When Brendan and I started full-time RVing, we were determined to explore as many of America’s National Parks as we could. Growing up in the Northeast, we had only visited one National Park each before we began our journey. The idea of seeing all 59 parks added even more fuel to our already-strong sense of wanderlust.
So far, we have visited 24 parks in our year-and-a-half on the road, and we already made a lifetime of memories. We have driven across the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, swam in beautiful Crater Lake, walked amongst the largest trees on earth at Sequoia, hiked beneath dozens of natural arches in Utah, peered into the Grand Canyon and so much more.
We’ve had countless magical experiences, so we found it difficult to choose our favorites. But, after some reflection, we narrowed the list down to our top five: Yosemite, Redwoods, Olympic (Bren’s top favorite), Zion (my top favorite) and Canyonlands. Here is what makes these parks so unique.
Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite is one of the most quintessential and well-recognized natural wonders in the U.S. We visited in mid-May 2017, and our experience was incredible. As we approached the park, we drove through a large, man-made tunnel. On the other side, we were greeted with a majestic view that almost brought me to tears. Before us, we saw roaring waterfalls, peaks carved of granite stone, a winding river and a lush valley. The landscape truly looked and felt like heaven.
Highlights: Mist Falls Trail, Mirror Lake Trail, the Valley Loop Trail, Yosemite Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, Tunnel View and Glacier Point.
Redwoods National and State Parks, California
We visited Redwood National and State Parks in late June 2017. It is home to the tallest trees on earth, and there is truly something for everyone to enjoy. In the park, huge forests of towering redwood trees meet a rugged, rocky shoreline to create some seriously epic views. Three separate state parks, Jedediah Smith Redwoods, Del Norte Coast and Prairie Creek Redwoods, combine with the National Park to produce a vast wilderness of riverways, woodlands, prairies and coastline. We spent an entire week exploring this park, and we could have easily spent much longer.
Highlights: Fern Canyon, Lady Bird Johnson Grove Trail, Hidden Beach Trail, Stout Grove, Newton B. Drury Scenic Parkway and Gold Bluffs Beach.
Olympic National Park, Washington
We visited Olympic National Park in early September 2017. This park is enormous and it covers nearly a million acres of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. It is home to a huge variety of eco-systems, including old-growth forests, temperate rainforests, rugged coastlines, forest-filled valleys, roaring rivers, cascading waterfalls and an entire section of glacial mountains.
Highlights: Ruby Beach, Rialto Beach, South Beach, the Hoh Rainforest, Elwha Valley, Lake Crescent, Sol Duc Hot Springs, Marymere Falls and Hurricane Ridge.
Zion National Park, Utah
We visited Zion National Park in early March 2018. The weather was still a bit chilly in the mornings, but it grew warmer with the afternoon sun. The entire park is situated inside a large, narrow canyon. Tall red walls tower overhead and the clear, shallow Virgin River runs straight through the center. The river is dotted with cottonwood trees and other riparian plants as it winds past the tall, jagged rock structures of the canyon. Zion has plenty to do for adventurers of all abilities, and it is one of the most popular US national parks for a good reason.
Highlights: Watchman Trail, Narrows Riverside Trail, Canyon Overlook Trail, Emerald Pools and Angel’s Landing.
Canyonlands National Park, Utah
We visited Canyonlands in late March 2017. Here, the Colorado River chipped away layers upon layers of multi-colored canyons. The views stretch for hundreds of miles, and the sunrises and sunsets are otherworldly. Canyonlands is home to three sprawling districts, each totally unlike the others.
Visitors will have plenty of opportunities to go off-roading, hiking, biking and river running. This park tends to live in the shadow of its more popular sister next-door, Arches National Park, so you’ll find a fascinating, but less crowded, experience.
Highlights: Mesa Arch Trail (visit at sunrise), Green River Overlook, Colorado River Overlook, Slickrock Trail and the Needles Overlook.
For over 100 years, the National Park Service has preserved thousands of miles of the most beautiful places this country has to offer. You could easily spend your entire lifetime exploring the parks and still not see everything there is to see. There’s a park for everyone, and your whole family will love them.
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