Did you know there are over 400 sites in the National Park System, 59 of which are National Parks?
Considered “America’s Best Idea,” these parks show off the true spirit of the United States.
Instead of heading to an amusement park or even abroad for your next family vacation, why not take advantage of these amazing areas right in North America? Nothing brings a family together like exploring the great outdoors, and you’ve never really seen the great outdoors until you’ve stepped into one of these 12 national parks:
1. See America’s first National Park—Yellowstone.
With geysers, waterfalls, hot springs, and more, it’s no wonder Yellowstone became America’s first national park. The United States recognized Yellowstone as a national park back in March of 1872. A little over a hundred years later, the Wyoming park gained international acclaim when it became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Not sure where to start? With over 3,500 square miles of land in Yellowstone, there is so much to see! Try beginning with fan favorite “Old Faithful” geyser, which “faithfully” erupts every 45 minutes to 2 hours. Another of Yellowstone’s musts is Mammoth Hot Springs, with water temperatures reaching 170 degrees fahrenheit. These brilliant, multi-hued springs appear red, brown, orange, and green from the algae living in them.
Historic buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s still exist in Fort Yellowstone, when the park was run by the US Army. Touring these structures will take you back in time to the days of the Wild West. And be sure to join the Old West cookout for good food and some cowboy entertainment.
Hiking not really your thing? Grab a horse and hit the trails to see Yellowstone from a different point of view. Lookout for interesting wildlife, such as gentle black bears, bison, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, eagles, and other birds of prey.
2. Take a dip in the Miette Hot Springs, the hottest mineral water bath in the Canadian Rockies.
Canada’s frontierland holds many parks worth visiting, such as Jasper National Park. Set in the Canadian Rockies, this stunning park includes mountain vistas, wild waterfalls, and relaxing hot springs.
Looking for something to do? If adventure is your middle name, try white water rafting through raucous rapids. Or if you’d rather a more peaceful boat ride, take a scenic boat tour on Maligne Lake to Spirit Island, one of the park’s most photographic locations.
Ever wanted to walk on a glacier? Feel free to hike Angel Glacier for fantastic views of the park. And afterwards, warm up at Miette Hot Springs, the hottest in all of the Canadian Rockies. At 104 degrees fahrenheit, these natural pools provide the perfect hot tub surrounded by spectacular sights.
Watch for wildlife during your trip to Jasper. Moose, grizzlies, and elk roam throughout the park, meaning you’ll want a camera with you at all times.
3. Marvel at the larger-than-life sequoias, granite monoliths, and cascading waterfalls in Yosemite National Park.
There’s a reason Ansel Adams famously photographed Yosemite National Park so much. Between Yosemite Falls (the highest in North America), Half Dome Rock, and El Capitan, the park is a photographer’s paradise.
Nothing compares to seeing tons and tons of water plummet over cliffsides to the valley below. And as winter’s snow begins to melt, the many waterfalls of Yosemite become their most powerful. If waterfalls are “your thing,” plan your Yosemite trip in the spring, just as the thaw begins for nature’s grand show of strength and superiority.
El Capitan, the park’s iconic granite monolith with a sheer vertical rock face is a pretty extraordinary formation! Selfies in front of it are practically a requirement.
Another must-see in Yosemite is Half Dome, a massive rock formation resembling a dome sliced in half—one side of the mountain is flat, while the remaining sides are curved.
Hiking, biking, rafting, and climbing are the best ways to see the park, so be sure to leave your RV behind. You don’t want to miss out on all that Yosemite has to offer.
4. Become a geologist for a day checking out the rare sandstone formations at Arches National Park.
Want to see something really cool? I’m talking out-of-this-world, super rad, beyond awesome cool—the archways in Utah’s Arches National Park. Why do these rock formations deserve such praise? Because they were simply carved by the wind. Yep—these architectural feats weren’t made by man, but by nature itself!
The sandstone arches covering this park are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. First of all, they are massive. It’s a wonder how long the wind took to bore such an opening in solid stone. And their bright red coloring against a deep blue sky sets up a beautiful backdrop for even a novice photographer.
Hike your way through the park on such trails as Fiery Furnace and Devil’s Garden. Seeing a theme with those two names? Yeah, this park gets really hot in the summer, FYI. Water is your best friend, as is sunscreen.
Kiddos will love watching kangaroo rats and desert rabbits bounce across the flat landscape. You may even see large birds of prey flying overhead, looking for their next meal.
5. The Grand Canyon is so immense, it’s visible from space.
While we don’t know when the Grand Canyon began to form, we do know the Colorado River is to thank for its curious creation. Take a mule ride across the South Rim trail for incredible views of the stunning rapids below. You might even spot a rafting expedition rowing by!
The Grand Canyon is divided into the North and South Rims. While the South Rim is more popularly visited, the North Rim is certainly worth exploration. If you’re visiting during an Arizona “hot as blazes” summer, consider the North Rim as its higher elevation is much cooler.
6. Get to Glacier National Park before it’s too late…
Okay, okay—that sounds really doomsday. But if things stay the way they are, current projections show all 27 glaciers in Glacier National Park may melt by 2030. Thankfully, we still have time to stop this from happening, and one of the best ways you can help is to see these icy mountains in person and get educated on climate change.
Marvel at these (slowly) moving mountains of ice by either bus or boat for the best viewing experience. A vintage Red Jammer bus (from the 1930s!) gives total access to park views with its rollback roof. Ride by stunning scenery and colossal glaciers in only a couple hours.
Looking for a different kind of glacial viewing experience? Hop aboard one of many scenic boat cruises on the park’s lakes to see the glaciers, mountains, waterfalls, and other natural wonders within the park.
Animals abound in the alpine meadows and upon the rocky cliffs. In fact, at Many Glacier, there’s a great chance you’ll see a grizzly bear or mountain goat.
No one knows the area better than members of the Blackfeet Nation. Want to truly understand having a heart for the land? Take a cultural tour with a member of the tribe. You won’t regret it.
7. Mount Rushmore is the quintessential family vacation destination.
If you’ve only ever seen Mount Rushmore during the climactic chase scene in North by Northwest, you’ve been missing out! The famous quartet of presidents (George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt) carved into the side of Harney Peak is the perfect place for a family trip.
Think about it: Not only do you get to have a fun family vacation, but you also have an excellent educational experience at your fingertips. What better way to talk about our country’s history than with a tour of Mount Rushmore?
Don’t worry, there are things to do for the nature lovers, too. Stick close to the monument for bird watching or hiking in the pine forest. Or travel just a bit further to Black Hills Forest for rock climbing and fly fishing.
8. Capitol Reef National Park is not under the sea, and it’s very fitting for family fun.
Although Utah was once covered by saltwater, you won’t be finding any reefs in the desert. Capitol Reef National Park get its name from the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long ridge of stone running directly through the middle of the park. The formations look like a reef, hence the name.
There are plenty of other captivating geological sights throughout the park. Spires of sandstone stand tall across the western wasteland. Black volcanic boulders from eruptions long ago dot the dusty desert.
Tired of walking? Why not ride horseback across the arid landscape just like the cowboys of the Wild West. And, if you’re looking for something completely different, pick fruit at a nearby orchard. Yes, there really is an orchard in the desert—pretty cool, huh?
9. Four of the world’s largest trees are in Sequoia National Park.
Can you imagine standing below a tree as tall as a 26 story building? How about as wide as a two car garage? At Sequoia National Park, trees this large are the norm. In fact, four of the world’s largest trees live here.
General Sherman, the largest of them all, stands at a whopping 275 feet and has a massive diameter of 25 feet at its widest point. Just try fitting the whole thing into your smartphone’s camera!
Sequoias live to be around 3,000 years old. Think of the history some of these behemoths have seen! Their seeds also take a long time to germinate—sometimes it can take 20 years before a seed escapes its cone.
Under Sequoia National Park lies wonders waiting to be explored. Crystal Cave’s marble caverns excite people of all ages. Walk by streams of marble and other rock formations during your underground tour. High above you may be the cave’s regular dwellers—bats.
10. Drive across Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the United States.
Ready for an American adventure? Hit the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park to see fantastic flora and fauna as well as monumental mountains. Rainbow-colored fields full of wildflowers paint the landscape, with rugged peaks poking through behind them.
In the meadows, watch out for the elegant elk, the grand cousin to the deer. Climb up a mountain if you’re feeling courageous and join the big horn sheep, who regularly scale the steep slopes. And down at the river, you might just get to see some whimsical otters playing in the water.
Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous highway in the United States, runs through the park and crosses the Continental Divide. At 11,000 feet, you’ll be well above the treeline, which means phenomenal views of your spectacular surroundings.
11. Discover Zion’s dense forests and wondrous waterfalls—so different from the other “canyon country” parks.
Zion National Park includes all of the classic “canyon country” sights—stone mesas, canyon walls, rock formations—but you’ll also find lush forests and wondrous waterfalls thanks to the Virgin River running through the park.
Have a crowd to please? This park has something for everyone. Families with younger children can take short and simple hikes whereas those with older kids can tackle longer, more arduous hikes and climbs. Horseback riding is always an option for covering a good amount of land, but you may also want to consider “jeeping” outside the Park over the rocky terrain for a more exciting experience.
12. The bizarre hoodoo formations at Bryce Canyon National Park are out of this world.
Okay, seriously, you might think you’re on Mars when you’re wandering through Bryce Canyon National Park. Giant “hoodoos” stand like statues made by extra-terrestrials around the park. But they aren’t alien at all. In fact, hoodoos are vertical rock formations with “hats” sitting atop, preventing rain erosion of the column below. As weird looking as they are, they’re actually pretty awesome – literally!
Hike Queen’s Garden trail if you’re looking for an easier trek, or Fairyland Loop if you have older and experienced hikers with you. Check out Rainbow or Sunset Point for the best photo opportunities in the park. You definitely don’t want to miss them at sunset!
National Parks calling your name?
Forget the same old family vacation and get outdoors in North America’s fantastic frontier. Get in touch to start planning your RV adventure today. Or if you’d simply like more information, sign up for our free email course to learn more about how you can experience the national parks.