America's National Park System (NPS) is nothing short of a gift to her citizens. This continent is home to a collection of the most breathtaking natural wonders the world has to offer, many of which are available for accessible exploration through the NPS. While every protected space has its merits for being so, some of this country's national parks have a tad more shock value than the others.
We've compiled a list of the must-see US National Parks, and the features they boast, to assist in planning your “Road Trip Bucket List." Of course, some of these parks are more accessible than others, and require varying degrees of planning or financial support to get you there, but a well earned trip to any of these places would be a lifelong memory. Without further ado, America's NPS natural wonders.
1. Crater Lake, Oregon
Once you see a photo of this magnificent, crystal clear blue lake, this becomes an obvious choice. Housed in the crater of a collapsed, but still active, volcano, the lake is fed entirely by rain and snow, giving it the distinction of one of the most pristine natural bodies of water on Earth.
Crater Lake, Oregon
2. Isle Royale, Michigan
Although slightly more difficult to get to and only open during the summer months, this place pays you back for any inconvenience in absolutely stunning and rare remoteness almost lost in our modern world. There are plenty of camping options as well as a few lodging accommodations on the island, which is only accessible by ferry. Home to some of the most gorgeous hiking trails on Earth, this place is worth a visit mid-April through November, when it is open to visitors annually.
3. Mesa Verde, Colorado
A magnificent feat of ancient human civilization, Mesa Verde National Park is home to Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America. With a plethora of guided tours available, as well as hiking trails and special winter activities, there is no shortage of ways to fill your days here.
Mesa Verde, Colorado
4. Joshua Tree, California
Named in honor of the unique looking trees that populate the area, Joshua Tree National Park is in equal parts commendable for it's natural rock climbing, sunsets, and stargazing.
Joshua Tree, California
5. Big Bend, Texas
Perfect for a road trip, Big Bend National Park is a desert wonder, surrounded by miles and miles of gorgeous views out the car windows.
Located on the US-Mexico border, and right on the Rio Grande river, there are a variety of astonishing visuals. It is also worth stopping in some of the unique desert towns known for their impressive art collections, installations and galleries, such as Marfa and Valentine.
Big Bend, Texas
6. Petrified Forest, Arizona
Colorful dunes unlike any other, the Petrified Forest National Park has hiking trails for those who like to follow the path and the bonus option of wandering off trail into the Petrified Forest. Bicycling and horseback riding are other popular actives in the park, and geo-caching fans will be excited to know that the game can be played throughout the park!
Petrified Forest, Arizona
7. Wind Cave, South Dakota
The legendary and ominous Wind Cave, located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, in the heart of the Black Hills national forest, is as full of interesting history and facts as it is caverns and rooms in the several miles of underground work that has yet been discovered.
A short drive from the Badlands National Park, you can do both in one trip. Not a bad reason to make your way out to rural South Dakota!
Wind Cave, South Dakota
8. Hot Spring, Arkansas
An incredibly unique feature, the Arkansas Hot Springs have a long and storied history, with groups of all kinds occupying the city over the years. The park encompasses parts of the downtown area, making it an easier stay than some of the others that share this list. The traditional bath houses are absolutely worth checking out, and the histories behind each are as interesting as their architectural features.
Hot Spring, Arkansas
9. Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
Among the long list of things to do and see in this national park that spans the border between Tennessee and North Carolina, there is something for everyone. From camping to fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, bicycling, auto tours, picnicking, a number of historic buildings, wildflowers and waterfalls to see, you could spend days here without a lack of something to do.
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee/North Carolina
10. Special Mention: White Sands National Monument, Nevada
Located between El Paso and Albuquerque, in the southern section of Nevada, the White Sands National Monument is famous for it's picturesque and soft to the touch, extremely rare, Gypsum sand dunes.
Popular for “sand sledding," photography and being pet friendly, this is one engaging visit, for children and adults alike.
White Sands National Monument, Nevada