The USA is high on the bucket list of many travellers, in part because of its beautiful national parks. There are no less than 62 areas in the country that have been designated as national parks. In this article, the most visited national parks are listed along with some tips for organizing a trip, such as applying for an ESTA visa and an America the Beautiful Pass.
The most famous national parks in the USA are located in the west and north of the country. Some of the most popular national parks in the states of California, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon and Washington are described below.
Giant sequoia trees and Joshua trees in California
Yosemite is perhaps the most famous national park in the United States, attracting millions of visitors each year. In this national park, you can admire glaciers, rock faces and waterfalls. Glacier Point, the highest point of the park, is located at the top of a 2,200-metre cliff overlooking Yosemite Valley. Another iconic vantage point of Yosemite, that is also a lot easier to reach than Glacier Point, is Tunnel View, which overlooks the Yosemite Valley.
Another much visited nature reserve in California consists of Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park. In Sequoia National Park you can find Giant Forest; in this forest one is surrounded by giant sequoia's with broad trunks that can become thousands of years old. In the park stands the General Sherman Tree (named after the American naturalist William T. Sherman), the largest giant sequoia in the world with a height of 83 metres and a girth of 31.3 metres. In Kings Canyon National Park you can find the General Grant Tree, the second largest tree in the world. Another national park in California that owes its name to a tree is Joshua Tree National Park. The park is situated between two desert areas - the Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. The tree that gave the park its name is a plant from the Yucca family.
Rock formations and canyons in the Southwest
The American state of Utah has several well-known national parks, including Zion, Bryce and Arches. Zion National Park is known for its impressive red and white coloured rock formations and the many spectacular and challenging hiking routes that run through the area. Bryce Canyon is only an hour away from Zion. Bryce should not be missed during a trip through Utah because of its striking rock pillars - also called hoodoos. The colour of the pillars changes from light pink to orange during the day. Arches National Park in the east of the state is characterized by the many natural rock arches.
South of Utah, in the state of Arizona, is the famous Grand Canyon, an immense gorge carved by the Colorado River. The national park of the same name is divided in two by the gorge into a north and a south side. The park has several long (days to weeks) and shorter walking routes/trails along vantage points and deep ravines.
Beautiful nature in Wyoming and Montana
The oldest national park in the world is Yellowstone, located in the state of Wyoming. The park is known for its many hot springs, geysers and steaming ponds. The national park is situated on a volcanic structure: the Yellowstone Hotspot. The volcano’s crater has a diameter of about 65 kilometres and therefore covers almost the entire park. A less well known park in Wyoming, south of Yellowstone, is Grand Teton. The park mainly attracts visitors because of the high mountain peaks and wild animals that can be spotted such as deer, moose and bison.
North of Wyoming, in the state of Montana (near the Canadian border), lies Glacier National Park. It owes its name to the more than 50 glaciers in the park. The national park with its breathtaking mountain lakes and valleys is absolutely worth a visit.
Crater lake and rainforest in the Northwest
The states of Oregon and Washington (not to be confused with the capital Washington D.C.) in the Northwest of America also have beautiful nature to offer. Oregon’s best known national park is Crater Lake, the deepest lake in the USA, which lies in a crater. The lake is surrounded by rugged cliffs and remains of Mount Mazama, the volcano that erupted there 7,700 years ago. Further north - in Washington State, west of Seattle and south of Vancouver Island - is the Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula. Here you will find mountains and glaciers, but also beaches and a rainforest, because up to 4,000 mm of rain can fall here every year, while the temperature does not rise above 27° Celsius even in summer. Due to the varied landscapes and fauna, the park is popular with tourists.
America the Beautiful Pass
Travellers planning to visit several national parks in America might find it advantageous to purchase an America the Beautiful Pass. This pass provides access to more than 2,000 recreational areas, including national parks, nature reserves and national monuments. For parks managed by the American National Park Service (NPS), the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA Forest Service or the US Army Corps of Engineers, you do not have to pay an entrance fee if you hold the pass. The pass is not valid in State Parks and some parks managed by Native American communities.
The pass costs 80 US dollars and is valid for one year for four people in the same vehicle. In addition to the pass holder, up to 3 adults can use the pass. Children up to 15 years of age enter for free. Because the entrance fee for many parks is around 30 US dollars, the cost of the pass is generally recouped when 3 national parks are visited. Additional costs such as parking fees or the use of a shuttle bus are not included. The America the Beautiful Pass is available at the entrance of most national parks and online on the website of the United States Geological Survey.
ESTA or visa application
For a visit to one or more of the national parks that the USA has to offer, an ESTA or a visa must be applied for. The ESTA can be applied for quickly and easily online, while a visa application requires a personal appointment at the US embassy. Therefore, it is recommended to always apply for an ESTA if you meet the requirements for this travel authorisation. The ESTA is valid for 2 years from the moment it is granted and can be used for multiple trips to the USA. Each individual visit may last up to 90 days. This gives travellers with an ESTA enough time to visit multiple national parks.