List of American national parks, 17 things you need to know before visiting, tips for a more sustainable trip and what to pack, and six parks you need to check out!
Whether by car, campervan, or motorhome, traveling through the United States national parks is a dream for many people. The fourth largest country in the world has 63 official national parks, 16 of which have already been certified by the International Dark-Sky Association. This institution attests to the high possibility of visitors enjoying the stars in a much clearer way. In this article, you will find a list of all the US national parks by state, valuable information, and tips to help you plan a responsible trip and prepare your bags. To top it off, you will discover six American national parks that are worth including on your list.
Go straight to the point of interest:
- Map and list of all US national parks by state
- Six American national parks with Dark Sky Park certification for you to discover
- US national parks passport and stamps
- 17 things you need to know before visiting US national parks
- What to pack
- Ten tips for practicing responsible tourism
To start, here are some curiosities and frequently asked questions:
National parks are extensive natural areas owned by the State that are protected for conservation and open for visits and scientific studies.
Curious Fox informs🦊: Did you know that the first national park in the world was created in the United States? It all started in 1872 with Yellowstone.
The country has 63 official national parks.
The international association called Dark-Sky works to preserve environments without light pollution. When a national park meets the necessary requirements, it receives a “Dark Sky Park” certificate, attesting to the quality of its starry nights.
The most visited national parks in the United States are the Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Acadia, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Joshua Tree.
Map and list of all US national parks by state
Here is a list of the US national parks by state in alphabetical order. Note that some parks encompass more than one territory.
Alaska: Denali National Park, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Glacier Bay National Park, Katmai National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, Kobuk Valley National Park, Lake Clark National Park, and Wrangell-St. Elijah National Park.
American Samoa: American Samoa National Park.
Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, and Saguaro National Park.
Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park.
California: Channel Islands National Park, Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Kings Canyon National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Pinnacles National Park, Redwood National Park, Sequoia National Park, and Yosemite National Park.
Colorado: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Mesa Verde National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park.
Florida: Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Everglades National Park.
Hawaii: Haleakala National Park and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Idaho: Yellowstone National Park.
Indiana: Indiana Dunes National Park.
Kentucky: Mammoth Cave National Park.
Maine: Acadia National Park.
Michigan: Isle Royale National Park.
Minnesota: Voyageurs National Park.
Missouri: Gateway Arch National Park.
Montana: Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.
Nevada: Death Valley National Park and Great Basin National Park.
New Mexico: Carlsbad Caverns National Park and White Sands National Park.
North Carolina: Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Ohio: Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Oregon: Crater Lake National Park.
South Carolina: Congaree National Park.
South Dakota: Badlands National Park and Wind Cave National Park.
Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Texas: Big Bend National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
US Virgin Islands: Virgin Islands National Park.
Utah: Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Zion National Park.
Virginia: Shenandoah National Park.
West Virginia: New River Gorge National Park.
Washington: Mount Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, Olympic National Park.
Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone National Park.
Six American national parks with Dark Sky Park certification for you to discover
We have selected six national parks in the United States that are incredible and worth visiting. Check them out:
Arches National Park, Utah
With more than two thousand natural arches, this park could not have another name. At the Arches National Park, you will be enchanted by the reddish rocks. Delicate Arch is the most famous arch and must certainly be included in your itinerary. To avoid queues to take photos, arrive around sunrise.
Don’t miss Double Arch, North Window, and Balanced Rock. If you are visiting between spring and autumn, check the website for a schedule of activities and guided tours with rangers.
💙 Columbia moment 💙
Elaine wears an Aurora™ sports shirt, Windgates™ pants, Coolhead™ hat and Re-Peak™ boots.
When to visit: As it is a place with a desert climate, you can visit it throughout the year. But remember that, in winter, minimum temperatures can reach -7°C, so put aside your warm clothes and remember to dress in layers. In summer, the tip is to wake up very early to avoid the extreme afternoon heat, which can reach 36°C.
Reservations: If you intend to visit the park anytime between April 1st and October 31st and between 7 AM and 4 PM, you must reserve your entry in advance. Check availability on the website at least 20 days in advance to have a better chance of securing your spot. When I visitedIT at the end of May/2023, they only made places available at 6pm the day before, so be aware that scheduling rules may change from time to time.
Sustainable tourism🍃: Do not feed wild animals. It discourages them from hunting and harms the entire ecosystem. In this park, we saw a mother asking her daughter to give bread to squirrels. Luckily, the sensible child of about four years old didn’t accept the proposal.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
Also in Utah, Canyonlands National Park is 42km from Arches and 51km from Moab. Among its viewpoints with incredible landscapes are Grand View Point, Candlestick Tower, Upheaval Dome, and Shafer Trail. The most unmissable attraction, in my opinion, is the Mesa Arch, an arch that, as you can see below, forms a beautiful natural frame and can be accessed via a short walk of approximately 5 minutes.
Want more intense trails? Discover the sandstone towers of The Needles through the 17km trail called Chesler Park Loop and Joint Trail. Explorers who love an off-road 4×4 adventure can reserve at least three days to embrace the challenges that the road leading to The Maze presents.
💙 Columbia moment 💙
Elaine wears a Titan Pass™ Sun Deflector sports shirt, Saturday Trail™ convertible pants, Mesh™ hat, and Re-Peak™ boots.
When to visit: Just like Arches, you can visit Canyonlands year-round. For milder climates, between the months of April and October, temperatures vary from 13°C to 21°C.
Reservations: Reservations are required for camping, overnight trips, and boating on the Colorado River.
Where to stay: Camp in the park or look for accommodation in nearby districts and towns, such as Moab or La Sal.
Sustainable tourism🍃: Do not climb or sit on top of the arches. It’s hard to believe it, but we saw people doing this at Mesa Arch. Besides being dangerous, it also contributes to the destruction of these natural works.
Big Bend National Park, Texas
If you love driving through breathtaking landscapes, enjoying wildlife, and escaping tourist-filled places, Big Bend must be added to your list. Here, I had the opportunity to see a black bear in person for the first time, as well as hares and even the roadrunner. There is also a fossil exhibition with replicas of dinosaurs and a giant fish that is SURREAL. Oh, and know that you will be close to Mexico, so if you want, you can take a boat tour to cross the border.
In the morning, enjoy hiking trails, such as the Lost Mine and Ernst Tinaja. In the afternoon, take a stroll along the park’s beautiful roads, stopping at the Santa Elena Canyon and Mule Ears viewpoints. At the end of the day, enjoy the sunset at the Window View viewpoint and then embark on an adventure called night photography while admiring the stars.
💙 Columbia moment 💙
Elaine wears a Zero Rules™ sports shirt, Titan Ultra™ shorts, Mesh™ cap, Re-Peak™ boots, and Shadow Falls II™ hydration backpack.
When to visit: The best months are March, April, October and November. In winter, temperatures are mild and vary between 7°C and 15°C. In summer, temperatures can reach up to 40°C, which forces you to wake up very early if you want to go hiking.
Where to stay: You can camp or stay at the Chisos Mountain Lodge within the park’s premises. We camped at Pine Canyon 2, which has a breathtaking view (as you can see in the first image in the gallery above), but you have to travel along a dirt and rock road with some holes. There are also some accommodations in nearby districts, such as Terlingua.
Fox’s Tip 🦊: Although there is a gas station close to the Panther Junction Visitor Center, always keep your car’s tank full because the park is huge and the attractions are far from each other. We also recommend that you go with a tall car, if possible, 4×4. Some roads cannot be accessed with low cars, like the one leading to the Ernst Tinaja trail, for example.
Sustainable tourism 🍃: If you come across any wild animal, keep a safe distance to observe it.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is the steepest, deepest, and narrowest canyon in North America. It is divided into a north bank and a south bank, and there is no bridge connecting the two. To give you an idea, the city of Montrose is 20km away from the entrance to the South Rim, while the city of North Rim is 103km away.
As we only had one day available, we only visited the south bank and stopped at all the viewpoints. Here, it’s worth taking the Warner Point Nature trail and enjoying the Juniper trees, watching the sunset at Sunset View, and watching the stars at Tomich Point. In the North Rim, it is recommended to watch the sunrise from the Chasm View viewpoint and take trails such as Exclamation Point, which is 5km long.
💙 Columbia moment 💙
Elaine wears an Aurora™ sports t-shirt, Titan Ultra™ shorts and Re-Peak™ boots.
When to visit: Plan your visit between May and October, as the roads are often closed due to snow in the colders months. At the end of September, the region hosts an annual astronomy festival.
Reservations: You can hike in the middle of the canyon, but to do so, you must check the updated procedure to obtain authorization through the national parks website. In the summer of 2023, it was necessary to make an appointment in person at the visitor center one day in advance.
Where to stay: Montrose is the best town to stay in when you visit the South Rim. For those who prefer to stay close to the North Rim, the ideal thing is to stay in Hotchkiss. In addition to, of course, having the possibility of camping in the park.
Fox’s Tip 🦊: The canyon landscapes at sunrise and sunset, in my opinion, are much more beautiful and impressive than what we saw throughout the day.
Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado
How about a cultural adventure? Mesa Verde, in Colorado, is one of the national parks in the United States that surprised me the most so far. Here, you learn about Native Americans and visit their cliff dwellings, built around the 700s and inhabited until approximately the 1200s.
This World Heritage Site also has a trail called Petroglyph Point Trail that takes you to cave paintings. Cool huh?! For us, two days were enough to explore the park well, but we didn’t do all the trails.
💙 Columbia moment 💙
Elaine wears a Neblina™ sports t-shirt, Sandy River™ shorts, Columbia™ sandals, and a Shadow Falls II™ hydration backpack.
When to visit: The months of April, May, September and October have milder temperatures that make hiking easier.
Reservations: The main trails need to be booked in advance (especially in high season) as they have a maximum capacity of people at a time. We recommend checking availability on the park’s website at least three weeks before your trip.
Fox’s Tip 🦊: While in the region, don’t miss the opportunity to go to the Thai Cortez restaurant and order the duck with curry (we tried both the green and red curry, which were delicious).
Sustainable tourism🍃: Don’t touch the cave paintings and don’t step on the ruins! It may seem obvious, but we saw a child walking over it and the parents didn’t even notice until the ranger called their attention.
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
After seeing canyons and indigenous residences, it’s time to discover the largest dunes in the United States. Do you realize how you can find such different landscapes in Colorado? At Great Sand Dunes, you can hike to the top of Star Dune (the highest point in the park at 700 feet) and watch the shadows move across the sand at sunrise.
Fun is guaranteed for the whole family by renting sand boards and sand sleds to slide down the dunes. For me, the highlight attraction was a free monitored trail with a forest ranger who presented the different plants in the region and how they were used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes.
💙 Columbia moment 💙
Elaine wears a Neblina™ sports shirt, PFG Tidal™ shorts, Coolhead™ cap, Re-Peak™ boots, and Shadow Falls II™ hydration backpack.
When to visit: May and September are the most pleasant months in terms of temperature, which varies between 10°C and 23°C.
Fox’s tip 🦊: If you’re going to take your pet out on hot days, put “boots” on them so they don’t burn their paws on the sand. Otherwise, it’s better not to take them!
Sustainable tourism 🍃: Take care of your belongings. In less than 2 hours on the dunes, we saw several plastic water bottles and socks lost in the sand. The wind carries the sand in different directions, which ends up covering the objects. As a result, many are left behind.
US national parks passport and stamps
Did you know that you can buy a passport for U.S. national parks and collect stamps as you visit them? I paid US$12.99* for the passport. You can both purchase it and get it stamped at the Visitor Center of any park.
17 things you need to know before visiting US national parks
1 – Invest in the annual (entrance) pass. If you plan to visit at least three parks in a year, this pass will pay off financially. It costs US$80* and can be purchased both on the website and at the park entrance.
2 – Save/download essential apps and websites. On the nps.gov website, you will find all the updated information on US national parks. On recreation.gov, you can make reservations for tickets, tours, and camping areas. Also, download the region visited on Google Maps. This way, even without a signal, you will be able to locate yourself.
3 – Go with a high 4×4 car. It is recommended that you make your trip in a tall 4×4 vehicle because some parks have off-road routes where low cars cannot pass.
4 – Keep the tank full. The parks are huge and it can take a long time on the road to find a gas station. Extra tip from the fox 🦊: Download the Gas Buddy App and find the best fuel price in your region.
5 – Plan in advance. Some parks require prior booking of a tour or even an entry time, especially during high season. Furthermore, camping area reservations can only be made through the app – you cannot purchase it at the park ticket office.
6 – Take part in guided tours. Some parks offer free guided tours, which are rich opportunities to learn more about geological, historical, and cultural issues. Check the schedule at nps.gov.
7 – The use of drones is not permitted. As a way of preserving wildlife and providing peace of mind for visitors, no U.S. national park authorizes the use of drones.
8 – Check the website to see if pets are allowed in the park. Furthermore, understand the dynamics of the place so that your pet is safe and comfortable. Remember to bring water and keep the animal on a leash to prevent them from attacking people or ending up hunting wild animals in the region.
9 – Pay attention to up-to-date weather and road conditions. Before visiting any national park, it is essential that you access the nps.gov website and check the updated alerts to find out if there are any restrictions during the period of your visit. On very hot days, you will probably be able to hike only at dawn or dusk. During winter, some roads and attractions may be closed due to snow blocking access.
10 – Stay hydrated. The worst thing you can do is go out on a hike without having enough water.
12 – Don’t touch every plant you see around. Some are poisonous and cause severe skin inflammation.
13 – In case of lightning, protect yourself. The safest places are inside a house or car – as far away from trees as possible.
14 – Enjoy the night view. Especially when visiting a Dark Sky Park, take a blanket in the trunk and spread it on the ground to admire the stars at night, which become even more evident during a new or waning moon.
15 – Make use of free entry days. Parks do not charge entry on the following dates (holidays): January 16th, April 22nd, August 4th, September 23rd and November 11th.
16 – Arrive early. It helps avoid queues to enter and take photos. Not to mention that, when you arrive close to sunrise, you have the perfect light that enhances the landscapes and favors photographs.
17 – Make sure you have travel insurance! Travel insurance is extremely important to guarantee peace of mind and safety during your adventures. We currently use Safety Wing travel insurance due to its competitive price, good coverage, and flexibility for digital nomads.
What to pack
Here are some items that cannot be missing from your suitcase for your trip to the USA:
- Sunscreen and biodegradable hygiene products.
- Sunglasses and a cap are essential at all times of the year. After all, the sun rises every day and we must protect our skin.
- Clothing with sun protection, suitable for hiking. A long-sleeved t-shirt and long pants will help protect you not only from the sun but also against scratches and possible bites.
- Hiking boots are an excellent way to ensure comfort and safety for your feet. They bring stability to the ankles, prevent twisting, and protect the toes in case of tripping.
- Hydration backpack filled with water. You can add to the water a hydro electrolyte of your choice for quick energy replenishment and hydration.
- Bring snacks on trails and when camping. Items that do not spoil easily, such as peanut butter, jelly, beef jerky, cereal bars, etc., are always welcome.
- Are you going camping? Some terrains are full of rocks, so a camping mat can make a difference. In summer, a battery-powered fan can be a great ally.
Fox’s Tip 🦊: Columbia Sportswear is our inseparable adventure partner and sponsor of this article. It features fabrics full of technologies to keep us safe and protected while exploring American national parks. And you, our readers, have a 10% discount on purchases through our affiliate link. Get your Columbia coupon now!
Ten tips for practicing responsible tourism
We love traveling and having contact with nature, don’t we? However, it is essential to remember our responsibilities so that our visits generate the least possible impact on the environment. Here are some tips on how to practice more sustainable tourism in American national parks:
- Take reusable bottles. There is no excuse here for consuming water from plastic bottles. Take reusable bottles and fill them in the filters found in all visitor centers.
- Have your reusable kit. Another way to generate less waste is by taking reusable utensils such as a fork, knife, and cup with you.
- Dispose of your trash correctly. At the visitor centers, you can find designated bins for each type of material.
- Do not throw organic materials into nature. Although it is biodegradable, it is likely that they do not belong to the biome visited. Not to mention that they freeze in winter, right?!
- Walk only on the trails. In addition to being unsafe, by leaving the main trail, you contribute to erosion and harm the local ecosystem.
- Respect archaeological sites. Do not walk over or touch the ruins, rock writings, etc.
- Keep a safe distance from animals and NEVER feed them!
- Collect the trash you find on the way. Nature is not to blame for receiving reckless people, so give it a hand by collecting the trash you find.
- For souvenirs, take only the good memories! No picking up pebbles or any other item from nature.
- Be a park ranger for a day! There is no way for parks to maintain surveillance everywhere, so please contribute by educating people who have bad behaviors like those mentioned above. The tip is to start the dialogue in a friendly and informative tone, such as “Did you know that animals’ bodies are not prepared to eat industrialized things like this cookie?”, or “Ah, I think you dropped that paper?!”.
Do you have any other questions or special tips? Leave them in the comments 😃.
🦊 Sincere fox informs:
*All values reported in this article were collected in September 2023 and may change at any time.
** Columbia Sportswear is the brand that accompanies us and continually supports us on our adventures. They are sponsoring this article, which was written with great care so that you can appreciate the beauty of U.S. national parks more and more. Regardless of anything, know that all opinions expressed here are sincere and based on our experience. 💖.
*** This post contains affiliate links, which means that when you purchase a product/service after clicking on our links, LMTM earns a commission, which helps us maintain free content for all traveling foxes in the world, including you ✌🏽🦊.