US National Parks for Your Summer Bucket List

Last updated May 26, 2022

How many US national parks have you visited? Personally, I would love to visit more.

Did you know that spending five minutes in nature makes you smarter, stronger, healthier, happier and more productive? US national parks are nature in its full splendor. After all, there is no better reason to visit a US national park than to enjoy nature.

It is time to fill up the gas tank. Load up the car for an epic summer road trip. Head to what filmmaker Ken Burns coined “America’s Best Idea.” The US National Parks.

While I was initially planning my road trip I purchased the “America the Beautiful” Annual Pass. America the Beautiful gives you access to all of the US national parks. The pass allowed me to explore over a dozen spots.

Are you in need of recommendations? Here are some personal favorites to add to your summer bucket list. Everything from the iconic national park to the lesser-known.

Don’t get me wrong. All US National Parks are worth a visit!

Yellowstone (Wyoming)

The Granddaddy of all US National Parks, visiting Yellowstone is a no-brainer.

The park is essentially the same size as Connecticut. Yellowstone stretches into three western states.

Despite covering the territory of 3 states, most of the park is within the state of Wyoming. Yellowstone showcases a remarkable landscape. Full of geysers, thermal basins, and its own (Yellowstone) Grand Canyon.

The park is home to some of the best wildlife viewing in North America. One iconic favorite is the bison. 

Camping at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park is one of the oldest protected lands in America. It remains extremely popular for any summer bucket list. Camping is an option. Make reservations in advance to secure a campsite.

Camping is far from a weekend adventure. Visit Grand Teton National Park. The Alpine views and hiking trails are what make the camping experience worth it. While camping at Grand Teton is an option, some visitors prefer the nearby likable town of Jackson, Wyoming. 

Things to do

There are plenty of things to do in Yellowstone. On the Yellowstone and Grand Teton Adventure you can embark on a 6-day exploration. This exploration consists of some of the most iconic natural landmarks America has to offer. Marvel over the mesmerizing colors of Grand Prismatic Spring. Take a dip in the rejuvenating waters of Mammoth Hot Springs. Whatever peaks your interest, do it!

Spot wildlife at the parks. Moose, bears and beavers are hidden within the Grand Teton mountain range. Additionally, you can also follow along a real-life wolf tracker who will teach you their secret tracking tricks. 

Enjoy the scenery

The Tetons provide an abundance of stunning scenery. Pristine freshwater lakes, trails filled with wildflowers and scenic viewpoints everywhere. All of which are just waiting to be discovered.

In the evenings, unwind like cowboys. Embrace Western nightlife with dinner, drinks and entertainment in the famous frontier town of Jackson, Wyoming.

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)

The most iconic landscape in America may very well be the Grand Canyon. Standing at the overlook at any rim leaves people in awe. Yeah, I can confirm it is awesome. It is a moment people don’t often forget, I know I haven’t forgotten my day in the park and it was 25 years ago.

Summer can be a challenging time to visit this park. The hotter temperatures and heat advisories make any outdoor experience challenging.

Trust me, novice hikers must beware of attempting to do too much in one day. I clearly remember starting our hike too late in the day and almost being caught in the canyon, exhausted, after dark. 

The Grand Canyon is a manageable drive from Las Vegas. Don’t forget that there are many other national park sites to explore in the state of Arizona. Arizona is home to numerous Native American historic sites as well as other parks.

The National Parks of Utah

You can’t mention US National Parks without talking about “Bea-Utah-Ful” and the beauty that awaits the travelers who head to Utah.

Every national park calendar I’ve owned dedicates at least one month to the likes of Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands or Zion. After a visit, you’ll easily see why. 

Inside these parks, the views of the red rocks, arches, canyons, natural bridges and hoodoos (irregular columns of rock formations) reset our perspective. Plus, with the near promise of clear skies, visitors can expect starry filled nights. Picking which one(s) may be a challenge.

Zion National Park

On your Zion Ranch Stay and Hiking Adventure, you’ll hike Zion National Park along a narrow ridge-line to Angels Landing, which is considered the best in the southwest.

You’ll have the chance to enjoy a homecooked, family-style meal at a Navajo home inside Monument Valley and learn more about their traditions and culture. Experience the real wild, wild west.

The adventure-filled city of Moab is located in Utah. Moab resides between the Canyonlands and Arches. This city provides easy access to many dinosaur tracks and fossils too. On a 5-Day Moab Adventure, you can hike to the best views of this plateau in paradise on an unforgettable tour.

Arches National Park

See the sunrise over Arches National Park—home to over 2,000 arches—you won’t believe your eyes as a palette of reds, oranges and browns turn brilliant shades of violet as the sun sets over this all-encompassing desert dreamscape. 

And a day spent hiking, unwind at the local winery and swap tales of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, who used the canyons to hide from the law in the late 1800s. The charming town of Moab is the gateway to some of the west’s most spectacular scenery and colorful history.

Acadia National Park (Maine)

For those on the east coast not planning an epic road trip to the west, why not head up to the Bar Harbor area of Maine? There is more to Bar Harbor than lobster. Just outside the popular Maine summer coastal town, travelers can visit Acadia National Park. 

Regardless of how long you stay at Acadia National Park, you have to see the Thunderhole. The Thunderhole with the chance to see and hear the water blow through the hole. For reference, Acadia is a feasible drive from Boston. 

Bike through the park

Pedal through quintessential New England fishing villages and visit some of the most inspiring lighthouses you’ll ever see on this cycling tour of Maine and Acadia National Park

From the rugged coastal scenery to watching the sunrise above the Atlantic Ocean, Maine offers something for every level of cyclist. During this tour, spend your days riding quiet and beautiful tree-lined roads and your evenings enjoying some of America’s finest seafood cuisine—the perfect antidote to busy city life.

Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee and North Carolina Border)

One of the most visited parks resides between Tennessee and North Carolina. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, offers free access to visitors, along with plenty of hiking trails and stunning vistas. Plus it includes sections of the famous Appalachian Trail, too!  

It is a great beginner park for us in the southeast. The hike to Clingmans Dome allows you to ascend to one of the highest points on the map east of the Mississippi River.

The short moderate hike ends with the reward of a 360-degree manmade overlook. I can confirm it is worth it. The park is within a day’s drive from Charlotte or Chattanooga and also close enough to visit the charming town of Asheville, North Carolina. 

New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia)

Nestled in the heart of Southern West Virginia is a hidden gem, the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Some say it is Almost Heaven. The rugged, whitewater New River flows northward through deep canyons and is among the oldest rivers on the continent. 

The park encompasses over 70,000 acres of land rich in cultural and natural history and offers an abundance of scenic and adventure opportunities like whitewater rafting the Lower Gorge or mountain biking the Arrowhead Trails.

Adventures on the Gorge

Premier adventure resort Adventures on the Gorge offers just this thing for your next national park getaway. Drawn to the rim of the New River Gorge by world-class whitewater, rock climbing, mountain biking and hiking, the founders created a resort that could live up to the natural wonders that surround it. 

You can experience exhilarating whitewater rapids on their New River Gorge Whitewater Rafting Adventure plus rock climbing, rappelling, ziplines, mountain biking, paintball and stand-up paddleboarding all with world-class guides and instructors.

San Juan Island National Historical Park (Washington)

Combine cycling, stunning coastline, relaxed island life and the best that western Washington has to offer Cycle The San Juan Islands is an unforgettable 5-night cycling vacation away from the stresses of everyday life.

A Biking Paradise

With great weather and scenery and marine wildlife second to none, the San Juan Islands are a cyclist’s paradise to ride quiet roads from delightful fishing villages to the pristine waters separating the United States from Canada. 

Off the bike you’ll find fascinating history, friendly locals and amazing cuisine—this cycling adventure takes in the best of it all at a pace everyone can enjoy.

Kenai Fjords National Park and Denali National Park (Alaska)

With seventeen national parks and sixteen national wildlife refuges, the state of Alaska is home to over half of the US national parks. The options to explore the wild outdoors here are as limitless as the snow-capped mountains, ice-age glaciers, white rapids, clear water streams, dense forests and wide-open tundra. 

Alaska Wildland Adventures Lodge

From Anchorage to Kenai Fjords, and then deep into Denali, Alaska Wildland Adventures will ensure you have a wilderness vacation adventure to remember. Spot sea lions, sea otters, whales and puffins in an ever-changing arctic landscape and try sea kayaking among the glacier bergs and canoeing the lagoon for coastal sightings. 

Stay at award-winning eco-lodges on the Kenai Peninsula that feature the perfect balance of rustically modern and private cabins, delicious and locally sourced food, immersive activities and locations that introduce you to the real, authentic Alaska.

Alaska will amaze you whether or not you are hiking the hemlock forests. Paddling a kayak amid harbor seals will put you into a state of pure wonder. You will learn much about the 49th state and its hospitality. 

Live out your wilderness fantasy in Alaska’s national parks—where purple mountains majesty meets salmon-filled rivers, grazing grizzly bears and roaming caribou. 

To sum it up

These are just a sliver of national parks inside the lower 48 states to add to your summer bucket list. There are 63 US National Parks and over 400+ national park sites including recreational areas, historic homes, monuments and more. Yes, there is plenty to see!  

Which national park or national parks will you put on your summer bucket list? Vacayou’s travel concierge team can help you discover, book and plan your next US National Park experience. 

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