Happy Birthday to the National Park Service!
I have only been to 20 of the 59 National Parks so you will probably notice some of your favorites may not be on my list. And, of course, it is a very objective list, so you will likely disagree with me on some items. Let me know your thoughts and what you might want to add.
20. Grand Prismatic Spring – Yellowstone National Park
The size of this hot spring (the largest in the U.S.) is overwhelming. It is 370 feet across, that’s considerably longer than a football field. The many colors that make up the hot spring make it an amazing sight. The only bad thing is that it is difficult to photograph, because of how huge it is.
19. Landscape Arch – Arches National Park
The longest arch in the world, at 290 feet or 306 feet depending on what you read, is a magnificent sight. The thin arch is highly accessible, as it is only an easy mile from the Devil’s Garden Trailhead. I previously wrote about this…
18. Yosemite Falls – Yosemite National Park
It seems the first three things on my list have a common theme. They’re all huge, the largest of their kind in the country. At 2,425 feet, Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America. It falls in three stages. It is a torrent in spring, but can sometimes disappear entirely in fall.
17. Cadillac Mountain – Acadia National Park
You can be among the first in the country to see the sunrise if you are atop the summit of Cadillac Mountain. At a height of 1,527 feet, it is the tallest mountain along the Atlantic coast. There are a couple of relatively short hiking trails that reach the summit as well as a road. I drove up with a friend of mine, but hope to hike up in the future.
16. Cascade Canyon – Grand Teton National Park
Cascade Canyon is one of my favorite areas of Grand Teton National Park. I followed the Cascade Canyon Trail deep into the area on my last trip to the park. It takes you to the heart of Tetons. The Cathedral Group (Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot) towers above you along the entire trail. This is one of my all-time favorite National Park hikes, and I highly recommend it. You can take a boat across Jenny Lake to shorten the trail distance and then continue for as long as you choose into the canyon. The trail is home to moose, bears, and more wildlife.
15. Grinnell Glacier – Glacier National Park
This is the most accessible glacier in the park. It can be reached by the Grinnell Glacier Trail, which is around eleven miles long, with an elevation gain of 1,600 feet. The glacier has receded considerably in the last fifty years. Upper Grinnell Lake sits at the base of the glacier. Pieces of the glacier float in the small lake like large icebergs. A waterfall brings water from the upper lake down to Lower Grinnell Lake which sits in Grinnell Valley. The larger lower lake is a magnificent turquoise color. The Grinnell Glacier Trail is one of the best in the entire park system. The scenery is immaculate and I’ve seen moose, grizzlies, marmots, and rams on the hike. I previously posted about this hike.
14. Cape Alava – Olympic National Park
This is the most western point in the continental U.S. It is home to a pristine wilderness beach and there are stunning sea stacks a short distance offshore. A short easy trail leads to the beach through a vibrant forest.
13. Glacier Point – Yosemite National Park
One of the most popular scenic vistas in a park full of them, Glacier Point gives you a bird’s eye view of Yosemite Valley. The viewpoint is 3,200 feet above the valley floor. You can see Yosemite Falls well in addition to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, which combine to make up the Giant Staircase. The most impressive thing about the point, though, is the unsurpassed view of Half Dome. It is at eye-level, I felt like I could reach out and touch it.
12. Logan Pass – Glacier National Park
Logan Pass, the highest point on the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road, straddles the Continental Divide at an elevation of 6,646 feet. The area is typically covered with snow well into June and closes again a few months later. There is a small visitor center located there as well as trailheads to a couple of the best hikes in the park (Hidden Lake and Highline). It is also a great place to see wildlife. I’ve seen deer, marmots, rams, mountain goats, and bears in the area.
11. Crater Lake – Crater Lake National Park
This is the deepest lake in the country a 1,949 feet. It is housed inside a volcanic caldera. The water is a stunning deep blue. It is among the cleanest and clearest water in the water. There are no rivers or streams going in or out of the lake and there is only way to access its shore. The short, but steep Cleetwood Cove Trail takes you down the side of the crater. From the shore you can take a boat ride to a Wizard Island, which protrudes from the lake with a caldera of its own at its peak. I posted about Crater Lake in the past…
10. Mariposa Grove – Yosemite National Park
This is the largest of three groves of giant sequoias in Yosemite. There are over 500 sequoias in the Mariposa Grove compared to less than 30 in each of the other two. Grizzly Giant is the largest and oldest tree in the forest. It is 209 feet tall and 30 feet in diameter. It is believed to be around 1,800 years old. Walking among the giant trees is like being on another planet. The most famous trees are easily crowded with tourists, but when you hike between the trees the crowds thin out considerably. This is a post about my rainy hike through the Mariposa Grove.
9. Old Faithful – Yellowstone National Park
This is probably the most popular sight within the entire National Park System. Watching Old Faithful erupt is a rite of passage in Yellowstone. Its eruptions vary in length and height, but they are general 1.5 to 5 minutes long and it can shoot 106 to 184 feet into the air. There can be anywhere from 60 to 110 minutes between eruptions, but the park does a very good job at estimating the next eruption based on the statistics of the previous one.
8. Hoh Rainforest – Olympic National Park
This is one of the largest temperate rain forests in the U.S. The place is an attack on the senses. It receives between 12 and 14 feet of rain per year, which (unsurprisingly) fully saturates the area. There is green upon green upon green within the forest. Moss carpets the forest floor, climbs the trees, and hangs from their limbs. Tall ferns invade the sides of the trails and large coniferous and deciduous trees create a lush, thick canopy above.
7. Grand Canyon – Grand Canyon National Park
This is another fairly popular spot. It typically receives more than four million visitors per year. The Colorado River snakes its way through the canyon for 277 miles. The canyon is nearly 6,000 feet deep at the North Rim and is 18 miles across at its longest spot. There are plenty of very difficult trails that plunge into the depths of the mesmerizing canyon. If you don’t feel like taking on a highly strenuous 21-mile hike from one rim to the other you can always make the 215-mile drive. My post about my first impression of the Grand Canyon…
6. Delicate Arch – Arches National Park
There is something utterly magical about watching the sunset on Delicate Arch. The famous arch is magnificent in its own right, but it is amazing at sunset. The precarious rock formation glows radiantly as it is hit with the sun’s soft fading light. The trail is an extremely popular, but worthwhile hike.
5. Grand Teton – Grand Teton National Park
The park’s namesake is unsurprisingly the tallest peak in Grand Teton National Park. It is 13,775 feet tall. It is steep, jagged, and imposing. There are no foothills in the Tetons, which make the mountains appear even bigger and more dramatic. Mountain climbers and photographers are drawn to the Grand Teton from across the globe. You can see it from almost anywhere in the park. There is an awesome viewpoint at Schwabacher Landing, where you can see the Grand and the neighboring peaks reflected. Snake River Overlook is another great spot. My favorite might simply be from the calm shores of Jenny Lake at the mountains base. I’ve camped at the extremely popular campground twice and love it there. The area is highly congested during the day, but quiet and tranquil at night.
4. Lower Falls – Yellowstone National Park
The Lower Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is an amazing sight. The raw power of the enormous waterfall is overwhelming. You can hear its thunderous roar for miles. There are several scenic viewpoints along the canyon rim that showcase the 308 foot tall masterpiece. The surrounding V-shaped canyon is a beauty that cannot be overlooked or soon forgotten.
3. Bryce Amphitheater – Bryce Canyon National Park
This place is spectacular. That’s as simple as I can put it. The stunning rock formations that fill the amphitheater are awe-inspiring. There are fins, spires, arches, and hoodoos. The hoodoos are individual stone pillars that are usually tall and thin. There are more hoodoos in Bryce than anywhere else in the world. The hoodoos and other formations of the amphitheater are also extremely colorful. Several trails, many of them easy, lead into the whimsical wonderland.
2. Half Dome – Yosemite National Park
Of all the spectacular sights in Yosemite Valley, Half Dome reigns supreme. The titanic chunk of granite rises nearly 4,800 feet above the valley floor. It is a silver-gray colossus that draws hikers, climbers, and photographers from around the world. One side of the dome is gone, essentially sliced off by glaciers eons ago. In a park full of granite domes and peaks, none resemble the unparalleled granite icon. There are many places that provide great views of Half Dome, but to truly experience this National Park icon you have to hike to its summit. That requires a 16-mile hike that climbs 4,800 feet. It is highly strenuous and highly frightening for anyone with a fear of heights.
1. Zion Narrows – Zion National Park
One of my all-time favorite National Park hikes doesn’t follow a trail. The narrow simply follows the Virgin River as it snakes its way between smooth canyon walls that reach 2,000 feet into the air. At its skinniest point there are only twenty feet in between the walls. The entire hike spans sixteen miles, but I highly recommend trying it out for as long as you can even if it is only for a mile or so. Be sure the water isn’t too deep, too fast, or too cold first.