Explore The Subway Top-Down | Photo: Chris Burkard
American writer, historian, and environmentalist, Wallace Stegner, once said that the National Parks are "the best idea we ever had". We couldn't agree more. The only problem - and it's definitely a good problem - is there are so many parks and so little time. We thought we'd help you out and put together this list of 12 of America's national parks that you need to add to your bucket list. It's at least a start, but it's still a lot to explore in one lifetime, so start making your plans now!
1. Zion National Park
Location: Utah | Must-do's: Angels Landing | The Narrows | The Subway
Explore The Subway Top-Down | Photo: Chris Burkard
Explore The Narrows | Photo: Stephen Marshall
One of Utah's 5 national parks, Zion is arguably the most incredible. The summer is packed with people and super hot so it may be best to visit during the spring or fall for the best conditions (AKA go now!).
2. Acadia National Park
Location: Maine | Must-do's: The Beehive Trail | Cadillac Mountain | Otter Point
Hike The Beehive Trail | Photo: Austin Hodges
Explore Cadillac Mountain | Photo: Chris Mongeau
Explore Otter Point | Photo: Tate Yoder
Here in Maine, where America starts its day, you'll catch the sunrise before the rest of the country and it's guaranteed to be gorgeous at Acadia National Park. Here you'll be able to explore mountains, shoreline, woodlands and lakes.
3. Rocky Mountain National Park
Location: Colorado | Must-do's: 5 Mountain Lakes Hike | The Elk Rut | Loch Lake
Hike To Five RMNP Lakes | Photo: Ryan McKinney
Experience The Elk Rut | Photo: Matt Willey
Hike To Loch Vale Lake | Photo: Kyle Frost
The Rocky Mountains are perhaps America's most well known and for good reason. The park is full of gorgeous mountain lakes, wildlife, and towering mountain peaks.
4. Shenandoah National Park
Location: Virginia | Must-do's: Backpack Rocky Mount Trail | Hike To Blackrock Summit | Hike Bearfence Mountain
Hike To Blackrock Summit | Photo: Sarah Giek
Hike Bearfence Mountain | Photo: Christin Healey
Escape the hustle and bustle and find some adventure right in the backyard of our nation's capitol! A quick drive from D.C you'll find some of the most incredible scenery in the country from beautiful waterfalls, serene wooded trails, and incredible views.
5. Grand Teton National Park
Location: Wyoming | Must-do's: Death Canyon | Paintbrush Canyon | Explore Jenny Lake
Backpack Death Canyon | Photo: Kathleen Morton
Backpack Paintbrush Canyon | Photo: Rob Witt
Explore Jenny Lake | Photo: Daniel Brittain
Just a stone's throw away from Jackson, WY, one of America's best towns for outdoor sport, lies Grand Teton National Park. Named for the towering Grand Teton - the tallest peak - the park is full of endless options for exploration.
6. Yosemite National Park
Location: California | Must-do's: Sentinel Dome | Cathedral Lake | Half Dome
Backpack Sentinel Dome | Photo: Kyle Frost
Backpack Cathedral Lakes | Photo: Addison Klinke
Start your visit by checking out the jaw dropping cliffs in Yosemite Valley, a seven square mile area where most of the park's visitors spend their time. Beyond that, there is an endless trail system through the backcountry and some of the most staggering granite monoliths you'll ever see.
7. Glacier National Park
Location: Montana | Must-do's: Hidden Lake | Mt. Oberlin | Highline Trail
Hike To Hidden Lake | Photo: Greg Owens
Hike And Climb Mt. Oberlin | Photo: Bo Baumgartner
Hike The Highline Trail | Photo: Kayla Bobzien
Untouched forests, alpine meadows, jagged mountains, and spectacular lakes make up one of America's largest national parks. Despite being very popular, there is plenty of room to find your secluded mountain escape.
8. Olympic National Park
Location: Washington | Must-do's: Hurricane Hill | Mt. Ellinor | Hall Of Mosses
Hike Hurricane Hill | Photo: Michael Matti
Summit Mount Ellinor | Photo: Nick Lake
Explore The Hall Of Mosses | Photo: Jeff Richards
A shining example of the diversity for the Pacific Northwest, Olympic National Park has rugged coastline, towering mountain peaks, and even a rainforest. As an added bonus, Mt. Rainier National Park and North Cascades National Park are within driving distance; just in case you want to extend your trip or add another pin to your pack!
9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Location: Tennessee & North Carolina | Must-do's: Chimney Tops | Charlie's Bunion | Mt. LeConte
Hike The Chimney Tops | Photo: Mason Boring
Hike To Charlie's Bunion | Photo: Tiffany Edmiston
Hike Mt. LeConte | Photo: Bradley Burgess
With over 10 million annual visitors in 2014, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is by far the most visited park in the country but don't let that scare you away. You'll be able to find places to call your own for the day and you'll never want to leave.
10. Yellowstone National Park
Location: Wyoming | Must-do's: Midway Geyser Basin | Lower Grand Canyon Falls | The Yellowstone River
One of the most unique parks in the country, Yellowstone is home to mountains, epic waterfalls, and, of course, the big show of hot spring geysers.
11. Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
Location: Hawai'i | Must-do's: Hike the Kilauea'iki Trail
Hike The Kilauea'iki Trail | Photos: Jessica Dales
It just wouldn't be right to forget about Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. There are simply no other parks like it in the country and one of the few places where you can witness hot, flowing lava.
12. Denali National Park & Preserve
Location: Alaska | Must-do's: McKinley Bar Trail | Wonder Lake | Horseshoe Lake
Camp At Wonder Lake | Photo: Lorene Voskinarian
Hike To Horseshoe Lake | Photo: Austin Marlia
This park is massive and there is no way you'll be able to see it in one trip. Hell, it's difficult to see the whole thing in a lifetime. That being said, you might as well try! There is an abundance of wildlife to be on the lookout for as well.
Want to see the original story by Outbound Contributor, Mike Scaturo? Check out our Journal!
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Remember to always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and be sure to brush up on LNT principles for backcountry fires as well.
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