Since 1872, Americans have been flocking to the National Parks to enjoy some of the country’s most scenic, iconic landscapes. Fans of hiking, wildlife, photography and more can find something to discover at the 60 parks scattered throughout 28 states. The parks offer plenty of options, from the geysers of Yellowstone to the dramatic vistas of the Grand Canyon – but don’t be afraid to try a destination off the beaten path, too.
Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park
Covering 2.2 million acres in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, Yellowstone is the oldest of the National Parks and a dazzling mountain retreat. One of the most remarkable wildlife sanctuaries in the world, Yellowstone promises an unforgettable glimpse of bison, moose, elk, bald eagles, gray wolves, black bears and even grizzlies.
- First, join the crowd at Old Faithful to witness the park’s most famous geyser eruption. Don’t miss the other geysers, too, including Castle, Grand, Riverside, Beehive and Daisy.
- Experience Artist Point, which overlooks the golden chasm and thundering waterfalls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
- Finally, enjoy a picnic on the 110 miles of shoreline at Yellowstone Lake, one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world.
Wyoming: Grand Teton National Park
Enjoy an alpine wonderland of towering, snow-crested peaks. The park gets its name from the largest of the Teton Mountains, which soars more than a mile above the valley of Jackson Hole below.
- Saddle up at one of the park’s corrals and take a guided trip on a horse trained to navigate mountain trails.
- Hike or stroll along one of the trails suitable for beginning, intermediate or advanced trekkers. Along the way, gaze at glorious snow-capped pinnacles, or spy a grazing elk or bison.
- Try cross-country skiing for a mellow trek through the pristine woodlands. Or, click into a pair of downhill skis for an exhilarating mountain adventure.
Utah: Zion National Park
One of the top 10 most visited National Parks in the country, millions of visitors arrive each year to gaze in awe at what one early traveler called “A new valley of wonder.” Sites like the Great White Throne, Court of the Patriarchs and Temple Cap hearken to the site’s early Mormon settlers.
- Marvel at the steep sandstone walls soaring 2,000 feet skyward along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive on the park’s free shuttle bus.
- Venture along a slender ridge marked by 1,500-foot drops on either side to reach Angels Landing.
- Stop at all four of the park’s overlooks – Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce – and drive along scenic Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.
Utah: Bryce Canyon National Park
Colorful rock formations shaped by erosion into spires, pinnacles and mazes known as “hoodoos” form the landscape of this National Park in southern Utah.
- Visit Bryce Amphitheater, a semicircular area of the canyon filled with the park’s signature limestone hoodoo formations. Four overlooks offer some of the park’s best views: Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce points.
- Explore the Visit Center, for exhibits about the geology, biology, archaeology and history of the region. Rangers conduct free hikes and illustrated talks daily Memorial Day through Labor Day.
- Meander along Park Road, Bryce Canyon’s main access road. Fifteen overlooks offer places to pull over and enjoy the forested plateau and glimpses of the canyon below.
Colorado: Mesa Verde National Park
In southwestern Colorado, nine miles east of Cortez, Mesa Verde National Park is one of the nation’s major archeological preserves. The park consists of nearly 5,000 archeological sites, which include 600 cliff dwellings that were the homes of ancestral Pueblo people. Mesa Verde, Spanish for “green table,” is so called because of its comparatively level top, forested with juniper and pinyon trees.
- Explore some of the most well-preserved pre-Columbian cliff dwellings in the country, including Sun Temple, Spruce Tree House and Long House.
- Hike to Park Point Fire Lookout, with the highest elevation in the park and from which portions of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah are visible.
- For a more restful tour, you can also cruise along Mesa Top Loop Road and catch views of about 40 cliff dwellings from lookout points.
Colorado: Rocky Mountain National Park
Last but not least, this park in Colorado is a can’t miss option. You need only take a trail just off the main drag to escape the summer crowds and make extraordinary discoveries. Whether it’s the blanket of pristine snow in the winter or the lush green forests in the summertime, you’ll find a wonderful place to get away from it all at the most popular of the National Parks.
- Opt for an easy walk through a meadow dotted with wildflowers. In contrast, try a strenuous vertical journey toward a soaring peak on the park’s 350 miles of trails.
- Take a scenic drive on either Trail Ridge Road or Bear Lake Road. You’ll pass cascading waterfalls, lush valleys, glistening glaciers and more.
- Enjoy another scenic drive on Bear Lake Road, a prime route to travel for savoring scenery and one that provides quick access for parking, hiking and wildlife viewing.
Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park
Awe-inspiring. Amazing. Breathtaking. The list of clichés goes on. Some 5 million people a year step up to the edge of this natural wonder. The majority opt for the South Rim, which is closer to cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. In contrast, if you’re after a quieter visit, the North Rim is your place.
- Appreciate the humbling splendor of one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World on the Grand Canyon Greenway. The greenway is a system of paved multi-use trails that encourage non-motorized travel along the South Rim.
- Next, cruise oak- and juniper-lined Desert View Drive past Grandview and Moran points to Tusayan Ruin and Museum. Once there, you’ll discover ancestral Puebloan cultural exhibits and an 800-year-old excavated pueblo.
- Gaze out vintage train windows as you roll through Williams to Grand Canyon National Park on the Grand Canyon Railway. You’ll get lost in the same inspirational landscapes President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Clark Gable and Bill Gates enjoyed years ago.
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Stop by your local AAA store to book your trip today; your AAA travel consultant can help you figure out the best way for you to visit these amazing destinations.