Every summer, since the age of seven, my family has gone to a national park. Starting at Big Bend in 2007 to the Badlands in 2017, we've been to over 50 national parks in the past 10 years.
The beauty of these preserved natural phenomena is extraordinary and can't be found anywhere else on earth. Seeing these places before they're gone forever is an essential duty to not only people of this earth but especially to Americans who live just hours or even minutes away. If you do choose to set out on this mission, here are my personal top 10, must see national parks.
10. Big Bend, Texas
We will begin with Big Bend National Park, located in West Texas. Big Bend is home to the entire Chisos mountain range and a large chunk of the Chihuahua Dessert.
You may think that the state of Texas doesn't have much to offer besides its residents' pride and the state’s history, but Texas has beautiful landscapes spanning from the piney woods in the northeast, to the hill country in the south, to Big Bend National Park in the west. This national park is certainly not one you want to pass up.
Even if you prefer the lush forests and winding mountain ranges of the north, go to the desert and you'll find views and wildlife you would never imagine to be so beautiful.
9. Kenai Fjords, Alaska
Number nine on the list takes us all the way north to the 49th state of Alaska. With vast mountains surrounding you at every turn, you’ll understand how easy it is to fall in love with the USA’s biggest state.
Kenai Fjords National Park was established in 1980 and is home to some of the rarest and beautiful marine life you’ll ever see. Including jumping humpback whales, flying puffins, barking sea lions, and grand glaciers, it’s most definitely an experience you’ll cherish for life.
8. Grand Canyon, Arizona
Traveling all the way from the arctic tundra back down to the desert once again, number eight on my list is Grand Canyon, National Park. Carved out by the Colorado River over hundreds of years, the Grand Canyon is one of the marvelous creations nature has ever created.
If you do ever find yourself looking down the wall of the canyon, I recommend going to the North Rim. Free of the crowds and most tourists, you can get an experience of what Spanish explorer García López de Cárdenas might have received when the Grand Canyon was first discovered.
7. Rocky Mountains, Colorado
Coming in at number seven, the Rocky Mountains National Park is home to elk, moose, grizzly and black bears, bighorn sheep, and the Longs Peak Trail, one of the most dangerous mountain hikes in the country. Rising up over 14,000 feet, this trail will give you views like no other. The first successful ascent of Longs Peak was in 1868 by John Wesley Powell and several of his comrades.
Since then, over 58 people have died attempting to reach the peak, with an average of two deaths per year. More than 50% of people who begin the long trek to the top don't finish. So, all in all, this hike isn't for beginners. However, any sights in the Rocky Mountains National Park itself certainly brings the nature of our country’s beauty to life.
6. Death Valley, California
Rolling in at number six is Death Valley, National Park. Death Valley is home to the famous Racetrack. Scientists have been researching for years on how these sailing stones on the Racetrack move and leave trails. In December of 2013, a team led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography of UC San Diego discovered that the valley floor was under three inches of water.
Shortly after arriving, the rocks began to move. Their research told the world that the rocks and their tracks are only created under certain conditions mostly consisting of rain and wind. These trails have been formed through over hundreds of years of nature.
5. Yosemite, California
Staying in the beautiful state of California, Yosemite National Park ranks number five on our list. Yosemite contains not only a vast variety of wildlife but also the marvelous rock structure Half Dome.
Half Dome is a 14-mile day-hike that thousands of visitors across the country come to climb. Originally photographed by Ansel Adams, you can see all of the beautiful sights of Yosemite through either his lens or for yourself through your own eyes.
4. Grand Tetons, Wyoming
Venturing back up to the Midwest, Grand Tetons National Park is number four on this top National Park list. Within Grand Tetons is the beautiful Jenny Lake. Jenny Lake is surrounded by rolling hills, spiky mountains, and ferocious grizzlies.
This wonderful lake was created over 12,000 years ago by melting glaciers and can be seen from hiking up the Jenny Lake trail. The beauty of this lake is simply mesmerizing and gives you a clear idea of why Congress passed to make it a National Park in 1929.
3. Denali, Alaska
Falling in at number three, Denali National Park, in the monumental state of Alaska, is home to the tallest peak in North America, Denali (also known as Mount Mckinley). Denali National Park is a habitat for many types of animals such as the American gray wolf, reindeer, all sheep, arctic ground squirrels, and many more.
Going down Denali Park road, you’ll see a vast majority of wildlife at every road turn. Denali is an amazing national Park that everyone should consider adding to their bucket list despite the distance from the continental United States.
2. Glacier, Montana
Coming to the last two National Parks on our list, Glacier National Park has well earned its spot as number two. Glacier once had over 150 glaciers scattered around the area. Now, its numbers have dwindled down to only around 35.
Stunning views of these silent giants can be seen on trails like Avalanche Lake and Iceberg Lake. Although often forgotten about, Glacier National Park is where I found my appreciation for the mountains and love for huckleberry soda. When in Montana, go to Glacier!
1. Yellowstone, Wyoming
Last but not least, my number one choice of National Parks to visit is Yellowstone National Park. Home to sights such as Old Faithful, the Grand Prismatic Spring, Lamar Valley, and Norris Geyser Basin, Yellowstone is a habitat that you'll never see anywhere else in the world. Here you’ll see valleys filled with wild buffaloes grazing in packs as well as individuals being chased by wolves.
The unique diversity that belongs here doesn't just include the animals, but the terrain. Hot geysers scattered about the area are fueled by a volcano located deep underneath the Yellowstone National Park’s surface.
John Steinbeck once said, “Yellowstone National Park is no more representative of America than Disneyland,” and I couldn't have described it better myself.