We can't wait to visit these National Parks this summer (Part I)

By: The Outbound Collective + Save to a List

If we’re not paying attention, Summer may sneak up on us… so let the adventure daydreaming and trip planning commence! We simply can’t help fantasizing about days on the trail, finding new swimming holes, and watching the sunset with a gentle, warm breeze on our backs.

In the US, there are 424 national park sites, but only 63 have the “National Park” designation. The other sites are classified as national seashores, monuments, recreation areas, or historic sites. Of this impressive number, how many National Parks have you visited? It’s not uncommon to forget that there are insanely impressive natural wonders that exist in this country that people from all over the world travel to see! It’s easily taken for granted, but this summer is the perfect time to set out and explore one or more of these iconic US National Parks.

Check out the list below to get some ideas for places going straight to the top of your National Park bucket list.

1. Acadia National Park, Maine

Lighthouse perched on the edge of a cliff by the sea in Acadia National Park. An orange sun is setting on the horizon.
Photo: Drew Thompson

If you’ve been looking forward to a New England summer, a trip to Acadia National Park in Maine should be at the top of your travel list. Spanning roughly 47,000 acres of the Atlantic coast, you'll marvel at east coast beauty at its finest– think rocky beaches, granite peaks, woodlands, and the iconic Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse. Acadia National Park is also home to Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the eastern coast of the US as well as plentiful wildlife like moose, bear, seabirds, and yes… whales! After some great day hikes or beach walks, take your time exploring the charming bayside town of Bar Harbor. It's a popular town budding with cute shops and inviting restaurants for a cold beer and a buttery lobster roll. 

The Bubbles Divide Trail to Bubble Rock hike is a family friendly adventure that will bring you to a large boulder that seems to be balancing precariously on the edge of a cliff. For unparalleled views from the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard, summit Cadillac Mountain. Sunrise at the top is breathtaking if you can get yourself up early enough! Photograph the iconic and historic Bass Head Harbor Lighthouse constructed in 1876. It’s considered one of the most famous landmarks in Acadia National Park.

2. The Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Two people biking along a pavement road beside expansive red rocky canyon formations in the distance of Grand Canyon National Park.
Photo: Sarah Neal

Many people around the US and the world have heard about the Grand Canyon, but much fewer have seen it in real life. Head over to Arizona where you’ll be transported to an otherworldly landscape composed of layered red rock, ancient formations that hold millions of years of geological history within its layers. Stocked with amazing viewpoints, hidden caves, and whitewater rafting, there’s an endless number of ways to enjoy this park, which actually spans an area larger than the state of Rhode Island! 

For a waterfall hike in the canyon, check out Phantom Ranch to Ribbon Falls. Bikers will love the opportunity to pass up on the crowds and bike along the canyon’s South Rim on Hermit Road for miles and miles of incredible views. Gather a group of friends and extend your Grand Canyon adventures by making camp at Mather Campground, a campsite with gorgeous canyon vistas, bright starry skies, and a canopy of ponderosa pine trees that provide shade in the hot summer months.

3. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Rainbow-hued waters from a hot spring in Yellowstone National Park. Mist is rising from the water's surface. Clear blue skies and a forested mountain lie in the background.
Photo: Lourie DeBoer

Yellowstone became the first national park in 1872 primarily in Wyoming, but slightly extending into the neighboring states of Montana and Idaho. Ever since, people have been able to enjoy all that the park has to offer, which is a lot… from unique geologic features, ecosystems, and geothermal areas including hot springs, mudpots, and geysers. In fact, the entire park spans about 2.2 million acres and contains half the world’s active geysers. Their vibrant colors can be attributed to microorganisms called thermophiles. You’ll have to see it to believe it! 

Night photography is especially magical in the summer months as the dark sky is ideal for capturing the Milky Way. And a trip to Yellowstone won’t be complete without viewing the famous Old Faithful geyser, a highly predictable geyser that erupts roughly every 44 min to two hours, sending jets of water into the air! For another exceptionally stunning landmark, check out Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone’s largest hot spring filled with insanely bright and rainbow-colored waters that will be hard to ever forget.

4. Glacier National Park, Montana

White mountain goat standing on a rocky mountain incline. Open green meadow, trees, tall mountain peaks, and the moon lie in the background of this Glacier National Park landscape.
Photo: Shane Black

Located in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, Glacier National Park boasts miles upon miles of hiking trails, photogenic turquoise alpine lakes, green valleys, ancient forests, and exquisite glacier carved mountain peaks. The fruitful landscape makes it an ideal place for not only hiking, but fishing, biking, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting too. Glacier National Park is also widely known for its abundant wildlife, especially prominent in the warmer spring and summer months. More specifically, the park is home to 71 species of mammals, 276 species of birds, and native and invasive fish, insects, amphibians, and reptiles! The pristine and relatively untouched wilderness makes it the perfect place for these creatures to survive and thrive.

Bike the scenic Going-to-the-Sun Roadin the Rocky Mountains which spans for 50 miles and crosses the Continental Divide. Challenge yourself to hike to the Grinnell Glacier overlook for a view that will not disappoint. Your jaw will drop when you look at the turquoise lakes below and potentially spot some mountain goats. For a less strenuous, but still exceptionally stunning hike amid an alpine meadow, check out Hidden Lake overlook. If you visit in the summer, you’ll find wildflowers galore and will likely spot some mountain goat friends too.

5. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

A person with mountain climbing ropes walking up a steep mountain incline with towering mountain peaks ahead in Rocky Mountain National Park. The sky is dark and cloudy.
Photo: Christin Healey

In northern Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is alive with stunning mountain peaks, glaciers, forests, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, and alpine tundra. It’s one of the highest national parks in the nation. With heightened elevation, the views only get better! There are roughly sixty mountain peaks over 12,000 feet high within the park, which also runs along the Continental Divide. 

For a magnificent, yet relatively short adventure, try the Loch Vale hike to a lake with a surreal mountain backdrop. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can continue onward to Sky Pond. Climbers and mountaineers will enjoy the ascent of Notchtop Mountain which features varied backcountry climbing with insane views of the Continental Divide and alpine lakes below. It’s one of the more popular climbs in the park since it has year-round climbing options for differing skill levels, but should only be attempted by climbers confident in their technical skills.

6. Zion National Park, Utah

A hiker in an orange coat and walking stick trekking through a shallow river surrounded by towering red rocky cliffs in Zion National Park.
Photo: Andy Merkel

If you’re thinking of steep red rock formations and cliffs, you’re probably thinking of Zion National Park in southwest Utah. At Zion, you’ll view the towering and distinctive sandstone cliffs which soar to roughly 2,000 feet and have the opportunity to explore forest trails, waterfalls, and emerald pools. 

The adventures list at Zion goes on seemingly forever. If you don’t quite know where to start, don’t miss these: The hike to Angels Landing is a steep and strenuous adventure, but one that will reward you with one of the best views in the country and possibly the world! The Hidden Canyon Trail has some exposed sections for optional rock climbing and scrambling. The Narrows hike is a popular and iconic adventure through a river at the bottom of a deep slot canyon surrounded by immense beauty. Be prepared to get your feet wet! Upper Emerald Pool will bring you to a spot with a cascading waterfall streaming down from a towering cliff for some great photo opportunities.

Cover photo: Erik Tiedeman

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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