Your Ultimate U.S. National Parks Bucket List

 

national park bucket list

 

Are you energized by earthy landscapes? Totally awestruck by the uninhibited beauty of nature? A national park trip is exactly what you’re looking for, and we’ve got the ultimate national park bucket list to make your outdoor adventure dreams come true!

The nickname for America’s National Parks is “America’s Best Idea,” and we’d say that’s a pretty accurate description. Invigorating views, thousands of miles of hiking trails, fascinating and informative visitor centers, and all kinds of recreational activities make up our incredible National Park System.

Western U.S. National Parks

Wildly different and equally unique landscapes make up the states of the American West, and more than half of all the national parks in the country are located here! So much of the West is still wild in the truest sense, filled with public land and all kinds of varied terrain.

Find yourself lost in thousands of miles of forest or navigating your way up sky-scraping mountains, and in the same state find yourself in high-desert scenery or dipping your toes in the ocean on the coast. Some day the West is the best—we’d say it’s 100% on the list.

A group of Explorer Chick women hiking in Yosemite National Park

1 Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park might be most famous for its waterfalls, but best believe those are just some of the most incredible views in this park. Sheer rock faces and looming mountains rise up from rolling wildflower meadows and deep valleys.

Challenge yourself with a trek up the iconic Half Dome, or plan a Yosemite Wilderness backpacking trip in the vast forested terrain of the park. Also popular for horseback riding, Yosemite has dozens of equestrian trails, horse camps, and guided mule rides or pack and saddle trips.

Backpack through Yosemite

2 Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

America’s first and most famous national park, Yellowstone National Park is home to more natural hot springs and geysers than anywhere else on Earth, like the famed old Faithful and the prominent Grand Prismatic spring. Boating, hiking, backpacking, and camping at one of the park’s 12 campgrounds with more than 2,000 established campsites are just a few ways to enjoy Yellowstone.

While you’re in northwest Wyoming, don’t miss a chance to swing through Grand Teton National Park and catch a glimpse of the iconic and astonishing Teton range. Here you’ll find sparkling glacial lakes, abundant wildlife, and rivers that zig-zag through the landscape—AKA beauty around every corner.

Explore the wildlife and geysers of Yellowstone

3 Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Crater Lake National Park’s claim to fame is being the deepest lake in America at almost 2,000 feet deep! On sunny days, you can see up to 100 feet below the surface of the crystal-clear water. You can cruise by boat, rent a kayak or SUP, or take a plunge into the refreshing cold water at one of the designated swimming beaches.

Experience views of Crater Lake from every vantage point by driving the 33-mile historic Rim Drive. There are 30 overlooks to stop at and absorb the gorgeous scenery of the lake. Each has plenty of parking and several have picnic areas, as well as access to some of the park’s 90 miles of hiking trails. The Rim Drive is also a popular cycling route!

4 Olympic National Park, Washington

This Pacific Northwest park has SO many different and incredible qualities. High mountain peaks, sparkling alpine lakes, rushing rivers, and the only temperate rainforest in North America are all found within Olympic National Park, along with 18 campgrounds (most of which are first-come first-serve).

50 miles of rugged coastline surrounded by wilderness and over 600 miles of trails leave so much to explore in this park. Being on the Olympic Peninsula also gives you access to ferry services to and from Seattle, Whidbey Islands, and the gorgeous San Juan Islands—one of the best sea kayaking destinations in the region!

Go Kayaking in the San Juan Islands

Eastern U.S. National Parks

The East Coast of the U.S. is full of low mountains, lush valleys, and abundant coastal habitats. The states are on average much smaller than western states, which might make the East feel crowded at first. Rest assured there are plenty of opportunities to find yourself in the wild, and the small sizes of the states make it easy to travel between regions and experience different areas.

Most areas in the northeast get the chance to experience every season fully. Cold and snowy winters, hot humid summers, picturesque foliage in autumn, and big-bloom springs bring huge changes in temperatures throughout the year.

1 Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Not only is it the number one most-visited national park in the U.S. (almost 13 million visitors in 2022!), Great Smoky Mountains National Park is also the most biodiverse park in the country. Abundant wildflowers, foliage, and dozens of varieties of animals, fungi, and cute creepy-crawlies call this park home.

The famous footpath known as the Appalachian Trail, which has a full distance of 2,180 miles from Georgia to Maine, runs 850 miles through the length of The Great Smoky Mountains and tows the line of North Carolina and Tennessee.

Hike the Great Smoky Mountains

2 Acadia National Park, Maine

The only national park in the Northeast and the first national park east of the Mississippi, Acadia is a magical place where the mountains meet the sea. Here you’ll find jaw-dropping views from short yet challenging hikes, jagged peaks, pristine lakes for swimming, and incredible ocean views.

Cadillac Mountain is the highest peak in Acadia National Park. You can hike the ~8 miles round trip or drive the auto road to the summit and catch the first glimpse of sunrise on the East Coast. Other popular hiking trails in the park include the Beehive Trail, Beech Mountain Fire Tower, and the Precipice Trail to the summit of Champlain Mountain.

3 Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Did someone say birding? Another eastern park full of amazing wildlife, Congaree National Park makes this national park bucket list by being home to over 170 species of birds! The old-growth canopy forest is a National Biosphere Preserve site with some of the tallest trees in the world, including Loblolly pines and 500-year-old cypress trees.

The peaceful wilderness setting of Congaree is a haven for all kinds of plants and animals. Take a stroll on the park’s famous boardwalk trail for some of the best scenery. Plan a day of kayaking or an overnight canoe trip on Cedar Creek and paddle your way through the peaceful wilderness of this subtropical paradise.

Southwest U.S. National Parks

Welcome to the Southwest, where all your outdoor desert adventure dreams come true! The Southwest region of the U.S. includes states like Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and parts of California, Colorado, and Nevada.

The landscape in this part of the country is known for its rocky, rugged mountains, and vast sandstone canyons with high-elevation forests of ponderosa pines, spruce, and aspen trees. The national parks of the Southwest are popular for rock climbing, mountain biking, slot canyon hiking, and remote backcountry camping.

1 Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is open year-round and has tons of services. A shuttle bus, multiple visitor’s centers, and lots of lodging options make it accessible for all. The entrance road to the North Rim is only open in the summer months but experiences cooler temperatures since it sits over 1,000 feet higher in elevation.

There are tons of backpacking routes in Grand Canyon National Park, including the demanding and rewarding rim-to-rim hike of the Bright Angel Trail. Camp at one of the park’s four established campgrounds, or get your permit for one of the sublime backcountry campsites among the wonders of this desert paradise.

Backpack through the Grand Canyon

2 Zion National Park, Utah

Less than three hours from Las Vegas, the amazing features of Zion NP have to be on any adventurer’s national park bucket list. Its 232 square miles encompass miles of audacious desert canyons, world-famous rock climbing, and hiking trails that wade through rivers and up steep peaks.

Zion is the most visited of Utah’s five national parks, with almost five million visitors in 2022. The heart-stopping Angel’s Landing hike is one of the most famous hikes in the park, along with the Narrows hike through the rushing Virgin River.

Hike the Trails in Zion

3 Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Located in southern Arizona and home to the biggest cacti species—you guessed it, saguaro—the national park of the same name has walking paths, hiking trails, and backpacking routes for adventure seekers at every level.

Get up close (but don’t touch!) the famous saguaro cactus, an iconic symbol of the American West. A half-day adventure is plenty to see the best of the best when it comes to Saguaro National Park, though you can easily make it a multi-day adventure with overnights at one of the six designated camping areas in the Saguaro Wilderness.

Ready to Tick Off Your National Parks Bucket List?

Ready to visit every national park on our bucket list? We thought so—let’s get started!

Explorer Chick’s custom-tailored adventures for women are your golden ticket to exploring our astounding U.S. National Park System. Each of our national park trips has been voraciously vetted by our expert guides to give you the best experience possible.

Whether you dream of mountains, deserts, or trekking your way up glaciers in Alaska, we’ve got the perfect trips to kick off your own national park bucket list with a group of amazing ladies looking for the same type of stoke.

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