There are currently 63 national parks in the United States and over 400 federally owned pieces of land that can be visited. The decision of which national park to visit can be really overwhelming!
Many people ask,
“how do I decide which national park to visit?”
To decide which national park to visit, you must take into consideration several factors including what activities you would like to do, budget, amount of time for your trip, area of the country, and time of year.
I know the decision can be super overwhelming (and exciting!), so I have broken down the different factors affecting your decision so that you can have an easier time making the decision. Below are the factors that are most important when deciding what national park to visit.
5 Factors to Consider When Choosing a National Park to Visit
Types of Activities
Each national park has their own unique set of activities that you can do. Activities that you would like to try or within your physical capabilities can really help to decide what national parks may be best for you to visit.
National parks well known for hiking: Zion National Park, Yosemite National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
National parks well known for rafting: Grand Canyon National Park and New River Gorge National Park
National parks well known for glaciers: Glacier National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, Glacier Bay National Park
National parks well known for caves: Mammoth Cave National Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Wind Cave National Park
National parks well known for snow sports: Mount Rainier National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Grand Teton National Park
National parks well known for wildlife viewing: Yellowstone National Park, Acadia National Park, Glacier National Park
National parks well known for bus tours: Denali National Park, Glacier National Park
Budget can really help to decide what national park you should visit. Some parks can be visited on very low budgets if you want to camp and spend time in nature. Some national parks are in remote areas that can be difficult to reach and require more expensive accommodations and permits. The cost also depends on where you are coming from, as of course national parks that are closer to your home location will likely be cheaper to visit
Some parks that have more affordable options (in regards to transportation and lodging): Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Cascades National Park, Gateway Arch National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, New River Gorge National Park, Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Some parks that are typically more expensive: any national park in Alaska, Acadia National Park, Isle Royale National Park, Channel Islands National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park
Amount of Time for Your Trip
The time that you have available for your trip can really help determine what parks you should visit. Parks in remote areas may take several days of travel to reach and they would be impossible to visit if you only had a few days. However, some parks are the perfect size to visit on a weekend trip or on one day while passing through.
National parks that you can visit in a day or less: Gateway Arch National Park, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, Death Valley National Park, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Crater Lake National Park
National parks that require 3+ days (to see most parts of the park): Denali National Park, Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park
Area of the Country
The location you are coming from can help determine what national park would be best for you to visit. Depending on where you are coming from, you may be able to drive or you might have to fly and then rent a car (which can be more expensive). One good thing is that many national parks are not too far from other national parks, especially out west, which make for great road trips.
National Parks in Northwest United States: Olympic National Park, North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, Crater Lake National Park
National Parks in Southwest United States: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Saguaro National Park, and many more
National Parks in Eastern United States: Acadia National Park, New River Gorge National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Congaree National Park
Time of Year
The time of year that you plan on visiting can help determine what national park would be best for you to visit. Some national parks are only accessible a few months of the year, while some national parks are popular all year round. Parks that are closed or limited in the winter are very difficult (or impossible) to access due to the snow and temperatures.
Peak season for most national parks is in the summer, especially July and August. During the peak season, the parks tend to be more crowded and lodging tends to be more expensive.
Parks open year-round: Arches National Park, Everglades National Park, Congaree National Park, Death Valley National Park, Gateway Arch National Park, Hot Springs National Park
Parks with limited accessibility in the winter: any park in Alaska, Glacier National Park, North Cascades National Park
As you can see, there are so many different parks to visit and a lot goes into the decision of which park to visit. If you haven’t visited a national park before, it may seem intimidating to visit one, but once you visit one, you will want to visit all of them. I hope this guide helps you decide which national park is best for you!
Thanks for reading!