Reader Recs: Favorite National Parks in the U.S.

The beauty of America’s 59 national parks is hard to put into words.

From the crystal clear waters of Glacier to the breathtaking enormity of the Grand Tetons, it’s something you should experience firsthand—and this is the perfect time to do it. Why? It’s National Park Week.

To pay homage to the natural splendor of America’s best idea (a paraphrase of legendary author and environmentalist Wallace Stegner’s comment in 1983 that “national parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best…”), we asked our Facebook community to share their favorite national park with us—and what makes it so special.

So, without further ado, sit back, relax, and enjoy America the Beautiful:

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed legislation establishing Yellowstone as the first national park in the United States, so it seems fitting to begin there. Carol B. is drawn to this popular park for its “natural beauty, landscape, and wildlife,” while Charles C. favors its “stunning rock faces and cliffs.” No matter what moves you, you’ll find something to rave about in America’s premier national park. Just ask longtime Yellowstone ranger Jeremy Schmidt who recently shared his insider intel on Intelligent Travel.

Next we head east to Acadia National Park, which Julie S. says “possesses a special beauty with the majesty of mountains as well as the wonder and power of the ocean.” While you’re enjoying the state of Maine’s only national park (in fact, there are only six national parks on the East Coast), Taylor A. suggests taking in the New England sunset from the top of Cadillac Mountain.

Dave McKenzie nominates Big Bend, one of two national parks in the Lone Star State. “It’s wild, rugged, and uncrowded,” he says.

“For me it has to be the Arches National Park,” writes Manjot B. “Sitting atop an underground salt bed, the magnificent natural sandstone arches open up a window into millions of years,” she says. Her favorite part, however, is the Delicate Arch trail. “The fact that the arch is hidden from one’s view for most of the hike is a masterstroke.”

Diego P. recommends Yosemite, a park he describes as “John Muir’s muse.” “Home to El Cap[itan], Half Dome, Tenaya Canyon, Clouds Rest,” he says, it’s also a rock-climber’s dream. It doesn’t stop there. Fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and bird-watching are among other activities that this California park has to offer. If you need more convincing, Vera reports: “The first and only time I went [to Yosemite] I saw a mama bear with her little cub not far from the road, hidden between the sequoias. The smell from the trees plus those amazing wild animals made that moment unforgettable.”

As her 50th birthday approached, author Carolyn Schott set herself a goal of hiking the Grand Canyon. “I’d been terribly out of shape,” she says. “For 20+ years, I thought I hated hiking. And then I hiked the Grand Canyon.”

Rocky Mountain National Park gets Colin M.’s vote because of its proximity to Denver and year-round outdoor opportunities. While he recommends Bear Lake Trail Head as “a nice jumping-off point for a quick day hike or a weeklong excursion,” he says there’s something for everyone in this Colorado park–from families to hard-core enthusiasts. We couldn’t agree more.

Aubrey Diehl recommends Joshua Tree National Park. “The serenity of the desert wilderness is unlike any other,” she says. “[Joshua Tree] refutes the common concept that ‘nothing lives in the desert.'” Named after its native trees, this desert park has a thriving ecosystem one must see to believe.

Glacier National Park received praise from Jocie W. for the breathtaking scenery. Spend a day taking in the views from the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and stop for pie at Park Cafe outside of the east entrance in St. Mary. You won’t be disappointed.

And, last but certainly not least, Erin C. suggests a trip to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Parkgoers can spend an evening in the charming town of Jackson Hole after a day of hiking, biking, and horseback riding through the majestic Teton Range. The proximity to Yellowstone also allows for a quick day trip if you’ve got the time.

In the end, if asked to pick a favorite national park, we must agree with Luca F., who said, “I’m not able to decide.”

What’s your favorite U.S. national park, and why? Tell us in the comments section for a chance to appear on the Intelligent Travel blog.


  1. Dave
    June 28, 2014, 3:28 pm

    I just got back from backpacking Isle Royale NP, loved it

  2. Renee Bonner
    May 19, 2014, 11:13 pm

    I’ve visited on 6 national parks my favorite by far was Glacier National Park. I’ve visited most of the biggies, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, the Tetons, and the Smokies. While I love the Smokies, been many, many times, there’s just no comparison to the solitude I experienced in Glacier.

  3. Randy coker
    Bham al
    May 18, 2014, 12:19 pm

    No contest. Yosemite by a mile. Living in the south I’ve practically lived in the Smokies. Wonderful place but limited views due to dense vegetation. Yosemite trails are view packed from start to finish.

  4. Michelle C
    May 18, 2014, 9:42 am

    We had a great time visiting many of these parks – Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, Sequoia, King’s Canyon, Yosemite – before we did our Peace Corps service (photos and videos at I think the Utah parks are my favorite so far because the landscapes are so unique and foreign. This summer we’re finally going to see Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. So excited!

  5. Jeff Blalock
    South Boston
    April 24, 2014, 5:10 am

    Having only been to four of the parks so far, my favorite is Acadia .

    Loved the drive around the park and you have both mountain and sea together . The birding there was great.

  6. Brenna
    April 21, 2014, 8:40 pm

    I have to say, may favorite park by far is the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Even though it’s the most visited park in the country, it is continually ignored and underrated. Most people don’t even leave the main roads of the park, so the trails are almost empty. The only developed areas inside the park itself are the ranger stations and restrooms. It’s completely gorgeous, and best of all, it’s free.

    Sadly though, the history of some areas in the park itself have been ignored. Many of the areas that were settled were left with only the cabins that were considered “historically appropriate.” This was a mostly modern rural area at the time when the last people were forced to leave in the ’40s. However, their building were torn down, leaving the impression that these people were back-wood hicks compared to the rest of society at the time, which unfairly stereotypes the area.

    All in all, though, the Great Smoky Mountains will remain my favorite park, and, in time, I hope it will get the recognition it deserves.

    • Megan Heltzel
      April 22, 2014, 11:29 am

      Thanks for your addition, Brenna! I’m an east coast girl, and I grew up going to the Smoky Mountains. I have a very fond memory of a camping trip that involved a surprise from a couple of bears :)