My Top 3 US National Parks

I have been fortunate to travel to quite a few of our National Parks. I’m not an avid hiker or camper but I do both of those things to enjoy the natural wonder of these reserved places. My top 3 picks are based on the overall experiences I had at each of these parks. Without ado here are my top 3 US National Park picks, in no particular order.

What to know before you go

These tips will help you enjoy a successful trip to any National Park.

  • Do your research before you go. I know this is the boring part but it could save you hours of driving, believe me. I tried to visit Glacier National Park in late April and many of their northern routes were closed due to winter snows. Unfortunately, I didn’t check the website to see which roads were closed. I assumed that because it was spring, everything was open. I was wrong. So make sure to check the park website for route and attraction closures.
  • Wherever you enter a park make sure your first stop is the Visitors Center or the Ranger Station. There you will want to grab a map of the park and talk to one of the Rangers on duty. They know the best spots that are less popular with tourists and you can really get more out of your visit.
  • Next, ask them if there is anything you need to watch out for. When you visit a National Park you’re visiting a place where the wild things live. When I visited Yellowstone, their bear population was just getting out of hibernation and the wolf population was not only increasing but flourishing, so I had to know what precautions I needed to take to ensure that I not only had a fun but safe visit.
  • Dining can be tricky and expensive. Most National parks offer cafeteria-style dining options and some have great restaurants but all are expensive. These dining options tend to fill up fast, even during off-dining times, so plan accordingly. If you’re looking to save money on your trip bring food and snacks with you. Then you’ll have more cash for souvenirs.
  • Do yourself a favor and purchase the America the Beautiful Park Pass. It’s $80 for a full calendar year from the month you purchase it. Most of our national parks cost $20 – $25 per vehicle per entrance to the park. With the park pass, you have unlimited visits to any federally owned park or historic site. It will cost less to purchase the park pass, for the year, than to pay for each individual visit.

1) Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone Geothermic Pools

America’s First National Park. Established in 1872 by President Teddy Roosevelt, this was the first of its kind. Teddy Roosevelt wanted to preserve this area not only for its natural beauty but its array of wildlife that calls Yellowstone their home. This is truly an amazing place. Covering just under 3,500 miles and spilling over three states there is no end to its beauty and adventure available.

I visited Yellowstone at the beginning of May, so some of the roads were still closed due to winter snow, and since the weather was still cool there were fewer visitors, and many times I felt like I was able to visit sites like the Grand Prismatic pool and the Mammoth Hot Springs with no one else around.

Yellowstone is also famous for its wildlife. You can see everything from bison and elk to eagles and beavers. It truly is a magical thing to have a bison bigger than an SUV walking beside your vehicle. The beauty doesn’t stop there. Yellowstone is home to gorges, waterfalls, hot springs, geysers, and much more. You could spend a lifetime and not see everything. So give yourself time to see this natural wonder.

  • Best time to visit: June – October. Parts of the park are open year-round and the winter is a spectacular time to go but there are limited services during the off-season and many roads are closed.
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm

2) Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite, California

This wasn’t the first national park I visited but it is my favorite. Yosemite has jaw-dropping scenery, amazing hikes, and rich history. The famed naturalist John Muir is the reason that we have Yosemite today. In 1864 Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant. This gave California responsibility for the conservation of the area. John Muir noticed that California was not maintaining it as it should be. The State of California was giving rights to farmers, developers, and timber loggers in the region to use the land. This was causing widespread deforestation and the mass migration of native species out of the area. It was Muir’s writings and lobbying that helped open the eyes of Washington. In 1906 Muir accompanied Teddy Roosevelt on a camping trip throughout the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Valley. It was after this trip that Roosevelt took the land back from the State of California and established Yosemite National Park as it is today. And I’m so glad that they did. It truly is a remarkable place.

Millions of people visit Yosemite every year and there is no shortage of things to do. From horseback riding to rock climbing, there truly is something for everyone. If you visit the park in February make sure to see Horsetail Falls, which has been dubbed “firefall” because the waterfall appears to be on fire. This phenomenon can be seen as sunset when the last rays of the sun hit the falls.

Yosemite truly is an artist’s paradise and it’s no wonder that the likes of Ansel Adams and John Muir chose this area to work in. Some of the best and most visited sites are El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, and Half Dome. Make sure that if you decide to include these in your trip that you allow additional time due to all their popularity.

  • Best time to go: June – October, this is also when the park is most visited. The park is open year-round but make sure to check the website for closures.
  • Website: https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm

3) Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Made up of 7 islands, the Dry Tortugas are located 70 miles west of Key West and sits on the main shipping channels between the Atlantic, the Gulf, and the Western Caribbean. Due to its strategic location, its islands were home to pirates and privateers for years. Seeing the potential of the islands, in 1846 construction began on Fort Jefferson, which would be the furthest defensible position in the United States. In 1908 the area was conserved as a bird sanctuary by the Department of Agriculture and in 1935 Franklin Roosevelt declared Fort Jefferson a National Monument. However, it wasn’t until 1992 that George Bush declared the fort and surrounding reef system a national park.

This national park is truly an experience. It is a full-day trip with no cell service so make sure that you’ve got your whole day free to enjoy this adventure. There are a couple of ways to get out there, the National Park ferry, a private boat, or by seaplane. The National Park ferry provides you with entrance to the park, your roundtrip boat ride, a box lunch, water, and toilets for a flat fee. Yep, there are no toilet facilities on the island, only for those who are camping on the island overnight.

The whole experience of visiting the Dry Tortugas is an adventure. The ferry trip is 2 hours each way with nothing but crystal blue-green water everywhere. One of the main attractions of the Tortugas is snorkeling. You are able to rent snorkel gear from the ferry terminal or you can bring your own. Once you get to the island you can join a guided tour or just wander yourself. Since you’re 70 miles from land, you can really disconnect and enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Fishing and camping are also available, for additional fees.

 

What are some of your favorite parks? Let me know in the comments! Until next time!

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