If you’re in search of inspiration, adventure, or simply want a break from modern-day society, the best thing you can do for yourself is escape to one of America’s 58 national parks. On August 25th in the year 1916, the U.S. National Park Service was brought to life, in an effort to preserve the majestic regions of our country. Fast forward 100 years later, these parks still remain as beautiful as ever.
No matter who you are and what you do, it’s important to get outside, appreciate our gorgeous planet, and make a conscious effort to take care of it, so people all over the world can experience its glory for generations to come. You’ll be pleased to find tremendous landscapes that will fill you with awe around every single corner — more than any city skyline ever could.
In the words of John Muir from his book The Yosemite, “Everybody needs their beauty, as well as bread — places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal, and cheer and give strength to the body and soul alike.” We honestly couldn’t have said it better ourselves, so to help you obtain this uplifting outdoor experience, we’ve rounded up four of the most phenomenal national parks in the country, based on the opinions of 1,000 fellow Americans. Check out our findings below!
#4: Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park resides in the state of Montana, and if you were to pay a visit, the best places to stay would be West Glacier and Whitefish. In 1850, this 1,000,000 acre land was home to over 100 glaciers, hence its official name.
Due to gradual climate change, there are roughly 25 glaciers left today, and scientists predict that by the year 2030, that number will likely reduce to zero. Although the park will still maintain its everlasting allure if the glaciers no longer tower its landscapes, this decade-long forecast should inspire you to see it for yourself ASAP — and also encourage you to take care of our planet, in hopes that those remaining glaciers will outlive scientists’ predictions.
Scenic Drive in Glacier
One staple activity that should definitely fall first on your to-do list is to drive along “Going-To-The-Sun Road,” starting at Lake McDonald and leading you to Lake St. Mary. Along this drive, you’ll pass incredible sites such as Avalanche Creek, Weeping Wall and the Jackson Glacier. If you’d prefer to sit back and relax while admiring the extraordinary sights all around, you can even opt for a Red Bus Tour that will take you to all the hottest spots in the park.
Go for a Hike in Glacier
For an easy hike with panoramic scenery, try the Hidden Lake Overlook route found at the halfway point of Going-To-The-Sun Road. Its trailhead is located right behind the Logan Pass Visitor Center and is less than three miles round-trip. This hike leads you to stunning views of Hidden Lake with Bearcat Mountain right behind it.
For our friends who are up for a challenge, one can’t-miss seven-mile hike is the Grinnell Glacier Trail, leading to the most frequently visited glacier in the park. Just be sure to brace yourself for the 1,800 feet elevation gain. Other outdoor activities include kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boating on Lake McDonald, or camping by Kinta Lake or Bowman Lake.
Where to Stay around Glacier
There are plenty of great little towns around Glacier. While camping is a possible option in the park, you may want to consider staying in a nearby town. Check out Columbia Falls if you’re traveling with the whole family. This small town is also close to some amusement parks and other kid-friendly attractions. Look for cabins and cottages in this area. Kalispell is another option for families. It is also a good consideration for couples, as the small-town vibe lends itself to a more intimate environment. Look for single-family homes in this area. And lastly, Whitefish is the place to be for the outdoor lover. If you’re coming to the park to do some serious hiking, find a great deal on a cabin in this town. Whitefish is also the most dog-friendly of all three towns mentioned.
#3: Rocky Mountains National Park
Another astonishing natural beauty is the Rocky Mountain National Park, about an hour and a half north of Denver International Airport. This park is filled with an abundance of wildlife and nature everywhere you look, and you don’t need to exert very much energy in order to find breathtaking views.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Rockies is its reflective visions of mountains against various bodies of water throughout the park, achieving a symmetrical perspective of the world right before your eyes. Fun fact: there are over 150 lakes scattered around the entire park!
Discover Lulu City
If you’re willing to experience a unique hike that takes you to a ghost town, have a go at the Lulu City Trail. This seven-mile loop traverses along the Colorado River and passes through an abandoned city, which was once a thriving mining settlement. There, you’ll find remnants of a saloon, post office, butcher shop, and other buildings that served civilization for only less than five years. This family-friendly hike attracts many visitors because of its mysteriously fascinating history.
Where to Stay around The Rockies
Your best bet to spend the night would be in either Grand Lake or Estes Park. While Grand Lake is perfect for a lakefront vacation home less than five minutes away from the Rocky Mountains, Estes Park is also a great alternative just outside of the entrance. To add to your list of activities in the area, Estes Park is filled with breweries, distilleries, and wineries that can quench your thirst at the end of your Rocky Mountains adventure. Or, if you’re not over the gorgeous landscapes of the Rockies, you can also ride the Estes Park Aerial Tramway to the summit of Prospect Mountain for an incredible viewpoint of Colorado’s treasured terrain. If you’re okay with a little bit of a commute to get to the mountains, consider staying in Boulder or Loveland.
Planning this excursion on your own? Check out this list of the top cities for solo trips. Boulder comes in at number one!
#2: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Now we make our way to the Great Smoky Mountains, a land once inhabited by people of the indigenous Cherokee tribe. Its official name was derived from Cherokee natives calling their home “Shaconage” (pronounced sha-kon-a-hey) translating to “land of the blue smoke.” Within the Great Smoky Mountains lies several Cherokee myths and legends that have been passed down for generations. The mystery behind them may be enough to draw you to this protected land bordering North Carolina and Tennessee.
Newfound Gap Road
For any visitors seeking serene sights that require minimal strenuous activity, you’ll love Newfound Gap Road’s 31 mile route. Be sure to pack some snacks for the trip so you can spend the whole morning taking full advantage of this joyride. Along the first mile of this drive, you can take a small detour to the Clingmans Dome Observation Trail, a short uphill walk leading to the highest point in Tennessee, and overlooking the silhouetted ridges of the Smokies.
Pro hiker tip: Our advice is to head to Clingmans Dome first thing in the morning, to avoid the rush of tourists and also score a shotgun parking spot.
Cades Cove Loop
For more scenic drives, venture through the Cades Cove Loop, taking you to various backdrops perfect for photo-ops, hiking trails for a range of skill levels, and campgrounds for those who want an overnight experience.
Pro hiker tip: Abrams Falls is the belle of the ball in the region. IF time is limited or you’re only up for a bit of hiking, this is the place to make it happen. The trailhead to Abrams Falls is on stop #10 along the Cades Cove Loop Road.
Take a Dip at the Cove
At the 2.5 mile mark, you’ll be greeted by a lively waterfall and a 100-foot wide swimming hole. Visitors are more than welcome to swim in the calm waters of the swimming hole, but keep in mind that the National Park Service warns about the dangers of wandering too close to the base of the falls. The undertow of Abrams Falls is incredibly strong and if you’re not careful, it’s highly possible to drown. It goes without saying that on any outdoor adventure, safety should always be your first priority!
Where to Stay around Great Smoky
There is entry access into the park from both states, but your ideal location for a cozy cabin rental would be somewhere in Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge. While both of these options are generally solid choices for most travelers, Gatlinburg is better suited for couples looking for a romantic getaway. Find out why in the romantic getaway guide. Tennessee has a ton of other options for enjoying the scenery around Great Smoky. Check out this complete guide for more information. Sevierville is another town in the area that offers incredible mountain views from your cabin. And for the traveler looking to enjoy all the natural beauty in the area on a budget, find some amazing deals on vacation rentals in Townsend.
Looking for more ideas on what to do in Gatlinburg? This ultimate guide will walk you through the whole area with things to do as well as great ideas for vacation rentals.
#1: Yosemite National Park
Out of the 58 national parks that we are so fortunate to have throughout the country, Mother Nature has blessed us with one body of work that doesn’t compare to anywhere else on this planet. If you have not witnessed its mind-blowing magnificence yet, allow us to inspire you to take a trip to Yosemite National Park.
John Muir, known as the Father of National Parks, was so moved by this beautiful Californian preservation that he even wrote a book about it, hence the powerful quote mentioned in the introduction of this article. From the iconic rock formations of Half Dome and El Capitan to the rare sighting of a firefall at Horsetail Falls, this place is proof that being surrounded by nature can truly refresh your soul.
Start the Trip with a Sunrise
When you get to Yosemite, head to Tunnel View at sunrise and take a moment to say hello to Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Fall on the horizon. This viewpoint is literally something straight out of a postcard and is not to be missed. Be sure to check ahead of time when the sun will be rising. Check the hike time from your rental and arrive about 15 minutes beforehand for a truly spectacular sight.
Hike through Yosemite
Hiking in Yosemite is absolutely mandatory for the full immersive experience. For an easy hike with a breathtaking reward, drive up to Taft Point. This two-mile round-trip hike will make you feel like you’re on top of the world. Our adventurous travelers can also put their endurance to the test by hiking Upper Yosemite Falls, which takes you to the mouth of a 2425-foot waterfall. It’s quite the trek, but a hike up this major attraction will earn you legitimate bragging rights.
Rock climbers from all over the world also aspire to climb the famous El Capitan, and if you’re lucky enough to obtain a permit, you can conquer a hike up Half Dome. Other great sites inside the park are the Panorama Trail, which stops by Vernal and Nevada Falls, and Mirror Lake.
Where to Stay around Yosemite
Aside from reserving a camping permit to stay inside the park, some of the best places to stay are by the lake, less than an hour from Yosemite’s entrance. Two wonderful cities for a lakeside escape are Mammoth Lakes and Bass Lake. Plan your stay for at least a weekend, so you can spend one day hiking one of Yosemite’s picturesque trails, and another to spend an afternoon hanging out by the water. There’s so much to say about this stunning place, but nothing will compare to seeing it in person.
National Park Adventure is Calling!
While most of the nation’s national parks offer beautiful views, the top four are sure to take your breath away. From hiking to mountain biking, fishing to high-end restaurants, there’s truly something for everyone in this spectacular park. Ready for a national park adventure? Find a beautiful rental near your favorite park with VacationRenter!