’t the easiest place to observe them—those that are remaining are high along the Continental Divide and current estimates suggest they may be gone by 2030.

What you will see in Glacier National Park, however, is striking carved valleys and mountains, cirques, arêtes, alpine meadows, and large outflow lakes. You’ll be able to experience the effects of the last ice age on the terrain up close on over 700 miles of trails.

Hiking in Glacier National Park

Granite Park Trail: The Granite Park Trail (sometimes called the “Loop Trail”) is a roughly 8- mile out-and-back that brings visitors to the Granite Park Chalet. Formerly heavily wooded, a wildfire has since cleared the land unveiling meadows blanketed with wildflowers and undergrowth, and correspondingly, great vistas of the surrounding mountains.

Highline Trail: One of the most popular trails here, this nearly 12-mile (one way) route takes you high above the Going-to-the-Sun Road and offers panoramic views of and from the renowned Garden Wall, which is carved into a sheer rock face. It is common to spot wildlife here, including bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and marmots.

Iceberg Lake Trail: What makes this trail special is in the name—the 9.4-mile round trip hike takes you to a lake where you may find icebergs, which sometimes calve off the nearby glacier, floating in it.

Where to actually see glaciers:

While Glacier National Park has the second highest concentration of glaciers in the lower 48 (with about two dozen), it’s actually the North Cascades National Park that boasts the most. Other options nearby include Mount Rainier, Olympic, and Grand Teton National Park. For massive glacier viewing with relative ease, head to Alaska’s national parks (more on this below).

Heading to Glacier is like taking a step back in time. While the glaciers themselves might be retreating, new beauty is being unveiled.

– 57hours

Glacier National Park, Montana - Good to Know

Number of hiking trails:

Over 700 miles of trails

Size of park:

1 million acres (4,000 km2)


Rugged mountains, dense forests, alpine meadows.


There are many options from historic lodges to wilderness campsites to ​​backcountry chalets.

Current conditions:

For the latest conditions on weather, roads, fires and more, see the park’s current conditions page.

Link to trail map:
Best time to go:

July and August are the hottest months with the longest days. The shoulder months (May, June, September, and October) are best for warmer temps without the crowds.

How to get there:

Glacier Park, Missoula, and Great Falls International Airports are the closest options if you want to fly. For driving, Spokane, WA and Bozeman, MT are about 5 hours away.

Entrance cost:
    • Private vehicles. Unlimited entry for seven consecutive days, beginning on the day of purchase): $35
    • Motorcycles: $30
    • Individual person (walk-ins, bicyclists, etc.): $20
    • Annual Pass: $70
Permits and regulations:

New this year, vehicle reservation is required for four areas of the park: Going-to-the-Sun Road, the North Fork, Two Medicine, and Many Glacier. Each location has unique details and requires a separate reservation. See the park’s Vehicle Reservation page for full details.

Other things to know:

For history and anecdotes of the park, check out the podcast, Headwaters, now in its third season.

6. Olympic National Park, Washington

Breathtaking views of the Olympic Mountains, old-growth forests, and Pacific coastline
Washington’s largest wilderness area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Enjoy several activities from hiking to cycling to kayaking
Easiest to have a car to access the different traileads
Bring your rain gear!
Roosevelt elk in the Hoh Rainforest.
Some of the most popular hikes are through the Hoh Rainforest, a temperate rainforest with moss-draped trees.

A park like no other

Nowhere else in North America can you go from sea-level rainforests to high alpine peaks in one park. Situated on an isolated peninsula, on the other side of the Puget Sound from Seattle, diversity is the hallmark of Olympic National Park. Thanks to an annual precipitation of over 12 feet (making it one of the wettest areas in the country) and a serious range in elevation, you’ll immerse yourself in dramatic scenery from the sandy beaches sitting next to moss-carpeted rainforests up to the glaciated summit of Mount Olympus, at nearly 8,000 feet tall.

The park protects a vast wilderness—full of primeval forest of Sitka spruce, western hemlock, Douglas fir, and western red cedar—and is home to herds of Roosevelt elk, among other animals native to the area. Hikers can experience the unique flora and fauna on the park’s trails.

Hiking in Olympic National Park

Hoh River Trail: They say the moss throughout the Hoh Rainforest is so vibrantly green that it requires sunglasses. No matter how long you take this trail (19 miles out-and-back to Blue Glacier, though most people make a much shorter day hike out of it) you might not believe your eyes regardless of whether you’re wearing specs or not thanks to the 300-foot Sitka spruce trees and walls of lichen, fern and moss. This might be one of the ​​best hikes in the US.

Sol Duc Falls Trail: An easy hike to a beautiful waterfall, this 1.8-mile round trip trail is great for families. Shade encompasses the majority of the route with a thick forest canopy overhead—solitude is only broken by the roar of the falls.

Rialto Beach to Hole-in-the-Wall: No trip is complete without a stroll along the 70-something miles of coastline. For this hike, there is no real trail, rather, the footprints of others lead the way. At four miles out-and-back you have the chance of seeing whales, sea lions, otters, and eagles, massive sea stacks, soaring cliffs and teeming tidepools.

Get ready for the big one: driving up to Denali

Buckle up because this is a multi-day drive, which includes traversing nearly the entirety of British Columbia.

The hikes of Olympic National Park are overflowing: long strands of moss, a canopy of enormous leaves, trees curtained with fronds fanning the trails. And then you emerge onto a beach or mountain top—it’s like three worlds in one!

– Jeff Garmire in The Five Best Olympic National Park Hikes to See It All

Olympic National Park, Washington - Good to Know

Number of hiking trails:

Over 600 miles of trails

Size of park:

922,650 acres (3,733.8 km2)


From sandy beaches to glaciated mountains and everything in between.


Campgrounds, huts, lodges, and resorts are available within the park.

Link to trail map:
Best time to go:

March through May is a great time to visit the park’s lowland forests and coast, as wildflowers are in bloom and wildlife is active. The summer months of June through September are the busiest time of year, with warm temperatures and long days.

How to get there:

The Greater Puget Sound area is served by Sea-Tac International Airport and Victoria International Airport. Driving, take the I-5 corridor, or one of the quieter state roadways, to Hwy 101 which accesses various areas of the park.

Entrance cost:
    • Private vehicles. Unlimited entry for seven consecutive days, beginning on the day of purchase): $30
    • Motorcycles: $25
    • Individual person (walk-ins, bicyclists, etc.): $15
    • Annual Pass: $55
Permits and regulations:

Permits are required for all overnight stays Olympic National Park wilderness/backcountry year-round

Recommended guided tour:

7. Denali National Park, Alaska

Wanna get away? This is one of the most remote national parks
Come face-to-face with North America’s tallest peak
Rich wildlife and biodiversity
Only one road (and mostly unpaved)
You better be proficient at navigating by map
Mount Denali on a fall day.
At 20,310 feet, the solitary Mount Denali dominates the great Alaskan wilderness. Photo by Patrick Federi licensed from Unsplash

It doesn’t get bigger than this

With few designated trails or campsites, hiking through Denali is an exercise in self-sufficiency. But for those who want to get away from it all, the park’s six million acres of wild land—which makes it larger than the state of New Hampshire—will give you every opportunity to explore on your own terms. (Just make sure you’re carrying everything you need on your back).

The main tether connecting you to civilization is one ribbon of road, the 92 mile long Denali Park Road. Going off the asphalt will take you on a tour of the low-elevation taiga forest, high alpine tundra and snowy mountains, culminating in North America’s tallest peak, the 20,310-foot Denali. Wherever you choose to go, solitude, tranquility and wilderness await.

Hiking in Denali National Park

Savage River Alpine Trail: One of the few places in the park with established hiking trails is in the Savage River area, and most are located near the entrance. This route is four miles long and connects the Mountain Vista and Savage River Day Use Areas, serving up panoramic views, including Denali itself 60 miles away.

Triple Lakes Trail: A 9-mile loop that takes you through forests, open tundra, and past three picturesque lakes. The trail offers solitude and breathtaking views of the Alaska Range.

Polychrome Mountain Trail: A challenging off-trail hike for experienced hikers, this takes you through the alpine terrain of the Wyoming Hills and Cabin Peak where you will see few signs of people. Polychrome Mountain and its colorful slopes are the dominant feature.

From one end of the land to the other

For mountain lovers, this road trip is a hiker’s (and climber’s) dream, covering some of the most iconic great ranges the U.S. has to offer. In total, expect to drive over 4,500 miles and spend several weeks enjoying the itinerary.

Denali’s wilderness, full of glaciers, towering granite escarpments, and grizzly-populated tundra, beckons you to explore it all.

– Jack Bynum in Why Backpacking in Denali is a Constant Source of Wonder

Denali National Park, Alaska - Good to Know

Number of hiking trails:

Very few established trails outside of the Savage River area.

Size of park:

6,045,153 acres (24,464 km2)


Snow-capped peaks, meandering rivers, alpine tundra, and vast expanses of untouched wilderness.


Most visitors stay outside of the park, in the villages of Healy or Cantwell. There are campgrounds within the park, and of course, you can wild camp.

Link to trail map:
Best time to go:

Visiting Denali during the main season is your best bet. It lasts from May 20 to mid-September.

How to get there:

Flying to Anchorage (ANC) or Fairbanks (FAI) is the easiest way to get to Alaska, and then you can continue by train, bus, or car.

Entrance cost:
    • Per individual (for people age 16 or older, 7-day entrance permit.): $15
    • Annual Pass: $45
Permits and regulations:

While you do have to pay an entrance fee in Denali National Park, backcountry permits for backpacking are free.

Recommended guided tour:

Additional information to help you plan your National Parks Hiking Road Trip:

What national park has the best hiking?

It would be hard to choose just a single national park for the best hiking since each one offers unique landscapes and features, habitats for wildlife, and trails. Rather, you want to ask yourself what type of terrain you’re looking to explore and what your preferences are.

Briefly, for waterfalls and granite cliffs, consider Yosemite National Park. For striking red rock cliffs and narrow slot canyons head to Zion. Glacier National Park offers a rugged and pristine wilderness. The Grand Canyon is a geological wonder, while Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of towering peaks to explore.

How many hiking trails are in US national parks?

Across all the parks within the National Park Service, there are over 21,000 combined miles of trails. That’s a lot of paths to explore!

What is the cheapest National Park to visit on vacation?

This depends on a lot of factors, including where you are coming from (and how you plan to get to the park), what type of accommodation you’ll be using, and cost of living in the surrounding area.

With that said, parks like Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina), Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio), and Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas) don’t charge entrance fees. Additionally, you are likely to find affordable accommodation options in nearby towns.

What is the best National Park in the USA for families?

Luckily, national parks are designated for their special natural phenomena, cultural features, or historical significance—they are intended for preservation, inspiration and enjoyment of present and future generations. What that means for kids is that there are all sorts of attractions that will delight and amaze them.

The Grand Canyon astounds visitors of all ages, and is easy to connect to many other outstanding southeastern parks such as Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and Capitol Reef National Park.

If you find yourself in Florida, say for a trip to Disney World, Everglades National Park is just a few hours away. There are many short trails and boardwalks, giving you a chance to see American crocodiles, manatees, turtles, and birds.

Yellowstone National Park may be the ultimate national park to take your kiddos. There are plenty of family-friendly activities, including easy hiking to fascinating geysers and hot springs, wildlife spotting, camping, one major loop road through the center, and plenty of Junior Ranger activities.

What is the best National Park in the USA for wildlife watching?

Chalk up another one for Yellowstone. The park is known for its rich and diverse wildlife population, including grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, bison, elk, moose, and numerous bird species. The park offers vast meadows, rivers, and forests that attract wildlife. The Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley are particularly popular for wildlife sightings.

To learn more, Cara McGary gives a breakdown of the Best Places to See Wildlife in Yellowstone.

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