Things look different in 2021 for travel. Instead of visiting a bustling city, escaping into the great outdoors is a safer bet. Check out my list of the top national parks in the US to visit in 2021 and start planning your adventure!
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Best National Parks in the US – Overview
(In alphabetical order)
- Big Bend
- Capitol Reef
- Channel Islands
- Death Valley
- Dry Tortugas
- Grand Canyon
- Grand Teton
- Joshua Tree
- North Cascades
National Park Packing List
In addition to the essentials, don’t forget to pack the below items!
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- Nano Puff Jacket (packs up small and keeps you warm when it gets chilly at night!)
- The COLDEST Water Bottle (seriously – it stays colder than Hydroflask!)
- Hiking Boots (these are my fave)
- REI Soft Cooler (I have this and love it!)
- Cliff Bar Energy Chews (great to give you a boost of energy on hikes!)
- Sony A6000 (I’m just starting to learn photography, but this is the camera I’ve been using! I love it)
- Day Pack
- SmartWool Hiking Socks
If you are booking your trip last minute and aren’t able to find a campsite in the actual parks, download the Dyrt Pro app for a map of all the free campsites in the surrounding areas!
Arches National Park – Utah
Arches National Park should definitely be on your US national park bucket list. The unique rock formations found at Arches are a photographer’s dream! Watching the sunrise at Delicate Arch is one of my favorite travel moments.
Where to Stay:
You can camp in the park, get a hotel/Airbnb in Moab, OR glamping at Under Canvas, which I highly recommend. You get the benefits of awesome views and being immersed in nature, but with the comforts of home!
Arches National Park Highlights:
- Delicate Arch
- Devil’s Garden
- Balanced Rock
- Sand Dune Arch
- Windows Section
Ready to learn more/plan your trip? Check out my post for a more detailed guide of Arches National Park.
Big Bend National Park – Texas
Who knew that Texas has epic mountains and amazing hikes? Big Bend National Park is one of the most underrated national parks in the US, and should be in every nature-lover’s bucket list. There are three main sections to this park – the Chisos Basin Mountains, Rio Grande River, and the Chihuahuan Desert, all offering unique landscapes to explore. One of the coolest facts about this park is that it’s situated on the Texas/Mexico border! The Rio Grande river is the international border. This means if you swim in the river or take a kayak tour, you are able to touch Mexico without a passport!
Read More: The Ultimate 3-Day Big Bend Itinerary
Where to Stay
Big Bend National Park is situated near the small town of Terlingua, Texas, where there are a few great options for lodging. I highly recommend staying at Buzzard’s Roost. At this glamping spot, you’ll get the comforts of home (queen size bed, mini fridge, fluffy robes, amazing outdoor shower) while still sleeping under the stars!
Big Bend National Park Highlights
- Lost Mine Trail
- Grapevine Hills Trail (Balanced Rock)
- Emory Peak
- Santa Elena Canyon
- Rio Grande Kayak Tour
- Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
Bryce Canyon National Park – Utah
The southwest region of the US has SO many cool spots, and Bryce Canyon National Park is one of them. Bryce is known for their crazy cool “hoodoo” rock formations throughout the park. Hiking Navajo Loop to Queens Garden takes you down switchbacks and through hoodoo-filled trails in the canyon, and is considered the “World’s Best 3-mile Hike”!
Bryce Canyon National Park Highlights:
- Bryce Point (amazing sunrise view!)
- Sunset Point Overlook
- Navajo Loop Hike
- Queens Garden Hike
Capitol Reef National Park – Utah
Capitol Reef is one of the most underrated national parks in Utah! Often overlooked by the bigger and popular parks nearby (Zion and Arches), at Capitol Reef you will find awesome red rock views and no crowds! It’s beautiful.
Read more: How to spend an epic One Day in Capitol Reef National Park
Where to Stay
Stay in the town of Torrey, located just 8 miles from the park entrance. I highly recommend Rim Rock Inn. It’s affordable, has comfy beds, and has an awesome view!
Capitol Reef National Park Highlights:
- Hickman Bridge Hike
- Cassidy Arch Hike
- Gifford Homestead Pie
- Gooseneck Overlook
- Cathedral Valley
Channel Islands National Park – California
Channel Islands National Park is more of a hidden gem of a national park – add this to your list of best national parks to visit in the US this year to escape the crowds and be off-the-grid! Camping at Channel Islands National Park feels a little bit like being on your own little private island in the Pacific. There are 5 uninhabited islands to choose from, but Santa Cruz is one of the most popular as it’s only a 1-hour ferry ride from Ventura.
Channel Island National Park Highlights
- Kayak Tour to Sea Caves
- Cavern Point Loop Trail
- Smuggler’s Cove Hike
Want to learn more? Check out my other post: 2 Days in Channel Islands National Park
Death Valley National Park – California
Death Valley National Park is special in that it’s home to the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (282 feet below sea level) and is the also the driest and hottest national park. Winter or spring are definitely the optimal times to visit this US national park to experience milder temperatures.
Death Valley National Park Highlights
- Mesquite Sand Dunes
- Devil’s Golf Course
- Badwater Basin
- Natural Bridge Canyon
- Zabriskie Point
- Artist’s Drive
- Mosaic Canyon
- Racetrack Playa
Learn More: Guide to 2 Days in Death Valley National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park – Florida
Located 70 miles off the coast of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the least-visited US national parks as it is only accessible by seaplane or boat. The fact that you can escape the crowds here makes it one of the of the best national parks to visit in 2020. The water color here is beautiful, and the snorkeling is top-notch!
Dry Tortugas National Park Highlights
- Fly in a Seaplane!
- Fort Jefferson
Learn More: Guide to Dry Tortugas National Park
Grand Canyon National Park – Arizona
The Grand Canyon is one of the most popular national parks in the US, and for good reason! Your first look at the sweeping view of the Grand Canyon will be one that you will never forget. It’s truly amazing. The South Rim is more popular and easily-accessible, but if you’re looking to really escape the crowds, try the North Rim.
Grand Canyon National Park Highlights
- South Kaibab Trail
- Bright Angel Trail
- Rim-to-Rim Hike
SEE MORE: Ultimate Guide to a Grand Canyon Weekend Trip
Grand Teton National Park – Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park is simply breathtaking. The snowcapped mountain range along the horizon is so picturesque! With world-class hiking, fly fishing, and alpine lake swimming holes – Grand Teton National Park is definitely a bucket-list destination. It’s often overshadowed by neighboring Yellowstone National Park, meaning there’s less crowds as well!
Grand Teton National Park Highlights:
- Delta Lake Hike
- Phelps Lake
- Teton Park Road
- String Lake
- Jenny Lake
SEE MORE: The Best Things to do in Grand Teton National Park
Joshua Tree National Park – California
Joshua Tree National park should definitely be on your US national park bucket list! Only about 2.5 hours from LA, Joshua Tree offers a great escape into nature. Watching the sunset with all of the quirky Joshua Trees in the foreground is SUCH a beautiful site.
Where to Stay:
Camping at Joshua Tree is awesome, but if you aren’t the camping type – there are a bunch of eclectic houses/Airbnbs to rent, like this cool “Bungalow in the Boulders”
Joshua Tree National Park Highlights
- Skull Rock
- Keys View
- Arch Rock
- Cholla Cactus Garden
SEE MORE: The Best Things to Do in Joshua Tree for an Epic Weekend Trip
North Cascades National Park – Washington
North Cascades National Park, located about 2 hours north of Seattle, is simply stunning. With beautiful forested trails, wildflowers, and bright blue lakes – it’s a hiker’s dream! Another perk of visiting North Cascades National Park is that it’s one of the least-visited national parks in the US, making it the perfect place to enjoy nature in solitude. The best time to visit North Cascades National Park is July-September, so you can fully enjoy the trails without any snow on the ground.
North Cascades National Park Highlights
- Maple Pass Loop Trail
- Cascade Pass
- Diablo Lake
- Blue Lake Trail
SEE MORE: Your Guide to an Epic North Cascades Camping Trip
Olympic National Park – Washington
Olympic National Park is one of the best national parks in the US because of how diverse it is. You can relax at a beautiful beach, stroll through a rainforest, hike on a ridge line, and kayak through a lake – all within the same park! There are so many epic things to do here. I went in June 2020 and most of the park was still closed because of COVID, but at the time of writing this, most of the park is back open and ready for you to enjoy!
Olympic National Park Highlights:
- Lake Crescent
- Marymere Falls
- Hurricane Ridge
- Hoh Rainforest
- Rialto Beach
- Mount Storm King Hike
SEE ALSO: Must-See Spots on a West Coast US Road Trip
Redwood National Park – California
Head to Redwood National and State Parks this year to see a collection of some of the biggest redwood trees in the world. Strolling amongst these giants is definitely a bucket list item! Just outside the park is Avenue of the Giants – an iconic 31-mile highway through redwood trees that has to be one of the prettiest drives in the US!
Redwood National Park Highlights:
- Stout Grove Trail
- Klamath Overlook
- Elk Prairie
- Lady Bird Johnson Trail
- Fern Canyon
SEE MORE: The Best Things to Do at Redwood National Park
Sequoia National Park – California
Speaking of trees – Sequoia National Park is another one of the best national parks in the US! Spend a weekend immersed in nature as you stroll through giant Sequoia trees. It’s peaceful, beautiful and epic!
Sequoia National Park Highlights:
- Little Baldy Trail
- Tokopah Falls
- General Sherman Tree
- Tunnel Log
- Moro Rock
SEE MORE: Sequoia National Park Itinerary
Yellowstone National Park – Montana/Idaho/Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park is actually the first-ever national park in the US, and it spans across 3 states! With over 2 million acres of amazing scenery, Yellowstone is definitely one of the best national parks in the US. This also means it can get super crowded – try going in the shoulder months of April, May, September and October to avoid the crowds! Check out my 3-day Yellowstone itinerary to plan your trip.
Yellowstone National Park Highlights:
- Old Faithful
- Lamar Valley (great for wildlife spotting!)
- Grand Prismatic Spring
- Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Yosemite National Park – California
Yosemite is amazing! Waterfalls, rock formations, and pure rugged wilderness awaits you here – at one of the best national parks in the US. If. you’re the adventurous type – apply for a permit to hike up Half Dome! This 16-mile roundtrip hike leads to the base of the Half Dome rock formation, where there’s a ladder attached to climb up to the top! It’s such an epic experience, and I highly recommend doing it (if you aren’t scared of heights!)
Yosemite National Park Highlights:
- Bridal Falls
- Mist Trail
- Half Dome
- El Capitan
SEE MORE: Hiking Half Dome Tips
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is incredible! With beautiful red sandstone rocks, water-filled canyons, and expansive views, Zion is definitely one of the best national parks in the US. Hiking through the water of The Narrows is such an unforgettable experience!
Zion National Park Highlights:
- The Narrows
- Angels Landing
- Observation Point
- Emerald Pools Trail
SEE ALSO: Zion National Park Itinerary: Your Guide to the Best Hikes in Zion