Yosemite is at the top of my list for everything it has to offer. It truly is the most unique gem of all of the national parks I’ve visited.
Glacier is like the Rockies but better; fewer people and colder temperatures. This park offers amazing views and a snowy environment almost year round. Glacier also holds a special place in my heart as it was where I did my first ever backpacking trip (27 miles)
Anyone who has been to Zion can tell you how amazing the park is. The only reason I put this park at 3rd is due to the sheer amount of people during the summer.
4. Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is an amazing site to see. In fact, I have traveled out of my way on surrounding trips just to stop at it. I put it at 4th for two reasons: there is an insane amount of people who visit the south rim every year and, being a sheer canyon, it is very difficult to do any hiking in it.
5. Big Bend
Big Bend might surprise some since it is not very well known. In fact, it's one of the least visited parks in the US. Anyone willing to submerge themselves in one of the most isolated areas of the US will tell you that this is an amazing park. I have spent multiple days in Big Bend but I constantly want to go back.
6. Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns were the most unique of the national parks I’ve visited. The formations dating back hundreds of thousands of years are an unbelievable sight to see and every inch of the cave has something new and different to offer. The facilities inside the park make it very accessible and easy to visit as well.
7. Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains has an unlimited amount of hiking to offer and incredible views everywhere you look. The park is large and has many different mountains and offers hikes of varying difficulty so there is always something amazing to do and see.
8. Great Smoky Mountains
The Great Smoky Mountains has incredible views throughout. The park is large and has many different mountains and offers hikes of varying difficulty so there is always something amazing to do and see. However, the waterfalls in the park are absolutely amazing.
9. Great Sand Dunes
Great Sand Dunes was another very unique park nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range. These are the tallest dunes in the US and are a very interesting and unexpected sight to see in contrast with the surrounding environment. There are not many easy hikes to do in the park but you are able to climb up the dunes and even sled down them which makes this a very unique and interactive park.
Redwood National Park is very interesting as it is one of the few focused around the amazing plant life in the park rather than the geographical formations. The trees in the park are startlingly large and unlike any that I’ve seen even in the surrounding area. The park didn’t have many large hikes to offer but had a number of smaller hikes through the forest.
Yellowstone was a huge park that offered a lot of very different things to see. Hot springs, geysers, Yellowstone Canyon, and incredible plant and animal wildlife are among the things that you can see driving throughout this huge park. It is also the first national park in the country and has a lot of history to learn and explore.
12. Grand Teton
Grand Teton National Park is strikingly beautiful and the prominent peaks are very unique and discernable from the landscape around them. There are various incredibly strenuous hikes in the park and the wildlife and surrounding environment is very scenic. From my experience, the park was not overcrowded which was surprising due to its location and the beauty of the park.
13. Guadalupe Mountains
The Guadalupe Mountains has the highest point in Texas and resides on the Mexican border. Once we summited Guadalupe/Signal Peak, the view of the Chihuahuan Desert was amazing. There are many long and beautiful hikes throughout this park and lots of smaller historic things to see as well. This park is quite a drive from any large cities so it was a long drive to get there and most likely is for anyone that wants to visit. There were practically no other people there and the park is very infrequently visited compared to other parks.
14. Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave is the largest cave system in the world and offers over 412 miles of discovered cave so far. The surrounding area is beautiful and it is fascinating to know that there is a massive cave system below you when there are practically no clues that it is even there. You can only explore the cave through guided tour and the one I took offered incredible views of the lakes, waterfalls, river, ruins from the War of 1812, and beautiful rock formations in the caverns, to name a few.
15. Indiana Dunes
Indiana Dunes was very cool because it had so much to offer for such a small park. The beach was indistinguishable from any beach along the coast and gave a lot of perspective on the size of the great lakes. The historic homesteads in the park are a must-see and the hikes within the park offer a number of different unexpected sights and experiences.
Sequoia was another park dedicated to the huge trees within the park. The trees were a bit smaller than those at Redwood National Park but were still incredible. There were a lot of easier hikes throughout the park that offered spectacular views of the forest and surrounding wildlife.
Congaree offers an unique swamp biome. This park is lower on my list as it is relatively small and the Boardwalk (the main hike) can be done in under two hours. However, if present, Congaree has much to offer in bird watching and other small animals.
18. Cuyahoga Valley
Cuyahoga Valley National Park was a very scenic park with a lot of different ecosystems to observe. There are multiple very impressive waterfalls and scenic historic sites as well as a railroad that takes you all the way through the park. The park itself is free and is surrounded by multiple small towns and is only a short drive away from both Cleveland and Columbus. The only thing I didn’t particularly like about the park was the major interstates running directly through it.
19. Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon is a smaller park that is very scenic and is one of the oldest of the national parks in the US. It is, however, a smaller park and I didn't find that it had a large variety of things to see and was more of a single site to see than a number of different ones.
20. Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde had so much history to offer and was a look directly into the lives of ancient Native American life along a now-dried up river. The structures built along the side of the river are incredibly well preserved and surreal to see. The park did not offer much of any hiking but was very accessible and easy to see all of the sites within the park by driving.
21. Gateway Arch
Gateway Arch is definitely unlike any of the other parks as it’s a completely man made structure that is built on 90 acres of land, making it the smallest national park by a landslide. There is practically no hiking as the obvious focus of the park is the arch. It is located in the heart of St. Louis and is not a very scenic landscape. You can pay to take a trip to the top of the arch which gets you a very cool view of St. Louis. The museum under the arch has a lot of history to offer and is very well-run.
22. Hot Springs
Hot Springs National Park has a lot of history but I, like what seems like a lot of visitors, don’t understand why this is a national park rather than a historic site. The springs are neat and the small wooded area around the bath houses are pretty. There are a couple of hiking trails up to the top of the small mountain behind the bath houses but they cost money to walk. Unless you are in the area or are trying to see every park, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going out of your way for this one.