12 Breathtaking National Parks to Visit Before You Die

12 Breathtaking National Parks to Visit Before You Die

What’s on your bucket list?

If you’re anything like the millions of bucket-listers out there, you’ve surely jotted down a handful of outdoorsy to-dos. It’s probably even safe to assume at least one of those outdoorsy tasks is to visit a national park in the beautiful land we call home (hint: it needs to be).

From tree trunks the size of cars to hidden caves, these breathtaking—and perhaps undervalued—national parks should be on every nature-lover’s bucket list.

  • Yosemite

    Yosemite National Park
    image via @lillybeth35

    “None can escape its charm. Its natural beauty cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree.” Yosemite and John Muir go way back. That’s right — the most famous naturalist had a love affair with the park. That alone should be enough to schedule a trip to the California jewel. Half Dome, the face of this wonderment, is wholly powerful. The 16-mile hike climbs 4,800 feet to its peak, so do not attempt the hike out of shape. Come prepared to sweat and smile, just as Mr. Muir did so long ago.

  • Yellowstone

    best national parks
    image via @laeti_pg_bis

    The word Yellowstone has become synonymous with national park. Being the world’s first national park, that is fitting. Your visit to Yellowstone will be jammed with historical information, larger-than-life animals (shout out to the bison and grizzlies!), and the Yellowstone Pledge if you’re feeling particularly well-behaved! It’s worth mentioning that the climate change issues of Yellowstone have kept scientists busy for decades as increasing changes have noticeably been detrimental. A bit of advice: don’t wait to visit. If you do, this ever-changing park might not be what it is today.

  • Olympic

    Covering nearly one million acres, you can plan to waste an afternoon or two exploring this limitless beauty boasting three different ecosystems. Olympic is home to one of the few temperate rainforests in the world. Sadly, these rainforests were once abundant from the base of Oregon to the early tip of Alaska. Although they are now rare, they still remain remarkable. The combination of rainforest, gigantic mountains dressed in glaciers, and the admirable Pacific Coast mean this destination has a little somethin’ somethin’ for everyone!

  • Grand Teton

    Wyoming is not just a backdrop for Lifetime movie love stories. Oh no, it is much, much more. Known as the Mountains of Imagination, the park emits an indigenous energy throughout its 200 miles of property. Wildflowers galore is only one reason to take a scenic drive through the park. Hop on Jenny Lake Scenic Drive to take in the awesomeness of the peaks tapping the nearby clouds. Looking for a new Facebook backdrop? Signal Mountain Summit Road has panoramic views of Teton Range and Jackson Hole Valley. Don’t die without seeing this.

  • Acadia

    best national parks around the USA
    image via @loveiscamping | Instagram

    A sunrise in a national park is a beautiful experience. But a sunrise in Acadia during wintertime will stick with you forever. Nighttime blues meet daytime pinks, and that, friends, is where happiness is born! As the first national park on the east side of the country, the park prides itself in showing off the diversity of beauty on the left side of the US. Pick a season, any season and prepare to be awed. From Skittle-colored autumn leaves to silk-blanketed snowfall, Acadia is begging you to journey through each distinguished time of year.

  • Denali

    Denali National Park & Preserve
    image via @piccolasophie

    Looking for backcountry? Well, you’ll have to cross a whole nother country to reach Denali National Park in Alaska, complete with the snowcapped mountains housing wild wolves, grizzly bears, caribou, and moose since its birth. Mountaineering is Denali’s favorite pastime but if you’re not ready to set out on a trekking expedition to the top of North America, other activities are available. Rent a bike, throw on some snowshoes, or ski your way through the Alaskan countryside.

  • Glacier

    Do glaciers tickle your fancy like they do ours? If so, venture to Big Sky country to witness a park devoted to the remaining 25 glaciers. That is right… remaining. As in what is left. Since 1850, the melting beauties have dwindled from 150 down to a depressing 25. By 2030, the glaciers are expected to be non-existent. That’s sad news for the world, but good news for you. There is still time! Snap as many pics as possible to show your grandchildren all the wonder of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

  • Canyonlands

    Canyonlands National Park
    image via @adventurelovescompany

    If Canyonland doesn’t top your list, go ahead, grab a pen, and scribble it down NOW. The land is so grand and so surreal, you might feel like you landed on the moon rather than the jagged plains of southeast Utah. Strap on your moon shoes and bounce around the four very different districts: Island in the Sky, The Maze, The Needles, and the rivers. Color-bursting canyons, big ol’ buttes (everyone loves them), and boundless hikes lace the 337,598 acres of vastness. Explore away!

  • The Great Smoky Mountains

    Great Smoky Mountains National Park
    image via @therealslinkie

    If great is in the name, you know it’s a must-see. Beauty and mystery collide in The Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. The deep shrubbery and seemingly endless water flow paint the picture of perfection throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains. As a portion of the Appalachian Trail, expect a variety of thru-hikers (those tackling the 2,190-mile trek) to share the path with you and your CamelBak. Black bears and captivating ridges make this spot the country’s most visited national park. And a reason to keep coming back.

  • Carlsbad Caverns

    Carlsbad Caverns National Park
    image via walldevil.com

    Whatever you do, don’t skip over New Mexico. The Carlsbad Caverns are stupidly unique, offering jaw-dropping sights of the underground happenings of the desert. With 119 caves lurking below, the park keeps bucket-listers busy and awe-struck while exploring caves framed with icicle-shaped rocks. However, don’t sleep on the land above. The desert beauty is as unique as it is dry. And the Chihuahuan Desert is no stranger to deep gorges, colorful cacti, distant mesas, and the occasional (and magical) desert rainbow. Our advice? Share your time between the underground world and Earth’s surface, and of course, bring your camera!

  • Zion

    Arguably one of the most beautiful places in the US, and maybe even the world, Zion National Park is impossible to leave off this list. The lively sandstone scenery viewed in real life seems like a photoshopped picture. But by all means, add a filter to enhance the red rock on your Instagram post. Want to stomp around? The Narrows at Zion pave a popular hike through the Virgin River, where you can expect jagged rocks several meters high and splashes of rays lighting up the route.

  • Redwood

    Redwood National Park
    image via topworldresort.com

    Ever drive north past San Francisco? Most people are unaware of the endless beauty blanketing the northern plains of California. There, in the vast tree-filled surroundings, rests the Redwood National Park. The crisp air, boundless greenery, and humongous tree trunks will cast shadows over a dream-like afternoon hike. And if you’re looking to add a cardio element to their natural surroundings, hop on one of the many covered trails leading up and over and around the land of giant trees.