The 25 National Parks You Should Visit While You Still Can

25. Channel Islands National Park, California

Whether you’re looking for a quick getaway or planning a long summer vacation, these moments in nature will leave you wanting more. The Channel Islands National Park is amazingly close to the 18.5 million people that reside in the greater Los Angeles area. Being so close to so many people, it’s truly amazing that the Channel Islands have been able to stay almost completely undeveloped. Established in 1980, it is one of the youngest national parks and includes five islands and six miles of coastline. While the only ways to access the park are via boat or small airplane, the effort is absolutely worth it. As one of the least visited national parks, you get to experience an amazing marine habitat with 145 different species completely unique to the island.

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24. Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado

Reminiscent of a scene you’d imagine from the Sahara Desert, Great Sand Dunes National Park includes the tallest sand dunes in North America that can reach up to 750 feet tall. Established by Herbert Hoover in 1932 and expanded by Congress in 2004, this park has grown in popularity recently, with visits up 25 percent over the last two seasons. These majestic dunes were created over thousands of years, as sediment came down from the mountain ranges and settled in the now dried out lakes and streams. Recently, sand boarding and sand sledding have become extremely popular activities. Just be mindful that on particularly hot days, the surface temperature of the sand can reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

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23. Badlands National Park, South Dakota

With one of the most unique landscapes in the world, the Badlands National Park is as stunning as it was inhospitable to early inhabitants. With dramatic erosion patterns creating unique pinnacles and buttes, this park is a living work of art. This hotbed for fossil discoveries has contributed considerably to our knowledge of prehistoric life. Today, you’ll most likely see buffalo, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs roaming the park. Badlands is also the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States and home to the recently reintroduced and critically endangered black-footed ferret.

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22. Great Basin National Park, Nevada

If you enjoy a little star gazing on your adventures, then a trip to Great Basin National Park should be right up your alley. Its unique landscape and remote location make it one of the clearest and darkest stargazing sites in the world. In addition, Great Basin is home to the oldest living non-clonal organism in the world. The location of the oldest bristlecone pine, at over 5,000 years old, is kept a secret but you can find ancient pine groves scattered across the park. If that wasn’t enough, the park also contains a Lehman cave system dating over 550 million years old. Its stunning stalactite formation makes for an exciting excursion.

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21. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

As one of the best known and most visited national parks, the Grand Canyon has remained a life changing experience and is considered one of the natural wonders of the world. This deep canyon system – created by the raging waters of the Colorado river over thousands of years – is as remarkable as it was treacherous for early travelers. Starting at the crack of dawn and typically taking the majority of the day, hikes to the canyon floor are one of the most popular activities in the park.

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20. Joshua Tree National Park, California

Whether you’re looking to just get out in the fresh air or are primed for your next vision quest, Joshua Tree National Park is a remarkable place. East of LA and just outside of Palm Springs, Joshua Tree provides two completely unique desert ecosystems and an amazing mountain skyline. Named for the unique Joshua Tree native to the Mojave desert, this land has been considered especially spiritual for thousands of years. Similar to Great Basin, Joshua Tree is also an amazing stargazing location and is extremely popular with climbers and hikers of all abilities.

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19. Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Just south of Yellowstone National Park and a part of the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Grand Teton National Park allows you to experience most of what Yellowstone has to offer without the crowds. Named for the tallest peak in the Teton range, Grand Teton rises 7,000 feet above the Jackson Hole valley to a total height of 13,775 feet. The park is well known for its amazing fishing, hiking trails and mountaineering opportunities. In addition, the spectacular skyline that the tetons provide will make your photos really stand out.

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18. Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Located just south of the greater Seattle/Tacoma metropolitan community, Mount Rainer National Park is actually visible from the city on a clear day. It is named after the active volcano that abruptly juts out of the landscape more than 14,000 feet. Mount Rainier is an especially popular mountaineering peak that sees over 10,000 people a year attempt to summit her. The park also contains the largest glacier in the lower 48 states and has over 35 miles of ice fields and glaciers. In addition, the park is home to pristine old growth forests, hundreds of miles of hiking trails and many untouched lakes and rivers.

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17. Cape Cod National Seashore, Massachusetts

Created by John F. Kennedy in 1961, the Cape Cod National Seashore encompasses 41 miles along the east coast. While a very popular summer attraction, this protected seashore contains two of what are considered the top beaches – Race Point Beach in Provincetown and Coast Guard Beach in Eastham – in the United States. In addition to the beach life, the seashore also protects unique marine ecosystems that include seals, lobsters, turtles and a number of unique bird species. Other popular attractions include whale watching, lighthouse tours and biking.

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16. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Straddling the continental divide, the Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing getaway about an hour north of Denver. Rocky Mountain is the third most visited National Park and is considered a UNESCO designated World Biosphere Reserve. Home to the headwaters of the mighty Colorado river, this park contains amazing fishing, hiking and canoeing opportunities. Due to the park’s immense size, it contains four different unique ecosystems and has an absolute abundance of different animal and plant species. In addition to its natural beauty, the park also contains the stunning Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and is a National Historic Monument.

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15. Glacier National Park, Montana

Right up against the US and Canadian border, the Glacier National Park boasts over 1 million acres of pristine parkland and 130 named lakes. This remote wilderness is home to grizzly bears, moose and mountain goats. Of the 150 glaciers that existed in the park when it was established, only 21 glaciers remain. If current climate models don’t change, Glacier National Park may be home to zero glaciers as soon as 2030. The park is also home to some of the best camping, hiking and bird watching opportunities and is both a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage site. The “Going-to-the-Sun” road is not to be missed with its scenic views and engineering marvels.

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14. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

If you’re looking to beat the heat this summer, going underground might be the perfect adventure for you. The Mammoth Cave National Park is the largest connected cave system in the world and it’s not even close. The second largest cave system isn’t even half as big, so the word “Mammoth” in this instance strictly refers to the cave’s massive size. This amazing cave system was used as a sacred burial place for Native Americans. There are still parts of the cave that contain mummies, while other parts have not yet been fully explored. With over 300 miles of cave surveyed, this colossal wonder of the world has more terrain to explore than almost any other park.

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13. Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Named for the early French-Canadian trappers that traveled the area, this gem of Northern Minnesota is a remote wilderness that is mostly untouched by man. Well known for its water sources and very popular with canoeists, kayakers and fishermen, this park lies just east of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Notably, this park is inhabited by wolves, black bears and moose. Unique among National Parks, the majority of visitors each year access the park by boat or canoe. In addition, the park has some of the best lake fishing opportunities amongst all National Parks.

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12. Arches National Park, Utah

Well known for its amazing natural geological formations, Arches National Park has the highest density of natural arches in the world. Its majestic sandstone features number over 2,000 and provide amazing opportunities for photography and climbing. While climbing or disturbing any of the named arches is strictly prohibited, there are a number of regulated and world class climbing features. The ‘Delicate Arch’ pictured above, may be the most famous. There are hundreds of arches that are remarkable in their own right.

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11. Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Nestled off the coast of Michigan in Lake Superior, Isle Royale and its surrounding 100 or so small islands make up this stunning National Park. The park encompasses 209 square miles of land and a staggering 685 square miles of Lake Superior. Within these protected waters lies an abundance of shipwrecks that have remained in pristine condition from Lake Superior’s non-corrosive waters. Currently, there are approximately 25 wolves and 1,000 moose inhabiting the island at any given time. Guests can access the park via ferries, float planes and private boats during the summer months. Isle Royale National Park is the only National Park that is completely closed during the winter months due to harsh weather conditions.

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10. Yosemite National Park, California

Well known for its stunning granite features that jut from the valley below, Yosemite National Park has been an awe-inspiring place that folks like John Muir and Ansel Adams used for inspiration and pushed for its protection from development. Going as far back as Abraham Lincoln, this park has been protected and visited by many early presidents. Features like El Capitan and Half Dome bring over 5 million visitors a year to this jewel of the west. With amazing biodiversity, crystal clear lakes and rivers, and giant sequoia groves, it’s no surprise that Yosemite was designated a World Heritage Site in 1984. In addition to the world class climbing, Yosemite Visitors can take in some amazing hikes, camping and biking.

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9. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin

Well known for its collection of historic lighthouses, sandstone caves and old growth forests, Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a stunning retreat off the coast of Northern Wisconsin in Lake Superior. Most visitors access the park via kayaks, private boats and ferries. The park is well known for its fishing, camping and during winter months, its ice roads. In addition, visitors can take in its pristine beaches, glacially carved cliff faces and can explore its sandstone cave features. This is definitely a great place to cool down in the chilly waters of Lake Superior during the hot summer months.

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8. Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

This long and narrow National Park encompasses the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley that snakes through eight different Virginia counties. Shenandoah is best known for its Skyline Drive which travels the entire 105 miles across the park, providing breathtaking views. Uniquely, Shenandoah National Park was largely created via eminent domain by the state of Virginia in the early 1900s, gifted to the National Park service and formally added to the registry in 1935. The park is home to amazing untouched wilderness, hundreds of miles of hiking trails and an abundance of wildlife. Shenandoah is also the most dog friendly National Park, with all campgrounds and most hiking trails allowing dogs on leash.

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7. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

As the most visited National Park with 11.3 million visitors a year, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has something for every visitor. Nestled next to Shenandoah National Park, this park was the first to be solely acquired with National funds, as all previous parks had been donated with state or private funding. Known for its high humidity and precipitation, the Smoky Mountains get their name from the settling fog that is more common to the Pacific Northwest. The park has a large and thriving black bear population, and campers are advised to use bear bags to keep the bears away from their campground. Also a well known fly fishing destination, the rivers of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are teaming with trout.

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6. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Arguably the most famous National Park, Yellowstone was also the first National Park created by Ulysses S. Grant in 1872 and the first National Park in the world. Well known for its amazing wildlife and awe-inspiring features, this park is a massive 3,468 square miles. The Yellowstone caldera, considered a ‘supervolcano,’ created the park’s most stunning geothermal attractions: Old Faithful and Steamboat Geyser (the largest active geyser in the world). In addition, Yellowstone contains two-thirds of the active geysers in the entire world. Home to a number of previously endangered species like the grizzly bear, bison, timber wolf and Canadian lynx, this stunning park gives these species the protection and freedom they need to thrive. While the park remains extremely popular with tourists, the amazing sites make it worth all of the effort.

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5. Acadia National Park, Maine

Located Southwest of Bar Harbor, Maine, Acadia National Park was the first National Park created east of the Mississippi River. Despite its small size compared to other parks on this list, Acadia National Park still receives 3.5 million visitors per year, primarily to Mount Desert Island. With miles of beachfront, this park is a great summer getaway that is easily accessible from the major population centers of the east coast. While most visitors come to the island via ferry, you can also kayak or use a private boat. Fishing in the waters of the park is an especially popular pastime, as are utilizing its well-maintained hiking trails and camping sites.

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4. Zion National Park, Utah

The park’s most prominent feature, Zion Canyon, pictured above, stretches on for 15 miles as sandstone cliffs jut out from the riverbed. Zion National Park’s unique biology is a result of it being at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions. Because of this, the park includes mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches. With its popularity rising dramatically, the park has added a fleet of electric trams to ease traffic congestion up the Zion Canyon Scenic drive. Both hikers and campers need to remain vigilant in the park as flash floods through slot canyons can become deadly, as seven hikers were killed in 2015.

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3. Sequoia National Park, California

Well known for the giant trees it takes its name from, Sequoia National Park and the adjoining Kings Canyon National Park contain five of the 10 largest trees in the world. These include General Sherman, which is considered the largest tree in the world based on volume (it is neither the tallest nor widest). In addition to these amazing trees, Sequoia National Park is also home to the tallest peak, Mount Whitney, in the lower 48 states. Other notable attractions include Moro Rock, a stunning granite dome in the center of the park and Tunnel Log, which is a fallen sequoia that visitors can drive their automobile through. The park also contains 270 known caves that are great to beat the heat and explore.

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2. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

While Kenai Fjords National Park might not be as geographically convenient for most visitors, this park offers once in a lifetime scenery. Established in 1980, this park contains the Harding ice field, which is one of the largest ice fields in the country. In addition, the park is named for the numerous fjords that were glacially carved by retreating glaciers, as the park is currently home to 38 distinct glaciers. The park is a great place to view grizzly bears, moose, sea otters, harbor seals and also has spectacular humpback and orca whale watching opportunities. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez infamously spilled oil around the Kenai Peninsula, and through extreme effort and conservation, this area has been restored to its original beauty.

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1. Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

As the fifth oldest National Park, Crater Lake National Park’s stunning beauty has been well known for hundreds of years. This stunning volcanic lake was created in a caldera over 7,000 years ago and is one of the deepest lakes in the western hemisphere. The lake uniquely has no streams flowing in or out of it, and all of its water volume is from rainfall. Its striking bluish hue makes it one of the most photographed lakes in the world. With numerous scenic hiking trails, great camping spots and relaxing fishing opportunities, this park is as stunning as it is accessible.

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